Open main menu

Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 56.djvu/532

This page has been proofread, but needs to be validated.
516
POPULAR SCIENCE MONTHLY.

Although the production of tobacco had made slavery a great economical success in the limited field where the best product was to be had, it is doubtful if the institution would have attained to any widespread importance but for the development of another form of planting—that of cotton. Thus, in Kentucky, where the crops, with the exception of a coarse tobacco, are the same as in the other Northern States of the Union, the institution, despite the long-continued scarcity of labor, never attained any very great development. The slaves were generally used for household service, but to no great extent in the fields, and in such employment only in the districts where the soil was of such great fertility that large quantities of grain were raised for export. In one third of that Commonwealth negroes were, and remain to this day, quite unknown. The invention of the cotton gin ended all hope that slavery might be limited to a part of the seacoast region, for nearly all of the lowland regions of the South, as well as some of the upland country north to the southern border of Kentucky and Virginia, are admirably suited to that crop—producing, indeed, a better "staple" than that of any other country. This industry, even more than that of raising tobacco, called for abundant labor which could be absolutely commanded and severely tasked in the season of extreme heats. For this work the negro proved to be the only fit man, for while the whites can do this work they prefer other employment. Thus it came about that the power of slavery in this country became rooted in its soil. The facts show that, based on an ample foundation of experience, the judgment of the Southern people was to the effect that this creature of the tropics was a better laborer in their fields than the men of their own race. Much has been said about the dislike of the white man for work in association with negroes. The failure of the whites to have a larger share in the agriculture of the South has been attributed to this cause. This seems to me clearly an error. The dislike to the association of races in labor is, in the slaveholding States, less than in the North. There can be no question that if the Southern folk could have made white laborers profitable they would have preferred to employ them, for the reason that the plantations would have required less fixed capital for their operation. The fact was and is that the negro is there a better laboring man in the field than the white. Under the conditions he is more enduring, more contented, and more trustworthy than the men of our own race.

The large development of the cotton industry in this country came after the importation of negroes from Africa had ceased to be as completely unrestricted as it was at first. The prohibition of the traffic came indeed before the needs of laborers in the more