How were the North, South, and West Different Socially During the Antebellum Period?

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How were the North, South, and West Different Socially During the Antebellum Period?

In order to understand why the North and the South fought in the Civil War, you need to understand how and why these regions grew increasingly different in the antebellum period. Social and cultural differences emerged first during the colonial period based largely on the cultures of the people who settled there (USHC 1.1). These differences were increased by the economic specialties that resulted from differences in geography of the regions (USHC 2.3). Finally increased regional pride led to self interested sectionalism. The settlement of the West exacerbated the tensions between the North and the South leading eventually to secession and war (USHC 3.1).

The North was affected by the culture of the Puritans who settled New England and. the Quakers of Pennsylvania and by the diversity of the populations of commercial centers such as New York City. In New England, towns and cities arose around the Congregational church and as commercial centers. Education was established early by the Puritans of Massachusetts Bay to enable the faithful to read the Bible (USHC 1.1) and expanded in the early 19th century in order to assimilate the immigrants. Immigrants were attracted to the jobs in growing industries (USHC 2.3) and contributed to the cultural diversity and growing population of the region. There were relatively few slaves in the North and by 1840 most had been emancipated (USHC 1.3) so they did not significantly impact the culture of the region. Northerners supported political issues that promoted their regional interests such as high tariffs and a national bank (USHC 2.3).

The culture of the South was strongly influenced by its colonial beginnings and its economy. Large plantations produced a privileged class that dominated the government, society and culture. However, contrary to popular myth, the majority of Southerners in the antebellum period lived on family farms and did not own slaves. The South developed fewer large towns or commercial cities because navigable rivers brought ships close to the fields. The wealthy educated their children privately, did not provide public education for poor whites and outlawed teaching slaves to read or write. The region did not attract as many immigrants because there were few jobs in industry or available land. Because of the large slave population and significant numbers of free blacks, African Americans contributed substantially to the culture and the social structure of the South. Southerners supported political issues that promoted their regional interests such as low tariffs, and the spread of slavery to the territories (USHC 2.3).

The West developed as settlers moved into the region and carried their cultural values with them. Settlers in the old Northwest reflected the values of New England while the southern states influenced the culture of states such as Kentucky, Alabama, Mississippi, and Texas. Manifest Destiny strengthened the strong individualism that naturally arose among those settling the West. Westerners supported political issues that promoted their interests such as cheap land, internal improvements (i.e. roads and canals) and uncontrolled banking (USHC 2.3).

African Americans lived in all regions of the country. Although the Northern states had begun to emancipate their slaves right after the Declaration of Independence (USHC 1.3), some northern states continued to have slaves into the 1830s. Slavery was prohibited in the old Northwest by the Northwest Ordinance. Although free blacks lived in the North, they could not exercise the same rights as whites, except to legally marry. In the North, African Americans were purposefully disenfranchised by law at the same time that universal manhood suffrage was established (USHC 2.1). They were often the last hired and the first fired and did the jobs that were least attractive. De facto segregation was practiced throughout the North. Most African

Americans living in the South were slaves. The conditions of their lives depended in large part on where they lived and the benevolence of their masters. Those freedmen who lived in the South lived mostly in the cities where they could find work as artisans. Although their job opportunities were better than blacks in the North because many of them had skills that were in high demand, they too were not granted civil or political rights.

The religious revival movement [the Great Awakening] of the early 1800s was national in scope and contributed to the development of reform movements that further divided the nation. The abolitionist movement first developed among Quakers who believed that everyone, even slaves, had an inner light. Abolitionists included African-Americans such as Nat Turner, Frederick Douglass, and Harriet Tubman and whites such as William Lloyd Garrison, the Grimke sisters; Harriet Beecher Stowe and John Brown who engaged in a variety of different protest activities because of the degrees of their effectiveness and radicalness. They published newspapers and organized anti-slavery conventions, wrote books and helped slaves escape on the Underground Railroad -and they led rebellions. Such activities led to a strengthening of the resolve of slave owners to justify their culture and further divided the nation. Southerners argued that slavery was a ‘positive good’ because slaves were better off than industrial workers in the North. It is important to note that most northerners were not abolitionists and that even some abolitionists did not believe that freed slaves should have equal rights. The abolitionist movement split over the issue of whether or not to engage in the political process and whether or not to recognize the rights of women to speak in public against slavery. Abolition was not effective until the controversy over western expansion led to political confrontation.

The women’s rights movement was active in the North and tied to the abolitionist movement. Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Lucretia Mott, organizers of the Seneca Falls (New York) Convention in 1848 which called for women’s rights, met and determined to advocate for women’s rights when they were denied the right to participate at an abolitionist convention. However there were many other issues that caused women to protest their second class citizenship including their limited access to education and the rights to own and control property and to obtain a divorce. The women’s rights movement was not successful in the antebellum period in securing additional rights for women.


  • Read and Annotate (50%)

  • Answer the following questions on a separate sheet of paper and attach to this sheet:

  1. What influence did religion have on the North?

  2. What political issues did the North support? Why?

  3. How did its colonial beginnings affect the culture of the South?

  4. Why did the South have fewer towns and formal public education than the North?

  5. Which region of the country attracted immigrants? Why were they attracted more to this region than the other regions?

  6. Why did African people and culture have a major impact on the culture of the South?

  7. How and why did the West reflect the cultures of the Americans living to its east?

  8. What political issues did Westerners support? Why would they support these issues?

  9. How did life compare for free blacks living in the North with free blacks living in the South? What caused the differences?

  10. What is De Facto Segregation? Does it still exist today? Explain.

  11. What were some of the many effects of the Great Awakening of the early 1800s on the nation as a whole?

  12. Why did the reform movements divide the nation?

  13. Use the final paragraph of the article to critique the Women’s Rights Movement of the Antebellum Period.

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