Causes of Sectionalism in Antebellum America
There were several distinct differences that developed between the North and the South as the country
developed from a loose confederation of thirteen colonies to a republic with a Constitution that
established the role and rights of the National government and the States. These differences included:
the way each region handled slavery, the kind of economy that developed, the geographical nature of
the region, the way of life and values, the kind and quality of transportation, the population of the
region, and industrialization and urbanization. So, just prior to the Civil War, it was apparent that the
country suffered from sectionalism that divided the country into two distinct regions, the North and
Several of these factors are interrelated. For example, the geography of the region had an impact on
the kind of economy that developed and industrialization had an impact on population growth, the
economy and urbanization. This paper will address the issues of slavery and the labor force, the
regional geography, and the economy of the North and the South in antebellum America.
One salient difference that developed between the North and the South began early in the nation’s
history with the importation of slaves from Africa. At one point in time most of the early colonies had
slaves. Eventually, however, slavery became more concentrated in the South as the northern colonies
abandoned and even outlawed the practice. But it was an issue that not could be resolved easily. Even
when Americans affirmed their independence with the declaration that “all men are created equal,”
some of them owned slaves, and were unwilling to give them up as they formed new federal and state
governments. So, “to form a more perfect union” in 1787, certain compromises were made in the
Constitution regarding slavery to appease the southern slaveholders. This settled the slavery
controversy for the first few decades of the American republic.
Nevertheless, the issue never went away and it was brought to the forefront again by the acquisition
of the newly acquired territory to the West, resulting from the Louisiana Purchase.
Missouri was part
of that territory and in 1819, Missouri asked to enter the Union as a slave state.
However a NY
congressman added a provision to the bill that would prohibit slavery in Missouri. But, the South was
fearful of losing equal representation in the Senate with the free states, so they blocked the
amendment and vowed to dissolve the Union if that amendment passed.
This signaled the developing
rift between the North and the South that eventually would lead to war.
The impasse was finally resolved the following year when Maine requested entry as a free state. The
efforts of Henry Clay who was himself a slave owner produced the Missouri Compromise which
allowed Maine's admission in 1820 as a free state and Missouri's eventual admission as a slave state
in 1821. The Missouri Compromise was important at the time because it helped to maintain the