Sunday, February 7, 2010

What could be added to "Second Creation"?

A question was asked this week as to what we would add to “America as Second Creation.” I thought for a while on this and suddenly it became so obvious I was almost ashamed for not thinking of it right away. No other invention played a more vital role in shaping early 19th century politics and facilitating the definitive event of American history – the Civil War – than did this one. The cotton gin would make for a very interesting chapter. Perhaps it is because the cotton crop was so confined to the South that it could be argued that it does not fit into the narrative of Westward expansion. I would argue that it played an integral part in making the South economically and politically viable. Therefore, it added to the credibility and potency of the United States as a whole. The cotton gin would certainly have presented its owners with possibilities previously unthinkable – mainly the work of many done by one, thereby exponentially increasing profits. The South’s dominance by an aristocracy was probably underway by the time of cotton gin’s invention, but this new technology guaranteed that it would be formidable and long-lasting. The counter-narrative to this is that it prolonged the enslavement of African Americans and made it so that only the Civil War could free them from bondage. This delay in emancipation could also serve as an explanation for the status of second-class citizenship (which is to say no citizenship at all) that African Americans suffered and fought to erase for the next 100 years. The cotton gin also seems to fit in nicely with Nye’s position that Americans of the 19th century assumed that natural resources were abundant and created necessarily to be exploited by man. Indeed, it is a very interesting topic of discussion to consider what the U.S. would have looked like without the cotton gin.

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