Slavery in the Nineteenth Century

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What were the social differences between the North and the South?

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There were indeed stark social differences between the North and the South in the years leading up to the American Civil War. The South was an agrarian society that largely relied on slave labor and a plantation system to drive its economy. Some of the wealthiest Americans lived in the...

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There were indeed stark social differences between the North and the South in the years leading up to the American Civil War. The South was an agrarian society that largely relied on slave labor and a plantation system to drive its economy. Some of the wealthiest Americans lived in the South, but they were by no means the majority.

Wealthy southerners, many of them being plantation owners, formed a general aristocracy that governed much of the upper crust of southern society and dominated its politics. Beneath them were many poor white farmers who tended small farms or lived in the backwoods. There were also nearly four million slaves in the South by 1860. These people lived entirely separate from the rest of southern society and had none of the rights of citizens. About 80 percent of southerners worked in agriculture and only one in ten lived in a city. Southerners were more likely to pursue careers in the military than northerners.

Unlike the South, the North had a larger urban population. In 1860, only 40 percent of northerners worked in agriculture. Many people worked in the flourishing industry of northern cities and mill towns. Most immigrants also settled in the North, lending a large degree of diversity to its cities. Education was more accessible to the general population in the North as well. Most of the country's engineers, trained-physicians, and businessmen lived in the North. This allowed for a much larger middle class than existed in the southern states.

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Most obviously, the North did not have slavery. The population of the North was more upwardly mobile, though many people worked at low-paying factory jobs. The population was largely rural, but the farmers of the North had diversified agriculture and grew crops and livestock. The North also had more investment opportunities which attracted business. It had more large cities and jobs which attracted immigrants; while some of these immigrants may have encountered xenophobia, many stayed in the United States and their families became prosperous or at least rose into the middle class.

The South had slavery. A small number of whites owned a great deal of slaves. Before the war, the South had most of the nation's millionaires; however, this wealth was tied up in cash crops and chattel slavery and left little room for outsiders to invest. For this reason, many European immigrants did not immigrate to the South due to an overall lack of jobs. There was a small middle class of artisans and professionals, but this was quite small compared to the North. There was little public education in the South compared to the North as well. For poor whites, good land for farming was nearly impossible to buy due to its high price. For them, poverty would prove to be generational, as they had little chance to improve their lot through education or developing valuable skills. Many poor whites were critical of the slaves as, to them, the slaves took away plantation jobs. This generated racism against the slave from both the top of the social order and the bottom.

While I realize this answer addressed the economic as well as social differences between the two regions, one cannot separate the two as they are interconnected and they explain a great deal about the differences of the United States before the Civil War.

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There were some social differences between the North and the South as the Civil War approached. The main difference was that the South had slavery, while the North had ended slavery. The southern society was based on white people controlling the life of the enslaved Africans. Laws were established that protected slavery and that favored the slave owners. Northerners were against slavery and worked to try to end it and/or the spread of it.

Another difference was in the jobs that the people did. The South was mainly an agricultural region. Most people were farmers and lived in rural areas. In the North, most people worked in industries and lived in or near the cities. The plantation owner was the most influential person in the South, while the factory owner was very influential in the North. People living in the North had access to more activities that took place in the cities. It was easier to get from place to place and easier to connect with their neighbors. Most immigrants also settled in the North, as many of them worked in the factories. As a result, the North had a larger population than the South, and that population was more concentrated in urban areas.

There were social differences between the North and the South as the Civil War approached.

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This answer will focus on the social differences between the North and the South before the Civil War. The biggest difference between the two regions was that the South held, by 1860, nearly four million enslaved people. The states where slaves made up the largest percentage of the population were in the Deep South--South Carolina, Georgia, Alabama, and Mississippi--though Virginia had nearly half a million in its own right. Meanwhile, in the North, slavery had been abolished by 1860, slowly dying out under gradual emancipation laws in most cases. This transition accompanied another, equally significant transition. The Southern economy became more and more based on cotton as a cash crop while the Northern economy diversified and industrialized. In the North, a large industrial working class began to develop in the cities, its numbers increased by immigrants from Ireland and elsewhere. The prevalence of slave labor, and the capital invested in slaves, meant that no such free working class emerged in the South. Rather, most poor whites remained small farmers. So in short, the existence of slavery, which made the emergence of a cash crop economy possible, marked the most important social difference between the North and South.

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