What impact did the cotton gin have on slavery in the South?

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Nov 12, 2017


It caused slavery to become part of the fabric of southern society.


Before the invention of the cotton gin (1793), slaves in the South were used primarily for planting and picking tobacco. But years of planting tobacco had begun to wear out the soil. Plantations were getting a lesser "yield." This means that a field that had given, say, 1000 pounds of cotton in 1700 was giving half that by 1793. Thus fewer slaves were needed, and slavery was actually slowly decreasing. Many owners were granting some slaves freedom

Cotton, meanwhile, wasn't worth growing because it was too labor intensive. It took too long to clean the seeds from the cotton.

Then along comes Eli Whitney. His cotton gin could clean cotton as fast as 100 workers could do by hand. Now cotton is in great demand, and many southerners turn to cotton as a way to get rich. But to grow it, you still need lots of workers to plant, weed, pick, and pack the cotton (but only one to clean it).

The demand for slaves skyrockets. So does the demand for cotton. Cotton soon becomes the number one U.S. export. Slavery, meanwhile, spreads from the upper South, where most tobacco plantations were, into the deep South, where the cotton plantations thrived.

In 1800, there were approximately 800,000 slaves. By 1860, on the eve of the Civil War, there were nearly 4,000,000. Slaves were a critical part of the southern economy and of their way of life.

Check out this link to the National Archives to back up this answer:


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