The Cotton Kingdom
- Alternate Title:
- A Map of the Cotton Kingdom and Its Dependencies in America
- The Cotton Kingdom
- Persuasive Maps: PJ Mode Collection
- Olmsted, Frederick Law, Sr.
- Other Creators:
- Goodloe, Daniel
Imprimerie Becquet Paris
Morel & Gowland London
- Posted Date:
- ID Number:
- File Name:
- 1800 - 1869
- U.S. Civil War
Not So Persuasive
- 24 x 43, on sheet 30 x 47 (centimeters, height x width)
- This map was produced by Frederick Law Olmsted, the preeminent landscape architect and force behind New York’s Central Park. Olmsted had traveled extensively in the South before the Civil War and written three volumes on its poverty – slave and free. While he opposed slavery on humanitarian grounds, he also believed that the end of slavery was essential to building the economic efficiency and prosperity of the region. After the outbreak of the War, at the urging of a London publisher, Olmsted agreed to abridge his earlier volumes into a single work, adding an introductory chapter and this distinctive map (Schulten 2012, 145-46; Masur 2011).
At the time, there was a war-within-the-war over the Northern naval blockade of cotton exports to Britain, which threatened to (and eventually did) starve the South of the revenue it needed to sustain the fight. Southern merchants and diplomats, attempting to persuade the British to break the blockade, argued that a Northern victory would result in the end of American slavery and a dramatic increase in the cost of cotton for the mills of Liverpool and Manchester. Northern merchants and diplomats responded that the end of slavery would not result in higher cotton prices.
Olmsted's map was part of that advocacy. His goal, along with his collaborator Daniel Goodloe, was to produce a map such that a “British observer might quickly notice that those areas most committed to slavery were not necessarily those with the highest cotton exports.” (Schulten 2012, 147-48). In order to accomplish that, the map used different colors to shows the relative production of cotton (in bales per slave) and different black lines to show the density of slavery (in slaves per free man). "Those areas shaded as highly productive but without corresponding slave populations were, in their view, clear economic evidence against forced labor." (Ibid. 147). Michael Buehler has written that "Once one grasps the two measures - 'density of slavery and productivity of cotton' - and how they are represented on the map, the image becomes an effective prop for Olmsted’s argument.” https://bostonraremaps.com/inventory/frederick-law-olmsted-cotton-kingdom-1861/, accessed April 27, 2021.
But grasping the two measures and their representation is far from easy. Olmsted’s concept did not account for a number of potentially significant factors, including differences in soil and rainfall; the use of slaves to produce tobacco, sugar cane, rice and other crops; and assumptions implicit in the ratio of slaves per free man. Apart from conceptual problems, the finished map is so complex that it seems unlikely a “British observer might quickly notice” (Olmsted’s goal, in Schulten’s words) “that those areas most committed to slavery were not necessarily those with the highest cotton exports.” Finally, Olmsted may have set himself an impossible objective: a century and a half later, with the benefit of better data and far superior analytic tools, the overwhelming consensus of modern economic historians is that slavery was in fact a more cost-effective means of producing cotton than free labor. Whaples 1995, 141, 146.
Whatever else one might say about Olmsted’s map, it was well ahead of its time in the effort to use statistical information in graphic advocacy. It has been rightly identified as “a landmark in American statistical cartography,” part of the “remarkable innovation in cartography and graphic representation” stimulated by the Civil War (Schulten 2012, 148, 155).
For further information on the Collector’s Notes and a Feedback/Contact Link, see https://persuasivemaps.library.cornell.edu/content/about-collection-personal-statement and https://persuasivemaps.library.cornell.edu/content/feedback-and-contact
- Olmsted, Frederick Law. 1862. Journeys and Explorations in the Cotton Kingdom, 2nd ed. vol. I. London: Sampson Low, Son & Co.
- Private Collection of PJ Mode
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