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Changes in Society and Economy from 1820-1860 Due to Transportation, Communication, and Market Revolutions

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"The rate of change in human society began to pick up in the early 1800s and has been accelerating ever since. Arguably, even the 20th century did not have such a profound impact on the way people live their lives as the 19th."1

During the years 1820-1860, transportation, communication, and market revolutions brought about many critical changes to the United States both socially and economically due in part to canals, railroads, cotton, the settling of new portions of land as well as many other aspects.

While cotton picking had been around for quite some time already, it wasn't until Eli Whitney's invention of the cotton gin in the 1790's that it really began to shape the American market and then later on society itself. The Cotton Boom was caused in part because of all the inventions that came before the cotton gin which allowed the cotton to be spun and woven. During this time, the value of tobacco plunged while that of sugar thrived but only in select parts of the country; this caused the South to have control of almost three-fifths of the country's exports. The problem with cotton was that while the cotton gin was able to remove the seeds quickly and with ease, it could not grow and pick it. This cause a high demand for slaves during the eighteenth century to the point that by the year 1860, slaves outnumbered free Americans 2-to-1 and the number of slave states had increased from six to fifteen.2

The steamboat, first made by John Fitch and Robert Fulton during the early 1800's quickly became the ideal way to transport both goods and people because they were generally bigger and stronger than the wooden ships. This lowered the rate of a ticket in steerage and allowed thousands of immigrants to migrate over to America in hopes of a better life. The United States used them mostly to transport things such as cotton to Europe while, as previously mentioned, the English mainly used them to transport civilians.

Around the same time that the cotton gin was busy shaping the market, the expansion of the West was forcing Americans to rethink how they saw transportation through roads, canals, and eventually trains.3 The first road built by the federal, the National aka Cumberland Road, was a way for the settlers to reach the early West. Before then, the roads from the East and West were mostly trails made by the Indians which were vastly out of date and unreliable. The road was also seen as a way for farmers to reach the Eastern markets to sell their goods and therefore stimulate the economy which is why President Jefferson along with the Congress approved the project at a price of 30,000 dollars.

A few years later, the Erie Canal was built as a way to commute from New York to the Great Lakes. Because it faster than traveling by wagon, lacked the worrying of portage, and had an exceptionally low cost in comparison to land travel, the canal quickly became a preferred way to travel

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