The Impact Of The Cotton Gin

In 1794, Eli Whitney patented a new invention — The Cotton Gin.   This device sped up the removal of seeds and material, greatly improving production efficiency.   What Eli didn’t know was that the Cotton Gin would revolutionize agriculture in the South.  The impact of the Cotton Gin was both positive and negative – but it certainly changed the United States tractory forever.

Cotton Gin

Positive Effect – Economic Growth

As southern farmers adopted the cotton gin, the South’s cotton yield grew exponentially. Other inventions intersected and created the demand to match this output.  Steamboats allowed cotton to be easily shipped and new cotton mill technology in England and New England was able to keep up with the improved output.   By the Civil War, America grew 3/4th of the world’s cotton.  Cotton also made up 3/5ths of America’s total exports. 

In the South, the Mississippi and other rivers become massive transportation routes.  From 1817 to 1837, the total number of steamboats operating grew from 17 to over 700.  Cities like New Orleans and St. Louis became commerce hubs and the newly bought Louisiana Purchase was rapidly developed by settlers.  With development, large cotton producers in the South accumulated great wealth.  At one point, New Orleans held 12 percent of the total banking capital in the United States.

In New England, cotton fueled a burgeoning textile industry.  Cities like Boston and New York became the first parts of America to industrialize.  Massive factories drew people out of rural areas, concentrating wealth in tiny urban centers that still exist today.

Negative Effect Of The Cotton Gin – The Expansion Of Slavery

One of the worst impacts of the Cotton Gin was its influence on slavery. When the Cotton Gin was first introduced, slavery was on the decline in the South. While crafting the constitution in 1787, the drafters agreed to end the import of slaves by 1808. They even believed that slavery would fade away on its own due to the unprofitability of most crops.

The Cotton Gin reversed this trend by making slavery more profitable. As the cotton trade boomed, so did slavery in the South.

In 1790, there were only 6 slave states. This expanded to a total of 15 states by 1860. The total slave population quadrupled to 4 million people. At a certain point one in every three people in the South was a slave. It could be argued that The Cotton Gin even led to the Civil War due to the increased prevalence of slavery in the South. 

Alan Behrens

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