THE United States of America had by the middle of the century a population, still recruited mainly from North-Western Europe, larger than that of Great Britain. It included four million negro slaves in the Southern States of the eastern (Atlantic) coast. Settlement had spread westward, over the Alleghanies and across the plains, until the Mississippi was passed. The discovery of gold in California in 1848 caused a rush by land and by sea to the goldfields, and several States were established on the Pacific coast. The gap between the Mississippi and the Rockies was slowly settled on between 1867 and 1910.
The American settlers rapidly developed local allegiances. This was most marked in the Northern and Southern States of the east, the boundary between which was the southern border of Pennsylvania, the Mason-Dixon line: south of it were the States where slaves were owned, north were those which had no slaves and, usually, on whose territory a slave could not remain a slave. This question of slavery was not by any means the main cause of enmity between the groups, but it rapidly focused it.
The Northern States with their industry, small mixed farms, good education, energy and acquisitiveness, detested what they regarded as the drawling insolence of the Southerner, whether he were one of the plantation owners who had inherited, or more probably assumed, the Cavalier tradition, or one of the more numerous types of poor white. The South despised and disliked the North for its hustle and crudity, and it needed only a dispute over economic interests to lend these social animosities deep meaning.
Two such disputes arose. The first was the desire of the South, which lived by exporting cotton, to admit European and particularly English manufactured goods at low rates, while the industrial Northern States desired heavy tariffs The second was slavery. Public opinion in the Northern States consistently condemned slavery on moral grounds,
while the South regarded slavery as an institution of vital economic importance and of divine origin. Disagreement on these questions was absorbed in the general question whether State or Federal law was to prevail, and whether States not in agreement with the majority could secede from the Union which they had made.
Now that the very name of slavery has an unpleasant sound, it is often attempted to represent the American Civil War as a contest about anything else and to stress the fact that there were many anti-slavers in the South, who fought solely for State rights. The North certainly detested slave owners more than it loved slaves, but to construe the anti-slavery movement as merely spiteful is quite unfair to the great body of intelligent and humane opinion in the North. The Southerners who disliked slavery generally regarded it as perfectly good if managed on Christian principles; and the great mass of Southerners, both those who owned slaves and the much larger class who did not, simply regarded the negro as dirt, with none of the rights or feelings of a man.
It is argued sometimes that slave owners did not maltreat slaves, because it did not pay them to do so. This argument does not hold good if the slave owner can get a large supply of new slaves; he will then find it pays to use up slaves quickly. Even if he cannot, the relationship usually brings out a sadistic strain similar to that which in Latin races is sometimes roused by power over animals. At the best, this economic consideration would not touch the worst injustices of slavery, the prostitution of slave women and the separation of slave families. Apart from moral considerations, slave labour cannot be efficient; and it is always enervating to the ruling class. The South was destined to be ruined by the cost of the Civil War, but the liberation of the slaves was, economically, a blessing.