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Causes of the American Civil War – 4: The Antebellum North

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Dewitt Clinton Train

Dewitt Clinton Locomotive

Methodist Camp Meeting

Continuing the series on the causes of the American Civil War, this post looks at the Antebellum North. The North evolved from its Puritan roots into a culture driven by a strong work ethic. A man was valued by what he could earn and accomplish. The capital of the north was invested in the engines of modernization. Labor moved from agriculture and artisan to factory as modern farming tools improved productivity. Individuals became more dependent on wages. Material wealth was seen as evidence of good, productive, hard work.

As the country expanded, northeastern populations migrated almost directly west. Foreign immigration increased. With modernization came an extensive transportation system including both impressive roadways and railroads.

New levels of wealth were attained by the leaders of the industrial revolution. A new poor working class emerged but so did a middle class that no longer had to produce large families to work the land. Urban centers developed particularly in the northeast.

Methodist Camp Meeting

Watercolor by J. Maze Burbank, c. 1839 Old Dartmouth Historical Society-New Bedford Whaling Museum, New Bedford, Massachusetts Gift of William F. Havemeyer (187) Source: Library of Congress.

Modernization drove social reform including the creation of public education systems in the North and associated high literacy rates. Enlightenment crusades flourished, touching literature and religion. Suffrage and temperance movements formed. Abolitionism became tied with humanitarian reforms driven by Christian crusades.

Elizabeth Cady Stanton

Suffrage leader Elizabeth Cady Stanton and daughter, Harriot--1856. LOC Prints and Photographs Division, LC-USZ62-48965

The North became more and more distinct from the South on many levels, not the least of which was its distaste for slavery. Even so, like white populations in most of western society, northerners considered blacks to be inferior in the antebellum North.

© 2010 L. Rene Tyree

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