Economy and the Industrial Revolutionexternal image Am_I_Not_a_Man_2.jpg

From 1820-1860, Europe's Industrial Revolution was in full swing and affecting America as well. New forms of transportation such as the canal system, turnpikes, and the extremely successful railroad system increased demand for crops and the growth of American industries. These new inventions also caused an increased demand for cotton, as it was a main textile, once again highlighting the controversial issue of slavery. Economic focus also shifted significantly during this time from the "upper south" to the expanding "lower south" in the deep south and southwest mainly centered around cotton production.

New Inventions of the Industrial Revolution

From 1820-1860, the industrial revolution was growing largely in the United States. Though most of the developments affected primarily the north some inventions were prominent in the south as well. In 1831 Cyrus McCormick invented the horse drawn reaper making the plowing process less labor-intensive. However a new invention in 1837 by John Deere made plowing a process that even women and children could easily handle- the riding plow. In 1844 Samuel F.B. Morse invented the telegraph opening ways for easier communication (although for a while it was restricted largely to only the wealthy and more widely available in the North). For the most part many of the advances of the Industrial Revolution affected the North leaving the South behind and further divided the North and South politically, economically, culturally, and technologically.

The Rise of King Cotton

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The market for tobacco, long the main cash crop of the South, was becoming increasingly unstable and and growing increasingly impractical for farmers due to the rapid pace it exhausted the land. Other cash crops such as rice, sugar, and long-staple cotton, were either confined to to certain regions, labor-intensive, or had a long growing period, all of which made the growing process expensive and difficult. Short-staple cotton quickly grew into high demand as it was flexible enough to be cultivated in a variety of different soils, and robust enough to survive a variety of different climates. Though the short-staple cotton was more difficult to process than long-staple cotton, Eli Whitney's cotton gin made the process faster and easier helping farmers keep up with the textile industry's high demand for raw material.

During the 1820's and 1830's, people flocked to the west in order to reap some of the benefits of cotton production. However, due to massive incline in production, the cotton market experienced periodic fluctuation of supply and demand. With the shift of the cotton market, there was also a large shift and growth in slave population of the South. For example, between 1820-1860, Alabama's slave population increased from 41,000, to 435,000 and Mississippi' s slave population grew from 32,000 to 436,000. This new growth in slavery drew heavy criticism from abolitionists in the North.

The South Beyond Agriculture

The South was primarily agrarian, business classes such as manufacturers and merchants also grew in the South. Textile, flour milling, and iron manufacturing grew in importance, especially in the upper South. These commercial centers, however, were still linked to agriculture and main focused on serving the needs of the Southern plantation economy.
Broker's or "factors" were merchants who wor ked to find buyers for cotton and other crops. Many also served as b ankers providing farmers with credit during periods w hen cotton prices declined. Despite their importance, these business classes paled largely in comparison with the income and importance of the South's agricultural economy.

Transportation in the South

Between 1 820-1860, the North experienced rapid industrial growth especially in the areas of transportation. New roads, canals, and railroads connected the North, increased communication, and increased growth and demand of American industry. However, transportation in the South was a stark contrast with that of the industrial North: canals were isolated and not widespread, roads were poorly made, and railways were not widespread enough to really tie together the vast, isolated regions of the South. Southern railroads were largely unconnected with the in-place national system and were too short, forcing planters ship crops largely by water to manufacturers in port towns.

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Banking and Finance

Unlike the north , the South had developed no formal banking or financial system and had to rely on the North's banking and financial system. This only served to further the economic divided and increase tensions between Southern plantation farmers and Northern bankers.


Mr. Stroud
Brinkley Alan. American History: A Survey, Twelfth Edition. New York, 2007, McGraw Hill.