of wealth by means of cotton-planting and subsidiary callings; and each became a purchaser of slaves to the fill extent of his means.
To clear more land and grow more cotton, wherewith to buy more negroes, was the general and absorbing aspiration — the more negroes to be employed in clearing still more land and growing still more cotton.
Under this dispensation, the price of slaves necessarily and rapidly advanced, until it was roughly computed that each average field-hand was worth so many hundred dollars as cotton commanded cents per pound: That is, when cotton was worth ten cents per pound, field-hands were worth a thousand dollars each; with cotton at twelve cents, they were worth twelve hundred; and when it rose, as it sometimes did even in later days, to fifteen cents per pound for a fair article of middling Orleans
, a stout negro, from seventeen to thirty years old, with no particular skill but that necessarily acquired in the rude experience of farm labor anywhere, would often bring fifteen hundred dollars on a New Orleans auction-block.
Hence the business of negro-trading, or the systematic buying of slaves to sell again, though never quite reputable, and, down to the last thirty or forty years, very generally regarded with abhorrence — became a highly important and influential, as well as gainful, occupation.
The negro-trader, often picking up bargains at executors' or assignees' sales in the older States, or when a sudden shift must be made to save a merchant from bankruptcy or a farm from the sheriff, controlled large sums of money, often in good part his own. He was the Providence
to whom indolent, dissipated, easy-going Virginians
looked for extrication, at the last gasp, from their constantly recurring pecuniary embarrassments; while, on the other hand, a majority of the South-Western
planters were eager to buy of him at large prices, provided he would sell on one or two years credit.
He patronized hotels and railroads; he often chartered vessels for the transportation of his human merchandise; he was necessarily shrewd, keen, and intelligent, and frequently acquired, or at least wielded, so much wealth and influence as to become almost respectable.
Quite usually, he was an active politician, almost uniformly of the most ultra Pro-Slavery type, and naturally attached to the Democratic party.
Traveling extensively and almost constantly, his information and volubility rendered him mail and telegraph, newspaper and stump orator, to those comparatively ignorant and secluded planters whom lie visited twice or more per year, as buyer or seller, or collector of his dues for slaves already sold; while his power as profitable customer on the one hand, or lenient creditor on the other, was by no means inconsiderable.
It was this power, in connection with that of the strongly sympathizing and closely affiliated class of gamblers and blacklegs, by which Van Buren
's renomination for the Presidency was defeated in the Baltimore Convention of 1844, and the Democratic party committed, through the nomination of Polk
and its accessories, to the policy of annexing Texas
, thus securing a fresh and boundless expansion to Slavery.
When that Annexation was suddenly, and to most unexpectedly, achieved, at the close of John Tyler