On today's date, March 14, 221 years ago in 1794 a Massachusetts-born, Yale-educated engineer named Eli Whitney was granted a patent on a new machine called the "Cotton Gin" ("Gin" being short for "engine"). Whitney apparently intended nothing more with his invention (original patent is pictured at left) than to make the business of cotton production easier and more efficient. And of course to make some money into the bargain. But what Mr. Whitney could not have known was that his invention would profoundly divide his county, laying the bitter seeds of a terrible and destructive Civil War that would break out 35 years after his death.
What Exactly Did the Cotton Gin Do?
Cotton had been a lucrative but troublesome crop to cultivate before the advent of Mr. Whitney's cotton gin. It had to be looked after and maintained in great abundance. This was because the fibers it produced grew in little pods which had to be harvested. Then these pods had to have the cotton removed and these fibers had to be separated from the sticky seeds which were embedded in them. Whitney graduated from Yale in 1792 and moved to South Carolina to accept a job as a tutor. His landlady had a small crop of cotton, and Whitney got into discussions with planters in the area about the fact
What Exactly Was the Effect of the Cotton Gin?
The effect that this labor saving device had on the Southern economy in America was profound. The United States had always been an agricultural nation. This was particularly so in the American south with its warm climate and rich soil. A large labor force in the form mostly of African slaves was needed to maintain and harvest such crops as sugar, rice, and tobacco in addition to cotton. But these other crops were
Two Different Economies & Two Different Systems
As a result of all of this, the Southern economy became a one-crop affair, which was dependent upon slavery. On the other hand, the Northern states in America became primarily industrial. And northern society evolved as different classes of people interacted in the north's more urban social setting. The South for its part remained in it's rural, and plantation setting, and thus in a modern and evolving world the