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Cotton Pickers. By: William Aiken Walker.

Following the War of 1812, Americans had at their disposal a new 14 million acres that General Andrew Jackson acquired from the Creek tribe in the South. Daniel Walker Howe, What Hath God Wrought: Transformation of America, 1815-1848, 125. The expansion of territory, particularly in the South, would have massive ramifications in the coming decades.

Additionally, there was land acquired from the Cherokee and Chickasaw tribes in 1816, which would be the land that comprised the new states of Mississippi and Alabama, admitted respectively in 1817 and 1819. See id.

Despite the vast majority of this land being unruly and lawless, many were drawn to it because of its potential for growing cotton, the most in demand crop. Id. at 128 citing Douglas Farnie and David Jeremy, eds., The Fiber that Changed the World (Oxford, 2004), 17-18. United States cotton production went from 73,000 “bales in 1800 to ten times that in 1820,” when it became the leading cotton producer in the world. Daniel Walker Howe, What Hath God Wrought: Transformation of America, 1815-1848, 128 citing Douglas Farnie and David Jeremy, eds., The Fiber that Changed the World (Oxford, 2004), 17-18.

The migration of farmers and slaves to these new areas changed the composition of the country. It was just one sign of the transformation of the country that was underway. The American economy was rapidly expanding and becoming a centerpiece in the world economy for textile production. From 1816 to 1820, “cotton constituted 39 percent of U.S. exports; twenty years later the proportion had increased to 59 percent, and the value of the cotton sold overseas in 1836 exceeded $71 million.” Daniel Walker Howe, What Hath God Wrought: Transformation of America, 1815-1848, 131-32 citing Douglass C. North, The Economic Growth of the United States, 1790-1860 (Englewood Cliffs, N.J., 1961); see also Sven Beckert, “Emancipation and Empire: Reconstructing the Worldwide Web of Cotton Production,” AHR 109 (2004), 1405-38.

Coming out of the War of 1812, America was put on a trajectory of being an economic powerhouse, but it was also being put on a path toward two methods of development: agriculture, with slavery as its fundamental underpinning, and manufacturing. Those two methods of development were separated by region, with the northern United States focusing more on manufacturing and the southern United States focusing on agriculture. Cotton was simply a catalyst for that separation to occur, and once that separation occurred, it would require a significant, fundamental change in America, which only could happen after a Civil War.

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