The Market Revolution, Industrialization, and New Technologies

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Which region was more impacted by the cotton gin: North or South?

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The cotton gin had a greater impact on the southern United States than on the North.

Eli Whitney invented the cotton gin in 1792, a time when agricultural work in the South was declining. Tobacco was becoming less profitable, and only the kind cotton that grew by the coast was easy to work with. The cotton that grew in other places in the South had sticky seeds that were difficult and time-consuming to separate from the cotton itself. As the eighteenth century drew to a close, it looked as if the slave-based agriculture on which the Southern economy was built would need to change. This could have led to the end of slavery and the start of the kind of factory-based industrial economy that would soon develop in the North.

The cotton gin changed all that. This machine could quickly and easily separate the sticky seeds from the cotton. All of a sudden, far more cotton could be profitably produced for the factories that were growing by leaps and bounds in England and the northern states. Land was bought up and slavery grew because more slaves than ever were needed to plant and harvest the cotton. Because of the cotton gin, therefore, the South was locked into an agricultural economy based on slave labor. This eventually widened the gap between the North and the South. The intense fight over the fate of slavery eventually led to the Civil War—a war in which the South, of course, fared badly.

The cotton gin was important to industrial development in the North because it helped supply the Northern textile mills with cotton: however, the North was industrializing regardless of cotton and diversifying into all sorts of manufacturing. It was not reliant on cotton and the cotton gin the way the South was.

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