What was the rise of cotton belt and the slave system?

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jerseygyrl1983 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Henry Louis Gates, Jr. has said that two events led to the acceleration of the slave system in the United States: Eli Whitney's invention of the cotton gin in 1793 and the Louisiana Purchase in 1803.

As the previous educator mentioned, the cotton gin made it simpler to separate seeds from cotton, which allowed for faster production. However, for slaves, picking cotton was still no easy task, and the demands for cotton in textile mills both in the Northeast and in Great Britain demanded both faster picking and more slaves to perform the task.

Westward expansion was beneficial for planters. The new territories that would become known as the Deep South—Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana, Arkansas, Tennessee, and eastern Texas—had climates that were especially conducive to the cultivation of cotton. As new states and territories joined the union in the nineteenth century, compromises were made over how much further to expand slavery. This was due to the desire to maintain economic interest, as well as concerns over representation in Congress.

As the previous educator also mentioned, the desire for slaves increased on the eve of the Civil War. Historian Eric Foner noted that the appetite for slaves reached a peak in the middle of the century. Demand was so high that free blacks were kidnapped and brought to the South. This occurred, most notably, to Solomon Northrup, a free man who lived in Saratoga Springs, New York.

mkoren eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The cotton belt was a region of the United States where much cotton was grown. Slavery was tied to the growth of the cotton belt. Prior to the invention of the cotton gin, most cotton was grown along the coast. This cotton, called long staple cotton, could have its seeds easily separated by machines. The limitation with long staple cotton was that it could only be grown along the coast. This limited how much land was available for growing cotton.

Once the cotton gin was invented, cotton could be grown anywhere in the South where the land would support its growth. This area of the Deep South where much  cotton could now be grown was called the cotton belt. Cotton grown away from the coast was called short staple cotton. With this cotton, it was hard to separate the seeds from the cotton. It had to be done by hand. Once the cotton gin was invented, short staple cotton could now be separated by this machine. This opened up much more land in the South for growing cotton. Because so much more land could now be used for growing cotton, slavery grew significantly. More slaves were needed to tend to the fields and to work on the growing of cotton. The cotton gin made slavery more essential to the South. By 1860, cotton was the main export of the South, and the southerners believed more than ever that slavery was necessary.