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

«·Reconstruction in the South · Southern Accounts·»

Summary of the Sectional Conflict

Just as the United States, under the impetus of Western enterprise, rounded out the continental domain, its very existence as a nation was challenged by a fratricidal conflict between two sections. This storm had been long gathering upon the horizon. From the very beginning in colonial times there had been a marked difference between the South and the North. The former by climate and soil was dedicated to a planting system—the cultivation of tobacco, rice, cotton, and sugar cane—and in the course of time slave labor became the foundation of the system. The North, on the other hand, supplemented agriculture by commerce, trade, and manufacturing. Slavery, though lawful, did not flourish there. An abundant supply of free labor kept the Northern wheels turning.

This difference between the two sections, early noted by close observers, was increased with the advent of the steam engine and the factory system. Between 1815 and 1860 an industrial revolution took place in the North. Its signs were gigantic factories, huge aggregations of industrial workers, immense cities, a flourishing commerce, and prosperous banks. Finding an unfavorable reception in the South, the new industrial system was confined mainly to the North. By canals and railways New York, Boston, and Philadelphia were linked with the wheatfields of Ohio, Indiana, and Illinois. A steel net wove North and Northwest together. A commercial net supplemented it. Western trade was diverted from New Orleans to the East and Eastern credit sustained Western enterprise.

In time, the industrial North and the planting South evolved different ideas of political policy. The former looked with favor on protective tariffs, ship subsidies, a sound national banking system, and internal improvements. The farmers of the West demanded that the public domain be divided up into free homesteads for farmers. The South steadily swung around to the opposite view. Its spokesmen came to regard most of these policies as injurious to the planting interests.

The economic questions were all involved in a moral issue. The Northern states, in which slavery was of slight consequence, had early abolished the institution. In the course of a few years there appeared uncompromising advocates of universal emancipation. Far and wide the agitation spread. The South was thoroughly frightened. It demanded protection against the agitators, the enforcement of its rights in the case of runaway slaves, and equal privileges for slavery in the new territories.

With the passing years the conflict between the two sections increased in bitterness. It flamed up in 1820 and was allayed by the Missouri compromise. It took on the form of a tariff controversy and nullification in 1832. It appeared again after the Mexican war when the question of slavery in the new territories was raised. Again compromise—the great settlement of 1850—seemed to restore peace, only to prove an illusion. A series of startling events swept the country into war: the repeal of the Missouri compromise in 1854, the rise of the Republican party pledged to the prohibition of slavery in the territories, the Dred Scott decision of 1857, the Lincoln-Douglas debates, John Brown’s raid, the election of Lincoln, and secession.

The Civil War, lasting for four years, tested the strength of both North and South, in leadership, in finance, in diplomatic skill, in material resources, in industry, and in armed forces. By the blockade of Southern ports, by an overwhelming weight of men and materials, and by relentless hammering on the field of battle, the North was victorious.

The results of the war were revolutionary in character. Slavery was abolished and the freedmen given the ballot. The Southern planters who had been the leaders of their section were ruined financially and almost to a man excluded from taking part in political affairs. The union was declared to be perpetual and the right of a state to secede settled by the judgment of battle. Federal control over the affairs of states, counties, and cities was established by the fourteenth amendment. The power and prestige of the federal government were enhanced beyond imagination. The North was now free to pursue its economic policies: a protective tariff, a national banking system, land grants for railways, free lands for farmers. Planting had dominated the country for nearly a generation. Business enterprise was to take its place.


Northern Accounts

J.K. Hosmer, The Appeal to Arms and The Outcome of the Civil War (American Nation Series).

J. Ropes, History of the Civil War (best account of military campaigns).

J.F. Rhodes, History of the United States, Vols. III, IV, and V.

J.T. Morse, Abraham Lincoln (2 vols.).

«·Reconstruction in the South · Southern Accounts·»