Differences between the North and the South were readily apparent well before the American Revolution. Economic, social and political structures differed significantly between the two regions, and these disparities only widened in the 1800s. In 1861, the Civil War erupted between the two sides, and much of the conflict surrounded sectional differences. Once the war ended, Reconstruction lessened some sectional disparities but increased others.
Slavery and Free Blacks
The major difference between the North and the South -- and the one most responsible for the Civil War -- was the institution of slavery. In the North, slavery was almost universally prohibited by the 1800s, while the institution was a cornerstone of Southern society. In the North, many blacks were free, and in states such as Massachusetts, New York and Ohio, 100 percent of the black population was free. In the states of the Confederacy, by contrast, few blacks were free. Virginia had the highest ratio of free blacks to slaves, but even there only 9 percent of the state's black population was free. The Emancipation Proclamation would eliminate slavery, but for the first half of the century, the issue divided the South and North.
Industrialization and Immigration
The South's slave economy supported agriculture, while the North's free society enabled industrialization. By the beginning of the Civil War, only one-ninth of the United States' industrial capacity was situated in the South. The North, meanwhile, produced 97 percent of the country's firearms and 93 percent of its pig iron. The opportunities of industrialization attracted European immigrants led to building major cities in the North. By 1860, the North's population stood at 23 million compared to the South's nine million. By contrast, 80 percent of Southerners were employed in agriculture, compared to just 40 percent in the North in 1860.
Before and after the Civil War, the North and South were very different in their political alignments. In the early 1800s, many Northerners belonged to the Whig Party, while Southerners tended towards the Democrats. By the 1850s and beyond, the Whig Party had collapsed, and many more Northerners became Republicans, while Southerners remained loyal to the Democrats. In addition, before the war, abolitionism was much more common in the North, though even there it was rare.
Reconstruction and Its Impact
The end of the Civil War brought an official end to slavery, but it did not immediately affect economic, political or social differences. Some Reconstruction era policies even exaggerated them. The federal pension system, which began in 1862 to provide support to veterans, was only offered to Union Army veterans. Former Confederate states created their own pension systems, but without the financial resources of the federal government, they often faced financial hardship in financing them. As such, Union veterans -- including African-American veterans -- earned financial security in the latter half of the 1800s, while their Confederate counterparts were less well off Post-war Southern society, meanwhile, was faced with federal occupation for nearly a decade. Thereafter, racial resentment brewed, and the Ku Klux Klan wreaked havoc in the region in a way it did not elsewhere. For a brief time after the war, African-American voting rights were reasonably well protected, but by 1890 the KKK and others severely limited African-American voting rights in the South.
- Teaching American History: The Civil War
- The Civil War Trust: North and South: Different Cultures, Same Country
- U.S. History: 33b.: Strengths and Weaknesses: North vs. South
- History Today: The Contrarian: North-South Divide
- George Mason University: History 122: An Outline of the Reconstruction Era
- Virginia Tech: Essential Civil War Curriculum: Civil War Pensions
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