There has been nothing like it on American soil before or
since. A devastating confrontation that threatened to dissolve the United States, the
Civil War pitted brother against brother, family against family, and state against state.
Before hostilities ceased and the warring factions reunited, more than a million of
America's young men had been killed or wounded, entire cities and once productive farmland
lay in ruins, and a way of life had vanished forever.
decade of the 1850s brought the United States exceptional growth and prosperity. The
population increased by 35 percent, to more than 31 million. Railroad trackage more than
trebled, reaching 30,000 miles. The production of all kinds of foodstuffs and manufactured
goods rose dramatically. And the country had enormous resources to sustain its phenomenal
progress: vast unoccupied lands, a network of navigable rivers, incalculable riches in
timber, iron, coal, copper and California gold....
true that the 1850s also exacerbated the the political tensions between North and South.
But in the cold light of economics, the sections were interdependent - perhaps
inseparable. Southern plantations provided bountiful raw materials for the industrialized
North, and Northern factories made most of the finished goods consumed by the South.
famed Southern boast that "Cotton is King!" became increasingly true in the
1850s. Though many plantations thrived on rice, tobacco and other cash crops, more and
more land was planted in cotton to meet the demands of British and Yankee textile mills,
and more and more slaves were put to work bringing in the harvests. The annual yield
soared from two million bales in 1849 to 5.7 million bales in 1859. This amounted to seven
eighths of the world's cotton and more than half of all American exports.
even though the two sections might be interdependent, there were marked differences in the
character and lifestyles of North and South. The bucolic landscape and the slow, agrarian
lifestyle were just what most Southerners desired. Cities were scarce and practically all
of them were
small; Charleston, Richmond and Savannah each had populations
of less than 40,000. Only New Orleans, with about 150,000 inhabitants, was comparable to
Northern cities in size and diversity.
marked contrast, Northern cities were crowded, bustling, boisterous places, many expanding
too fast to digest their growth. The population of New York soared from 515,000 to 814,000
in the 1850s. Chicago, incorporated a city in 1837 with a population of 4,170, had 112,000
inhabitants by 1860.
war they would engage in traced its roots to the birth of America and perhaps even further
back than that. To begin with, the vast majority of immigrants who settled the Northern
part of the country tended to come from the cities and industrial centers of England,
while the majority of Southerners came from the wilder, more agrarian areas of that
different geographies and climates, North and South had developed radically different
economic and social patterns. In the upper Atlantic states, the terrain was hilly and
rocky, with the interior heavily forested and difficult to access. These conditions tended
to keep farms small and to build up large pools of population along the coast. Many
Northern settlers, therefore, became seamen, fishermen, shipbuilders and merchants.
South, on the other hand, developed a plantation system that relied to a considerable
extent on large-scale cultivation of a single cash crop: tobacco, rice, sugarcane or
cotton. In a pattern set in Virginia tobacco plantations, intensive one-crop farming
quickly exhausted the soil. Rather than sacrifice profits by rotating crops or
fertilizing, big planters simply purchased more land - and more slaves to work the new
this backdrop of two divergent Americas arose a series of political crises during the
first half of the 19th century. All dealt with the expansion of slavery; all were
seemingly resolved, but each deepened sectional hostility.