Today, we want to go over just some of the basics related to the conflict between the North and the South that resulted in the war between the states of the Civil War in the 1800’s – 1861 to 65.
Now, when we think this, often it’s taught in very flat, basic terms, and things, as we know in the real world, are often much more complicated, but the basic conflict between the North and the South was not merely slavery.
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The transcript is for your convenience
They had many differences, and these differences found perhaps a focal point in slavery, but there were other things as well. And so, I want to go through just a few of those basic differences that led to the conflict between them that eventually precipitated out into the Civil War.
First, when you think about the conflict between the North and the South, we need to think in terms of economic differences. The economy in the North and the economy in the South were based on very different things. The Northern economy was much more diversified. It had small, individual farms run by individuals, and it had an industrial base. The South, by contrast, was almost uniformly economic in terms of agrarian needs. They had large-scale plantations, as well as individual farms, but the economy was run on growing cash crops like cotton and tobacco, and basically, you needed a lot of manpower to make that work.
When we think in terms also of economics, we need to think in terms of population density. The population of the North was much more dense, there were more people in the North. The South was spread out with fewer people, and the majority of the people in the South were slaves, in this case. So, in terms of economics, you’ve got a difference in population density, a difference in focus, more diverse in the North, much more uniform in the South. And when that comes into play, then you start making people worried if you start taking away their source of labor. You’re basically threatening their livelihood.
And now, we’re going to get to the question of morality down here below, but just in terms of economics, part of the way the South saw things was, “Hey, if you change things and you abolish slavery, you’re actually going to destroy our economy and our livelihood and our way to make money. We don’t have anything else to fall back on.” So, that was part of the issue that was economic differences. Industrial interest by the North, agrarian in the South, large-scale plantations, cotton, and tobacco primarily.
Next, when we think about the conflict between the North and the South, it needs to be seen as a power issue, a political power issue. So, on the federal level, what the South was hoping for was equality. Now, if the federal level is run by representation that’s based on population, and there’s more population in the North and less population in the South, then the South is going to say, “Hey, wait a minute. You’re always going to get your way because you’re going to have more representation because you have more population. We’d like to equalize that, and the way we’re going to equalize that is we want our slave populations counted for purposes of representation.” And taxation is also based on population. In that case, the South would say, “We don’t want to be taxed on our slave population, just on our land-owning population.” And so, the compromise that worked out, which has been called the Three-Fifths Compromise, basically three out of every five slaves counted for purposes of representation and taxation. It was a way to boost taxation from the South, and also for the South to boost representation on the federal level.
Basically, the South saw this though as, “We want political equality on the federal level so you don’t lord it over us and get your way, and we have no say in it.” But on the local level, the South very much wanted autonomy. “We don’t want you telling us what to do. On the local level, leave us alone.” It’s been said that almost every day, Robert E. Lee woke up during the Civil War, looked across the lines of the North and said, “I wish those people over there would go home and leave us alone.” It wasn’t a war of conquest on behalf of the South, they wanted to be left alone. So, economic differences, political differences, power differences, equality on the federal level, autonomy on the local level, and then we get to the whole question here of morality, and this was a big one. To those in the North, and I think to those of us today, we would say that slavery is very much a moral issue before it’s ever an economic or a power issue. It’s a moral issue, one human being owning another. Now, it’s easy to be anachronistic here and say, “Well, you know, viewed from today, we know they’re wrong.” If you can get though into their mindset of their day, this is how they thought about it.
The abolitionists in the North said, “It’s immoral and wrong, and here’s our reasoning.” Those who were pro-slavery in the South weren’t trying to argue that, “Hey, we think this is indifferent morally.” They actually as a Christian culture largely, at least a Christian culture on the surface, said that the Bible nowhere condemns slavery, and if we abide by its injunctions on how we treat our slaves, we’re well within morality. That’s obviously easily debated, but from those in the North, the abolitionists, the standpoint was clear. It’s immoral, therefore, it needs to end. We don’t care if it curses your economy, or if we have to do it through force of political power, it’s immoral.
And I think there was, in the South, at least a sense of fear. If you’ve got the moral argument, then these arguments, which are important to us, hold no sway. And so, it led to the inevitable conflict, I think, in some ways. But this is very much a part of this question, and part of the conflict between the North and the South. And then, finally, when you think in terms of social structure. Social structure, the North and the South were very different socially. The North was much more egalitarian. It had much more influx of peoples from all sorts of different areas, and even though there would obviously be squabbles between them, by and large, they were more egalitarian than their culture. Everyone had equal opportunity, could rise as far as their ability allowed more or less. And that’s sort of their mindset, it was egalitarian.
The South was much more stratified, much more hierarchical, much more like Britain, in that sense. Everyone had a class. You were born into a certain class, you needed to know your place and keep your place, and if you were a slave, you were at the bottom of the bucket, and it went from there on up to the aristocracy, the landowners, basically. I’m not arguing the rightness or wrongness of that, I’m just saying that that was part of the differences that led to the conflict, and why they were that way. More or less, egalitarian, much more stratified, and hierarchical in their view of things. These sorts of differences, and many more, all flowed together into that volatile time leading to that conflict. So, it wasn’t just a flat, easy read of, “Hey, the South was immoral and like slaves, the North was moral and hated slaves, and that’s why they fought.” It was issues related to economic differences, political power differences, social structure differences, and yes, differences in how they saw the moral question related to slavery. Well, this has just been a brief overview then of some of the issues related to the conflict between the North and the South. It’s much more complex than we can possibly cover in this brief video.