Slavery, the Cotton Gin, the Jacquard Loom, Punch Cards and Computers

Posted by PITHOCRATES - June 12th, 2013

Technology 101

(Originally published December 7th, 2011)

African Slaves came to the New World because the Colonists needed Laborers

The Europeans didn’t invent slavery when they introduced it to the New World.  It’d been around since the dawn of civilization.  And it’s been a way of life in many civilizations for thousands of years.  Where no one was safe from the slave traders.  Some were born into slavery.  Some were simply soldiers captured in battle.  Even children were bought and sold.  Perhaps the saddest story is the Children’s Crusade of 1212.  When about 50,000 poor Christian kids walked from Central Europe to free Palestine from Muslim control and return it to the Christians.  They got as far as boarding ships in Italian ports.  But those ships did not deliver them to Palestine.  They delivered them instead into the Muslim slave markets of Northern Africa and the Middle East.  Where they were never heard from again.

African slaves came to the New World because the colonists needed laborers.  They tried enslaving the Native Americans.  But it was too easy for them to escape back into friendly territory.  And blend in with the indigenous population.  Not the case with black Africans.  Who didn’t know the surrounding country.  Or the languages.  What they knew was an ocean away.  Also, the locals had a tendency of dying from European diseases.  Especially smallpox.  Whereas the Africans were long exposed to smallpox.  And built up some resistance to this scourge of European colonialism.

So the New World colonies began with slaves harvesting their crops.  Slaves that the Europeans bought from African slave traders.  Who had long been selling captured Africans to the Arabs.  And had no problem selling them to the Europeans.  And so began the problem of slavery in America.

With the Cotton Gin Separating the Seed from the Cotton Fiber became not so Labor Intensive

When the British American colonists started talking about liberty the slavery problem was the elephant in the room that they were reluctant to talk about.  When Jefferson wrote that all men were created equal they knew that meant those enslaved against their will, too.  Yet here they were.  These liberty-seeking people were enslaving people themselves.  But there was a problem.  To form a united country the Founding Fathers needed the southern states.  Who used slaves as the basis for their economy.  And they weren’t going to join a union without their slaves.  So they wouldn’t talk about the elephant.  Instead they tabled that discussion for 20 years.  With the population growing they didn’t need slaves anymore.  There were few in the North.  And the South should follow suit.  It was inevitable.  Leaving just one problem to solve.  What to do with their slaves as they transitioned to paid laborers.  Which the Founding Fathers were sure the southern slave owners could solve within those 20 years.

Slave-labor was not efficient.  George Washington wanted to sell his slaves and replace them with paid laborers.  Because paid laborers cost less.  You only paid them for their labors.  And then they went away.  And if you changed your crops you could easily hire new laborers skilled in the new crop.  Not quite so easy with a large slave labor force.  So those in the North had good reason to believe that slavery would slowly give way to paid laborers.  Even in the South.  Or so they thought.  But one of the staple crops of the South started to shape events.  Cotton.

Cotton was a labor-intensive crop to harvest.  And separating the seed from the cotton was even more labor-intensive.  Until someone mechanized this process.  With a cotton engine.  The cotton gin.  Patented in America by Eli Whitney.  A hand-cranked device that used hooks to pull the cotton fiber through a screen.  The holes in the screen were small enough to let the cotton fiber through.  But not large enough for the seeds to pass.  With the cotton gin separating the seed from the cotton fiber became not so labor intensive.   In fact, these little machines could clean cotton faster than the slaves could harvest it.  Which meant, of course, there was a lot more cotton that could be grown and harvested.  Which created a new slavery boom.  And dashed all the hopes of the Founding Fathers.

Cheap Cloth Unleashed a lot of Economic Activity which Improved the Quality of Life

Many blame the cotton gin for extending the institution of slavery in America.  And the bloody American Civil War that ended it.  But apart from this the cotton gin was a fundamental step in modernizing economies everywhere.  And helped to spur the textile industry forward.   By creating an abundant source of material for weaving looms everywhere.

The textile industry was important because everyone wore clothes.  And we made clothes from cloth.  Once upon a time people made their own clothes.  Or spent a lot of money for store-bought clothes.  Leaving them with little time or money for other things.  So cheap cloth unleashed a lot of economic activity.  Which improved the quality of life.  The Chinese started this process.  By giving us an advanced loom that used foot-power to lift thread.  And the spinning wheel to make yarn.  All the weavers needed were abundant sources of fiber to feed these machines.  Such as American cotton.

The Chinese also made some beautiful silk tapestries with complex patterns.  Which were very difficult to reproduce by hand in the West.  Until the French automated this process.  When Joseph Marie Jacquard improved on the works of Basile Bouchon, Jean Baptiste Falcon and Jacques Vaucanson.  And created the Jacquard loom.  This automated the pattern process coming from those Chinese looms.  By using punch cards to automatically lift the proper threads to reproduce that complex pattern.  An impressive advance.  But one that did not impress the French.  Who were busier with revolution than fancy weaved patterns.  But the British were interested.  And they used the Jacquard loom in their booming textile industry.  Fed largely by that abundant American cotton.  Until the American Civil War, at least.

An Advanced Automated and Mechanized Economy has no Room for Slavery

The British also used this punch card idea to automate their shipbuilding industry.  To speed up the riveting process.  By automating riveting machines.  To make ships that carried immigrants to the new world.  Who swelled the American population.  Making the census taking more and more complex.  And another punch card system made counting these people simpler.  The tabulator.  Where an operator punched holes in a card to represent information for each person.  Age.  Marital status.  Country of origin.  Etc.  IBM would use this idea of punching information into a card later.  To program some of the first computers.  Machines that increased efficiencies further.  By replacing ever more people with machines.

So it is an interesting turn of events.  Eli Whitney created the cotton gin in America.  A machine that was part of a series of technological developments that increased efficiencies and reduced the number of workers needed to perform once labor intensive tasks.  All during this process fewer people were able to do more things.  Except one thing.  Planting and harvesting cotton.  That would take first a civil war.  And then steam-powered farming equipment.  To automate farming.  Which came later to the South than it did in the slavery-free North.  And other parts of the world.

Life got better for everyone the more advanced the economy became.  Sure, a lot of people lost jobs.  But that’s progress.  A few lost jobs is a small price to pay when the masses can enjoy a better life.  Thanks to automation and mechanization.  And that includes slaves.  Or, rather, former slaves.  For an advanced automated and mechanized economy has no room for slavery.

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Slavery, the Cotton Gin, the Jacquard Loom, Punch Cards and Computers

Posted by PITHOCRATES - December 7th, 2011

Technology 101

African Slaves came to the New World because the Colonists needed Laborers

The Europeans didn’t invent slavery when they introduced it to the New World.  It’d been around since the dawn of civilization.  And it’s been a way of life in many civilizations for thousands of years.  Where no one was safe from the slave traders.  Some were born into slavery.  Some were simply soldiers captured in battle.  Even children were bought and sold.  Perhaps the saddest story is the Children’s Crusade of 1212.  When about 50,000 poor Christian kids walked from Central Europe to free Palestine from Muslim control and return it to the Christians.  They got as far as boarding ships in Italian ports.  But those ships did not deliver them to Palestine.  They delivered them instead into the Muslim slave markets of Northern Africa and the Middle East.  Where they were never heard from again.

African slaves came to the New World because the colonists needed laborers.  They tried enslaving the Native Americans.  But it was too easy for them to escape back into friendly territory.  And blend in with the indigenous population.  Not the case with black Africans.  Who didn’t know the surrounding country.  Or the languages.  What they knew was an ocean away.  Also, the locals had a tendency of dying from European diseases.  Especially smallpox.  Whereas the Africans were long exposed to smallpox.  And built up some resistance to this scourge of European colonialism.

So the New World colonies began with slaves harvesting their crops.  Slaves that the Europeans bought from African slave traders.  Who had long been selling captured Africans to the Arabs.  And had no problem selling them to the Europeans.  And so began the problem of slavery in America.

With the Cotton Gin Separating the Seed from the Cotton Fiber became not so Labor Intensive

When the British American colonists started talking about liberty the slavery problem was the elephant in the room that they were reluctant to talk about.  When Jefferson wrote that all men were created equal they knew that meant those enslaved against their will, too.  Yet here they were.  These liberty-seeking people were enslaving people themselves.  But there was a problem.  To form a united country the Founding Fathers needed the southern states.  Who used slaves as the basis for their economy.  And they weren’t going to join a union without their slaves.  So they wouldn’t talk about the elephant.  Instead they tabled that discussion for 20 years.  With the population growing they didn’t need slaves anymore.  There were few in the North.  And the South should follow suit.  It was inevitable.  Leaving just one problem to solve.  What to do with their slaves as they transitioned to paid laborers.  Which the Founding Fathers were sure the southern slave owners could solve within those 20 years.

Slave-labor was not efficient.  George Washington wanted to sell his slaves and replace them with paid laborers.  Because paid laborers cost less.  You only paid them for their labors.  And then they went away.  And if you changed your crops you could easily hire new laborers skilled in the new crop.  Not quite so easy with a large slave labor force.  So those in the North had good reason to believe that slavery would slowly give way to paid laborers.  Even in the South.  Or so they thought.  But one of the staple crops of the South started to shape events.  Cotton.

Cotton was a labor-intensive crop to harvest.  And separating the seed from the cotton was even more labor-intensive.  Until someone mechanized this process.  With a cotton engine.  The cotton gin.  Patented in America by Eli Whitney.  A hand-cranked device that used hooks to pull the cotton fiber through a screen.  The holes in the screen were small enough to let the cotton fiber through.  But not large enough for the seeds to pass.  With the cotton gin separating the seed from the cotton fiber became not so labor intensive.   In fact, these little machines could clean cotton faster than the slaves could harvest it.  Which meant, of course, there was a lot more cotton that could be grown and harvested.  Which created a new slavery boom.  And dashed all the hopes of the Founding Fathers.

Cheap Cloth Unleashed a lot of Economic Activity which Improved the Quality of Life

Many blame the cotton gin for extending the institution of slavery in America.  And the bloody American Civil War that ended it.  But apart from this the cotton gin was a fundamental step in modernizing economies everywhere.  And helped to spur the textile industry forward.   By creating an abundant source of material for weaving looms everywhere.

The textile industry was important because everyone wore clothes.  And we made clothes from cloth.  Once upon a time people made their own clothes.  Or spent a lot of money for store-bought clothes.  Leaving them with little time or money for other things.  So cheap cloth unleashed a lot of economic activity.  Which improved the quality of life.  The Chinese started this process.  By giving us an advanced loom that used foot-power to lift thread.  And the spinning wheel to make yarn.  All the weavers needed were abundant sources of fiber to feed these machines.  Such as American cotton.

The Chinese also made some beautiful silk tapestries with complex patterns.  Which were very difficult to reproduce by hand in the West.  Until the French automated this process.  When Joseph Marie Jacquard improved on the works of Basile Bouchon, Jean Baptiste Falcon and Jacques Vaucanson.  And created the Jacquard loom.  This automated the pattern process coming from those Chinese looms.  By using punch cards to automatically lift the proper threads to reproduce that complex pattern.  An impressive advance.  But one that did not impress the French.  Who were busier with revolution than fancy weaved patterns.  But the British were interested.  And they used the Jacquard loom in their booming textile industry.  Fed largely by that abundant American cotton.  Until the American Civil War, at least.

An Advanced Automated and Mechanized Economy has no Room for Slavery

The British also used this punch card idea to automate their shipbuilding industry.  To speed up the riveting process.  By automating riveting machines.  To make ships that carried immigrants to the new world.  Who swelled the American population.  Making the census taking more and more complex.  And another punch card system made counting these people simpler.  The tabulator.  Where an operator punched holes in a card to represent information for each person.  Age.  Marital status.  Country of origin.  Etc.  IBM would use this idea of punching information into a card later.  To program some of the first computers.  Machines that increased efficiencies further.  By replacing ever more people with machines.

So it is an interesting turn of events.  Eli Whitney created the cotton gin in America.  A machine that was part of a series of technological developments that increased efficiencies and reduced the number of workers needed to perform once labor intensive tasks.  All during this process fewer people were able to do more things.  Except one thing.  Planting and harvesting cotton.  That would take first a civil war.  And then steam-powered farming equipment.  To automate farming.  Which came later to the South than it did in the slavery-free North.  And other parts of the world.

Life got better for everyone the more advanced the economy became.  Sure, a lot of people lost jobs.  But that’s progress.  A few lost jobs is a small price to pay when the masses can enjoy a better life.  Thanks to automation and mechanization.  And that includes slaves.  Or, rather, former slaves.  For an advanced automated and mechanized economy has no room for slavery.

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FUNDAMENTAL TRUTH #61: “The political elite has always exploited blacks.” -Old Pithy

Posted by PITHOCRATES - April 12th, 2011

Mercantilism brought Slaves to the New World

Slaves were useful in more ways than one.  As a source of labor.  And a political pawn.  The political elite has oppressed and exploited them for a couple of centuries in the New World.  Though the oppression has stopped, the exploitation continues today with their descendants.

Colonization isn’t easy.  It takes a long time.  Longer in a hostile land.  You start out by establishing colonies.  The colonists first figure out how to survive.  Then they sow the seeds of future generations.  But there was a problem with this in the New World.  A hostile environment.  And the long time it took to raise a generation or two.  And this was a big problem.  For the European monarchies that were supporting these colonists did so for economic reasons.  And time was money.  They were to exploit the New World’s resources and ship these raw materials back to Europe.  That’s how mercantilism worked.  You raced around the world to find sources of raw material, establish colonies and then ship the raw material back to Europe.  Where the Europeans processed them into finished goods.  These goods were then sold back to the colonists.  Or other export markets.  To establish a positive balance of trade.  Finished goods out.  Gold, bullion, silver, etc., in.

That was the European model then in use.  So unskilled labor was in great demand in these new colonies.  Enslaving the local indigenous populations didn’t prove too successful.  They could escape and disappear into a familiar environment that was friendly to them.  So that’s why they imported Africans into the New World.  They were a long way from home.  And the local environment was just as hostile to them as it was to their white slave owners.  With these Africans, the colonists were able to exploit their resources far quicker than they could have had they waited for their own numbers to multiply sufficiently to do the same work.  Of course, this lead to a skewed population.  Where a white minority ruled over a black majority.  Worse still, slavery was only growing in the South.  And that created a problem in the distribution of political power in the new federal government.  Slaves didn’t vote or pay taxes.  But there were a lot of them.  If they were not counted to determine congressional representation, the non-slave holding North would dominate the new federal government.

The Planter Elite gets the 3/5 Compromise and an Unfair Advantage

First the African slaves were used as pawns by European monarchs to enrich their mercantile empires.  Then they were used by politicians in a fledgling new nation to obtain an unfair advantage in political power.  These Africans just couldn’t catch a break.  Slavery was concentrated in the Deep South.  In the hands of the planter elite.  Though few in numbers they dominated political power in their states.  And they planned on doing the same in the new federal government.  To protect their interests.  Wealth.  And power.

But to do that there was that pesky problem getting in their way.  The fact that the planter elite was a small minority of the population.  It was different in the north.  Political power was representative of the population.  Where most of the population paid taxes and voted.  And they were going to extend this theory of representative government to the new federal government.  The North wanted to count all people (including slaves) in determining the states’ tax obligations.  The South didn’t.  The South wanted to count all people (including slaves) in determining representation in the House of Representatives and the Electoral College (that elected the president).  The North didn’t.  So they compromised.  They would count slaves as three-fifths of a person.  This compromise favored the North on the tax obligation issue.  But it favored the South on the political representation issue.  As a result of the compromise, the South would dominate the House of Representatives and the presidency until the Civil War.

So you see why slavery was so important to the South.  It gave them an unfair advantage in the new federal government.  Thus empowering them to protect their peculiar institution of slavery.  Their interests.  Wealth.  And power.

The Founding Fathers had to Accept Slavery to Establish a Nation based on Liberty

The Founding Fathers saw the inconsistency of slavery and their founding ideal.  Liberty.  Benjamin Franklin, John Adams, John Jay and Alexander Hamilton were northerners.  Some were already abolitionists.  Some would eventually join that movement.  George Washington, Thomas Jefferson and James Madison were southerners.  They owned plantations.  Worked with slave-labor.  Washington actually looked into converting to paid-labor but the realities of the day made the continuation of slave-labor the humane thing to do on his plantation (changing to paid-laborers would have broken up the slave families).  He is the only Founding Father that freed his slaves (after the death of his wife Martha).  And his will stipulated that his heirs help the newly freed people integrate into free society.

Jefferson and Madison clearly prospered on the institution of slavery.  (Well, the Jefferson family had.  Jefferson was a genius in so many ways.  Except in the way of making money.)  Their wealth came from the plantations.  And their political power rested with their brethren planter elite.  Should they move against them they would fall from power.  And should these ‘moderates’ fall from power, southern extremists would replace them.  Who wished to see no restrictions on slave owning or on the slave trade.  They were expansionists.  They wanted to see their way of life, and their slavery, expanded into the new territories.  They would never have gone to the Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia in 1787.  They would never have ceded any power to the northern interests.  There would have been no compromise between North and South.  And the new nation might never have been born.   

Jefferson and Madison were tainted by America’s original sin.  There’s no disputing that.  But there would have been no America without them.  They were the bridge to the Deep South.  So to make this new nation based on liberty possible, the Founding Fathers had to accept that keeping some of the people in bondage was necessary.  For awhile, at least.  The North promised the South they wouldn’t talk about the issue again for twenty years.  And Jefferson and Madison reassured the planter elite that their way of life would not change.  In more private conversations, they assured them that the new federal government would forever speak with a Southern accent.  In 20 years time, the North hoped the southerners would have fixed this southern problem.  Or that the institution itself would just fade away.  While the Deep South hoped it would become so entrenched that it would be impossible to have these discussions again.

The Cotton Gin, the Fugitive Slave Act and Civil War

As it turned out, events would favor the South.  Thanks to an ingenious invention called the cotton ginEli Whitney unwittingly gave the Deep South what they needed.  For slavery was on the decline.  The big slave crops were not very profitable crops (rice, tobacco, indigo and cotton).  Planters were diversifying.  Requiring farm workers with multiple skills.  Which favored the paid-laborer.  But the cotton gin took one of those unprofitable crops and made it profitable.  By turning a labor-intensive chore (separating the seed from the cotton) into an automated process.  And King Cotton was born.

This fanned new life into a dying institution.  The Southern economy became a cotton economy.  And the decline in slave-labor did an abrupt reversal.  Fortunes were built on cotton.  As was political power.  And thanks to the unfair advantage given to the Deep South by the Three-Fifths Compromise, the Southern way flourished.  Until immigration flooded into the industrialized north, that is.  Even their unfair advantage could not stop the inevitable.  The political power in the House of Representatives shifted to the North.  And this spelled the beginning of the end for the planter elite.   Compromise no longer favored the Deep South.  And there was a lot of secession talk down there.  A series of compromises followed in an attempt to keep the Union together.  Such as the Fugitive Slave Act that forced the federal government to interfere with states’ rights.  In the North.  Forcing these states to return runaway slaves to the plantations from whence they came.  The 1850s saw a march towards Civil War.  And in April of 1861, General P.G.T. Beauregard ordered his cannon to commence firing on Fort Sumter in Charlestown’s harbor.  Some four bloody years later with over 600,000 dead, the South lost.  The slaves were free.  And the Southern economy collapsed.

The great Republican, Abraham Lincoln, saved the Union.  And freed the slaves.  A fact not lost on the slaves.  The planter elite were Southern Democrats.  The party of slavery.  So you can guess how the newly freed slaves voted.  That’s right, the freed slaves voted Republican.  Because Republicans ended slavery.  Despite the Democrats best efforts to maintain their peculiar institution.  Which makes one scratch his head today.  Today, blacks vote predominantly Democrat.  This same party that oppressed and exploited them throughout American history.  So what changed?  Well, the truth is, not much.  Liberal Democrats continue to exploit the blacks.  But with a little political sleight of hand, the exploiter becomes the protector.  Champion of civil rights.  And the corrector of past wrongs.

Liberal Generosity Destroys the Black Family

You see, liberal Democrats have the same problem the planter elite had.  They’re a minority of the population.  Yet they covet political power.  So how do you get political power in a land with free elections?  Without slavery and the unfair advantage of the Three Fifths Compromise?  Simple.  You have to figure out some other way to exploit these slave descendants.  Their answer?  Enslave them to government. 

Government has the power to tax.  Which gives them a lot of money.  And power.  So the liberal Democrat solution is to tax and spend and bestow government benefits in exchange for votes.  And the liberal welfare state was born.  Gave so much to the black family that they soon become dependent on this liberal generosity.  And the black family who survived slavery.  Reconstruction.  Rampant and systemic discrimination.  Was destroyed.  A helping hand (welfare) became a way of life.  Aid to Families with Dependent Children encouraged single women to have children.  And men to abandon these children.  For the state would step in and be father.  Turns out the state was a horrible father, though.  Kids grew up lacking fatherly discipline and guidance.  And they drifted into trouble.  Public housing grouped these fatherless children together.  And sent them to school together.  Spreading that trouble and bad behavior to the schools.  So both the schools and public housing suffered from the new inner city disease.  Blight.  Spawned by the liberal welfare state.  Leaving no escape for these inner city kids. 

Or so says conservative economist Thomas Sowell.  Born in 1930, he lived through much of that rampant and systemic discrimination.  And the creation of the liberal welfare state and its affect on the black family.  He has firsthand experience as a black man.  And a lifetime of academic research and published works on the subject.  The liberals reject him and accuse him of racism.  Because he dares to say the liberal welfare state has done more harm than good.  Worse, he backs that up with some compelling research.  Unable to attack the message, they attack the messenger.  Which is what people usually do when they have lost the argument.

Though their programs proved a failure, all was not lost.  Sure, they destroyed the black family, but they destroyed them with an addiction.  Addiction to the welfare state.  And one thing addicts can’t do is walk away from their addiction.  So they keep voting to maintain their fix of government benefits.  They keep voting Democrat.  Which was the goal all along.  Not to alleviate any of their suffering.  And unlike the planter elite, the liberal Democrat is not getting only three-fifths of a vote from their black population.  They’re getting the whole thing. 

The planter elite would no doubt be impressed by this political sleight of hand.  And kicking themselves for not thinking of it themselves.

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