The above answer is only partially correct. The Southern states had been agricultural since the founding of Jamestown in 1607 when the Virginia company awarded large tracts of land to settlers under the headright system. The climate and soil of the South lent itself to large scale agriculture which was first performed by indentured servants and later by slaves. Slavery was an economic necessity for the Southern economy to survive. The South DID NOT import food, in fact it fed most of the nation. As of 1860 the South encompassed only thirty per cent of land area of the U.S. and had only 39 per cent of the population, yet in that same year it's contribution to the national economy is striking. It furnished:
- 60 per cent of the U.S. production of swine.
- 52 per cent of the U.S. output of corn.
- half the nation's cattle.
- 29 percent of wheat production.
- 19 percent of oat and rye production.
- 52 per cent of oxen
- 90 per cent of the nation's mules.
Obviously, the largest cash crop was cotton which was shipped to European mills. The very nature of its economy meant there was no room for manufacturing, and as a result, most manufactured goods were purchased either from Europe or from the North. It was the issue of imports from Europe which had the South up in arms over the infamous Tariff of 1828.
The North was indeed industrialized, and also had been from its inception. There was neither the climate, nor soils to promote large scale agriculture; however there were abundant navigable streams which made shipping and later manufacturing feasible. It would be a mistake to assume that the North had more foresight than the South; it was rather the result of geographic and climatological differences that the two economies developed separately. Had the geography of the two areas been reversed, then slavery would have flourished in the North and industry in the South.
Socially, the planter elite did exist in the South, largely based on a conception of European polite society. Large planters normally held political office and exercised political clout. In the North, class difference was not evident at this point, although it became glaringly obvious with the advent of the Industrial Revolution and the Captains of Industry.
The major economic difference between the two sections of the country was that the North's economy was based on small farmers and on manufacturing while the South's was based on slavery and the plantation system. This meant that the North was more self-sufficient and less reliant on imports. The South, meanwhile, produced mainly staple crops which it had to export. It also, then, had to import manufactured goods and even food.
The main social difference stemmed from this economic difference. The South's society was an aristocratic one. It was dominated by a few plantation owners who saw themselves as an elite. The poorer whites (and especially the slaves) were beneath them and dependent upon them. By contrast, the North's society was more egalitarian. It was not fully equal, of course, but it put much less of an emphasis on class differences (the difference between gentlement and others, for example) the way the South did.