In today's excerpt--the cause of the American Civil War. In the early days of the country, the slavery issue alone, though contentious, had not been enough to sever the country. This was in large part because the economic interests of the northern and southern United States were bound together by the north-south commerce along the Mississippi, the mutual commitment to cotton by southern planters and northern mills, and the intermingling of commerce among border states. Only when a distinctly separate economic system developed--the Great Lakes economy--which was not only economically independent of the South but had a legislative agenda which was opposed by the South, one of tariffs and massive public spending on canals and other works, did the North and South take the fateful step to war. The new Republican Party, the party of big government, was one major outcome of this development:
"By mid-nineteenth-century, new patterns of commerce and new attitudes had emerged, shattering the unities of the earlier era and providing the basis for a decade of increasingly bitter sectional politics. In the North the rise of the Great Lakes economy changed the outlook of many in the region from western New York to Wisconsin. Producers in the Northwest now conducted most of their business along an east-west axis that began with the lakes and included the Erie Canal and New York City. The booming lake economy required extensive spending on the waterways, higher tariffs to pay for those improvements, and an active federal government to oversee these programs. Using the language of nationalism, individuals in this region demanded the federal government assist the growth if the Northern economy.
"A second development helped reorient the North, reinforcing the changes that emerged from the new patterns of trade. Militant anti-slavery grew from a handful of abolitionists in the early 1830s to a powerful movement at midcentury. Perhaps 15 percent of the Northern population came to affirm radical doctrines, including the abolition of bondage in the District of Columbia and the repeal of federal fugitive slave laws, Most of these individuals lived in New England and in the areas of Yankee settlement around the lakes. Together the rise of the lake economy and the spread of antislavery sentiment transformed the North and created the basis for the Republican Party, an organization that had little interest in compromising with the South. The new party was remarkably successful, winning much of the North in its first national contest in 1856 and electing the president in 1860.
"Reflecting their roots, Republicans enunciated both antislavery and economic policies, but their clear priority was Northern growth rather than helping African Americans. Even more fervently than other Northerners, Republicans condemned slavery, citing the Declaration of Independence and its affirmation that 'all men are created equal.' But the only significant initiative Republicans advocated to assist blacks was free soil, a program that furthered both economic and humanitarian goals. Declaring the new territories off-limits to slaveholders, this policy assisted Northern farmers at the same time that it struck a blow against slavery by limiting its expansion. Mainstream Republicans pointedly refused to condemn the Fugitive Slave Act, the interstate slave trade, or slavery in the District of Columbia and federal shipyards. The party acquiesced in the racism that defined Northern society. Although eschewing programs to help blacks, Republicans vigorously supported economic initiatives including higher tariffs, free homesteads, internal improvements, land grant colleges, and a transcontinental railroad."
Marc Egnal, Clash of Extremes, Hill and Wang, Copyright 2009 by Marc Egnal, pp. 9-10.