The First Civil War, 1830-1842 

Mills and Planters

Real War 
   Grounded Networks 
      The Plains   
      Custom, & the Ports    
      Nat Turner, & Others   
      The Islands   
      The Southern Slopes   
      The Mission Coasts  
  Control Networks 
      Mills & Planters  
      Silver & opium  
      Alamán & Calhoun  
      Rancheros & Pilots  
      The War of the South  
      Siege & Contagion 
A Note on Then and Now 
What They Called "Civil War"  
   Liberal Projects 
   Conservative Demagogues 
   Fight Scenes  
  Grounded Reaction 
Outcomes, and Vision 
Toward the end of the First Civil War period, some politicians in the U.S. North were being called "Cotton Whigs."  They were those, close to the interests of New England mill-owners, who were constantly tender and watchful toward the South, anxious to avoid hurting the planters who supplied raw cotton.  They kept turning up, ready to guide policy, whenever the public got tired of gunsmoke and rhetoric. 

For sophisticates at the top of the control networks, any civil war was a wasteful distraction.  This applies to the Civil War of the 1830s or to that of the 1860s.  Each of these conflicts wound down into compromises that preserved and balanced off the control interests of the period.  On the U.S. side, these peak interests were: 

  • planters, large and small, who produced cotton and cordage
  • manufacturers who turned the raw materials into products for the ultimate consumer.
These people needed each other, because they needed the same things from social policy:  a reliable discipline over their work-forces, and an assured supply of raw material.  Of course, they had some disagreements over how to achieve their goals, and over how to divide up the gains from their joint enterprise.  Like all people, in the short run, they sometimes fought bitterly over narrow individual differences. This "irrationality" revealed how the whole system worked. 

When it came time to exchange cotton, tobacco, and iron, for cloth, cigars, and nails, there were two ways to set the price:

These two standards bled into each other.  Local storekeepers, operating within a pre-capitalist "moral economy," were perfectly capable of raising food prices when supply ran short.  Politicians used legislative or military action to determine which regions would contribute streams of land or labor or goods to a market.

Of course governments influenced the prices that planters paid for cloth, by either promoting or taxing the importation of goods from abroad.

But they also influenced labor supplies -- in industrial areas by:

-- and in plantation areas by: In these matters of labor supply, there was constant room for competition between nations, or between states within a nation.  Slaveowners complained that foreign governments, if they had abolished slavery, were trying to force emancipation on others.  The supposed object was to eliminate competition from cheap slave labor.  Slaveowners also complained that the employers of free labor had the advantage of not having to support old workers and unproductive children -- that is, that there unfair advantages in employing cheap free labor.  The contradiction in these arguments reflected the strains between different social systems, and showed how close those anxieties were to ordinary questions of price.

These anxieties also discriminated among degrees of success within any sector of the economy.  A planter with wide acres of bottom land, and good personal connections to outside markets, was under less pressure to drive his slaves unmercifully (though he still might).  An established cotton-mill owner, with a good water-power, and good marketing connections, might even benefit from low tariffs, if the low rates would drive out small-time marginal competitors.  Conservative mill-owners, like the Lawrences of Massachusetts, were just as ready as cautious Southern planters to work out some compromise, when the tariff crisis of 1832-33 threatened to get out of hand  Specific differences of interest, combined with variations in personal temperament, made great differences in whether any particular operator chose to hang tough, in the moments when compromise was offered.

The political scene was one of constant negotiation -- of competitive cooperation -- among operators who had opposing claims on profit, but who shared an overriding interest in guaranteeing profit to employers in general..

The competitive side of this picture came out clearly between regions that were severely specialized -- like lowland South Carolina and eastern Massachusetts.

The cooperative side dominated where farms and mills were both available to anyone who had money to invest.  This included many transitional areas in the United States, such as Maryland and Kentucky.

This side also included much of Mexico.  The typical merchant on the Mexico-Veracruz route, when he accumulated capital, was apt to diversify into either agriculture or manufacturing, or both at once -- into raising cotton on one hand, and producing textiles on the other.  In any short-run crisis, a politician like Guerrero, or Santa Anna, or Alamán could talk about protecting some old interest, such as mule drivers or hand-loom weavers or respectable land-owners -- while allowing favors to upstart promoters. Issues of free trade versus protection were constantly arising -- and just as regularly leading no politician into a conscientious, aggressive program.

This supposed confusion of special interests did leave much room for wiggle and corruption.  It also left absolutely clear, and therefore urgently ignored, the fact that one overriding common interest bound all control agencies.  It did not matter whether control worked through military force or market pressure.  To both sides what was really important was legitimating profit by those who had no grounded commitment to people in working communities.


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