School Improvement in Maryland
Clarifications: Each clarification provides an explanation of an indicator/objective to help teachers better understand the skills and/or concepts.

Standard 5.0 History

Topic C. Conflict between Ideas and Institutions

Indicator 3. Analyze the influence of industrialization and technological developments on society in the United States before 1877

Objective b. Explain how the cotton gin and the opening of new lands in the South and West impacted the institution of slavery

Clarification

The invention of the cotton gin in 1793 made growing cotton a lucrative business, and Southerners moved steadily westward in search of new lands on which to raise ever larger cotton crops.

Prior to the invention of the cotton gin, the profitability of slavery in the South was on the decline. In the Upper South, tobacco planters found themselves in persistent debt. In the Lower South, slave labor was only profitable along the Atlantic and Gulf coasts where rice, indigo, and long-staple cotton were grown. Short-staple cotton, which could be grown in the interior, was not profitable because removing the seeds from cotton fiber was so labor intensive. Although social customs and culture bound Southern people to slavery, this labor system was making less economic sense.

With the invention of the cotton gin, a person could separate fifty times as much short-staple cotton as he could have by hand, and planting cotton became lucrative almost overnight. Eager to grow ever more cotton, planters expanded their slave labor forces and poured into newly opened lands in Kentucky, Tennessee, Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana, and Texas in search of larger plantations and soil that had not yet been exhausted by previous cotton harvests. The cotton culture, with its reliance on slavery, defined the South from about 1800 until the Civil War. The new profitability of cotton reinvigorated the Southern commitment to slavery, and the debate over the expansion of slavery into western territories began to rage on a national level.

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