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Many debate the question of whether or not the Civil War was necessary. Could the war have been
avoided? To answer this question, we must first examine the differences that separated the two societies.
The economic division between the North and South started in the 1700’s. Early settlers found the
South’s warm climate and fertile soil ideal for growing tobacco, cotton, and sugar cane. Southerners
developed large plantations, using slaves from Africa to provide for most of the labor. The South quickly
established an agriculturally based economy. On the other hand, the cool climate of the North, along with
its rocky soil, limited many settlers to small farms, forcing them to depend more on trade than on
In the 1800’s the United States began to expand westward. The North developed factories,
transportation, and communication, creating a highly industrial and commercial economy. The South’s
economy depended primarily on the growth and export of cotton, through slave labor, with little
manufacturing capability. Perhaps the economic differences between the North and South can be
summarized by one Northerner who said, “The North can make a steam engine, locomotive, or a railway
car; hardly a yard of cloth or a pair of shoes can you make. You are rushing into war with one of the most
powerful, ingeniously mechanical and determined people on earth... you are bound to fail...” (William
Tecumseh Sherman 24 Dec. 1860).
While economic differences played a major role in the division of the North and South, social
differences were also a factor. The North welcomed modernization,
looking forward to change, and a better way of life. Their social background valued hard work, education,
economic stability, and unity within the community. The South enjoyed a rich, traditional, and more
relaxed way of life, avoiding modernization. Both Northerners and Southerners felt as though their society
was the best. The North viewed the South as backward, semi-civilized, and out of touch with the future.
The South saw the North as radical, and impractical. One Southerner wrote:
Free society! We sicken at the name. What is it but a conglomeration of greasy mechanics, filthy
operatives, small-fisted farmers, and moon-struck theorists? All the northern, and especially the New
England states, are devoid of society fitted for well-bred gentle...
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