How did the forces of the market revolution heighten the tension between freedom and slavery?
The market revolution promoted both slavery and freedom. As the 1800s progressed, American society changed from a subsistence society to one that produced commercial products. This development was furthered by the use of the steam engine. New machines were used to make and to transport products.
Many Americans gained more freedom because they were more easily able to move to new areas to start new businesses or to start new farms. They had many opportunities to get land cheaply in order to start these new business ventures or to begin farming. The country grew as Americans moved westward. The economy also grew as a result of these changes.
In the South, the use of machines, especially the cotton gin, promoted the use of slavery. With the use of the cotton gin, more cotton could be used to make clothes. As cotton farming expanded in the South, so did the use of slaves. As northern industries used new machines to make cotton clothes quickly, the demand for cotton rose. Additionally, other countries increased their demand for cotton grown in the southern part of the United States. Thus, more slaves were needed and were used in the South.
The market revolution created much tension as explained by Pohnpei, because different events were pulling the state of affairs in different directions. The North and Europe had abolished slavery and were actively pressurizing the South to do the same. This eventually worked to stop the slave trade but not slavery itself, especially in the South. There was increasing need for products such as cotton by the industries in the North from the plantations in the South. Ironically, while the Northerners were against slavery, they did fuel its survival because of their increasing demands on the South, who relied mostly on slaves to work in the plantations. Slaves, on the other hand, fought their way to the North in pursuit of the highly available industrial jobs, and those that succeeded supported those left in the South in the fight against slavery. These different forces brought about the tension between slavery and freedom during the market revolution period.
The market revolution demanded and promoted both freedom and slavery, bringing them into greater tension.
On the one hand, the market revolution promoted freedom. It gave people the opportunity to break away from traditional ways and find new ways of making money and living life. It also needed freedom because it needed people who could move around to find work and who had the mental freedom to devise new businesses and ways of doing business.
At the same time, it demanded more slavery. One thing that it did was to create higher demand for clothing. This demand was filled in large part through cotton from the South. This created more of a demand for slaves.
To begin our search for a comprehensive answer, first consider exactly what the forces of the market revolution were. The primary force driving this revolution was capital. At the start of the nineteenth century it was becoming much easier to acquire capital, and so it was also naturally easier to move away from the people and groups that usually offered capital for work. In other words, people could be their own boss in ways never seen before. This was the essence of a new kind of freedom.
A second important force was technology. New inventions allowed for the more efficient use of resources. The importance of Eli Whitney's cotton gin, for example, cannot be overstated. This invention represented a new technological movement based on replaceable parts and increased efficiency, resulting in more capital and more freedom.
This dual force of capital and technology actually allowed for both freedom and slavery to grow in tandem. To put it simply, a free man had the opportunity to acquire more capital and thus more freedom to spend that capital on what he desired. A desire for more capital and increased efficiency naturally led many rich Southerners to purchase more slaves to take advantage of new technology and acquire even more capital. To be sure, slaves were seen as a kind of capital, a tool to acquire more resources that would be sold in the marketplace.
The cultural tolerance and legal protection of slavery in the South would inevitably clash with the abolitionists’ sentiments in the North and the notion that the federal government should outlaw slavery. In a most ironic twist, many Southern slaveholders claimed that the North threatened their freedom, and thus the tension between freedom and slavery came to a head in the mid-1800s.
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