How did the cotton gin change agriculture in the south?

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Mark B. Share
Jan 23, 2017

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It made cotton worth growing.

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The demand for cotton was high, but it wasn't really worth the effort to grow it. The cotton seeds had to be removed by hand, which took too long to do. So though the price for cotton was high, too much labor was required to make it profitable.

Then along came Eli Whitney's cotton gin (gin was short for engine). The machine, run by turning a crank, cleaned the seeds from the cotton as fast as 100 slaves could do by hand. Now cotton was profitable. Farmers in the deep South, where cotton grew best, now wanted to buy land and slaves, because with the demand for cotton so high, a person could now get rich growing it.

In the first half of the 19th Century, the demand for cotton grew as the North, England and France wanted it for their textile mills, which would turn the cotton into cloth. As demand for cotton increased, so did the demand for slaves to work the ever-increasing lands that were devoted to growing cotton.

As a result, "King Cotton" became our country's number one export, and slavery became even more ingrained into the fabric of the southern economy.

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