How was America divided in the mid 1800’s?

In the days leading up to the Civil W President Abraham
Lincoln is quoted as saying ” A house divided against itself cannot
stand.” What did he mean by this? Clearly he was saying that the
United States of America had to remain just that, united. In order to
continue to exist as a nation we had to truly be unified. What
Lincoln was reacting to were the many conflicts that were dividing
this great nation. We call these divisions sectionalism.

For the class reading and
handout on sectionalism click here.

I. Sectionalism Divides America

A. Sectionalism – the placing of the needs of one
section of thenatio over the needs of the whole nation.

1. The different sections at this time were the North
and the South. The West was also a section but this section (because
it was new) did not practice sectionalism. Instead it was the other
sections that fought to control the destiny of the west.

B. What was the difference between the two sections?

1. The North – primarily industrial in nature.
Business and industry played major roles. While the North was not
know for its agricultural production it was the largest producer of
grain. Life was faster and commerce important.

2. The South – primarily agricultural. The soutthern economy was
primarily based upon the existence of large family farms known as
plantations. The plantation economy relied on cheap labor in the form
of slaves to produce tobacco and then cotton. The plantation
lifestyle produced a slower more leisrly lifestyle. Farmers on the
plantation did not do the work themsleves. They were referred to as
the “gentleman farmer.”

C. What issues created the sectional conflict?

1. Slavery – first and foremost the most important
difference between the north and south was slavery. For the most part
most northerners really didn’t care about slavery in the beginning
but as time went on slavery, the existence of it as well as the
extension of slavery into the wetern territories, became the central

2. Representation – The north and south each wanted power to pass
laws that would benefit theri section. This meant that the more
states that became “free” or “slave” meant more votes, both in the
House, Senate and Electoral College, for that section. The issue of
repreenation is played out as we expand westward and decisions must
be made about each state.

3. Tariffs – The South resented all tariffs as they relied on
British imports for more of their everyday goods. They also needed
other nations to purchase cotton form their farms. As the north
supported tariffs to protect their growing industries the south
became incressingly angered. Thsi tension eventually led to the
passage of what South Carolina called “the Tariff of Abominations.”
The south then argued they had the right of nullification.
(nullification – the power of a state to declare a federal law null
and void.)

4. States Rights – This issue is a direct outgrowth of the South’s
fear that the North would pass laws that would hurt it’s lifestyle.
Some examples would be tariffs and laws to restrict or abolish
slavery. The south again claimed they had the right of nullification.

Henry Clay once wrote: “I know of no South, no North, no East,
no West to which I owe my allegiance. The Union is my country.

Henry Clay was quite alarmed by the division faced by America. He
worked hard to keep the Union together but as we shall see, he

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