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Charisty Whitmer

Econ 1740

Cotton
It is hard for me to even fathom how a human being could be viewed as
property, or how one could justify the inhumane treatment and deplorable
conditions which these people were forced to live in day in and day out.
Whoever decided slavery was the new norm and acceptable must have been
a lunatic. But even worse, is to try and understand why so many people
chose to go along with it. How could people rationalize what they were
inflicting on an entire population of people, merely because of the color of
their skin?
It is interesting to see how slavery ties into American Economics as a whole,
not just that of the South, as well as Britain. In 1793, Eli Whitneys invention
of the Cotton Gin made the demand for slave labor skyrocket. Prior to that, it
is said that slavery was on its way out. However, the Gin made the
production of cotton a viable industry for the South. Before the Gin was
invented, the South produced 10,000 bales of cotton per year. After the Gin,
they were producing 1 million bales per year. By 1860 cotton accounted for
over 60% of total exports from the United States, with Britain being the
largest purchaser/consumer of those exports.

As the cotton industry exploded across the Southern United States, brilliant
minds were hard at work inventing new technology to assist in the
processing of cotton into usable products. James Hargraves created the
Spinning Jenny which turned the cotton fibers into thread. Richard
Archwright created the waterframe, which was a spinning apparatus or
better known as a power loom. All of these combined and allowed for the
success of Northeastern cotton factories as well as plantations in the South.
Rather than rotate crops on the fields depleted by cotton, plantation owners
chose to move entire plantations, so they could continue growing cotton.
Cotton was the Southern economy. It was the crop that guaranteed the
largest income.
Northerners may not have fully understood how their way of life was
contributing to the slavery epidemic. If the demand for cotton was not there,
as stated previously, slavery was on its way out. Sadly, one great invention
caused an insatiable demand for slave labor. Without slave labor, it would
have been nearly impossible to sustain the supply of cotton at the levels
necessary for export as well as for use in the Northeastern factories. Cotton
would not have been as lucrative for the South had they been required to
compensate the slaves for their labors.
in 1860, the value of the slaves was roughly 3 times greater than the
total amount invested in banks, and it was equal to about 7 times the total
value of all currency in circulation in the country, 3 times the value of the

entire livestock population, 12 times the value of the entire U.S. cotton crop
and 48 times the total expenditure of the federal government that year.
The United States was on the brink of a Civil War, as soon as anti-slavery
abolitionists tipped the balance, the war began. I have heard so many times
that slavery is NOT what caused the Civil War, nor one of the main reasons
for it. However, after reading the information in our textbook, I would have
to disagree with that. If slavery was not an issue, why would the country go
to war against itself, and take on all that came with that?
The South believed that Britain would back them in the war, because their
economy depended on the Southern cotton. Englands anti-slavery beliefs
made them stop purchasing cotton from the South. Instead they found a
new supplier in India. This left the South in a predicament.
I wonder if the Cotton Gin had never been invented, if slavery would have
actually died out on its own. And that if slavery ceased to be, if the Civil War
would still have taken place and be a part of the history of United States.
The Civil War is the war where we hear of brother fighting against brother,
friend against friend, and so on. I cannot even imagine how horrific that
must have been. In the end, whether by superior armies/skill, fate or by the
hand of God, the North won the Civil War. With this outcome came the
freeing of all slaves.
Once slavery was abolished, the new system of sharecropping took its place.
This allowed for cotton to remain a key factor in the United States economy

for some time. In fact, from 1803 1937 cotton was the United States
leading export.
I was amazed to find that cotton is currently grown in 100 countries and
processed in 130 countries. Every year, 130 BILLION pounds of fiber is used.
That is just in a single year! It is said that 95% of every cotton bale ends up
as clothing or some type of home textile. Before seeing this History Channel
presentation, I never really stopped to think about how much I personally
consume products created from cotton. In the documentary, it is mentioned
that every part of the cotton plant is utilized. Examples of this are
cottonseed oil, which is generally used in snack foods. Someone found a
way to use the seeds that were such a hassle to remove from the cotton
fibers. I was also surprised that three quarters of the paper money in the
United States in made from cotton, in the form of left over denim.
This information has piqued my curiosity. As far as cotton is concerned, it
will be interesting to pay attention to all of the byproducts that I use all the
time, without attributing them to cotton. It makes me wonder how many
other things I am using on a fairly regular (if not daily) basis, not even taking
a moment to think about where it came from. I will be paying much greater
attention to the supply chain that allows for the goods I consume.
Had the way not been paved for cotton to become the number one export of
the United States, I wonder what would have taken its place. Surely
something would have to have risen up as the number one export. Someone

would have found something to fill that gap. If that had happened, I wonder
what our country would look like today. How would it be different? How
would it be the same? It is amazing how much impact one thing can have in
the course of history. Who would have thought that something as simple as
cotton (and so complicated in the processing of cotton) could cause so many
detrimental things to take place in our history? I wonder what other
skeletons are hidden in our nations closet, that have had similar impact on
millions of lives, yet we do not take time to acknowledge them.