A House Divided The seventeenth century proved to be a century of change as men and women crossed the Atlantic for various reasons. Some moved to escape bad marriages, some moved from poverty, and others moved from troubling royal policies. Whatever their reasons were, the colonists had one common goal— to strive for a better life.
Sharing this common bond, Americans banded together and fought for independence during the Revolution. As the Revolution ended, Americans felt overjoyed and united. They managed to overlook some of the differences between them that would eventually lead to an intense conflict in the years to come. Social, economical, and political differences between the two regions would eventually become so intense that they would cause one of the bloodiest battles of all time-the Civil War.
Differences began as early as the years of the colonial period. To begin, the Northern and Southern colonies developed vastly different economies. The Chesapeake colonies’ most important staple crop became tobacco. Tobacco affected nearly every aspect of their lives. The colonies were able to collect many duties on tobacco. Harvesting tobacco called for a great deal of work. However, the colonists were unprepared for this work. They were lazy and greedy. Whenever possible, planters in Virginia and the Southern colonies purchased able-bodied workers who were capable of getting the job done. In all of the Southern colonies, white planters forced African slaves to produce staple crops for the world market. In Virginia and Georgia, colonists were granted land for each additional servant they transported to their colony. Along with tobacco, wood, naval stores, and rice were also strong factors in the economic success of Southern colonies such as Georgia and the Carolinas.
In contrast to the Southern colonies, the Northern colonies relied heavily upon different exports. Their major export was grain. They emphasized the growth of wheat and other agricultural products. Trade also became important for them. Fur trading became popular in New York. The forms of agriculture used in the Northern regions, such as cereal and dairy farming, made the employment of a large number of laborers unreasonable. The Southern colonies, however, had to rely on indentured servants to do the job. Also, during the colonial period, strikingly different social structures were developing between the two regions.
The men and women who emigrated to Virginia and Maryland did not travel in whole families. Instead, they traveled as young, unmarried servants. The majority of these laborers were males between the ages of 18 and 22. This led to an unevenly balanced sex ratio. The ratio of males to females was 6 to 1 in the Southern colonies during the year of 1640. These travelers were often only interested in themselves. Many of them desired personal, instant wealth and did not look out for the common good. Indentured servants were treated harshly and their masters used them however they pleased. This brought about an elaborate social hierarchy: gentry on top, freemen in the middle, and indentured servants on the bottom. Men and women in the Southern colonies did not work together at all. On the contrary, social life in the Northern colonies proved to be much different. Unlike Virginia and Maryland colonists, New Englanders moved across the Atlantic in whole families.
This led to a more evenly balanced sex ratio. Life expectancy was also about 10-20 years greater than men and women born in Chesapeake society. The Northern colonies possessed strength and stability because they were banded together by a common sense of purpose. In most cases, such as in Massachusetts Bay, this common sense of purpose was God. People in the Northern colonies did not look only on their own concerns but also on the concerns of others. John Winthrop believed that the colonists needed to work together as one. Northern colonists believed that everyone should be treated equally and no one should be excluded. Even though there still were indentured servants in the northern colonies, they were less oppressed than those in the southern colonies. In addition, there were also quite a heterogeneous population in the Northern colonies, and contact between blacks and whites occurred more frequently there than in the Southern colonies. These different mixtures of people and their ways of life would lead to hidden controversies in the years to come. As a result of their opposing values, the political structures of the Northern and Southern colonies developed differently. The Southern colonists were very self-seeking. They had no common ideology to keep them together, so their society was often fragmented. The higher on the social scale they were, the more power they had in political affairs. For example, in North Carolina and South Carolina, the very poor were excluded from political life altogether. On the other hand, in the Northern colonies, all men were viewed as equal. For example, William Penn argued that no government could be stable unless it reflects all of society. Both the rich and the poor had to have a voice in political affairs. Neither group of people were able to overrule the interests of the other class. Religious toleration was also granted to some Northern colonies. For example, in New York, the Duke’s Laws guaranteed religious freedom and created local governments. The Northern colonies seemed to grant the settlers more freedom on important political issues than in the Southern colonies.
This would eventually also lead to some disturbing conflicts. Differences between the two regions did not diminish after the colonial period. Throughout the powerful times of nation-building following the Revolution, tensions continued to increase between the Northern and Southern states. From 1783 to 1848, Northern and Southern states continued to develop in different social, economical, and political ways. The biggest social concern and contradiction to a republican society during this period was the issue of slavery. Many white Americans held a double standard by demanding liberty while owning several slaves themselves. In the Northern states, there was no real economic advantage for slavery. This led to the creation of antislavery societies. By 1792, antislavery societies were meeting from Virginia to Maryland. Some slaveholders were ashamed of themselves for the first time. In several states north of Virginia, slavery was abolished in different ways. Slaves were liberated through legislation in Vermont, Pennsylvania, and Massachusetts. By 1800, slavery was nearly extinct in most of the Northern states but still strong, and growing after a slump, in the Southern states. Another social concern was still the difference in cultures between the two regions. With the vast expansion of land during the period 1783 to 1848, came a wide range of cultures. Northerners moving to Ohio, Indiana, and Illinois took their churches, schools, community pride, Puritan beliefs of hard work, and respect for the law and government along with them.
Southerners were more devoted to defense of personal honor and independence. They had less respect for the law and government. Many tasks such as planting, harvesting, plowing, keeping house, and spinning cotton had to be done in the newly acquired territories. Frontier planters had slaves to get this work done for them, while others shared the work with the community. As for the economy, situations in the North and South continued to vastly differ. Wheat was the main cash crop of the North. Tobacco continued to be a major cash crop of the upper South. However, in the lower South, cotton was now on the rise. Cotton eventually became the leading crop for the South, along with other staple crops such as rice and sugar. The Deep South became the world’s greatest producer of cotton as a result of an increase of textile mills in New England, the availability of good land, and the invention of the cotton gin. The cotton gin was a major reason for the increase in slave labor. Invented by Eli Whitney in 1793, this device cut the costs of producing cotton, shortened production, and allowed it to be much more marketable. More slaves were needed as a result. Tariffs also became an economic problem for the cotton-growing South. Tariffs were always unpopular in the South. As a staple-producing and exporting region, the South had valid reason for resenting some of the protective tariffs passed. Southern free traders were extremely angered after Jackson passed the tariff of 1828. A while after it was passed, South Carolina declared the new duties unconstitutional and argued for the right of an individual state to nullify federal law. Jackson asked Congress to let him use his army to enforce the tariff. Congress eventually enacted the Force Bill. This nullification crisis revealed that South Carolina would not tolerate any federal action that they considered to be negative to their interest or to the institution of slavery. The South was not afraid to take a stand against the government. Some of the political compromises made in the period 1783-1848 also led to tensions between the North and the South.
These rules and compromises were part of the Constitution. One was the three-fifths rule. Southern states demanded that slaves be included in representation in the lower house of Congress, so Northern states were angered. Disputes developed. Eventually, it was determined, that for representation, slaves would be counted but not as much as free individuals. Every five slaves would equal three free voters. This gave the South more power than it would have originally received. Northerners disliked this rule. It seemed to grant slaveholders more power in government. They also detested the slave trade and hoped to end it. However, it was decided that Congress would not interfere with the slave trade until 1808. The Fugitive Slave Act was also passed, calling for the return of runaway slaves. Northerners were disgusted. Time went by, and 1808 was coming right around the corner. Congress had to consider whether or not to ban the importation of slaves into the United States. In 1806, Jefferson urged representatives to pass legislation outlawing the slave trade. Northern representatives favored this bill. Southerners opposed it. Since people in the South did not view slavery as evil, it would not make sense for them to obey these laws. In 1807, Jefferson passed a bill prohibiting the importation of slaves into the United States after the new year, but the Southern states refused to cooperate. The most serious political crisis in the early to mid 1800’s was the heated controversy between the North and the South over the admission of Missouri to the Union. Since Missouri already possessed two to three thousand slaves, it would come into the Union as a slave state unless Congress took action. Northerners resented the three-fifths clause because it gave Southerners more representation in the House and the electoral college. Southerners feared a balance of power between the two sections. Until this time, an equal number of slave and free states had been added to the Union, but now there was a problem. In compromise, Missouri would enter as a slave state and Maine as a free state. Slavery was prohibited above the latitude of 36 30’. The crisis was resolved for the time, but it had a huge impact on the underlying differences and tensions for future North/ South relations. If the United States had to determine the slave status of any new territories, sectional tensions would surely come into play.
The issue of slavery seemed to be dominant over everything. The differences that developed between 1783 and 1848 had lasting effects on the relationship between the North and the South. However, no solutions to these differences seemed to be forming, and tensions continued to grow deeper and deeper. From 1848 to 1861, tensions rose so high that the nation was ultimately divided. Many profound social changes and reform movements occurred in the period 1820 to 1850. Religion once again began to play an important role in life. The Second Great Awakening began in the early 1800’s. This was a period of mass religious revivalism. It began on the southern frontier. Highly emotional camp meeting organized by Methodists, Baptists, and Presbyterians became a common feature used to meet the social and religious needs of southerners. Although some of these meeting aimed to improve morals, they tried not to lean toward social reform. Since the South was a slave-holding society, the people there did not encourage radical efforts to change the world. In contrast, reform movements in the North were more evident. Northern evangelists were mostly Congregationalists and Presbyterians. They relied heavily on Puritan traditions. Their revivals were generally less emotional than those of the South. Many missionary and benevolent societies were formed in the North. The biggest and most important social reform movement in the North was the temperance crusade. Another reform movement was in education. There was much progress made in education in the North, but none in the South. In 1837, local schools were established throughout the free states, and a state board of education was established. The South put more emphasis on family rather than school. It was illegal for blacks to learn to read and write.
Another major social difference was the life of a planter compared to that of a laborer. The North experienced a vast decline in the artisan system of work. By the 1840’s, the portion of men engaged in factory work dramatically increased. Home and work became two separate places, and men and women had “separate spheres.” Working conditions in many of the mills became extremely poor. Twelve to fourteen hour workdays were expected. Bosses cut wages, increased the speed of machinery, and gave each worker more responsibility. Immigrants were willing to work for less and did not protest these poor working conditions. Expansion and immigration created a class of men and women who were destined to this horrible low paying labor for life. The great planters in the South had a strikingly different lifestyle than the laborers in the North. The great planters were elite and held most of the political and economic power in the South. They were aristocrats who held cavalier values. They lived by ideas of chivalry. Honor was more important than wealth, unlike in the North. Dueling was still used in the South but illegal in the North. Planters spent large amounts of money just to impress their neighbors. In reality, only 1% of the southern population belonged to this elite group. Most were yeomen farmers who owned their own land, were independent, proud, and respectable. They had ambitions to rise to the planter class. Four million people in the South were still slaves who lived under intolerable conditions. Some slaves were whipped by their masters, ripped apart from their families, and denied any political freedom. If they wanted to attend church meetings, they had to do so secretly. The continuation of developing different economies also spurred dangerous relations between the North and the South. The North took on many advances in transportation, industry, and agriculture. The railroad and telegraph were two important innovations. The telegraph made it possible to communicate rapidly over the entire nation. The railroad changed northern economy more than anything. Railroads enhanced the development of the iron industry. This was the first experience of a truly big business in America and a prototype of massive corporations. Railroads also led to the development of the new types of securities or “preferred stock.” Also, factory production in the North was greatly extended. Some things produced were firearms, clocks, and sewing machines. Mass production with the use of interchangeable parts was more frequently used. New technology such as the sewing machine, vulcanization of rubber, and machine tools made industrialization more efficient. The steel plow and mechanical reaper were important developments in agriculture. The economy of the South was still different than that of the North. The South felt threatened that the North was changing so much; they were more or less rested in their ways. Forced labor had always been considered essential to the South’s plantation economy and still continued to be so. Plantation agriculture was expanding, and so did the dependence on slave labor. The South’s economy became a three tier system. In the upper South, tobacco continued to be the main slave-holding crop. However, tobacco was becoming less and less prominent and new crops were being experimented with. These new crops reduced the demand for labor. For this reason, slaves were “sold down the river” to the Deep South. The warm climate and rich soil in the Deep South made it possible to raise important crops like rice, long-staple cotton, and sugar. However, it was the rise of short-staple cotton that strengthened the grip on slavery. By the 1850’s, three-quarters of the world’s supply of cotton came form the American South. “King Cotton” was a phrase used to describe the success of this crop. It made many southerners feel very powerful. They were the ones who produced the raw material that was fueling industries in the North. They were well aware that it was a strength, not a weakness. This crop was the Old South’s best chance for profit. So from an economic standpoint, the South had every right to support and defend slavery. The political problems that arose during the period right before the Civil War heightened tensions more than ever. The first had to do with the annexation of Texas. President Tyler strove for the annexation of Texas. This would cure the South’s hunger for additional slave states. Success or failure of the annexation would test the amount of control that the North had over the South. The annexation treaty was first rejected, but it later passed with the administration of Polk. As President, Polk also demanded all of Oregon. For many Northerners, gaining these territories was the only thing that made the annexation of Texas acceptable. They hoped for more free states. However, in reality only half the territory was able to be acquired. Northerners were furious. They were promised half. Polk had cheated them. They began to view Polk as a President who only cared about the South. Another political question was that of what to do with the territory gained from the Mexican War. Northerners began to feel that the real purpose of the war was to spread the institution of slavery and increase political power of the southern states. As an attempt to solve this problem, the Wilmot Proviso was proposed in 1846. This would prohibit slavery in any new territory from Mexico. Northerners supported this, and Southerners rejected it. It never did get enough votes to pass. A while later, the Compromise of 1850 did pass. Under this compromise, California would be admitted as a free state, and New Mexico would be granted popular sovereignty. This was a win for the North. For the South, stronger fugitive slave laws were enacted throughout the North. This brought the issue of slavery home to the North. Now the blacks in the North were in danger. They argued that personal liberty laws would overrule the slave laws, and tensions grew. The Compromise only served as a temporary basis for sectional peace. Another political problem was the collapse of the second-party system of Democrats versus Whigs. All along, Democrats had favored expansion and a fair division between slave and free states, while Whigs had opposed annexations. By 1852, there was disenchantment with the major parties. By 1854, the system had collapsed, and the Whigs were disappearing. The Republican party that stood on the platform of “Free Soil” was formed. To further political tensions, in 1854, Stephen Douglas proposed a bill to organize the territory west of Missouri and Iowa. This area fell where slavery was banned by the Missouri Compromise. He fought for the passage of the Kansas-Nebraska Act. This act applied popular sovereignty to voters in Kansas and Nebraska and went against the Missouri Compromise. The South supported this, but the North rejected it. This push eventually led to “Bleeding Kansas” which was a preview of the Civil War. The final political blow before the Civil War was the election of 1860. In this election, there were four candidates. Lincoln won the election. He was the leading candidate in the North, yet he received no support from the South. This severely frightened the South. This was the first time in a presidential election that the North voted all together and completely overruled the South. As a result, in 1860, secession began as South Carolina broke apart from the Union. All in all, what started out as a strive for independence and a common goal, led to one of the bloodiest battles of all time. Perhaps there is no one reason to justify the Civil War. Though, surely, there were many social, economical, and political differences between the two regions that underlie the cause. These differences led intense disputes with no permanent solutions. Eventually, there was a house divided, and as Lincoln said, “A house divided against itself cannot stand.” Sure enough, not many Americans were left standing after this intense battle that killed 620,000 people.