KING COTTON The expression "King Cotton" is often used to describe the cotton industry (and its tremendous importance) in the South during the antebellum period of American history. Following the invention of the cotton gin in 1793 by Eli Whitney, the cotton industry became the economic backbone of the southern economy and, as the result of the commanding role cotton began to play in foreign trade, stimulated the entire national economy. In 1850, for example, the American cotton crop was valued at more than $100 million annually, representing nearly fifty percent of all American export trade.
Concurrent with the rise of King Cotton to a position of economic dominance in the South, African American slavery was given a new lease on life. Furthermore, as the cotton industry expanded between 1800 and 1860, so too did the institution of slavery. Despite federal laws and notwithstanding individual state regulations concerning both the Atlantic and domestic slave trade, the importation and selling of black African slaves increased proportionate to the labor demands of southern cotton plantations during- the first half of the nineteenth century. As the result of the importance of cotton to the southern, national and international economies, many southerners assumed that the North would be foolhardy to attempt any disruption of the industry (and concurrently slavery) for fear of economic chaos and foreign intervention. In 1858, for example, Senator James H. Hammond of South Carolina warned his northern colleagues not "to make war on cotton. No power on earth dares to make war upon it. Cotton is King." See also: COTTON GIN.