The Beginnings Of The Sectional Crisis Essay
, Research Paper
During the antebellum period, the North and the South were complete opposites. This led to each side viewing itself as superior and viewing the other as “backward.” Each side believed itself to be superior, in all aspects, to the other. The reasons for these opinions can be found in the different economic, social, and cultural systems found in these two regions.
The Southern economy was primarily agricultural. This economy, like many other agricultural economies, did not allow for a great deal of social mobility. The South also lacked factories, or much industry. However, this was not the main difference between the North and the South. Most troubling to Northerners was that the South used slaves as its main source of labor.
Obviously, Northerners would be appalled by the barbarism associated with slavery, the beatings, the separation of families; but they were not. Most appalling to Northerners was that slavery did not encourage social mobility, education, or industrial expansion in a society. This was in direct conflict with northern views. The North had always been an industrious society. Ever since the Transportation Revolution of the early 19th century, the North progressed while the South stagnated. The North produced steel and iron while the South?s mainly produced cotton. This is not to say that the South was not an economically prosperous region, but it was just not built “in the North?s image of industrious.”
The South did not seem to have a problem with the system of slavery. After all, why should they? it had been successful for over 200 years. Instead, they saw the North as a cruel society full of the treacheries caused by capitalism. They saw factory work as “wage slavery” while they viewed Southern slavery as “paternalistic” and “benevolent.” Slavery, they contended, helped eliminate all class distinctions in Southern society. In the North, they saw, factory owners became rich while their employees lived in a state of poverty. Slavery was the great unifier of Southern society.
Poor Southerners also supported the “peculiar institution”, because it ensured that even the poorest white man was higher than a black man was. This was why Southerners said it preserved social order. Slavery, essentially, gave poor whites someone to look down upon and mock. To an agrarian society the preservation of a rigid class system is of primary concern, unfortunately, this was the only way the South could preserve it was through slavery.
Northerners believed slavery was contrary to America?s industrious nature. They believed a free labor was a more efficient system of production. Slavery did not provide incentives for work so the natural assumption was that slaves would only perform the minimum amount of work. Plantation life would make the slaveholders believe they were near gods, because they were used to ruling over their slaves with an iron-fist. This arrogance, they affirmed, led to disrespect for the law. Thus, this picture is painted of a lawless south ruled by an aristocracy. Frederick Law Olmsted, Northern journalist and urban planned, stated in 1854 “The Southerner, however, is greatly wanting in hospitality of mind, closing his doors to all opinions and schemes to which he has been bred a stranger, with a contempt and bigotry which sometimes seems incompatible with his character as a gentleman. He has a large but inexpensive mind.” One can see how each region, or section, believed its culture was superior to the other.
It was this ethnocentrism, more than anything was, which led to the deep rift between North and South. The United States had essentially developed into two separate countries – North and South. These countries were economically codependent on one another, but other than that codependence they were two different political, social, and cultural entities. Although these two countries coexisted and cooperated economically this rift would persist for many decades to come.
In the South, slavery not capitalism was the social, political, and economic system. It was a way of subjugating an “inferior race”, as well as a way of compensating for the South?s labor shortage. This system had developed from a system where African Americans and whites would openly fraternize, in the 1600s, to one of segregation and oppression in the 1800s. This seeming digression is analogous to the South?s stagnation in the 19th century, which led to the schism between North and South.
It was the South?s economic stagnation and lack of morals- at least in the North?s view- that helped lead to a sectional division. These two rival economic, social, and cultural systems-capitalism and slavery-could not exist in the same country without tearing it along the Mason-Dixon line. Northerners looked to Southern lawlessness and the egotism of the “aristocracy” while Southerners saw Northern “wage slavery” (capitalism) as cruel. The North frowned upon the South?s rigid social structure (it was more rigid than the North?s, but did allow for social mobility), economic system, and culture. Moreover, these “irrepressible differences” threatened to tear the nation by its seams. However, at this point, no one knew how deeply these differences would divide the nation.