Slavery hardens into the economy
In the south, agriculture flourished. The chief source of wealth was the cotton crop, although there was rice culture along the coast, sugar growing in Louisiana, tobacco raising and general farming in the border states, and scattered manufacturing. With the fuller development of the rich black lands of the Gulf plains, cotton production nearly doubled during the fifties, and wagon, steamer, and railroad carried the bulky bales to markets in both the north and south. Cotton furnished directly more than half the nation's foreign exports and, at the same time, furnished raw material for northern textile-mill owners and merchants.
The midwest with its boundless prairies and swiftly growing population shared fully in the good times. Both Europe and the older settled parts of America demanded its wheat and meat products. At the same time, the rapid introduction of labor-saving implements made possible an unexampled increase of production. Of the new devices, the most important were the McCormick reapers, 500 of which were used in the harvest of 1848 and over 100,000 in 1860. The wheat crops of the nation meanwhile swelled from 100,000,000 bushels in 1850 to 173,000,000 in 1860, more than half being grown in the midwest. An important stimulus to western prosperity was the great improvement in transportation facilities, for from 1850 to 1857 the Appalachian Mountain barrier was pierced by five railway trunk lines. These iron bonds uniting the north and the west gave rise to mutually profitable trade. In addition, by emphasizing the economic interdependence of the two regions, they tended to create a harmony of political outlook as well. In the expansion of the railway network, the south had much less part, and it was not until late in the fifties that a continuous line through the mountains connected the lower Mississippi River with the southern Atlantic seaboard.
As the years passed, the conflicting interests of the north and south became increasingly manifest. Resenting the large profits amassed by northern businessmen from marketing the cotton crop, southerners explained away the backwardness of their own section in terms of northern aggrandizement. Northerners, on the other hand, declared that slavery - the 44 peculiar institution" declared by the south to be essential to its economic system-was wholly responsible for the region's comparative backwardness.
As far back as 1830, sectional lines were steadily hardening on the slavery question. Abolitionist feeling grew ever more Powerful in the northern states. At the same time, there developed a free-soil movement - a movement vigorously opposed to the extension of slavery into the regions not yet organized as states. To southerners of 1850, slavery was a heritage for which they were no more responsible than for their other immemorial heritages-their English speech, their representative institutions, their ideas and customs. In some seaboard areas, slavery by 1850 was well over two hundred years old, an integral part, indeed, of the very civilization of the region. Some Negroes, having back of them a lineage of five or six generations on American soil, had acquired not only the speech but the skills, preconceptions, and religious and social ideas of the white folk. In fifteen southern and border states, the Negro population was approximately half as great as the white, while in the north it was but an insignificant fraction.
From the middle 1840's, the question of slavery was the overshadowing problem in American politics. The south, from the Atlantic to the Mississippi River and beyond, was a relatively compact political unit agreeing on all fundamental policies affecting cotton culture and slavery. Indeed the majority of southern planters came to regard slavery as a basic factor in their economy. Cotton culture was singularly adapted to the employment of slaves. The work was done with the use of primitive implements only. It gave employment nine months of the year and permitted the use of women and children as well as "prime field hands."