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Eli Whitney and the Cotton Gin

Licensing the Cotton Gin


Cotton gin

The cotton gin is a machine that separates seeds, hulls from cotton after it has been picked.

Mary Bellis

Article Eli Whitney and the Cotton Gin - Starts Here

Miller and Eli Whitney were somewhat more fortunate in other States than in Georgia though they nowhere received from the cotton gin enough to compensate them for their time and trouble nor more than a pitiable fraction of the great value of their invention. In 1801, South Carolina voted them fifty thousand dollars for their patent rights, twenty thousand dollars to be paid down and the remainder in three annual payments of ten thousand dollars each. "We get but a song for it," wrote Whitney, "in comparison with the worth of the thing, but it is securing something."

Licensing the Cotton Gin

Why the partners were willing to take so small a sum was later explained by Miller. They valued the rights for South Carolina at two hundred thousand dollars, but, since the patent law was being infringed with impunity, they were willing to take half that amount; "and had flattered themselves," wrote Miller, "that a sense of dignity and justice on the part of that honorable body (the Legislature) would not have countenanced an offer of a less sum than one hundred thousand dollars. Finding themselves, however, to be mistaken in this opinion, and entertaining a belief that the failure of such negotiation, after it commenced, would have a tendency to diminish the prospect, already doubtful, of enforcing the Patent Law, it was concluded to be best under existing circumstances to accept the very inadequate sum of fifty thousand dollars offered by the Legislature and thereby relinquish and entirely abandon three-fourths of the actual value of the property."

But even the fifty thousand dollars was not collected without difficulty. South Carolina suspended the contract, after paying twenty thousand dollars, and sued Miller and Eli Whitney for recovery of the sum paid, on the ground that the partners had not complied with the conditions. Whitney succeeded, in 1805, in getting the Legislature to reinstate the contract and pay him the remainder of the money. Miller, discouraged and broken by the long struggle, had died in the meantime.

Eli Whitney Writes to Josiah Stebbins

The following passage from a letter written by Eli Whitney in February, 1805, to Josiah Stebbins, gives Whitney's views as to the treatment he had received at the hands of the authorities. He is writing from the residence of a friend near Orangeburg, South Carolina.

"The principal object of my present excursion to this Country was to get this business set right; which I have so far effected as to induce the Legislature of this State to recind all their former suspending laws and resolutions, to agree once more to pay the sum of 30,000 Dollars which was due and make the necessary appropriations for that purpose. I have as yet however obtained but a small part of this payment. The residue is promised me in July next. Thus you see my recompense of reward is as the land of Canaan was to the Jews, resting a long while in promise. If the Nations with whom I have to contend are not as numerous as those opposed to the Israelites, they are certainly much greater heathens, having their hearts hardened and their understanding blinded, to make, propagate and believe all manner of lies. Verily, Stebbins, I have had much vexation of spirit in this business. I shall spend forty thousand dollars to obtain thirty, and it will all end in vanity at last. A contract had been made with the State of Tennessee which now hangs suspended. Two attempts have been made to induce the State of No. Carolina to recind their contract, neither of which have succeeded. Thus you see Brother Steb. Sovreign and Independent States warped by interest will be rogues and misled by Demagogues will be fools. They have spent much time, money and credit, to avoid giving me a small compensation, for that which to them is worth millions."

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