The Differences Between the North and South Before the Civil War

Mr. Beat is a social studies teacher who specializes in making history and geography more engaging

Mr. Beat teaches a geography lesson to help explain what caused the American Civil War.

#civilwar #apush #ushistory

Check out Mr. Betts' Civil War parody song here:

Want a specific history topic covered? Your idea gets picked when you donate on Patreon:


Donate on Paypal:

Mr. Beat's band:

Mr. Beat on Twitter:

Mr. Beat on Facebook:

Produced by Matt Beat. Music by Tabby Cat. All images either by Matt Beat, found in the public domain, or used under fair use guidelines.


Give Me Liberty! by Eric Foner

The American Pageant by Thomas A. Bailey

Photo credits:


Before we look at the differences between the North and South, let’s define what we mean when we say “North” and “South.” Well, here’s a map of the United States in 1860. Here’s one after the Battle of Fort Sumter in 1861. One definition defines the South as the states where slavery was legal. However, several slave states, often known as Border States, remained loyal to the Union after the war broke out. Today, when people say “The South,” they often mean these states. But sometimes West Virginia gets lumped into the Midwest like Missouri is, and often Maryland and Delaware get lumped into the Mid-Atlantic region. For this video, when I say the South, I’m talking about all the slave states and when I say the North all states north of those.

Climate and Geography

The South has historically been more ideal for growing crops. The climate is warmer, the summers are longer, the winters mild, and the soil is fertile. While the North often has had warm, humid summers, it also has brutally cold and snowy winters. The growing season is much shorter, and farming can be much more difficult there.


The Southern economy was almost entirely based on agriculture. Farms and plantations dotted the landscape. Southerns sold cash crops like cotton, tobacco, rice, sugar cane, and indigo. Since the invention of the cotton gin in 1793, slaves were in high demand to pick cotton. In fact, the South’s economy greatly depended on slave labor. The North had a more diverse economy, but it was mostly based on industry. Specifically, manufacturing. For decades, factories popped up throughout the north. Large textile factories thrived producing clothes from cotton grown from...the South. Immigrants came in mass numbers to work in these factories. Nearly all industry in the country was in the North, which is a big reason why they had the advantage during the war, because they controlled the iron works, the railroads, and production of weapons.


The North had more people. It had more than 17 million people, the South, less than 13 million, but 4 million of those were slaves. The North was more urban. There weren’t many big cities in the South. Like I basically said earlier, almost everyone lived on farms or plantations. These plantations were self-sufficient. The North had many big cities, all of them major trading centers, and all them crowded and dirty. Dirty? Yeah, because the factories were in these cities. Northern cities were where the arts, education and media thrived and also transportation hubs.


The North had more canals, more roads, and more railroads. The South had some railroads, but just 9,500 miles of track compared to 22,000 miles of track in the North. I mean, at the beginning of the Civil War the South was still heavily dependent on the steamship, for crying out loud.


Northerners tended to be less religious and more educated than Southerners. They were more politically divided in the North. Southerners were often unified by the slavery issue. Southern culture was usually determined by the aristocratic plantation owners and their families. Children of plantation owners tended to be the only ones who got any kind of major formal education, but in the North common schools were set up so that even the poorest in society could get some schooling.


Other than obviously views about slavery, Southerners tended to be more against tariffs, while Northerners were for high tariffs. Northerners tended to have a more “loose interpretation” of the Constitution and wanted a stronger national government. Southerners tended to think that state governments should have way more power than the national government and a more literal, “strict interpretation” of the Constitution. In conclusion, these differences definitely helped explained sectionalism, or one’s belief that her or his region is superior to other SECTIONS of the country. Political conflict often begins with regional differences.

Was originally published at:

No. 1-1
The Happy Hamster
The Happy Hamster

I wish my History teachers were this great.