The Cause of the Civil War: Eli Whitney's Cotton Gin

Topics: Slavery in the United States, Compromise of 1850, American Civil War Pages: 5 (1800 words) Published: May 31, 2001
During the period between 1790 and 1850, the United States was rapidly changing. It was now a separate country with its own economy, laws, and government. The country was learning to live on its own, apart from England. There began to appear a rift between North and South. The North believing in the Puritan Merchant role model, and the South in the role model of the English Country Squire. The North traded with everyone, while the South traded primarily with England. The major crop in the South was tobacco, and because of the decline in the price of tobacco the slave trade was dying, just as those in the North hoped it would. Then came a man, and an invention, which changed the course of history. In 1792, Eli Whitney visited the plantation of Catherine Greene, the wife of Revolutionary War general, Nathaniel Greene, near Savannah Georgia. He watched cotton being cleaned; a very long and time consuming process to do by hand. Watching the cotton being cleaned an idea came to Whitney. He decided he would build a machine that would clean cotton faster than it could be done by hand. Thus, he created the cotton gin.

This invention changed the way the South functioned, and the ripple effect it created changed the course of history forever. The ripple effect caused by Eli Whitney's cotton gin can be seen as the driving force behind many of the conflicts between North and South, and eventually culminating in the Civil War. Before Eli Whitney's invention, slavery was dying in the South. The price of tobacco had plummeted, and planters were freeing slaves because of the high cost of feeding, housing and clothing them. When Eli Whitney introduced his invention the cotton market exploded. Cotton began to be grown in enormous quantities because it was good for making clothes, and with the invention of the cotton gin easier to produce. This explosion in the growth of the cotton market rejuvenated the slave trade. This time, though, the slave trade was not between the U.S. and Africa, but instead between the Old South, and the New South. The Old South began to "breed" slaves to sell to the cotton farmers in the New South. These farmers needed large numbers of slaves because once the cotton was ripe, it needed to be picked quickly. The price of slaves skyrocketed, and this new crop ensured the practice of slavery would continue. This continuation of slavery by the South led to a ripple effect that can be seen as a driving force behind the events that led up to the Civil War.

One of the most important events caused by the cotton gin was the exile of the Cherokee Indians along the Trail of Tears. As the demand for cotton and slaves grew the South began to look for more land, and discovered it in the land owned by the Cherokee Indians. The land was taken from them beginning in 1828 when the Georgia government outlawed the Cherokee government and began to take the land. This continued until 1838 when, despite a Supreme Court order, federal troops drove the last of the Cherokee from the land, that covered Georgia, Tennessee, and North Carolina to Oklahoma where many of them died. This would not have occurred had it not been for the invention of the cotton gin. The cotton gin created a market for slavery. As the production of cotton rose so did the production of slavery. These enterprises needed land, which stimulated the wars against the Indians to take their land, which could then be used by cotton farmers, and plantation holders who bred slaves. Whitney's cotton gin, and its ripple effect was having a major impact on the events in the American South.

Another major effect of slavery caused by Eli Whitney's cotton gin was the Compromise of 1820. As the farmers spread westward, they took the practice of slavery with them. This led to a problem when in 1819 Missouri petitioned to enter the Union as a slave state. This idea scared the North who realized the slavery would not die out of its own accord, and to...

Bibliography: Eli Whitney Museum. Organization Page. 3 December 2000

Green, Constance. Eli Whitney and the Birth of American Technology. Harper-Collins
College Division, 1995.
Hays, Wilma Pitchford. Eli Whitney and the Machine Age. Franklin Watts, 1959.
Wilson, Mitchell. American Science and Invention: A Pictoral History. Simon and Shuster, New York, 1954.
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