As the Founders saw it, the “peculiar institution” of slavery couldn’t survive in the new Enlightenment; It would, along with the boiling need for a war, die out naturally. But when a mechanic called Whitney improved on an existing machine by adding one part (a handy wire grate), the situation flipped. Suddenly, cotton, which drove the economy of the South, exploded as supply finally met demand. So too did the price of a slave, and the potential to make a lot of people very, very rich. Except, that is, for Whitney, whose patent was nearly impossible to protect. The man died bankrupt, but not before giving it just a few more tries.