To what extent can the Civil War be accounted for as a struggle between two antagonistic economic systems?
The Civil War can be accounted for in this way to a very great extent. Some historians argue that everything in a society is based on its economic system. If they are right, then the war was due completely to economics. Even if they are wrong, economics had a major role in causing the war.
The North and South had very different economies. Part of the difference, of course, was slavery. However, the South was also mainly a producer of staple commodities for export while the North had a much more diversified economy that did not depend as much on foreign trade. These differences in their economies meant that the two regions had very different interests. This can be seen in the tariff controversy of the late 1820s, one of the first big disputes between the sections. Northern interests were served by a high tariff while Southern interests were harmed. The major differences in the two sections’ interests helped make each wary of what would happen if the other took too much power over the federal government.
Of course, there were other issues. Slavery eventually became a moral issue and not just an economic one. Issues of pride were also important. So were political conflicts over federalism. The war was not caused only by the differences in the two regions’ economies. However, those differences were tremendously important in making the two sides wary of one another.