Guest Author - Rebecca Graf
Socially, the North was more urban while the South was largely rural. This did not mean there were not large cities in the South nor did it mean there were no farms in the North. It was the fact that the there was some truth in those generalizations. This also meant that the people approached all subjects, politically and culturally, with a slightly different stance. This was nothing new as the North and the South had been at different spectrums socially since the early colonial days. The makeup of the people was different which meant that the desires and viewpoints were vastly different. This would move quickly into the political arena.
Politically, the makeup of the North was Republican with the South being largely Democratic. As with the generalization of the living conditions of those in the same regions, they were not a hundred percent in either category. There were a large number of Northern Democrats as well as Southern Republicans though they were small in percentage. The large numbers in each region helped to pull those in the individual regions together politically and economically and push for common goals. Politics and economics were intertwined in a way that makes them inseparable in such discussions.
With the number of immigrants and bad times hitting the country, there was a large number of unemployed. To solve this economic problem, the Republicans took their idea of free labor as a way of “expanding, enterprising, competitive society” and pushed it to include areas the South was not willing to go. (1) As the increase in poverty levels hit the nation, the Republicans turned for a solution to the “westward migration of the poor, aided by a homestead act.” (2) This became the biggest political rift between the parties that would lead up to the Civil War. The Republicans saw this as a solution to the economic problem while at the same time being a barrier to the spread of slavery. This, of course, was the reason the Democrats opposed it. (3) As the majority of slave holders were Southern and Democratic, they saw this as a move for the North to obtain more power in Congress which would lead to economic and political decisions made in favor of the North compared to the South.
Everything was a struggle between the North and the South and had been since colonial days. Slavery was not the issue as much as who would be on top and in control of the nation. The Civil War was inevitable as neither side was willing to compromise. Both wanted to win and had to learn the cost of such stubbornness the hard way.
(1) Eric Foner, Free Soil, Free Labor, Free Men : The Ideology of the Republican Party before the Civil War with a New Introductory Essay, (Cary: Oxford University Press, 1995), 62.
(2) Ibid, 74.
(3) Ibid, 75.