The South extended from Maryland south to the tip of Florida, and from the Atlantic Coast west to Louisiana and Texas. This section’s climate and natural features encouraged southerners to base their way of life on agriculture.
Climate Compared to the North, the southern states enjoyed mild winters and long, hot, humid summers. Plentiful rainfall and long growing seasons made this a perfect place for raising warm-weather crops that would have withered and died farther north.
Natural Features Wide coastal plains edged the southern shoreline from Chesapeake Bay to the Gulf of Mexico. These fertile lowlands stretched inland for as much as 300 miles in parts of the South.
Along the coast, the plains were dotted with swamps and marshes. These damp lowlands were ideal for growing rice and sugarcane, which thrived in warm, soggy soil. Indigo was grown on the dry land above the swamps, and tobacco and corn were farmed farther inland. A visitor to this section noted that “the planters, by the richness of the soil, live [in] the most easy and pleasant manner of any people I have met with.”
Above the plains rose the Appalachian Mountains. Settlers who ventured into this rugged backcountry carved farms and orchards out of rolling hills and mountain hollows. Some backcountry farmers were said to “work on land so steep that they keep falling out of their cornfields.”
Although most people in the South were farmers, southerners used natural resources in other ways as well. In North Carolina, they harvested thick pine forests for lumber. From Chesapeake Bay in Virginia and Maryland, they gathered fish, oysters, and crabs.
An especially important feature of the South was its broad, flat rivers. Many of the South’s earliest towns were built at the mouths of rivers. As people moved away from the coast, they followed the rivers inland, building their homes and farms alongside these water highways. Oceangoing ships could even sail up southern rivers to conduct business right at a planter’s private dock. Here, the ships were loaded with tobacco or other cash crops for sale in the Caribbean or Europe.
This photograph shows a southern waterway. What geographic features can you identify?
19.4 Economy of the South
The South’s economy was based on agriculture, and southerners were proud of it. Most white southerners were agrarians who favored a way of life based on farming. This was especially true of rich plantation owners, who did not have to do the hard work of growing crops themselves.
Although most white southerners worked their own small farms, plantation owners used slaves to grow such cash crops as tobacco, rice, sugarcane, and indigo. By the early 1790s, however, the use of slaves had begun to decline. Europeans were unwilling to pay high prices for tobacco and rice, which they could purchase more cheaply from other British colonies. Cotton was a promising crop, but growers who experimented with it had a hard time making a profit. Until some way was found to clean the seeds out of its fiber easily, cotton was of little value. Discouraged planters were buying fewer slaves, and even letting some go free.
In 1793, a young Yale graduate named Eli Whitney took a job tutoring children on a Georgia plantation. There he saw his first cotton boll. Observing the way cotton was cleaned by hand, Whitney had an idea. “If a machine could be invented that would clean the cotton with expedition [speed],” he wrote his father, “it would be a great thing…to the country.”
Whitney set to work. Six months later, he had a working machine that would change the face of the South.
King Cotton Whitney’s “cotton engine,” called the cotton gin for short, was a simple machine that used rotating combs to separate cotton fiber from its seeds. Using a cotton gin, a single worker could clean as much cotton as 50 laborers working by hand.
Across the South, planters began growing cotton. Within ten years, cotton was the section’s most important crop. By 1860, sales of cotton overseas earned more money than all other U.S. exports combined. It was little wonder that many southerners liked to boast, “Cotton is King.”
Expanding Demand for Land and Slaves Raising cotton in the same fields year after year soon wore out the soil. In search of fresh, fertile soil, cotton planters pushed west. By 1850, cotton plantations stretched from the Atlantic Coast to Texas.
Whitney had hoped that his invention would lighten the work of slaves. Instead, it made slavery more important than ever to the South. As cotton spread westward, slavery followed. Between 1790 and 1850, the number of slaves in the South rose from 500,000 to more than 3 million.
The economy of the South was based on agriculture. After the invention of the cotton gin in 1793, cotton quickly became the most important crop in the South.
agrarian a person who favors an agricultural way of life and government policies that support agricultural interests
plantation a large area of privately owned land where crops were grown through the labor of workers, usually slaves, who lived on the land
cotton gin a hand-operated machine that cleans seeds and other unwanted material from cotton
With white southerners putting all their money into land and slaves, they had little interest in building factories. As a result, wrote an Alabama newspaper, “We purchase all our luxuries and necessities from the North… the slaveholder dresses in Northern goods, rides in a Northern saddle, sports his Northern carriage, reads Northern books. In Northern vessels his products are carried to market.”
One successful southern factory was the Tredegar Iron Works in Richmond, Virginia. Using mostly slave labor, the factory made ammunition and weapons for the U.S. army, as well as steam engines, rails, and locomotives. But the vast majority of white southerners made their living off the land.
19.5 Economy of the North
If cotton was king in the South, inventiveness seemed to rule the North. In colonial times, Americans created everything they needed—every shirt or gun—by hand. Beginning in the late 1700s, however, inventors started to devise machines to make products more quickly and cheaply. This shift from hand manufacturing to machines is called the Industrial Revolution. It created a new class of wealthy industrialists who owned large factories and other businesses based on machines.
The fast-flowing rivers of the North provided the power source for textile mills like the one in this painting.
Industrial Revolution The dramatic change in economies brought about by the use of machines to do work formerly done by hand. The Industrial Revolution began in England in the late 1700s and spread to America and the rest of Europe.
industrialist a person whose wealth comes from the ownership of industrial businesses and who favors government policies that support industry
The Growth of Industry In 1810, Francis Cabot Lowell, a failing businessman from Boston, visited England. There he saw how mill owners were using machines to spin cotton into thread and weave the threads into cloth. To power these devices, they used fast-moving streams to turn a wheel, which in turn supplied energy to the machinery.
Lowell memorized the design of the British machines. When he returned to Massachusetts, he built even better ones. By 1815, he and his partners had built the first American textile factory, along the Merrimack River. This factory combined spinning and weaving machinery in the same building. One observer marveled that Lowell’s mill “took your bale of cotton in at one end and gave out yards of cloth at the other, after goodness knows what digestive process.”
To run his machinery, Lowell hired young farmwomen, who jumped at the chance to earn cash wages. The “Lowell girls” toiled 12 to 15 hours each day, with only Sundays off. Soon textile mills were springing up all along other northern rivers.
By the 1830s, inventors had learned to use steam engines to power machinery. With steam engines, businesspeople could build factories anywhere, not just along rivers. Meanwhile, the inventive Eli Whitney showed manufacturers how they could assemble products even more cheaply by making them from identical, interchangeable parts.
New inventions and manufacturing methods made goods cheaper and more plentiful. But they also shifted work from skilled craftspeople to less skilled laborers. When Elias Howe developed the sewing machine, for example, skilled seamstresses could not compete. Some took jobs in garment factories, but they earned much less money working the sewing machines than they had sewing by hand.
Factories, such as the one shown above, produced more goods and made them more affordable. However, they also put many skilled craftspeople out of work.
For northern industrialists, the new machines and production methods were a source of great wealth. Factory owners tended to favor a strong national government that could promote improvements in manufacturing, trade, and transportation. Southern agrarians, however, looked down on the newly rich industrialists and the laborers who worked for them. Proud southerners called factory workers “wage slaves.” But they also worried that northern interests might grow too powerful and threaten the South’s way of life.
Machines Make Agriculture More Efficient The Industrial Revolution changed northern agriculture as well. In 1831, Virginia farmer Cyrus McCormick built a working model of “a right smart” machine called a reaper. A reaper could cut 28 times more grain than a single man using a scythe (a hand tool with a long, curved blade).
In 1847, McCormick built a reaper factory in Chicago. Using interchangeable parts, he was soon producing several thousand reapers a year. By making it easier to harvest large quantities of wheat, inventions like the reaper helped transform the Central Plains into America’s “bread basket.”
Thanks to the Industrial Revolution, the northern economy grew rapidly after 1800. By 1860, the value of manufacturing in the North was ten times greater than in the South.
19.6 Transportation in the North
Factory owners needed fast, inexpensive ways to deliver their goods to distant customers. South Carolina congressman John C. Calhoun had a solution. “Let us bind the republic together,” he said, “with a perfect system of roads and canals.” Calhoun called such projects “internal improvements.”
Building Better Roads In the early 1800s, most American roads were rutted boneshakers. In 1806, Congress funded the construction of a National Road across the Appalachian Mountains. The purpose of this highway was to tie the new western states with the East. With its smooth gravel surface, the National Road was a joy to travel.
As popular as the National Road was, in 1816 President James Monroe vetoed a bill that would have given states money to build more roads. Monroe argued that spending federal money for internal improvements within a state was unconstitutional.
Fast Ships and Canals Even with better roads, river travel was still faster and cheaper than travel by land. But moving upstream, against a river’s current, was hard work. To solve this problem, inventors experimented with boats powered by steam engines.
In 1807, Robert Fulton showed that steamboats were practical by racing the steamboat Clermont upstream on New York’s Hudson River. Said Fulton, “I overtook many boats and passed them as if they had been at anchor.” A Dutchman watching the strange craft from the shore shouted, “The devil is on his way up-river with a sawmill on a boat!” By the 1820s, smoke-belching steamboats were chugging up and down major rivers and across the Great Lakes.
Of course, rivers weren’t always located where people needed them. In 1817, the state of New York hired engineers and workers to build a 363-mile canal from the Hudson River to Lake Erie. The Erie Canal provided the first all-water link between farms on the Central Plains and East Coast cities. It was so successful that other states built canals as well.
Overseas traders also needed faster ways to travel. Sailing ships sometimes took so long to cross the Pacific Ocean that the goods they carried spoiled. In the 1840s, sleek clipper ships were introduced that cut ocean travel time in half. The clipper ships spurred northern trade with foreign ports around the world.
Traveling by Rail The future of transportation, however, lay not on water, but on rails. Inspired by the success of steamboats, inventors developed steam-powered locomotives. Steam-powered trains traveled faster than steamboats, and they could go wherever tracks could be laid—even across mountains.
So many railroad companies were laying tracks by the 1840s that railroads had become the North’s biggest business. By 1860, more than 20,000 miles of rail linked northern factories to cities hundreds of miles away.
Many new and faster forms of transportation were put to use in the North. How many of them can you identify in the image below?
19.7 Transportation in the South
Most of the rail lines were in the North. In the South, people and goods continued to move on rivers. The slow current and broad channels of southern rivers made water travel easy and relatively cheap.
The most important southern product shipped by water was cotton. On plantation docks, slaves loaded cotton bales directly onto steam-powered riverboats. The riverboats then traveled hundreds of miles downstream to such port cities as Savannah, Georgia, or Mobile, Alabama. West of the Appalachians, most cotton moved down the Mississippi River, the mightiest of all the southern waterways. The cotton boom made New Orleans, the port at the mouth of the Mississippi, one of the South’s few big cities. Once the cotton reached the sea, it was loaded onto sailing ships headed for ports in England or the North.
Because river travel was the South’s main form of transportation, most southern towns and cities sprang up along waterways. With little need for roads or canals to connect these settlements, southerners opposed bills in Congress that would use federal funds to built internal improvements. Such bills, they believed, would benefit the North far more than the South.
Some railroads were built in the South, including lines that helped southern farmers ship their products to the North. Southerners were proud of the fact that the iron rails for many of their section’s railroads came from Virginia’s Tredegar Iron Works. Still, in 1860 the South had just 10,000 miles of rail, compared with over 20,000 miles in the North.
This photograph shows products being loaded onto steam-powered riverboats. What geographic feature of the South made riverboats the most practical way to transport goods?
Comparing the Worlds of North and South
Industry and Raw Material, 1860
Free and Slave Population, 1860
19.8 Society of the South
For the most part, the South was not greatly affected by the Jacksonian spirit of equality and opportunity or the reform movements of the 1840s. Southerners in 1860 still measured wealth in terms of land and slaves. The result was a rigid social structure with a few rich plantation owners at the top, white farmers and workers in the middle, and African Americans—mostly slaves—at the bottom.
Slavery deeply affected the lives of all southerners, black and white. As long as the slave economy could be preserved, the South had little incentive to make progress economically or culturally. Even religion was affected. Southern church leaders defended the practice—taking a position that divided them from many churches in the North, whose leaders taught that slavery was un-Christian. In the words of one historian, “The South grew, but it did not develop.”
White Southerners A small group of wealthy plantation owners dominated the economy and politics of the South. They treasured a leisurely way of life, filled with parties and social visits. While their sons often went to colleges and universities, their daughters rarely received much education. Instead girls were brought up to be gracious wives and hostesses.
Most white families owned some land, but only about one in four owned even one slave. The majority of white families worked their own fields and made most of what they needed themselves. About 10 percent of whites were too poor to own any land. They rented rugged mountain or forest land and paid the rent with the crops they raised. Since public schools were few and often inferior to those in the North, many white children were illiterate.
African Americans in the South A small minority of the African Americans in the South were free blacks. Resented by white southerners, free blacks were often forced to wear special badges, pay extra taxes, and live separately from whites. Most lived in towns and cities, where they found jobs as skilled craftspeople, servants, or laborers.
The great majority of African Americans in the South were slaves. Some worked as cooks, carpenters, blacksmiths, house servants, or nursemaids. But most were field hands who labored from dawn until past dusk.
Wealthy planters in the South modeled their homes and lives on European nobility. Their large mansions featured tall columns and fancy gardens. Most whites in the South, however, owned or worked on small farms with few of the luxuries enjoyed by the rich.
19.9 Society of the North
As in the South, most people in the North were neither wealthy nor powerful. But northerners believed that by hard work, ordinary people could acquire wealth and influence.
By 1860, about seven in ten northerners still lived on farms. But more and more northerners were moving to towns and cities. Between 1800 and 1850, the number of cities with populations of at least 2,500 had increased from 33 to 237. Except for a few cities around the Great Lakes, such as Chicago and Detroit, nearly all of the 50 largest urban areas were in the Northeast. (Only 12 were in the slave states of the South.) And northern cities were growing rapidly. Between 1840 and 1860, the populations of New York, Philadelphia, and Boston nearly tripled. By 1860, more than a million people crowded the streets of New York.
New or old, northern cities often lacked sewers and paved streets. In dirty and crowded neighborhoods, diseases spread rapidly. “The streets are filthy,” wrote one observer about New York City, “and the stranger is not a little surprised to meet the hogs walking about in them, for the purpose of devouring the vegetables and trash thrown into the gutter.”
African Americans in the North After the American Revolution, all of the northern states had taken steps to end slavery. Although African Americans in the North were free, they were not treated as equal to whites. In most states they could not vote, hold office, serve on juries, or attend white churches and schools.
In 1860, most people in the North still lived on farms, but more and more people were moving to towns and cities like the one shown below. These cities often sprang up near factories and railroad hubs.
African Americans responded by forming their own churches and starting their own businesses. Because few employers would give them skilled jobs, African Americans often worked as laborers or servants.
Immigrants Arrive in the North Between 1845 and 1860, four million immigrants—most of them from Ireland and Germany—swelled the North’s growing population. In Ireland, a potato famine drove thousands of families to America. In Germany, a failed revolution sent people fleeing overseas. Some immigrants had enough money to buy land and farm. But most settled in cities, where they found jobs in mills and factories.
Some northerners resented the newcomers. Anti-immigrant feeling occasionally exploded into riots. More often it was expressed in everyday discrimination, such as help-wanted signs with the words, “No Irish need apply.” Still the immigrants came, attracted, said one German newcomer, by “a new society with almost limitless opportunities open to all.”
19.10 Chapter Summary
In this chapter, you learned how the North and the South developed differently from each other in the first half of the 1800s. You used spoke diagrams to describe the geography, economy, transportation, and society of the two sections.
Look at the two images of the South (left) and the North (right). How many features of geography, economy, transportation, and society can you identify?
immigrant A person who moves from one country to another. Such a movement is called immigration.
Geography was a principal reason why northerners and southerners developed different ways of life. In contrast to the variety of trades and businesses in the North, the South depended primarily on agriculture. Although only a minority of white southerners owned slaves, much of the South’s economy depended on slave labor.
In the North, the new inventions of the Industrial Revolution led to the development of mills and factories. Increasing numbers of people went to work as wage earners. New machines such as Cyrus McCormick’s reaper revolutionized agriculture.
Dramatic improvements in transportation made it easier for northerners to travel and to ship goods over long distances. In the South, however, people continued to travel by river, and rail lines were fewer.
Southern society was divided into ranks. The wealthy few enjoyed great influence and power. But even the poorest whites ranked above African Americans, whether free or slave.
The North, too, had its wealthy class. But farmers and laborers alike believed they could create comfortable lives for their families through hard work.
The different worlds of the North and South led to conflicting viewpoints on many issues, including internal improvements and trade. But the most divisive issue of all was slavery. In the next chapter, you will learn what life was like for African Americans, both free and slave, in 1850.
African Americans at Mid-Century
Why did quilts like this one made by a slave provide comfort for slaves?
By 1850, the population of the United States had grown to just over 23 million. This figure included 3.6 million African Americans. The great majority of African Americans lived in slavery. Harriet Powers, the woman who created the quilt you see here, was one of them.
Like many slaves, Harriet Powers grew up hearing Bible stories. In her quilts, Powers used animals and figures from Africa and America to illustrate those stories, along with scenes from her life. Hidden in her images were messages of hope and freedom for slaves.
Not all African Americans were slaves. By mid-century, there were about half a million free blacks as well. Many were former slaves who had escaped to freedom.
Whether African Americans lived in slavery or freedom, racism shaped their lives. Everywhere, whites looked down on blacks. Whites ignored the great contributions blacks made to American life. They thought of the United States as “their country.” Such racist thinking prompted African American scholar and reformer W.E.B. Du Bois to ask:
Your country? How came it to be yours? Before the Pilgrims landed we were here. Here we brought you our three gifts and mingled them with yours; a gift of story and song, soft, stirring melody in an…unmelodious land; the gift of sweat and brawn [physical strength] to beat back the wilderness…and lay the foundations of this vast economic empire…the third, a gift of the Spirit. In this chapter, you will explore the experience of African Americans at mid-century. As you read, you will learn more about the gifts that African Americans brought to America.
Graphic Organizer: Story Quilt
You will use a story quilt to learn about the life of African Americans in the 19th century.
20.2 North and South, Slave and Free
The experiences of African Americans at mid-century depended on where they lived and whether they lived in slavery or freedom. Former slave Frederick Douglass toured the North talking to white audiences about slavery. To him, the biggest difference between slaves and free blacks was their legal status. Free blacks had some rights by law. Slaves did not.
Slaves’ Legal Status Douglass reminded his listeners that the law defined slaves as property, not human beings. Legally, slaveholders could do almost anything with their human property. They could buy and sell slaves. They could leave slaves to their children or heirs. They could give slaves away to settle a bet. But in many states, they could not set slaves free.
As property, slaves had none of the rights that free people took for granted. “In law, the slave has no wife, no children, no country, no home,” Douglass said. “He can own nothing, possess nothing, acquire nothing.”
Rural and Urban Slaves Most slaves worked on farms and plantations across the South. By 1860, there were also about 70,000 urban slaves living in towns and cities. Most were “hired out,” or sent to work in factories, mills, or workshops. The wages they earned belonged to their owners. Often urban slaves were allowed to “live out” on their own, rather than under the watchful eyes of their owners. Because of such freedom, observed Douglass, “A city slave is almost a freeman compared to a slave on a plantation.”
Free Blacks in the South About half of all free African Americans lived in the South. Most worked as laborers, craftspeople, or household servants in towns and cities.
White southerners viewed free blacks as a dangerous group that had to be controlled so that, in the words of South Carolina slaveholders, they would not create “discontent among our slaves.” Free blacks were forbidden to own guns. They could not travel freely from town to town or state to state. Blacks were not allowed to work at certain jobs. Such restrictions led Douglass to conclude, “No colored man is really free in a slaveholding state.”
Free African Americans usually held low-paying jobs. The barber pictured above is one example.
Free Blacks in the North African Americans in the North lived freer lives. But blacks experienced discrimination, or unequal treatment, everywhere they turned. In many states, African Americans were denied the right to vote. Everywhere they had trouble finding good jobs. In the 1850s, some 87 percent of free blacks in New York held low-paying jobs. “Why should I strive hard?” asked one young African American. “What are my prospects?... No one will employ me; white boys won’t work with me.”
In addition to unequal treatment, policies of segregation separated blacks from whites in nearly all public places. Black children were often denied entry into public schools. Those states that did educate black children set up separate schools for that purpose. A New Yorker observed:
Even the noblest black is denied that which is free to the vilest [worst] white. The omnibus, the [railroad] car, the ballot-box, the jury box, the halls of legislation, the army, the public lands, the school, the church, the lecture room, the social circle, the [restaurant] table, are all either absolutely or virtually denied to him. Frederick Douglass discovered how deeply rooted this racism was when he tried to join a church in New Bedford, Massachusetts, and was turned away. Douglass wrote, “I tried all the other churches in New Bedford with the same result.”
African Americans responded to discrimination by organizing to help themselves. In 1816, Richard Allen, a former slave, became the first bishop of the African Methodist Episcopal Church (AME). The AME, which still exists today, quickly became a center of African American life. Allen also created organizations to improve the lives of blacks, such as the African Society for the Education of Youth.
Other northern blacks started their own churches, schools, and self-help organizations. In 1853, free blacks formed the National Council of Colored People to protest the unequal treatment they received. Such treatment, the council declared, “would humble the proudest, crush the energies of the strongest, and retard the progress of the swiftest.” That African Americans were neither humbled nor crushed by prejudice and discrimination was evidence of their courage and spirit.
Lemuel Haynes, shown here preaching from a pulpit, fought at Lexington during the Revolutionary War. He was the first African American minister of a white congregation.