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The Civil War Essay, Research Paper



Before the civil war that tore the fabric of American life, there were three sections of American people with different economic, cultural and political attitudes. The balance of power was kept by different alliances, which came up in the pre-civil war period. The west was the balancing power and it was its shift that decided the course of American history. While it was allied with the south for economic reasons, a delicate balance was maintained. The minute the west allied with the north, the shift resulted in irreconcilable differences and led to war.

The boundaries of the sections were very fluid but the basic sections in the 1840s-1860s were the north, which included New England, New York. Pennsylvania and New Jersey, the west which included the present mid-west from Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Michigan, Wisconsin and Iowa to Minnesota and the south which included Maryland to Texas and Missouri to Mississippi.


The northeast was comparatively advanced, industrially. The dominating class comprised of the bankers, manufacturers and merchants. The growth of industry of America was mainly in the north. The northeast section was known for its trading. The merchants realized more returns in manufacturing than the early agriculture so we see a gradual but definite shift to industrial investment, which signaled the beginning of industrialism.

The industrial capitalists were the ruling class in the north. They were the aristocrats because of their economic dominance, which also meant their dominance in the political system. In the political arena they were represented by lawyers articulating their position and their philosophy hoping to influence policy making. For example Daniel Webster, the politician from Massachusetts had the entire business community of that area behind him. The ideals from the time of the declaration of independence still remained, as there was no fear of tyranny of the majority over the minority. Checks and balances were maintained to protect the right to private property.

Numerous inventions were made with the number of patents increasing from 544 in 1830 to 4778 in 1860. Samuel Morse invented the electric telegraph system by the 1840s, which came into use by the 1850s. Charles Goodyear invented the new method of vulcanization of rubber in 1839which started being practiced in 500 odd places. It also resulted in the establishment of the rubber industry. The steam cylinder press was invented by Richard Hoe in 1846, which helped to make the printing of newspapers cheaply. Isaac Singer invented the sowing machine in this period as well.

The dominant economic business was the manufacturing of clothes, which diversified in this period with the use of steam as power. In the 1830s we see the introduction of railroads with coal replacing wood as the material for generating power. This led to the rise of the coal industry in the northeast as the main coalmines were situated there.

Agriculture in this area also diversified since it could not compete with the fertile virgin land of the west, which produced wheat, corn, cattle, sheep and horse.

There was a shift in agricultural products as with the growth of urbanization there was a need for dairy products, food and vegetables. New York began to produce apples, New Jersey and Maryland peaches and berries. Dairy products like milk and butter and cheese also were produced. Farmers who were engaged in agriculture in the northeast either diversified or migrated and became the labor class of the urban areas. Women and children also worked, often for long hours (12-15 hrs. a day) getting paid $4-10 per week for skilled and $1-6 for unskilled work. The labor was too weak to get organized into unions. Some states like Massachusetts, New Hampshire and Pennsylvania tried to regulate child labor by necessitating parental consent

The labor supply came mainly from the European countries like Ireland, Netherlands, Belgium, Poland, France and Austria because of the population problem in the west. From 1840-1850, it is estimated that around 2 million immigrants came to the United States especially from Germany.


The west was the balancing section in the American union as it shared common features with both the north and the south. The economy was agrarian like the south but with industries like the north. True, the industrial growth in the west was slow when compared to the north, but it was faster than the south whose industrial growth was minimal. Industries like meatpacking in Chicago (Ill.) and Cincinnati (Ohio) and industrial centers like for meat, distilled whisky, leather, wooden goods, flour etc. were common.

The main economic occupation was predominantly farming with small farming communities unlike the large plantations of the south. The important economic activity was agriculture with the growing of corn and wheat accompanied by cattle raising.

Due to the large number of small farmers and few planters thee was no dominant class in the political system of the west. The agricultural products had readymade markets in the industrial northeast. So one can conclude that there was greater interdependence between the northeast and the west than between the west and the south. Though the west had a market in the European continent, their main market was still the home market.

We see that there were many improved farming techniques like new varieties of seeds of wheat for example and better breeds of animals like hogs from England and Spain. The farm machinery in 1850s and 60s was more efficient like harrows, mowers and cast iron ploughs. The manufacturing of machinery in these areas was also an important economic activity. For example the replacing of the sickle with the macronic reaper resulted in the establishment of a factory in Chicago in 1847.

The west has always been considered more democratic than all the other sections because of the fact that there was no economic domination of any one section of society in contrast to the merchant-dominated north and the planter-dominated south. The west had both agriculture as well as industries though agriculture was the more dominant occupation.


Prior to 1793, little cotton was produced in the United States as the process of the separation of the fibers from the seeds had to be done by hand which was too time consuming and thus ceased to be profitable. The cotton gin invented in 1793 by Eli Whitney revolutionized the production of cotton. It now became profitable to raise short staple cotton with the soil and climate favoring this and soon cotton production stretched from Georgia and South Carolina westwards till Texas. With the growth of British textile industry, cotton growers were assured of a market. Efficient cotton growing could take place in both large and small plantations and slave labor was an important part of cotton production. The move to diversified agriculture retreated to the background as cotton growing seemed more profitable. Plantations flourished, as did slave labor.

The anti-bellum south witnessed the growth of an agrarian economy with the rise of king cotton and a revival of slavery. Cotton was ?king? since production of cotton doubled every 10-12 years from 1812 onwards, 50% of American exports were of cotton and the seaboard started a profitable slave trade with cotton planters. Economic prosperity resulted in political domination by planters.

The economy of the south was very different than that of the other sections though it was closer to the west as it was agricultural. There were three main features of the southern economy-the cash crops of cotton, tobacco and sugar, the European market for its products and the plantation system that required slaves as a labor force.

It was the slave system that distinguished the south from the other sections of the west and the north.

The dominant class of society in the south was the planter class. Other important people in the south were bankers and merchants, all of who were closely linked to the planter class and on whom they were dependent. The industry of the manufacture of textiles was a very important industry in the south but as is obvious, it was also closely connected to the planter class.

The planter class was not a uniform class with subdivisions based on the size of the plantation- big, medium and small plantations. Even within the white population there were divisions. The banker class dominated the economic sphere of southern life but the plantation owners had more social status and so we often see an alliance between these two classes.

It is firmly believed that the south had the maximum degree of culture and unity in terms of Southernism. It was the strongest section in the United States as in the sectional solidarity and the awareness of its entity. It had a cultural unity despite the diversity, a coherence that led many historians to name this period as the anti-bellum period while referring to the uniqueness of the south.

Even the climate has been attributed as a feature of this southern uniqueness. The hot weather in the predominantly agrarian setup is seen as another facet in the southern makeup. There was the existence of the plantation style cultivation based on the slave labor produced tobacco, cotton and sugar which was mainly for export. The southern planters had trade through merchants with England. Urbanization had not really occurred on the scale of the northern section. There was a rural character with few towns and cities consisting of a diffused population of 13 persons per square mile including the slaves. The majority of the people were Anglo-Saxon and Protestant.


The Southernism referred to by many historians consisted of certain features like the rural character, the plantation system, slavery and the social organization and the very different products of this region.

The rural character of the southern section is attributed to the people?s love for their land. There was also a devotion to the English culture and a conscious effort to recreate English society in the lifestyles of the affluent of the south. The society was mainly conservative, liking the status quo with no changes in their style of living. The society was quite orderly with a clearly defined class organization though not a rigid one. Social mobility was possible but not as easily as in the north or the west as there was minimum class competition. Often the climate has been given to explain the comfortable life enjoyed by the southern people. Everyone had an easy life without much effort, as they were free from the necessity of conquering the environment, as the soil was very fertile and easy to till. The southern people had a lot of spare time to enjoy life. Though this would be an exaggeration, it is true that there was a lot of leisure time especially among the higher classes. There was a belief or a passion for pleasure more than toil with a firm conviction that it was more important to have pleasure than to have profit.

The second feature often put forward to explain the uniqueness of the south is the plantation system with salves as the labor force. U.B. Phillips believes the slave system to be the main reason for the Southernism talked about. The south was the only area where slavery was institutionalized and a vast number of slaves of different color and race were found here. The people of the south were determined to keep the south as the white man?s south. Slavery was more than a labor force-it was a device of white supremacy. Slavery was an institution supported by white people and the unifying factor for all southerners be it planter or poor white was their superiority over the blacks.

From 1820s onwards, slavery was being criticized within the United States. It was condemned by the northerners who were supported by the Latin Americans, British and other Europeans. Slavery had been abolished all over the world and the only place where it remained was in the south section of the United States. The people of the south were aware of the criticism directed at their institution and knew that they defied world opinion. They were under tremendous pressure and suffered from guilt over the issue. They were probably uncomfortable with their separate identity. The dilemma deepened when the majority of the south did not want slavery and its criticism while for the planters, abolition was impossible. They realized the isolation due to this issue but could not solve the problem.

The social organization of the southern society was very different from other areas of the United States. There were 8 important groups of free population in the south. Slaves were considered as property and the differences within their group were not taken into account.

The eight main groups of society were-

1-Major Planters ? They were the apex of society and were the aristocrats of the south. They were called cotton or tobacco nabobs. They lived in huge palatial mansions using slaves for their plantations. They numbered not more than 8,000 in the 1860?s. This class was the ideal of the south and every white man aspired to be part of this elite.

2-Medium planters.

3-Small planters-Together the medium and small planters were 18,000 people.

The planters got the best education in the south. In a typical planter family, the elder brother became the planter while the younger brothers generally tried for Senate representation. They were trained to represent their class. The planter?s class was dependant on the merchants and the bankers for their life of luxury. They were the trendsetters and led public opinion. This class considered itself superior to the rest but the class distinctions were not rigid. If someone moved into a new area, he could hope to become a major planter slowly.

This class formed a leadership top southern white society. They were the focus of all moral and social aspirations of southern society. They were the ruling class and the system continued to exist because of their superior feeling.

The small farmers were not exploited and his ambitions did not interfere with the major and medium planters so the system continued. The major and medium planters had the lion?s share of income but since the small farmers were quite well off there were no economic grievances against slavery. In fact, there were more slaves owned together by the medium and small planters together than the major planters as they aspired to be major planters.

This class liked the English culture gleaned mainly from English literature and imitated their way of life. Most white people were of the pure Anglo-Saxon race and racial discriminations became a way of life with them. Slavery was a part of their cultural and social life and it was very difficult to break this.

4-Manufacturers and bankers-Industry in the south existed basically in a formative stage. Few businessmen invested money outside a plantation. Planters with excess cash preferred to invest in slaves. Factories for manufacture of textiles, iron, flourmills were set up in Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina and Georgia.

Brokers and merchants were very important people as they marketed the cash crops of the south. This class was mainly situated in New Orleans, Charleston, Savanna, etc. They became bankers or planters. They aspired to become planters, as it was a socially dominant class. Though they played an important role in southern economy and society, they were not recognized. After the 1850?s, they were a neglected class.

5-Professional Classes-It comprised of lawyers, editors and doctors. They were linked to the planter class as their well being depended on the planter?s prosperity. They generally agreed with the views of the planters and could be from a planter family.

6-Highlanders-They lived in the southern mountains in the Appalachian range in Mississippi. They were a group of whiter people whose cultural pattern differed greatly from southern society. They had a crude subsistence culture. As they lived outside the main community, they were considered primitive and did not own any slaves. They believed in the old ways, ideas and values. They had an almost emotional devotion to nationalism and did not believe in State?s rights. They were the only people in the south who defied sectionalism and during the Civil War they resisted secession. They mainly lived in the areas covered by West Virginia and Tennessee.

7-Poor Whites-They were a degraded class and after 1850, numbered almost half a million. They were different from poor farmers and ranked just above slaves. They were characterized by laziness, ignorance and lack of ambition. They were often called ?uncomplimentary? people, ?crackers?, ?white trash? and occupied infertile land usually swamps and barren tracks. They did not have a balanced diet and engaged in hunting, fishing and growing vegetables at home. Their origin is obscure and one theory suggest that they were the less competitive frontier population who were pushed back because they were less enterprising. They were often afflicted by diseases like hookworm, malaria, etc. and their situation only improved in the twentieth century with proper food and health care.

8-Free Negroes-They were a displaced group as they were not slaves legally but race-wise they were not free either. They often had to prove that they were free. It is estimated that there were almost 250,000 free Negroes in 1860. They mainly lived in Louisiana, Kentucky, Tennessee, Missouri and North Carolina. Very few ever attained wealth and prominence and the majority lived in poverty. Many avenues were closed to them by law and they were viewed by the Whites as a danger to the institution of slavery. Citizenship was denied to them and they were forbidden from attending legislative assemblies without permission from and supervision by Whites. They could not hold property in White areas.

The crops grown in the south were generally cash crops like tobacco, rice, sugar and cotton. Agriculture was diversified in Virginia and central Kentucky. Most farmers tried to produce food grains for their family and their slaves so 80% of all peas and beans came from the south.

Other things like apples, peaches, peanuts, sweet potatoes, hops, mules etc. despite aspiring to self-sufficiency, corn and salted pork for the slaves had to be imported from the northwest.

Tobacco was grown in Maryland, Virginia, North Carolina, northern and western Tennessee, Missouri and Mississippi valley. It was grown in the tideland of the regions and required 6 months for their production. Rice required 9 months and a constant supply of water for its growth and was generally grown in South Carolina, Georgia and other coastal regions. The time needed for the growth of sugar was 9 months and had the largest area under production. Cotton was grown from North Carolina to Texas and was the principle product of the south with the exception of the coastal area. It was produced in Alabama, Georgia, northwest Mississippi, southwest Tennessee, southern Arkansas, Louisiana and eastern Texas.

The farming methods employed which resulted in the exhaustion of soil as no crop rotation was practiced. Some improvements were suggested by Edmund ruffle in ?Farmer?s Register? like fertilization, rotation and deep ploughing.

Slavery as an institution was established by law and was regulated by law. The slaves had no property rights, could not leave their master?s premises without his permission, could not congregate with other slaves except at church, couldn?t carry firearms, couldn?t strike a white man even in defense, were not allowed to read or write, were denied the right to testify in court against a white and were not allocated any provision for the legalization of their marriage and divorce. Anyone who might have slave ancestry would be a slave until he could prove otherwise. If a master killed his slave, he could not be taken to court.

Most laws pertaining to slaves and their treatment were unevenly applied and were not enforced strictly. A slave’s fate rested on his master and most slaves were treated harshly. They could be punished by flogging or branding if they tried to run away or resist. Major offences committed by slaves like one slave killing another were referred to court.

The daily routine of a slave was regulated by his master. The head of the administration was the owner. If he was a small planter, direct supervision of the slaves was carried out. If the planter was a medium or large planter, an overseer and an assistant were hired for example if the planter was involved in politics fulltime, the planter owned large estates or needed the help. The slave drivers or the foremen were usually slaves themselves and could have sub slave drivers etc. The methods for making the slaves work were of two types-the task system where the task to be done by the slave could be done in as much time as it took in a day and this was used for rice production or the gang system where slaves worked as groups with slave drivers and they worked for a specific number of hours decided upon by the overseer and was used for the growing of sugar, cotton and tobacco.

The physical condition of the slave was supported by an adequate rough diet of corn mill, salt pork and molasses and the slaves were encouraged to grow their own garden. Fresh meals could be issued on special occasions. Slaves started working early in life with light work, which increased as they grew. Their workday was often as long as northern farmers with time off to hunt, fish, attend church and other social activities of the white family. They wore cheap clothes and shoes and lived in log cabins or slave quarters. Their medical care was looked after by the mistress of the house.

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