United States - Economy a Brief History Movement South and Westward
Movement south and westward
Cotton, at first a small-scale crop in the South, boomed following Eli Whitney's invention in 1793 of the cotton gin, a machine that separated raw cotton from seeds and other waste. Planters in the South bought land from small farmers who frequently moved farther west. Soon, large plantations, supported by slave labor, made some families very wealthy.
It wasn't just southerners who were moving west, however. Whole villages in the East sometimes uprooted and established new settlements in the more fertile farmland of the Midwest. While western settlers are often depicted as fiercely independent and strongly opposed to any kind of government control or interference, they actually received a lot of government help, directly and indirectly. Government-created national roads and waterways, such as the Cumberland Pike (1818) and the Erie Canal (1825), helped new settlers migrate west and later helped move western farm produce to market.
Many Americans, both poor and rich, idealized Andrew Jackson, who became president in 1829, because he had started life in a log cabin in frontier territory. President Jackson (1829-1837) opposed the successor to Hamilton's National Bank, which he believed favored the entrenched interests of the East against the West. When he was elected for a second term, Jackson opposed renewing the bank's charter, and Congress supported him. Their actions shook confidence in the nation's financial system, and business panics occurred in both 1834 and 1837.
Periodic economic dislocations did not curtail rapid U.S. economic growth during the 19th century. New inventions and capital investment led to the creation of new industries and economic growth. As transportation improved, new markets continuously opened. The steamboat made river traffic faster and cheaper, but development of railroads had an even greater effect, opening up vast stretches of new territory for development. Like canals and roads, railroads received large amounts of government assistance in their early building years in the form of land grants. But unlike other forms of transportation, railroads also attracted a good deal of domestic and European private investment.
In these heady days, get-rich-quick schemes abounded. Financial manipulators made fortunes overnight, but many people lost their savings. Nevertheless, a combination of vision and foreign investment, combined with the discovery of gold and a major commitment of America's public and private wealth, enabled the nation to develop a large-scale railroad system, establishing the base for the country's industrialization.