How Oligarchy Led to the Civil War

America’s revolutionary Founders first rose up explicitly against the British oligarchy when they destroyed over a million dollars’ worth of the East India Company’s tea in 1773 in a protest over the British giving the Company a huge tax break. Their dream was that oligarchy would never again cement itself in North America.

But as the Founding generation was dying out in the early 1800s, oligarchy once again got a foothold, this time in the American South. Although it was intertwined with slavery, a technological revolution—the invention of the cotton gin— was what actually made it possible because the cotton gin radically increased the value of both cotton-growing land and enslaved people.

The ...

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