After the Louisiana Purchase in 1803, the United States quickly became three distinct regions combined into one country. The Northeast saw immigrants continuing to flow into a region increasing with urban sprawl and industrialization; the South remained rural and agrarian, depending on slavery and the invention of the cotton gin to bolster the economies of the farm; America’s West, bolstered by the purchase of the Louisiana Territory, which also included Arkansas, Missouri, Iowa, Oklahoma, Kansas, and Nebraska and parts of Minnesota, North Dakota, South Dakota, New Mexico, Texas, Montana, Wyoming, and Colorado, was far less developed than either coastal region but saw continuing growth in economy, population and influence. Over the next forty years, each region saw significant growth and change due to increasing populations and improvements in technology. While each region changed in somewhat unique ways, all benefited from a market revolution charged by an increase in the supply of money; it is not a reach to observe that each region changed and grew drastically in the decades leading up to the Civil War, building foundations that persist in the United States today.
Leading up to and directly after the American Revolution the Northeastern was undoubtedly the economic center of the United States. While less urbanized and populated than the traditional economic centers of Europe, the Northeast had a much higher population density than the South or the West, and was the target of most of the immigration into the country. Manufacturing work moved from the home into manufacturing centers and factories, employing men, women, and children. Legislatively, Northern states also took steps to ensure their continuing economic growth. Turnpikes began to pop up around New England, making both travel and small trade easier (Baker, 2007). On a larger scale, the construction of canals throughout the Northeast and trans-Appalachian West (the area between the Appalachian Mountains and Mississippi river which the English had forbidden the colonies from populating before the Revolution), allowed for the movement of large quantities of grain and other farm goods long distances in a relatively short period of time (Baker, 2007). The largest of these construction projects was the building of the Eerie Canal which was constructed between 1817 and 1825 and connected Lake Eerie and the Hudson River near Albany, spanning 363 miles. This canal essentially connected the Great Lakes region with New York city and lowered transportation costs between the two regions by 90 percent (Baker, 2007). These canal systems did not solely allow farm goods to reach urban areas in the North, but also allowed manufactured goods to more easily reach areas in the rapidly growing West, which found itself increasingly tied to the Northeast commercially.
In the period after the American Revolution but before the Civil War, the West, as defined as the continental territory held by the United States that was not part of either the Northeast or South, continued to grow. The Louisiana Purchase itself more than doubled the size of the country, providing more land for the country to expand economically. With continuing improvements in transportation technology, the West became a viable location for farming goods to be sent to population centers. Western areas became states in rapid succession. Kentucky became a state in 1792, Tennessee became a state in 1796, and Ohio followed in 1803. Between 1812 and 1837, Louisiana, Indiana, Mississippi, Illinois, Alabama, Main, Missouri, Arkansas, and Michigan all achieved statehood. As these western areas matured into states, its populace became more refined, and began providing national leaders (Kastor, 2007). Andrew Jackson, from Tennessee, and Henry Clay, from Kentucky, were vital in American politics leading up to the Civil War. Abraham Lincoln came from Illinois. Small family farms, using northern goods, dominated the landscape, as the absence of slavery precluded large farms from being financially viable.
While the Northeast was consolidating economic power and the West was growing into its own, the South continued its slavery-driven farming dominance in the first half of the 19th century. This is not to say that the South was totally dependent of farming as a matter of economic discourse. St. Louis, Richmond and Baltimore, all lying in areas bordering either the North or West, all developed industrially in the time leading up to the Civil War (Phillips, 2007). Despite this, the majority of commerce remained agricultural, much of which depended on the institution of slavery. As the border areas of the South became increasingly industrialized, agriculture and, in hand, slavery became more and more focused in the deep South. In 1830, nearly half of the population of the deep South were in fact slaves (Phillips, 2007). Farming technique improvements also allowed for an increase in farm production; for example, the cotton gin allowed the production to increase many times over. Perhaps the largest change in the region during this time period was not economic, however, but rather the intensifying rivalry between the North and South that led to the civil war. Simply put, Northerners were interested in ending the traditions of slavery that continued to persist and, in some ways, enrich their southern neighbors. Southerners were also angered by the passing of tariffs meant to protect manufactured goods from the North from cheaper British alternatives, which forced Southerners to pay more for domestic goods than they had for foreign ones. In essence, for the South in the antebellum years, farm production increased and small pockets of industrialization took hold, while the real change were the whispers of North-South resentment that ended up leading to war.
Beyond anything else, improvements in technology during the early 19th century allowed for rapid changes in what was then a relatively new nation. Improvements in technology linked the country in ways that were before impossible. Goods flowed more easily not just north and south, but also east and west, allowing for the increased settlement of non-coastal lands. In a way, the North and West were developing a symbiotic relationship, with manufactured goods from the North supplying the family farms of the West, without the South, which at times strained against acts designed to protect economic interests in the North. While there is little doubt that none of these factors individually led the country to its Civil War, there is equally as little doubt that they all contributed to it.
Baker, H. Robert. (2007). Market Revolution. Encyclopedia of the New American Nation.
Retrieved June 12, 2008 from
Kastor, Peter J. (2007). West. Encyclopedia of the New American Nation.
Retrieved June 12, 2008 from
Phillips, Christoper. (2007). South. Encyclopedia of the New American Nation.
Retrieved June 12, 2008 from