Slavery Before The Civil War Essay

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Pro-slavery advocates in California, for example, wanted slaves to prospect for gold and build gold and silver mines.

And if slavery was so central to the southern economy of farming, why did only one fourth of southerners own slaves?

The central story told in textbooks is that the industrial revolution, beginning with the first textile mill in New England in the 1790s, created an economy that did not need slaves.

Southerners, however, continued to use slave labor on their farms because agriculture was profitable.

Northerners did not need slaves for their economy and fought a war to free them.

Everything else, many textbooks claim, was tied to that economic difference and was anchored by cotton.Historically, textbooks have taught that incompatibility between northern and southern economies caused the Civil War.The industrial revolution in the North, during the first few decades of the 19th century, brought about a machine age economy that relied on wage laborers, not slaves.They gloat over the North's shipping yards and are surprised to learn of the busy shipping industry based in cities such as Richmond, Charleston, and New Orleans. Sugar and tobacco became the most profitable to meet European demands for crops that did not grow in the colder European climate.Their jaws drop when I talk about the thousands of slaves in the South who worked in busy cities, not on quiet plantations. Virginia planters made a fortune growing tobacco, making tobacco the first King. By 1860, however, Alabama, Mississippi, and Louisiana replaced Georgia and South Carolina as leading growers of cotton (see Primary Source Cotton and Slaves Data [1860]).The agricultural economy was certainly one cause of the Civil War, but not the only one.Wars are never simple and neither are their causes.And political deals, such as the Missouri Compromise in 1820 and Compromise of 1850, and Supreme Court rulings, such as the Dred Scott decision in 1857, divided the country even more.These divisions went far beyond cotton and economics.Many factors plunged the nation into chaos in 1861.Key political causes include the slow collapse of the Whig Party, the founding of the Republican Party, and, most important, the 1860 election of Abraham Lincoln as president.


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