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History of the United States by Charles A. Beard and Mary R. Beard

«·The Industrial Revolution · CHAPTER XIII·»

The Industrial Revolution and National Politics

Southern Plans for Union with the West.—It was long the design of Southern statesmen like Calhoun to hold the West and the South together in one political party. The theory on which they based their hope was simple. Both sections were agricultural—the producers of raw materials and the buyers of manufactured goods. The planters were heavy purchasers of Western bacon, pork, mules, and grain. The Mississippi River and its tributaries formed the natural channel for the transportation of heavy produce southward to the plantations and outward to Europe. Therefore, ran their political reasoning, the interests of the two sections were one. By standing together in favor of low tariffs, they could buy their manufactures cheaply in Europe and pay for them in cotton, tobacco, and grain. The union of the two sections under Jackson’s management seemed perfect.

The East Forms Ties with the West.—Eastern leaders were not blind to the ambitions of Southern statesmen. On the contrary, they also recognized the importance of forming strong ties with the agrarian West and drawing the produce of the Ohio Valley to Philadelphia and New York. The canals and railways were the physical signs of this economic union, and the results, commercial and political, were soon evident. By the middle of the century, Southern economists noted the change, one of them, De Bow, lamenting that “the great cities of the North have severally penetrated the interior with artificial lines until they have taken from the open and untaxed current of the Mississippi the commerce produced on its borders.” To this writer it was an astounding thing to behold “the number of steamers that now descend the upper Mississippi River, loaded to the guards with produce, as far as the mouth of the Illinois River and then turn up that stream with their cargoes to be shipped to New York via Chicago. The Illinois canal has not only swept the whole produce along the line of the Illinois River to the East, but it is drawing the products of the upper Mississippi through the same channel; thus depriving New Orleans and St. Louis of a rich portion of their former trade.”

If to any shippers the broad current of the great river sweeping down to New Orleans offered easier means of physical communication to the sea than the canals and railways, the difference could be overcome by the credit which Eastern bankers were able to extend to the grain and produce buyers, in the first instance, and through them to the farmers on the soil. The acute Southern observer just quoted, De Bow, admitted with evident regret, in 1852, that “last autumn, the rich regions of Ohio, Indiana, and Illinois were flooded with the local bank notes of the Eastern States, advanced by the New York houses on produce to be shipped by way of the canals in the spring.... These moneyed facilities enable the packer, miller, and speculator to hold on to their produce until the opening of navigation in the spring and they are no longer obliged, as formerly, to hurry off their shipments during the winter by the way of New Orleans in order to realize funds by drafts on their shipments. The banking facilities at the East are doing as much to draw trade from us as the canals and railways which Eastern capital is constructing.” Thus canals, railways, and financial credit were swiftly forging bonds of union between the old home of Jacksonian Democracy in the West and the older home of Federalism in the East. The nationalism to which Webster paid eloquent tribute became more and more real with the passing of time. The self-sufficiency of the pioneer was broken down as he began to watch the produce markets of New York and Philadelphia where the prices of corn and hogs fixed his earnings for the year.

The West and Manufactures.—In addition to the commercial bonds between the East and the West there was growing up a common interest in manufactures. As skilled white labor increased in the Ohio Valley, the industries springing up in the new cities made Western life more like that of the industrial East than like that of the planting South. Moreover, the Western states produced some important raw materials for American factories, which called for protection against foreign competition, notably, wool, hemp, and flax. As the South had little or no foreign competition in cotton and tobacco, the East could not offer protection for her raw materials in exchange for protection for industries. With the West, however, it became possible to establish reciprocity in tariffs; that is, for example, to trade a high rate on wool for a high rate on textiles or iron.

The South Dependent on the North.—While East and West were drawing together, the distinctions between North and South were becoming more marked; the latter, having few industries and producing little save raw materials, was being forced into the position of a dependent section. As a result of the protective tariff, Southern planters were compelled to turn more and more to Northern mills for their cloth, shoes, hats, hoes, plows, and machinery. Nearly all the goods which they bought in Europe in exchange for their produce came overseas to Northern ports, whence transshipments were made by rail and water to Southern points of distribution. Their rice, cotton, and tobacco, in as far as they were not carried to Europe in British bottoms, were transported by Northern masters. In these ways, a large part of the financial operations connected with the sale of Southern produce and the purchase of goods in exchange passed into the hands of Northern merchants and bankers who, naturally, made profits from their transactions. Finally, Southern planters who wanted to buy more land and more slaves on credit borrowed heavily in the North where huge accumulations made the rates of interest lower than the smaller banks of the South could afford.

The South Reckons the Cost of Economic Dependence.—As Southern dependence upon Northern capital became more and more marked, Southern leaders began to chafe at what they regarded as restraints laid upon their enterprise. In a word, they came to look upon the planter as a tribute-bearer to the manufacturer and financier. “The South,” expostulated De Bow, “stands in the attitude of feeding … a vast population of [Northern] merchants, shipowners, capitalists, and others who, without claims on her progeny, drink up the life blood of her trade.... Where goes the value of our labor but to those who, taking advantage of our folly, ship for us, buy for us, sell to us, and, after turning our own capital to their profitable account, return laden with our money to enjoy their easily earned opulence at home.”

Southern statisticians, not satisfied with generalities, attempted to figure out how great was this tribute in dollars and cents. They estimated that the planters annually lent to Northern merchants the full value of their exports, a hundred millions or more, “to be used in the manipulation of foreign imports.” They calculated that no less than forty millions all told had been paid to shipowners in profits. They reckoned that, if the South were to work up her own cotton, she would realize from seventy to one hundred millions a year that otherwise went North. Finally, to cap the climax, they regretted that planters spent some fifteen millions a year pleasure-seeking in the alluring cities and summer resorts of the North.

Southern Opposition to Northern Policies.—Proceeding from these premises, Southern leaders drew the logical conclusion that the entire program of economic measures demanded in the North was without exception adverse to Southern interests and, by a similar chain of reasoning, injurious to the corn and wheat producers of the West. Cheap labor afforded by free immigration, a protective tariff raising prices of manufactures for the tiller of the soil, ship subsidies increasing the tonnage of carrying trade in Northern hands, internal improvements forging new economic bonds between the East and the West, a national banking system giving strict national control over the currency as a safeguard against paper inflation—all these devices were regarded in the South as contrary to the planting interest. They were constantly compared with the restrictive measures by which Great Britain more than half a century before had sought to bind American interests.

As oppression justified a war for independence once, statesmen argued, so it can justify it again. “It is curious as it is melancholy and distressing,” came a broad hint from South Carolina, “to see how striking is the analogy between the colonial vassalage to which the manufacturing states have reduced the planting states and that which formerly bound the Anglo-American colonies to the British empire.... England said to her American colonies: ’You shall not trade with the rest of the world for such manufactures as are produced in the mother country.' The manufacturing states say to their Southern colonies: ’You shall not trade with the rest of the world for such manufactures as we produce.'” The conclusion was inexorable: either the South must control the national government and its economic measures, or it must declare, as America had done four score years before, its political and economic independence. As Northern mills multiplied, as railways spun their mighty web over the face of the North, and as accumulated capital rose into the hundreds of millions, the conviction of the planters and their statesmen deepened into desperation.

Efforts to Start Southern Industries Fail.—A few of them, seeing the predominance of the North, made determined efforts to introduce manufactures into the South. To the leaders who were averse to secession and nullification this seemed the only remedy for the growing disparity in the power of the two sections. Societies for the encouragement of mechanical industries were formed, the investment of capital was sought, and indeed a few mills were built on Southern soil. The results were meager. The natural resources, coal and water power, were abundant; but the enterprise for direction and the skilled labor were wanting. The stream of European immigration flowed North and West, not South. The Irish or German laborer, even if he finally made his home in a city, had before him, while in the North, the alternative of a homestead on Western land. To him slavery was a strange, if not a repelling, institution. He did not take to it kindly nor care to fix his home where it flourished. While slavery lasted, the economy of the South was inevitably agricultural. While agriculture predominated, leadership with equal necessity fell to the planting interest. While the planting interest ruled, political opposition to Northern economy was destined to grow in strength.

The Southern Theory of Sectionalism.—In the opinion of the statesmen who frankly represented the planting interest, the industrial system was its deadly enemy. Their entire philosophy of American politics was summed up in a single paragraph by McDuffie, a spokesman for South Carolina: “Owing to the federative character of our government, the great geographical extent of our territory, and the diversity of the pursuits of our citizens in different parts of the union, it has so happened that two great interests have sprung up, standing directly opposed to each other. One of these consists of those manufactures which the Northern and Middle states are capable of producing but which, owing to the high price of labor and the high profits of capital in those states, cannot hold competition with foreign manufactures without the aid of bounties, directly or indirectly given, either by the general government or by the state governments. The other of these interests consists of the great agricultural staples of the Southern states which can find a market only in foreign countries and which can be advantageously sold only in exchange for foreign manufactures which come in competition with those of the Northern and Middle states.... These interests then stand diametrically and irreconcilably opposed to each other. The interest, the pecuniary interest of the Northern manufacturer, is directly promoted by every increase of the taxes imposed upon Southern commerce; and it is unnecessary to add that the interest of the Southern planter is promoted by every diminution of taxes imposed upon the productions of their industry. If, under these circumstances, the manufacturers were clothed with the power of imposing taxes, at their pleasure, upon the foreign imports of the planter, no doubt would exist in the mind of any man that it would have all the characteristics of an absolute and unqualified despotism.” The economic soundness of this reasoning, a subject of interesting speculation for the economist, is of little concern to the historian. The historical point is that this opinion was widely held in the South and with the progress of time became the prevailing doctrine of the planting statesmen.

Their antagonism was deepened because they also became convinced, on what grounds it is not necessary to inquire, that the leaders of the industrial interest thus opposed to planting formed a consolidated “aristocracy of wealth,” bent upon the pursuit and attainment of political power at Washington. “By the aid of various associated interests,” continued McDuffie, “the manufacturing capitalists have obtained a complete and permanent control over the legislation of Congress on this subject [the tariff].... Men confederated together upon selfish and interested principles, whether in pursuit of the offices or the bounties of the government, are ever more active and vigilant than the great majority who act from disinterested and patriotic impulses. Have we not witnessed it on this floor, sir? Who ever knew the tariff men to divide on any question affecting their confederated interests?… The watchword is, stick together, right or wrong upon every question affecting the common cause. Such, sir, is the concert and vigilance and such the combinations by which the manufacturing party, acting upon the interests of some and the prejudices of others, have obtained a decided and permanent control over public opinion in all the tariff states.” Thus, as the Southern statesman would have it, the North, in matters affecting national policies, was ruled by a “confederated interest” which menaced the planting interest. As the former grew in magnitude and attached to itself the free farmers of the West through channels of trade and credit, it followed as night the day that in time the planters would be overshadowed and at length overborne in the struggle of giants. Whether the theory was sound or not, Southern statesmen believed it and acted upon it.


M. Beard, Short History of the American Labor Movement.

E.L. Bogart, Economic History of the United States.

J.R. Commons, History of Labour in the United States (2 vols.).

E.R. Johnson, American Railway Transportation.

C.D. Wright, Industrial Evolution of the United States.


1. What signs pointed to a complete Democratic triumph in 1852?

2. What is the explanation of the extraordinary industrial progress of America?

3. Compare the planting system with the factory system.

4. In what sections did industry flourish before the Civil War? Why?

5. Show why transportation is so vital to modern industry and agriculture.

6. Explain how it was possible to secure so many people to labor in American industries.

7. Trace the steps in the rise of organized labor before 1860.

8. What political and economic reforms did labor demand?

9. Why did the East and the South seek closer ties with the West?

10. Describe the economic forces which were drawing the East and the West together.

11. In what way was the South economically dependent upon the North?

12 State the national policies generally favored in the North and condemned in the South.

13. Show how economic conditions in the South were unfavorable to industry.

14. Give the Southern explanation of the antagonism between the North and the South.

Research Topics

The Inventions.—Assign one to each student. Satisfactory accounts are to be found in any good encyclopedia, especially the Britannica.

River and Lake Commerce.—Callender, Economic History of the United States, pp. 313-326.

Railways and Canals.—Callender, pp. 326-344; 359-387. Coman, Industrial History of the United States, pp. 216-225.

The Growth of Industry, 1815-1840.—Callender, pp. 459-471. From 1850 to 1860, Callender, pp. 471-486.

Early Labor Conditions.—Callender, pp. 701-718.

Early Immigration.—Callender, pp. 719-732.

Clay’s Home Market Theory of the Tariff.—Callender, pp. 498-503.

The New England View of the Tariff.—Callender, pp. 503-514.

«·The Industrial Revolution · CHAPTER XIII·»