Fault Lines in the
Pre-Civil War South
The Old South! Those words call to mind cotton and slaves, masters and mansions, heat and humidity, plantations and lashes. A myth? Not wholly. The reality? Only in the southernmost Old South, and only during the final quarter of slavery's U.S. history.
During the eighteenth century, slavery's North American center lay hundreds of miles north of its future Lower South home base. The institution dominated the upper two-thirds of the South and peppered northern areas that would eventually contain only free laborers. Then at the end of the century, Eli Whitney and others perfected a cotton gin, and the land seemed to tilt toward the upstart Cotton Kingdom. Slaves drained north to south, with the institution eliminated from the North and diluted in the northernmost South. As the southernmost South belatedly became the Old South, our Old South, the northernmost South became ambiguously southern. That ambiguity created the potential, still latent in prewar times, for a war of Southerners against Southerners.