By 1861, North and South had evolved separate institutions, interests, values, and ideologies that made it impossible for them to coexist as a single nation.’ Based on your readings of both unionists and secessionists, do you agree with this statement?
The growing political discontent present within America leading up to the outbreak of war at Fort Sumpter in 1861 highlights how there was a great divide between the North and South that made it impossible to coexist as one nation. The roots of this political discontent came from the incompatible economies of the North and South which perpetuated the political division within the nation. Furthermore, Northerners were predominately moderates and were not necessarily concerned with the moral aspects of slavery, and many agreed with the Southern attitudes towards African-Americans. However, the entrenched views on each side served to emphasise the gulf between the North and South making it impossible for them to co-exist as a single nation.
Northern political discourse was mainly centred around the support for the free-labour ideology. At the centre of this belief system was the desire to limit the expansion of slavery into new territories to provide wage earners with the ability to “rise to property-owning independence”.[footnoteRef:1] The North, specifically the Republican party, emphasised the economic growth and social mobility afforded by the free-labour ideology to justify the superiority of their society and extensively criticise the South. This is evident through conservative Bostonian Robert Winthrop’s remark that “the South is, upon the whole, the very poorest, meanest, least productive, and most miserable part of creation…”.[footnoteRef:2] Prominent politicians of the Republican party also promoted the superiority of the free-labour ideology such as William H. Seward who stated that: [1: Eric Foner, Free Soil, Free Labor, Free Men: the Ideology of the Republican Party Before the Civil War (New York: Oxford University Press, 1995), ix] [2: Robert Winthrop in Eric Foner, Free Soil, Free Labor, Free Men, 43]
“The free-labour system educates all alike, and by opening all the fields of industrial employment, and all the departments of authority, to the unchecked and equal rivalry of all classes of men, at once secures universal contentment, and brings the highest possible activity all the physical, moral and social energies of the whole state”.[footnoteRef:3] [3: William H. Seward, ‘The Irrepressible Conflict’ (Rochester, 25 October 1858). In David Garrioch, ed. Nations at War: Revolution and Empire, (Clayton, 2018), 38-39]
Although the free-labour ideology dominated the political sphere, there were those in the North who endorsed the abolition of slavery. Owen Lovejoy was a prominent abolitionist who criticised Democrats and their racist justifications of slavery, questioning whether it is morally right to enslave those who perceived inferior.[footnoteRef:4] While representatives of ...