The Invention of Cotton Gin and Slavery

December 26, 2017

When slavery was still prominent across many countries, there was an age were cotton ruled the market. It was as important back then as well. An invention from a man named Eli Whitney changed everything. His invention of the cotton gin made the production of cotton never easier. After tobacco, cotton has become the number one cash crop in America. More production meant more farms and more farms meant more slaves. Due to the great demand for labor, slavery was back in business in America. The invention of the cotton gin has triggered the country into civil war. The invention of the cotton gin from Eli Whitney has strongly influenced slavery and triggered the civil war in America.

King Cotton

Demand in the Global Market

The global market, especially in Europe demanded a large amount of cotton due to its wide use in daily life, back in the eighteenth and nineteenth century. Cotton is highly durable, insulate heat, comfortable, and takes in moisture. Britain’s high demand for cotton has created a price upon the world market. Britain between the years of the 1780s to the 1820s had a strong influence in the world markets and was hampered by the high price of inputs resulting from the sudden surge in British demands. (Broadberry, & Gupta, 2009) More demand resulted in higher pricing in cotton. Supplying cotton has become a difficulty and the cotton market was dying for an alternative.


Challenge in Fine Cotton Production

To makes things worse, raw cotton took a significant time to produce and was labor intensive. Cotton before took time to produce, due to taking out the seed from cotton. It would take twenty-five days to remove the seed from fifty bales of cotton but a trained slave could harvest fifty bales of cotton a day. (McGill, 2017) This time-consuming process of deseeding was a problem that all cotton harvester faced. This process has made cotton production unprofitable a few years ago.

The invention of the Cotton Gin

Eli Whitney and the Invention of Cotton Gin

Eli Whitney, growing up at a farm, had a strong interest in machinery and technology, as he studied at Yale University. Working at plantation farm in Southern Carolina, he finds that Tobacco no longer becoming the cash crop in America. Although he finds that cotton can be greatly produced but it was difficult to deseed the cotton. This is where he invents the cotton engine or the cotton gin. Eli Whitney’s invention of the cotton gin, which is a mechanical device that removes the seed from cotton, quickly made an impact on the farming industry.

The simple design of the cotton gin has brought much attention from the public. The rollers with wire teeth on a revolving cylinder, pulling the cotton through a comb that filters the seed from the cotton. Although because of his simple design and his effort to franchise the design, may farmers have stolen and copied his idea. In 1795, Whitney perfects his design and begin manufacturing gins, however, his workshop had been lost in a fire. This has left him deep in debt, which took some 60 lawsuits for courts to finally uphold Whitney’s patent in 1807. (Allott, 2014) His simple technology made many cotton farmers rich. However, he was not able to make much income. After he was able to attain his patent right for his invention, he started to make real money and his invention has finally paid him off.

Productivity and Change in Society

Whitney’s invention, the cotton gin, dramatically increase the speed of the de-seeding process. The cotton gin with the wire combs that would remove the cotton fibers from the seed and the seed would drop. (McGill, 2017) Because of the faster production creating raw cotton, cotton production has finally become a profitable cash crop. He was able to test the cotton gin, how fast it was able to deseed, compare to the traditional way. “When Whitney demonstrated the gin for Greene’s friends and acquaintances, he was able to do a half day’s work within an hour” (McGill, 2017). The invention of the cotton gin successfully made the intensive half days work of deseeding process an hour which brought many farmers to produce cotton.

Britain became the number one customer in trade in cotton. The majority of the cotton in the world at the time came from America. From a large amount of trade, Americans have made brought great wealth to the American society. More than the cotton has come widely available in the global market, the price of raw cotton has largely decreased. The great price increase in cotton when there was a great demand in Britain have slowly fallen back. “As supply increased, particularly from the United States, the price of raw cotton in Britain fell back, returning during the 1830s to its level in the early eighteenth century.” (Broadberry, & Gupta, 2009) From this effect, competitors such as India have faced a great challenge as they had to fight for export with America with the cotton gin.

Affect to Slavery and After Effect

This great invention had a bigger side effect on American society. Due to a large number of cotton farms, there was a great demand for physical labor. There were still the need of people in picking up and growing cotton. Although the country was moving towards abolishment in slavery, it has struck another slavery revolution. “Between 1820 and 1860, at least 875,000 slaves were forcibly removed from the Upper South, causing the enslaved population in Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, Florida, and Alabama to increase by 68 percent and leading to a cotton boom after the invention of the cotton gin and a sugar revolution in Louisiana” (Vincent, 2016, p. 19). The price of slaves was decreasing however things have soon changed. A lot of slaves were brought to the south for cotton harvesting.

As Tabaco become unprofitable, cotton saved America from the economic collapse. Since cotton was valuable at the time, cotton gin allowed mass production which results in greater slavery. While slavery became negatively viewed in the northern states, it has become one of the factors which have to lead to trigger the civil war in 1860. “Rather, in an ironic twist for a society that has always been driven by invention and “progress,” it is the technology that doomed the United States to civil war.” (Finkelman, 2001, pg. 413) The cotton gin has economically brought success although it has brought a darker fate to society. “The Founding Fathers, sensing that slavery’s days were numbered and oblivious to the coming spike in cotton profitability, acceded to constitutional provisions that were supportive of southern agriculture.” (Van Cott, 2010, pg. 173) Human rights and economic growth come to hand to hand, just as we can see in today’s politics. At this period many found cotton farming profitable and many demanded larger farms. Larger the farm asked for more slaves. Unfortunately, differences in society and separation lead to conflict between the northern and southern states.

Conclusion

Cotton today have taken an important role in so many things in our daily life, such as t-shirts, jeans, socks, paper money, furniture, and much more. This simple yet great invention of the cotton gin from a man named Eli Whitney changed the history of America. His invention of the cotton gin made the production of cotton never easier but did not profit Eli as much as the farmers. Cotton has become the number one cash crop in America at the time and brought many white Americans to produce cotton. Larger production demanded physical labor which many African American slaves were forced into. The invention of the cotton gin from Eli Whitney shook the global market and has strongly influenced the slavery in America, eventually leading to a war to end slavery.

References

Allott, D. (2014). Eli whitney’s revolution spark: His cotton gin shifted industry into

higher gear. Investor’s Business Daily Retrieved from

https://csuglobal.idm.oclc.org/login?url=https://search-proquest-

com.csuglobal.idm.oclc.org/docview/1560686980?accountid=38569

Broadberry, S., & Gupta, B. (2009). Lancashire, India, and Shifting Competitive Advantage in

Cotton Textiles, 1700-1850: The Neglected Role of Factor Prices. The Economic History

Review,
62(2), 279-305.

McGill, S. (2017). Eli Whitney. Eli Whitney, 1-2.

Finkelman, P. (2001). The Founders and Slavery: Little Ventured, Little Gained. Yale Journal

of Law & the Humanities, 13, 413-531.

Van Cott, T. N. (2010). Cotton and race in the making of america: The human costs of economic power. The Journal of American History, 97(1), 173-174. Retrieved from https://csuglobal.idm.oclc.org/login?url=https://search-proquest-com.csuglobal.idm.oclc.org/docview/577367923?accountid=38569

Vincent, C. (2016). Slavery and forced migration in the antebellum south. The Journal of

Southern History, 82(4), 926-927. Retrieved from

https://csuglobal.idm.oclc.org/login?url=https://search-proquest-

com.csuglobal.idm.oclc.org/docview/1838659897?accountid=38569

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