Why War?
Many debate the question of whether or not the Civil War was necessary. Could the war have been
avoided? To answer this question, we must first examine the differences that separated the two societies.
The economic division between the North and South started in the 1700’s. Early settlers found the
South’s warm climate and fertile soil ideal for growing tobacco, cotton, and sugar cane. Southerners
developed large plantations, using slaves from Africa to provide for most of the labor. The South quickly
established an agriculturally based economy. On the other hand, the cool climate of the North, along with
its rocky soil, limited many settlers to small farms, forcing them to depend more on trade than on
In the 1800’s the United States began to expand westward. The North developed factories,
transportation, and communication, creating a highly industrial and commercial economy. The South’s
economy depended primarily on the growth and export of cotton, through slave labor, with little
manufacturing capability. Perhaps the economic differences between the North and South can be
summarized by one Northerner who said, “The North can make a steam engine, locomotive, or a railway
car; hardly a yard of cloth or a pair of shoes can you make. You are rushing into war with one of the most
powerful, ingeniously mechanical and determined people on earth... you are bound to fail...” (William
Tecumseh Sherman 24 Dec. 1860).
Hoffer 2

While economic differences played a major role in the division of the North and South, social
differences were also a factor. The North welcomed modernization,
looking forward to change, and a better way of life. Their social background valued hard work, education,
economic stability, and unity within the community. The South enjoyed a rich, traditional, and more
relaxed way of life, avoiding modernization. Both Northerners and Southerners felt as though their society
was the best. The North viewed the South as backward, semi-civilized, and out of touch with the future.
The South saw the North as radical, and impractical. One Southerner wrote:
Free society! We sicken at the name. What is it but a conglomeration of greasy mechanics, filthy
operatives, small-fisted farmers, and moon-struck theorists? All the northern, and especially the New
England states, are devoid of society fitted for well-bred gentlemen. The prevailing class one meets with is
that of mechanics struggling to be genteel, and small farmers who do their own drudgery, and yet are
hardly fit for association with a southern gentleman’s body servant. (The Georgia Herald 10 Sep. 1856)
Religion played a key role in the social division between the North and South. The northern forms of
Christianity, such as Methodist, Quakers, and the Protestant all clearly opposed slavery and the South.
Many of them would not worship with slave holders, and began to hold open protests against slavery. In
the South, Baptist and Presbyterian became forms of Christianity that supported southern beliefs.
Hoffer 3

The North and South’s political views differed as well, while the North favored tariff protection, the
South did not. The North liked the idea of a national-banking system, while the South opposed it. The
South preferred the power of state’s rights, while the North believed in a strong federal government.
Slavery was a highly controversial issue that plagued politics. Although in the 1700’s many Americans
did not agree with slavery, they figured it necessary. By the 1800’s, because of a severe increase in slave
population, many Northerner’s viewed slavery as morally and ethically wrong, and began movements to
abolish it. Although some Southerner’s disagreed with slavery, most considered it to be highly profitable.
Many believed that blacks were inferior to whites and that the South’s economy would collapse without
As the two societies continued to change, the need for support from a political party increased. The
North developed Republicans, who opposed slavery. This type of political controversy contributed highly
to the start of the Civil War. With the election of Republican president Abraham Lincoln in 1860, the
southern states began to secede. Southern and northern societies had become so different, that they were
completely unable to live together in harmony.

Hoffer 4

The Civil War although tragic, was a necessary part of American history. The economic, social, and
political differences between the North and the