North and South

By the 1860, the North and the South had developed into two very different regions. The North was the main center of manufacturing, commerce and finance. Principal products of this area were textiles, clothing, machinery, leather, and wooden goods and shipping had reached the height of its prosperity. The South, resisting industrialization, manufactured little and that is why, almost all manufactured goods had to be imported. The South was agricultural area where the chief source of wealth was the cotton crop, rice, sugar and tobacco and also the area was dependant on the plantation system and its essential component, slavery.

Conflicting interests in north and south became apparent. The Northerners declared that slavery was wholly responsible for the relative backwardness of the South. For capitalism to develop freely and to expand rapidly it was necessary to abolish slavery and to break the influence of the Southern planters on politics. In some areas of the country, strong opposition to having slaves appeared. Rhode Island abolished slavery in 1774 and was soon followed by other states (Vermont, Pennsylvania, New York, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Connecticut and New Jersey). The importation of slaves from other countries was banned soon as well. However, the selling of slaves within the southern states continued.

The conflict over slavery began to boil over with the territorial expansion of the United States westwards. The acquisition of new territories in 1845 converted the moral question of slavery into a burning political issue. The Northerners wanted all the new territories to be free, while the Southerners wanted to introduce slavery into them. From the middle 1840s, the issue of slavery overshadowed everything else in American politics. In 1852, H. B. Stowe wrote an antislavery novel, Uncle Tom's Cabine. It was a sentimental but powerful novel, which converted many readers to the abolitionist cause. Politically, the 1850s can be characterized as a decade of failure in which the nation's leaders were unable to resolve the divisive issue of slavery.

In 1854, a new political party, the Republican Party was founded by the Northern capitalists and Abraham Lincoln was a party candidate in the presidential elections of 1860. He demanded a halt to the spread of slavery. He was willing to tolerate slavery in the Southern states were it already existed, but it was not to spread into any new territory. The Southern slaveholders, who fought for an extension of slavery, strongly opposed this policy. The majority in every Southern state voted against him, but the North supported him and he won the election. This fact was viewed by the South as a threat to slavery and ignited the war.