nDuring can be seen as the driving
nDuring the period between 1790 and 1850, the United States was rapidly changing. It was now a separate country with its own economy, laws, and government. The country was learning to live on its own, apart from England.
There began to appear a rift between North and South. The North believing in the Puritan Merchant role model, and the South in the role model of the English Country Squire. The North traded with everyone, while the South traded primarily with England. The major crop in the South was tobacco, and because of the decline in the price of tobacco the slave trade was dying, just as those in the North hoped it would. Then came a man, and an invention, which changed the course of history. In 1792, Eli Whitney visited the plantation of Catherine Greene, the wife of Revolutionary War general, Nathaniel Greene, near Savannah Georgia. He watched cotton being cleaned; a very long and time consuming process to do by hand.
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Watching the cotton being cleaned an idea came to Whitney. He decided he would build a machine that would clean cotton faster than it could be done by hand. Thus, he created the cotton gin.
This invention changed the way the South functioned, and the ripple effect it created changed the course of history forever. The ripple effect caused by Eli Whitney’s cotton gin can be seen as the driving force behind many of the conflicts between North and South, and eventually culminating in the Civil War. Before Eli Whitney’s invention, slavery was dying in the South. The price of tobacco had plummeted, and planters were freeing slaves because of the high cost of feeding, housing and clothing them. When Eli Whitney introduced his invention the cotton market exploded. Cotton began to be grown in enormous quantities because it was good for making clothes, and with the invention of the cotton gin easier to produce.
This explosion in the growth of the cotton market rejuvenated the slave trade. This time, though, the slave trade was not between the U.S. and Africa, but instead between the Old South, and the New South. The Old South began to “breed” slaves to sell to the cotton farmers in the New South. These farmers needed large numbers of slaves because once the cotton was ripe, it needed to be picked quickly. The price of slaves skyrocketed, and this new crop ensured the practice of slavery would continue.
This continuation of slavery by the South led to a ripple effect that can be seen as a driving force behind the events that led up to the Civil War.One of the most important events caused by the cotton gin was the exile of the Cherokee Indians along the Trail of Tears. As the demand for cotton and slaves grew the South began to look for more land, and discovered it in the land owned by the Cherokee Indians. The land was taken from them beginning in 1828 when the Georgia government outlawed the Cherokee government and began to take the land. This continued until 1838 when, despite a Supreme Court order, federal troops drove the last of the Cherokee from the land, that covered Georgia, Tennessee, and North Carolina to Oklahoma where many of them died. This would not have occurred had it not been for the invention of the cotton gin.
The cotton gin created a market for slavery. As the production of cotton rose so did the production of slavery. These enterprises needed land, which stimulated the wars against the Indians to take their land, which could then be used by cotton farmers, and plantation holders who bred slaves.
Whitney’s cotton gin, and its ripple effect was having a major impact on the events in the American South.Another major effect of slavery caused by Eli Whitney’s cotton gin was the Compromise of 1820. As the farmers spread westward, they took the practice of slavery with them. This led to a problem when in 1819 Missouri petitioned to enter the Union as a slave state. This idea scared the North who realized the slavery would not die out of its own accord, and to destroy slavery, it needed to be stopped from spreading.
If Missouri was allowed to enter the Union as a slave state, then not only would the practice of slavery spread further westward, but also the free states would be outvoted in the Senate by slave states. The North feared that the South could then pass pro-slavery laws against their objections, and defeat any further laws restricting the spread of slavery. This roadblock led to the compromise of 1820. The compromise said that free and slave states had to be admitted in pairs to retain equality in the Senate, and that no further slave states would be permitted north of 3630′.
Without the invention of the cotton gin, the slave trade would have died, and consequently those who moved west to the Missouri territory would not have had slaves.Another important event is the movement that emerged in the North as a backlash against the Southern slavery. The abolitionist movement or the movement to abolish slavery, developed in the North once it was realized that slavery would not die, but instead had to be destroyed. The abolitionist argued that slavery was morally wrong, and that it degraded human society. This caused a great stir in the 1830’s and 1840’s.
By this time the invention of the cotton gin had so firmly entrenched slavery in the South, it had become a part of the culture and society. Slaves went from being people to objects, and slavery went from being a moral wrong, but an economic necessity to a good. The South viewed slavery as a part of their society, both social and economic, and that it brought them together. Without Eli Whitney’s cotton gin this idea never would have taken hold. A rift in morality had begun to occur, and the cotton gin’s harmless origins had begun to spiral into a conflict between North and South.
This division between morality ultimately led to another ripple in the pond caused by Whitney’s cotton gin. This division led to the separation of the churches. Protestant churches began to divide of the issue of slavery, each taking a side, free or slave. The churches that felt slaves should be free existed primarily in the North, and the Southern counterparts held no different view of theology, but instead divided over a moral issue. This furthered deepened the rift between North and South because now their was less of a bond between them. Not even religion held together the North and South and the conflict only escalated because of the lack of communication between both sides.
Eli Whitney’s invention of the cotton gin had started a revolution that divided the country, socially economically, politically, and now spiritually.The next event to divide the nation was the annexation of Texas. Texas was settled as a Mexican territory opened to U.
S. settlers in the hope that they would come to Mexico and become a part of the country. This planned failed as U.S. settlers immigrated to Mexico bringing their slaves and forming plantations, but always looking to become a part of the U.S.
again. Eventually the Mexican government realized what the Texans were planning and shut down the border. Troops were brought in to enforce the order but the rebel Texans defeated them. When Texas petitioned for annexation it was defeated by the North. The North, once again, feared that Texas would swing the control of the government back to the slaveholding South.
Texas was eventually allowed into the Union, but the conflict between Mexico and the U.S. leading to the Mexican war would never have been created if Eli Whitney had not created the cotton gin. Whitney’s cotton gin allowed slavery to survive and the need for more land due to slavery led the American’s to enter Texas in search of this land, with the idea of breaking away and returning to the Union. Had the cotton gin not been invented slavery would have perished long before the settlers moved to Mexico.The last important event was the compromise of 1850.
The U.S. had acquired a large section of territory in the Mexican Cession, and the question about slavery arose again. Both California and New Mexico applied to become states, both as free states. This caused yet another conflict between the North and South. With the admission of Texas to the Union, power in the Senate had swung to the South.
Now Southerners feared that the power would swing to the North where abolitionists had been gaining strength, and that slavery would be severely limited, or abolished. The South called a convention and it was feared they would secede. Then a compromise was put forth and passed.
The compromise of 1850 stated that California was admitted as a free state, New Mexico and Utah were created as territories with no slavery restrictions, the District of Columbia ceased to be a depot for the interstate slave trade, and a more effective Fugitive Slave Act replaced the old one. This compromise only delayed the inevitable. The invention of the cotton gin had changed the course of history forever.
The U.S. was moving inexorably to a conflict between merchant and farmer, slave and free, and ultimately North and South.In conclusion, the most important invention, and more importantly, the most important event between 1790 and 1850 was Eli Whitney’s invention of the cotton gin. Its invention led to a rejuvenation in slavery breathing new life into the South, and in the country economy as a whole.
With this rejuvenation came problems between North and South over moral differences. These differences created a rift that widened until sectionalism overtook nationalism. This rift was temporarily closed several times but ultimately the differences between North and South were so ingrained in their respective culture that it took a war to change. The wide and far-reaching effects of this event can be viewed as a pond, the country, when a pebble is thrown into it the ripples become larger and larger until they come in contact with something that can stop them. As the proverb says, “A butterfly that flaps its wings in China can cause a hurricane in Kansas.”BibliographyEli Whitney Museum. Organization Page.
3 December 2000<http://www.eliwhitney.org/main.htm>Green, Constance. Eli Whitney and the Birth of American Technology. Harper-Collins College Division, 1995.Hays, Wilma Pitchford.
Eli Whitney and the Machine Age. Franklin Watts, 1959.Wilson, Mitchell. American Science and Invention: A Pictoral History. Simon and Shuster, New York, 1954.