Why did the Southern states secede in 1861?

Essay by loopythe1stUniversity, Bachelor'sB, February 2005

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The succession of the Southern States had been brewing for many years; this was due to fundamental differences in agriculture and resultant adoption of slavery in the South. From early days, the thirteen states had grown up separately, and each had their own culture and beliefs, which were often incompatible with those held in other states. The geographical and cultural differences between north and south would manifest themselves at regular and alarming intervals throughout the hundred years following the drafting of the constitution. Tension increased during the 1850s, over the right to hold slaves in new territories. The Wilmot Proviso of 1846, roused bitter hostilities, and violent debate turned to physical violence during the period of 'Bleeding Kansas'. The election of Lincoln, who the South perceived to be an abolitionist, in 1860, was the final straw, and the secession of seven Southern states followed soon after.

The North and South were very different places.

The climate of the North was similar to that of England, so the land was suitable for a variety of uses. The hot Southern climate was perfect for growing cotton, which was a hugely lucrative business at this time. Following the invention of Eli Whitney's Cotton Gin, the South became increasingly dependent on this crop, and an entire society grew out of it. The society was one of wealthy planters, controlling politics and society of the day. Slaves labored in the fields, usually only a handful per plantation, though larger farms were occasionally seen. There were also poor white farmers who scraped out a living from the land. This contrasted sharply with Northern society, where industrialization flourished, creating wealthy entrepreneurs and employing cheap immigrant labour. Given the localized nature of media, and difficulties of transport two cultures grew up in the same nation being very different.