How did the cotton gin change southern society?
The invention of the cotton gin made it profitable to grow short staple cotton, which, unlike so-called "Sea Island" cotton, could grow inland. The cotton gin made the process of cleaning and removing the seeds from cotton bolls more efficient. This occurred at exactly the time that the textile industry was booming in New England and Great Britain. It gave the South a new cash crop, and would-be planters poured capital into buying land, and, more importantly, enslaved people to work the land. Southerners began to eye the so-called "black belt," fertile soils stretching from Alabama to Mississippi, imagining a South where even ordinary whites could profitably cultivate cotton. Of course, as Southerners saw it, this vision was impossible without vast quantities of slave labor. A thriving and tragic "internal" slave trade began, as planters in the Chesapeake realized they could profitably sell their slaves southward (indeed, it was more profitable to do so than to continue to "work" them). So the cotton gin's most important and pernicious effect was the expansion of slavery, which during the first thirty years of the nineteenth century, became more important than ever to the South.