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There were numerous issues that led to the American Civil War, including were significant differences in political views between the North and the South. Moreover, the two sections were totally different socially, and had disparate economies. However, all of these differences and the problems that resulted were a direct result of slavery. Indeed, it was because of slavery that the Civil War was fought. By analyzing issues on local and national levels through the “Valley of the Shadow Project” which compares ante-bellum Chambersburg, Pennsylvania and Staunton, Virginia, it is clear that Civil War was inevitable, for slavery had split the nation too widely, making compromise impossible.

Social Differences

The most obvious difference between the societies of the North and the South was the nonexistence of slavery in the North, and the strict Southern society that had come into existence because of the “peculiar institution.” In the South, there were four parts to society: the plantation elite, yeoman farmers, impoverished whites, and black slaves. This social condition made the South different from the North in myriad ways, largely because of slavery’s influences. The Church was divided during the decades before the Civil War, with many denominations split in bitter disagreements over slavery. Historian Arthur Cole states that “as early as the 1840’s two major denominations had split upon the rock of slavery and driven their Southern brethren into independent organization.” (Cole, p.47) The Free Mission Society for the Northwest was “a group of extreme opponents of slavery” (Cole, p.48) who held a fellowship. Slavery became so controversial that an often silent clergy protested the fugitive-slave law of 1850 and the Kansas-Nebraska Act during their sermons. (Cole, p.48)

Many congregations split between the two parts of the country, making social differences even more drastic. There was also a significant difference in the number of Black churches in the two parts of the country. Black churches in the North were founded much earlier then those in the South. The first Black church in Franklin County (where Chambersburg is located) was the St. James A.M.E. Church, which was founded in 1811. By 1863, there were at least three black churches in the Chambersburg area. (Valley of the Shadow) In the South, however, “according to [Joseph] Waddell, by the 1880’s there were…two ‘colored churches’ in Staunton proper [Augusta County, Virginia].” (Valley of the Shadow) Chambersburg, therefore, had more colored churches than its counterpart in Augusta County. The tolerance for organized religion for blacks was much more universal in the North. Black churches did not appear in the South until much later, mainly after the Civil War. These two different feelings about black religion and the splitting of congregations added to the growing sectionalism America.

Another differing aspect of society was education. By 1860, the North had a large public school system, and, according to Carl Schurz “the individual is constantly brought into interested contact with a greater variety of things.” However, this general education was not as common in the South, where, “hampered by its caste system…it did not share in the movement for popular education.” (Cole, p. 46) Socially, the North and the South had become two different societies because of slavery, and these social differences acted as to further the US’s separation.

Economic Differences

Slavery also divided the country economically. In some ways, Chambersburg and Staunton were very similar economically. Both towns “were in need of reliable water supplies, both installed gas lights, both sought to ‘modernize.’” However, the “one fundamental way Augusta and Franklin differed completely [was that] some 20 percent of Augusta’s people were slaves, and slavery was an integral part of the Shenandoah valley’s regional economy.” (Valley of the Shadow) The South was almost entirely agricultural; its main crop was cotton, which was grown in vast amounts on plantations by slave labor. The South’s economy would have crumbled without compulsory labor. It was what defined Southern society and its aristocracy. An example of Virginia’s dependency on slavery is that in the year 1700 there were about 16,000 slaves in Virginia. By 1770, less then a hundred years later there were 187,000. (The New Grolier Multimedia Encyclopedia – Release 6)

The North’s economy, in contrast, was based on industry, trade, and free labor. Internal improvements such as turnpikes and railroads were very important to the industrial North for shipping materials and receiving supplies. The difference between the industry of the two counties was striking. Augusta County, Virginia, had several iron furnaces, but no large industry. It was mainly agricultural, with some cotton being grown and a large industry for tobacco. In sharp contrast Franklin Country “was something of a manufacturing center.” Some of the larger establishments in Franklin in the nineteenth century were a paper mill, a factory with made edge tools, a foundry and machine shop, a saw, grist, and straw board mill, and the Chambersburg Woolen Company. Valley of the Shadow Franklin was such a manufacturing center because it was not dependent on slave labor. Even though Chambersburg and Staunton were similar in a number of ways, the stark differences remained because of slavery. Economic contrasts such as these helped to further separate the two parts of the country.

Political Differences

The politics of the 1850’s acted as another major factor in the separation of the North and South. The breakup of the Whig party, which dissolved for a number of reasons, greatly weakened politics. One purpose of the Whigs was to oppose Andrew Jackson’s fiscal policies, with by the 1850’s, economic issues such as the tariff and internal improvements had been largely solved, and slavery assuming the spotlight. The South became a single-party region because slavery divided the Whigs regionally. During the 1850’s the power struggle between the North and South escalated and it became increasingly important for both sides to maintain the balance of slave and free states. When this balance became uneven, the power in Congress would be in favor of the area that had more states for their cause.

As the 1850’s progressed, sentiments between the North and South became more and more hostile. By 1857, the Democratic party had divided because of the Lecompton Constitution. This unrest between the pro-slavery and antislavery factions in the West soon spread to the Congress. Only a day after the Sack of Lawrence, Representative Preston Brooks of South Carolina cornered Northern Senator Charles Sumner in the Senate Chambers, and almost caned him to death because of a disagreement about slavery. The North used this event to illustrate the “barbarity” of the South, further increasing tensions.

Another political event that swayed the nation was case of Dred Scott v. Sanford, which invalidated the Missouri Compromise and deemed territorial prohibition of slavery unconstitutional. These rulings were met with heated debate. As a Northern businessman wrote in the New York Tribune:

“Because any compromise now made [with the South] will be made only to be broken. I need only refer to the breach of the Missouri Compromise, as a historic proof of the proposition. And that the South will, in case of a compromise, soon get the power to break it, is but too evident. ”

This article shows by 1860 that not only did the North still remember and abhor the Dred Scott Decision, but that most had similar feelings towards the South. The divisions that slavery wrought were very obvious during the election of 1860, where political differences had become so sectional that four people ran for the office. It was the unity of the Republican party that made it possible for Abraham Lincoln, a Republican, to win the race with less than a majority vote.

Lincoln’s election was not well accepted in the South, as the Lower South seceded when he became president because they felt that they wouldn’t receive the liberty granted in the Constitution. Their rights to have slavery and the society that was based on slavery was in jeopardy. The feeling in the Upper South was similar, but they were not as agitated at the states which had seceded. These states still favored staying loyal to the Union, as can be seen in a headline of the November 13, 1860 edition of the Staunton Spectator: “Though Lincoln is elected, there is no danger.” When the President called for 75,000 troops to march through the South to Fort Sumter, the Upper South, feeling this was too much a violation of their rights, also seceded. With this final move, the Union divided because of the underlying cause of slavery.

In Conclusion

The United States had been divided over the issue of slavery since its inception, and by 1861, the country had split over the issue. The war that resulted was to last four long years, tearing apart friends and families. The “peculiar institution” affected all parts of the country and was the subject of much bitter debate. The opposing ideas that the North and South had regarding slavery made them separate into two different societies. As the feelings behind these beliefs became more and more heated, and the disagreement became larger, the conflict in the United States became inevitable. It has been said that “if the Negro had never been brought to America and enslaved, South Carolina would not have seceded,” and the Civil War would not have occurred. (Rhodes, p,10) Such a statement is correct: slavery was an issue that had split the United States too widely to prevent tragic conflict.


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