Eve of the Civil War

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On the eve of the Civil War, the United States was a nation divided into four quite distinct regions: the Northeast, with a growing industrial and commercial economy and an increasing density of population; the Northwest, now known as the Midwest, a rapidly expanding region of free farmers where slavery had been forever prohibited under the Northwest Ordinance; the Upper South, with a settled plantation system and (in some areas) declining economic fortunes; and the Southwest, a booming frontier-like region with an expanding cotton economy. With two fundamentally different labor systems at their base, the economic and social changes across the nation's geographical regions – based on wage labor in the North and on slavery in the South – underlay distinct visions of society that had emerged by the mid-nineteenth century in the North and in the South.

Before the Civil War, the Constitution provided a basis for peaceful debate over the future of government, and had been able to regulate conflicts of interest and conflicting visions for the new, rapidly expanding nation. For many years, compromises had been made to balance the number of "free states" and "slave states" so that there would be a balance in the Senate. The last slave state admitted was Texas in 1845, with five free states admitted between 1846 and 1859. The admission of Kansas as a slave state had recently been blocked, and it was due to enter as a free state instead in 1861. The rise of mass democracy in the industrializing North, the breakdown of the old two-party system, and increasingly virulent and hostile sectional ideologies in the mid-nineteenth century made it highly unlikely, if not impossible, to bring about the gentlemanly compromises of the past (such as the Missouri Compromise and the Compromise of 1850) necessary to avoid crisis.

Sectional tensions changed in their nature and intensity rapidly during the 1850s. The United States Republican Party was established in 1854. The new...
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