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Old December 6th, 2012, 01:58 PM   #1

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Is it true slavery was dying just before the invention of the cotton gin?


But the creation of the cotton gin reversed the process.





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In the second part of the eighteenth century, slavery was beginning to disappear naturally in the United States as farmers were planting crops that required far less manual work. Many slave owners freed their slaves and it began to look like slavery would die out completely. But things were to change. In 1793, Eli Whitney invented the cotton gin (a device for processing raw cotton). This meant that a single man could process fifty times more cotton in a day than previously – making cotton a huge money making crop. This caused the almost immediate replacement of many crops with cotton, and slavery became once again firmly entrenched until its modern abolition.
10 Fascinating Facts About*Slavery - Listverse
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Old December 6th, 2012, 02:20 PM   #2

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I would say the author is being a bit aggressive in his sentence that "many slave owners freed their slaves and it began to look like slavery would die out completely." I think he paints a picture that is a bit rosier than reality. But there is no doubt that cotton boomed as a result of the cotton gin and that the cotton industry built itself on slave labor.

However, I also suggest that it could just as easily be built on regular labor. After all, the cotton industry didn't die out after the Civil War ended slavery. The Cotton Exchange here in Galveston didn't even start its boomtime until after the war.
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Old December 6th, 2012, 02:27 PM   #3

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Originally Posted by Baltis View Post
I would say the author is being a bit aggressive in his sentence that "many slave owners freed their slaves and it began to look like slavery would die out completely." I think he paints a picture that is a bit rosier than reality. But there is no doubt that cotton boomed as a result of the cotton gin and that the cotton industry built itself on slave labor.
I agree.

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However, I also suggest that it could just as easily be built on regular labor. After all, the cotton industry didn't die out after the Civil War ended slavery. The Cotton Exchange here in Galveston didn't even start its boomtime until after the war.
But I'm not so sure that cotton production could have thrived with free labor. From everything I understand it was extremely backbreaking, tedious, hot, hard, miserable work. It seems to me workers would have had to be offered a relatively good wage in order to voluntarily do it. I'm not so sure that the revenues from cotton production could warrant that. And if they could, why didn't they?
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Old December 6th, 2012, 02:31 PM   #4
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I believe alrready at the formation of the US it was realized that slavery was a bit of a problematic aberration. It was however felt that the "peculiar institution" could be left alone, and eventually it would simply die out, since plantation economy wasn't all that profitable. The new beet sugar meant the European market could supply itself and didn't need expensive plantation sugar from the New World anymore, and tobacco wasn't nearly as profitable.

And then switching to cotton production made the plantations hugely profitable again, and suddenly the very realistic looking prospect of slavery just peetering out eventually became considerably more distant.
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Old December 6th, 2012, 02:31 PM   #5
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Look at the time frame in context. It took a slave all day just to separate one pound of cotton from its seed. The economics are just not there, so a lot of people were turning away from slavery because it was not profitable.

Enter the Cotton Gin. The machine can process a thousand pounds of cotton per day, Europe is paying top dollar for the material...instant cash crop. If somebody had come up with a way to mechanically pick cotton as we do today, I wonder if slavery might indeed have died off quickly in the south.
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Old December 6th, 2012, 02:34 PM   #6
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Originally Posted by Baltis View Post
However, I also suggest that it could just as easily be built on regular labor. After all, the cotton industry didn't die out after the Civil War ended slavery. The Cotton Exchange here in Galveston didn't even start its boomtime until after the war.
It looks to me more like the south had all the infrastructure and labour already invested in, and then they found a hugely profitable new commodity the system already in existance could produce rather well. It could have been done with a system set up different, but the plantations were already a reality, and looking for a business break, which they found in cotton. So then there was no need to reform things and start producing stuff in new ways.
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Old December 6th, 2012, 02:34 PM   #7

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And if they could, why didn't they?
Well, perhaps they were already into the slavery thing and just didn't really want to change it. Not sure what else to say about that. But, like I said, when slavery died, the cotton industry didn't. And it was still back breaking, hot, tiring, etc.
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Old December 6th, 2012, 02:47 PM   #8

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Originally Posted by Baltis View Post
Well, perhaps they were already into the slavery thing and just didn't really want to change it. Not sure what else to say about that. But, like I said, when slavery died, the cotton industry didn't. And it was still back breaking, hot, tiring, etc.
It would be interesting to know if it continued to be as profitable though. Unfortunately, I'm not sure where to find that data.
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Old December 6th, 2012, 02:56 PM   #9
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It would be interesting to know if it continued to be as profitable though. Unfortunately, I'm not sure where to find that data.
I have a question for you or Baltis. What made slavery last so long in Brazil? Was sugar as profitable as cotton in the post-cotton gin South?
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Old December 6th, 2012, 02:57 PM   #10

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It would be interesting to know if it continued to be as profitable though. Unfortunately, I'm not sure where to find that data.
Well, I found something after all:

http://college.holycross.edu/RePEc/e...N3P245_258.pdf

But my eyes are crossing just looking at it. Maybe over the weekend when I'm feeling more ambitious.
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