From the late 1700s, right up until the end of the Civil War, slavery was the most important and influential issue in the United States. For both slave owners and non slave owners alike in both the north and the south, slavery remained a vital piece of the economy with the production of cotton, and virtually dictated the aristocratic structure of southern society. The culture of the south, of the rich and the poor, was deeply affected by the 'curious institution' of slavery, and it changed the face of the south with the plantation economy and tough competition for menial jobs that made it difficult for poor laborers to find work. Slavery proved throughout the 1800s to be a very polarizing issue, with very little middle ground between its staunch southern defenders, and the determined members of the abolitionist movement. Though the nation had mixed feelings about it during the 19th century, slavery formed the economic base for America and both determined the social structure of the south and became and extremely powerful and conflicted issue in politics.
Slavery was instrumental in the economies of both the north and the south, and was a economic factor for both slave owners and those who did not own any slaves. The invention of Eli Whitney's cotton gin in 1793 reinvigorated the institution of slavery by making large plantations with hundreds of slaves profitable and cotton soon became the dominant crop of the south. Cotton's importance to the American economy increased quickly, and by 1840 around 50% of all American exports consisted of cotton, much of it to England, which got about 75% of its fiber from America. So great was cotton's power, both as an incredible economic force for the entire nation, but also as a possible economic weapon against England,