In a nation that was growing into a depopulated territory slavery was not keeping up.

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wausaubob

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Category 1840 Growth rate 1850 Growth R 1860 Growth R 1870 Growth R 1880
US Total 17063353 35.92% 23191876 36% 31443321 23% 8558371 30% 50158783
US Slave 2487355 28.82% 3204313 29% 3953760
Totalfree 14575998 37.13% 19987563 37% 27489561

Due to white immigration, and due a higher rate of natural increase of the free population, slavery was not keeping up. The slave population was growing at 29% per ten years, and the free population at about 37% per ten years.
If you want to say slavery was a living, thriving system, that is OK. "Dying" is an unimportant word. In a system in which the votes of white people counted, and wealth of small towns and small cities was driving the economy, the slave system was not producing votes or wealth in sufficient numbers.
However most of that growth in the free population was contained in five states, New York, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Indiana, and Illinois. And the pattern was set, that Iowa, southern Wisconsin, eastern Kansas and eastern Nebraska, would be settled in the same way. The pattern was actually more biased towards the old Northwest. Illinois was the key, growing from 467,183 people in 1840 to 1,711,951 people by 1860.
The temporary boom in cotton production and cotton wealth obscured the events somewhat.
However people, towns and cities are much more important than commodity prices.
If you looked at the cash value of the annual cotton production, the picture would look different. The problem with that picture is would not show what the relation of that money to the whole economy.
If cotton was so valuable, where the cities, sewer systems, railroads, and ship building facilities?
If slavery was so adaptable and flexible, why weren't sewing machines and carriages, shoes and plows made in the South?
 
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