The North and South Diverge
The North and South Diverge
In the 80 years between the American Revolution and the Civil War, the North and South developed along distinct and opposing lines—economically, politically, and culturally. While the North became an industrial and manufacturing powerhouse deeply affected by social reform movements like abolitionism and women’s rights, the South became a cotton kingdom, founded on slavery, whose inhabitants generally abstained from or opposed such reformist tendencies.
Manufacturing in the North
Manufacturing first took hold in New England. The region’s poor soil made large-scale farming unprofitable, and its extensive waterways and steady influx of immigrants favored the development of manufacturing—the waterways supplied power for mills and facilitated trade, while the immigrants comprised a nearly inexhaustible labor supply. Small New England mills gave way to larger, more productive ones, and the expansion of foreign markets allowed the factory system to blossom. Factories became the center of planned towns designed to accommodate the needs of the factory owners and workers.
Cotton and Slavery in the South
The South took a very different economic course than the North. After the Revolution, when tobacco income plummeted, cotton reinvigorated the stagnant southern economy. The widespread use of the cotton gin, invented by Eli Whitney in 1793, made cotton plantations efficient and profitable. The demand for cotton also grew because of the developing textile industries in the North and in Britain. Cotton plantations spread across the South, and by 1850, the southern U.S. grew more than 80 percent of the world’s cotton.
As the cotton-based economy boomed so did slavery, since slaves were needed to man the large-scale and labor-intensive plantations. Although Congress banned the importation of slaves in 1808, the smuggling of slaves continued until the 1850s, and the southern slave population doubled between 1810 and 1830. Three-quarters of these slaves worked on cotton plantations, while the remainder worked a variety of skilled and unskilled jobs. The rise in slavery led to the development of a slave culture, and also to an increasing, though generally unfounded, fear of slave revolts. Various slave uprisings did occasionally erupt, however—most notably, Nat Turner’s Rebellion in Virginia in 1831.
The South became a veritable “Cotton Kingdom,” remaining rural and agrarian while the North became industrialized. Rich plantation owners saw little reason to spend their capital on risky industrial projects when cash crops brought in a large, steady income.
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