Phrase used before the American Civil War to denote the economic importance of Southern cotton production. The concept first appeared in the book Cotton Is King (1855) and was echoed by Southern politicians, who believed that cotton's economic and political power would bring victory if secession led to war. The South expected support from Britain, a major cotton importer, but Britain instead developed alternative sources of cotton within its empire. The South's dependence on cotton contributed to its economic weakness after the Civil War.
This entry comes from Encyclopædia Britannica Concise.
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