Antebellum Period America

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The Road to Expansion and Division

The antebellum period from 1788 to 1860 was a time of both expansion and division in the United States. In the seven decades prior the Civil War, American's had been fighting to reform society in order to perfect America and its people. The effort to reform America was motivated by many different forces and ideas. The main idea was that these reforms would make America better and stronger. By 1860, the country's identity had already taken its shape.

There were many new developments occurring in Antebellum America. There were many new inventions such as Eli Whitney's cotton gin in 1793 (Boyer, 218.) Transportation had improved when in 1828 the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad became the first to operate in America, and in 1869 the Transcontinental Railroad was completed (Boyer, 259.)

As a result of the changed and progress taking place in America, there were also many transformations taking place in several areas of American life. The developments occurred within the slavery and race relations, industrialization and labor relations, and religion and culture areas. The slavery and race relations area underwent the most significant development of all.

The slavery trade was not a new one. Slavery had been practiced throughout the beginning of America. In the thirteen colonies and, subsequently, in the U.S., slaves were either Indians or Africans (Boyer, 60.) When the first settlers arrived they used Indians but the practice of enslaving Indians did not work out well and was eventually abandoned. The settlers had brought over African slaves which they used as their main source (Lorence, 76.) The great majority of African slaves were owned by southern whites, although seventy-percent of southern whites owned no slaves (Boyer, 344.)

It seemed that during the last years of the eighteenth century, New World slavery was declining (Boyer, 173.) Thousands of black slaves had escaped slavery by either purchasing freedom or for service during the American and French revolutions (Boyer, 216.) Many slave owners were encouraged through Revolutionary ideals of liberty and equality to emancipate their slaves (Boyer 216.) During the early nineteenth century, slavery underwent a new boom in the United States.

Agriculture was the south's main economic source. Many slaves had already been working in tobacco fields of the south (Boyer, 338.) But slavery increased with Eli Whitney's invention of the cotton gin in 1792. Between 1792 and 1794, the price of slaves had doubled. The number of slaves grew along with their price. Between the years 1810 and 1830, over 75 percent of all slaves were working in cotton cultivation (Boyer, 340.) The high cotton and slave prices made employing them in agriculture more beneficial (Lorence, 246.)

During the Panic of 1819, American agriculture had declined (Boyer, 257.) Farmers turned to the government for aid. They acquired capital and credit from private sources. The population had doubled between 1820 and 1840 (Lorence, 161.) This provided manufacturers with more customers and workers.

The low level of industrialization during the Revolutionary War had proven to be a serious handicap. The Revolutionary War had revealed a need for a strong, domestic manufacturing industry. During the antebellum period the industrial revolution began in New England. The most important industry was the cotton textile industry.

Manufacturing had increased after 1807, when non-importation laws were placed (Boyer, 233.) Incentives were offered for fine goods and technological improvements. For almost a decade, American capitalists had built a diversified industrial base and took over most of the domestic markets from the British. There were cotton and woolen mills, machine shops, iron forges, and flour mills scattered throughout many of the states. There were thousands of employees including men, women, and children. However, after the War of 1812 was over, the British managed to recapture much of the American market they had lost.

During the decades of mass migration, the 1840s and 1850s, most immigrants came from England, Ireland, and Germany (Lorence, 262.) Immigrants that had little to no money or didn't possess skills did not settle in the South. There was too much competition with slave labor. They settled in Northern cities to work in factories.

The conditions in New England seem to favor industrialization. Cotton was able to be shipped in by water to the mills, because there were so many ports along the New England coast (Boyer, 265.) The construction of railroads, canals, turnpikes, and steamboats caused manufacturing to increase because there was a demand for its output and a source of supply.

The first factories were seen in the cotton textile industry (Boyer, 265.) A factory produces for several areas, performs multifaceted activities in one locality, and employs a disciplined group of workers. Factories were able to produce more goods than were demanded, consequently destroying the local monopolies. They were able to accomplish this because it mass produced and exported the goods to other areas.

The period known as the antebellum decades was also a period in which different religious and cultural revival seized the country. Many politicians had either ignored or were unable to answer many of the social problems in America and reformers stepped in to answer these problems (Boyer, 294.) Revivalism began with preachers that brought their message to remote farms and small towns (Lorence, 203). They held meetings in tents which often lasted for days. They managed to appeal to thousands of people from the nearby countryside. The Second Great Awakening was launched by The Methodist denomination. The largest Protestant group in the country grew from seventy thousand members in 1800 to more than one million in 1844 (Boyer, 295.)

In the year 1820, along with religious revival also came new societies (Boyer, 306.) These societies were called Utopian societies. The creators of these societies often felt that they were more capable of serving as role models for the world and that they had the answer for society's issues (Lorence, 211.) Eventually most of these utopian communities failed. This was usually due to the many imperfections of those seeking perfection.

During the 1830s, the demand for free public education increased (Boyer, 301.) Many began to realize the importance of an education. Many factory workers wanted their children to have more opportunities in life than they had had. Therefore school was seen as a way not only to educate but instill American values to the children of immigrants (Boyer, 301.)

Although many changes were occurring during the antebellum period, the most significant were the changes in the slavery and race relations area. The many struggles and contributions, especially of African Americans, had been seen throughout the Revolutionary War. America had almost seen the extinction of slavery at the end of the eighteenth century (Boyer, 173.) But with new technological and agricultural advances within the nation, America needed more hands. The slavery trade situation became worse than it had been in its prior years. But this time, not all of America agreed. With the up rise of slavery, the nation began to experience a division within itself. Tensions began to increase as an anti-slavery sentiment grew in the North.

Although slavery was practiced throughout most of the nation, the North gradually eliminated it. Between 1777 and 1804, eight Northern states passed laws eliminating slavery.

The antebellum period is primarily dominated by numerous reasons causing the increasing conflict between the North and the South. One of the primary reasons was slavery. For many years, this conflict had been settled by compromises such as the compromise of 1850 (Boyer 398.) But eventually, these comprises were no longer effective, consequently being one of the many causes of the Civil War.