Takaki explains that the United States was founded on a contradiction. While the Declaration of Independence asserted that “all men are created equal,” enslaved people officially counted as only “three fifths” of a person. Around this time, many Northern states were abolishing slavery, while in many parts of the South it was becoming less profitable and, hence, popular. However, in 1793, everything changed with Eli Whitney’s invention of the cotton gin. Suddenly, the profits that could be made from slavery skyrocketed, not only in cotton-producing states like Georgia and Texas but also “slave-breeding states” like Virginia and Maryland.
This passage shows how the profit motive of capitalism and the ideology of racism combined to keep black people enslaved in the nineteenth century, even when slavery seemed to be subsiding and support for abolition growing. The book suggests that just one of these factors would perhaps not be enough to support the continued existence of slavery; however, the combination of both was powerful and deadly.
In 1800, the US was a mostly rural nation, but by 1860 there was a greater diversity of industries and greater concentration of citizens in urban areas. Huge profits were being made in agriculture, manufacturing, shipping, and banking. However, the cotton trade was by far the most powerful source of wealth in the nation. The “Cotton Kingdom” owed its existence to the seizing of more Native land and the proliferation of slavery. The sale of huge amounts of Indian land in the South was quickly followed by huge increases in the enslaved populations of Alabama, Mississippi, and Louisiana. Meanwhile, the arrival of more and more nonblack workers from around the world further stimulated the nation’s diverse, booming economy.
Again, this passage makes clear why even those who were in theory ideologically opposed to slavery were resistant to ending the institution: it was simply making too much money. As Takaki shows throughout the book, profit was the driving force behind many major occurrences in American history.