Sectional Conflict: Introduction

". house divided against itself cannot stand' I believe this government cannot endure permanently halfsIave and halffree."
Abraham Lincoln
Springfield, Illinois, June 17, 1858
In the middle decades of the 19th century no country in the world was more interesting to other nations than the United States, and few attracted more distinguished visitors. One of these was the French political writer Alexis de Tocqueville, whose book Democracy in America, first published in 1835, won a cordial reception on the European continent. The verdict on the new country became more and more favorable. Travelers arrived to find the bay and city of Boston beautiful; to marvel at the way in which "one flourishing town after another, such as Utica, Syracuse, and Auburn," had risen from the wilderness; to find, as they traversed the northern states, "everywhere the most unequivocal proofs of prosperity and rapid progress in agriculture, commerce, and great public works."

The national territory now stretched over forest, plain, and mountain. Within these far-flung limits dwelt 23 million people in a Union comprising 31 states. The land of promise had never before seemed so truly the land of performance. In the east, industry boomed. In the midwest and the south, agriculture flourished. The railways knitted the settled parts of the country together, and the mines of California poured a golden stream into the channels of trade.

Yet visitors quickly found that there were really two Americas - a north and a south. And the speed of progress itself held latent dangers for the maintenance of sectional harmony. New England and the middle Atlantic states were the main centers of manufacturing, commerce, and finance. Principal products of the area were textiles, lumber, clothing, machinery, leather, and woolen goods. At the same time, shipping had reached the height of its prosperity, and vessels flying the American flag plied the seven seas, distributing wares of all nations.

In the south, 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 1850s, and wagon, barge, and railroad carried the bales to markets in both the north and south. Cotton furnished raw material for northern textile mills and more than half the nation's foreign exports as well.

The midwest, with its boundless prairies and swiftly growing population, shared fully in the good times. Its wheat and meat products were in demand by both Europe and the older settled parts of America. The introduction of labor-saving implements - notably the McCormick reaper - made possible an unparalleled increase in farm production. Some 500 reapers were used in the harvest of 1848 and over 100,000 in 1860. The nation's wheat crops meanwhile swelled from some 35 million hectoliters in 1850 to nearly 61 million in 1860, more than half being grown in the midwest.

An important stimulus to western prosperity was the great improvement in transportation facilities; from 1850 to 1857 the Appalachian Mountain barrier was pierced by five railway trunk lines. In the expansion of the railway network, the south at first had much less part, and it was not until late in the 1850s that a continuous line through the mountains connected the lower Mississippi River with the southern Atlantic seaboard.