Sectionalism: A Divided Nation

SWBAT identify the causes, effects, and characteristics of sectionalism

SWBAT read a passage and identify which element of sectionalism is present

In the days leading up to the Civil W President Abraham Lincoln is quoted as saying ” A house divided against itself cannot stand.” What did he mean by this? Clearly he was saying that the United States of America had to remain just that, united. In order to continue to exist as a nation we had to truly be unified. What Lincoln was reacting to were the many conflicts that were dividing this great nation. We call these divisions sectionalism.

 Sectionalism – the placing of the needs of one section of the nation over the needs of the whole nation.

1. The different sections at this time were the North and the South. The West was also a section but this section (because it was new) did not practice sectionalism. Instead it was the other sections that fought to control the destiny of the west.

What was the difference between the two sections?

The North – primarily industrial in nature. Business and industry played major roles. Supported Tarrifs because it didn’t want people importing cheap goods from other countries.  Life was faster, people tended to live in cities and be more educated, and commerce was important.  Many in the north viewed slavery with suspicion and some with outright hatred.

The South – primarily agricultural. The southern economy was primarily based upon the existence of large family farms known as plantations. The plantation economy relied on cheap labor in the form of slaves to produce tobacco and then cotton. The plantation lifestyle produced a slower more leisurely lifestyle. Farmers on the plantation did not do the work themselves. They were referred to as the “gentleman farmer.”  People tended to live in a more rural environment, were less educated, and felt that slavery was an acceptable system.

What issues created the sectional conflict?

  1. Economic
  2. Political
  3. Social

American in the 1800s was a changing place.  Because of Manifest Destiny, Americans were spreading out all over the continent.  There was a major problem brewing, however.  The Northern and the Southern states were becoming very different.  The economy of the south was based upon slavery.  The economy of the North was based upon manufacturing.  People in the north and south were growing apart in social ways as well.  Over time, this

split lead to a wide chasm between the North and the South.  People in each region started to feel as if they were part of two different societies.  People in the north started to feel superior to people in the south and people in the south started to feel superior to people in the North.  This is sectionalism.  Sectionalism is the idea that a person has an allegiance to a smaller group of people and not the entire country.  There were three parts to sectionalism in the 1800s.  There was economic sectionalism, political sectionalism, and social sectionalism.  Eventually, this split in belief lead to the bloodiest war in in American history: the American Civil War (1861-1865)

  1. What “idea” was causing people to want to spread out across the North American continent?
  2. Please name two effects of the Transcontinental Railroad (review)
  3. What were the different “sections” in the sectionalism of the United States?
  4. Please define sectionalism in your own words.
  5. Based upon context clues, what does the word chasm mean?
  6. What war did all of this sectionalism eventually lead to?
  7. What were the years of this war?
  8. What is an example of “modern day” sectionalism?

Sectionalism: Thinking Questions- Go Beyond the Text

What is sectionalism?








Thinking Question

Where do you see a type of sectionalism alive today?

What is Economic Sectionalism?










Thinking Question

How were the economies of the north and south different?

What was the Political Sectionalism?









Thinking Question

What are some negatives to compromise?



What was the Social Sectionalism?









Thinking Question

Are the north and south still “socially” different?

How did all of this lead to the Civil War?









Thinking Question

Do you think the Civil War could have been avoided?

Class Reading

Directions: independently read the following passages and answer the questions. Remember to mark up your text and use your reading strategies.

As the new American nation moved into its seventh decade of existence it faced several crisis that threatened to tear down the very foundations on which it stood. Sectionalism plagued the land. Instead of looking at the nation as a whole, regional separatism took hold. Southerners, westerners and northerners began to identify themselves regionally and not as Americans. The regional differences that had served to build America now threatened to destroy it.  Sectionalism is the idea that your region or location is better or more important than the nation as a whole.  All in all, there are three different types of sectionalism.  There is economic, political, and social sectionalism.


When James Monroe thought about his vision of an “American System” he saw the parts of the nation working together as a whole. From colonial times there were differences in geography that gave rise to variations in culture and economy and politics.
The northern regions of the nation tended to focus on trade, shipping and manufacturing. The southern regions of the nation tended to focus on agriculture via slavery and the mid-Atlantic region blended both. As the nation expanded westward new states like Tennessee, Kentucky and Ohio were largely agricultural but yet still stuck to northern and southern ways of life. These geographic and economic differences spurned cultural differences as well. The merchants of the north were accustomed to a faster paced lifestyle while the plantation owners of the south played the role of the gentleman farmer. The leisurely lifestyle of the south did not extend, however, to the working farmhands and slaves that supported the plantation lifestyle of the southern aristocracy.

Economic Sectionalism between the North and South

As the different regions began to define themselves, economic issues came to the forefront. Wishing to support America’s domestic manufacturing, northern politicians endorsed a series of protective tariffs. A tariff is a tax placed on things brought in from other countries.  Since the south had to buy most of the things it wanted from other places, they did not like tariffs.  The first tariff passed in 1816 was relatively mild but the second passed in 1828 was much more severe. Southern states called it the “Tariff of Abominations” and demanded the right of nullification (ignoring a federal law). President Andrew Jackson endured a bitter conflict with his Vice President John C. Calhoun while the Webster-Hayne debates raged in the Senate. The split over the tariff and nullification was so fierce that it even led to a violent attack on Senator Charles Sumner on the floor of the senate. Eventually Congress passed, and the President signed, a bill called the Force Bill that authorized the use of the military to compel states to pay the tariff.

The bitterest battle of all however, was fought over the issue of slavery. Cotton was essential to the southern economy, as they used to say; “cotton is king!.” To southerners slavery was essential in maintaining cheap production of cotton. As cotton production grew, so did slavery.  Without slavery, many in the south felt that they would lose lots of money and their way of life.  The North, however, had no economic need for cotton or slavery.

Political Sectionalism

The conflict of political sectionalism surrounded the creation of new states as the United States expanded, and the role that slavery would have in those new states.  Furthermore, the north wished to suppress slavery, while the south sought to increase the amount of slavery in the United States.  Southern states, fearing the north would eventually try to abolish their “peculiar institution,” knew they needed to maintain control of the Senate. In order to do so, as the nation expanded west, the South needed to ensure that states entered the union as slave states. The north, on the other hand, wanted the opposite. When Missouri entered the Union in 1820 the nation attempted to settle the issue with the creation of the Missouri Compromise.  The Missouri Compromise allowed the state of Missouri to enter the Union as a slave states, and all new future states would be either free or slave depending on how north or south they were.  (see the map on the left.)
The compromise, however, would not last long. When California asked for admission as a free state in 1850 the Missouri Compromise would have bisected the state. The Compromise of 1850 allowed California to enter as a free state but only after allowing a popular vote on slavery in Nevada and New Mexico. If that did not signal the death knell for the Missouri Compromise then the Kansas-Nebraska Act surely did. The act allowed for a popular vote, known as “popular sovereignty” in the Kansas and Nebraska territories. A mini civil war broke out in Kansas as pro slave supporters clashed with “free soilers.” By the time the Supreme Court issued it’s verdict in Dred Scott v Sanford any chance of compromise over slavery was over.  Thus sectionalism, which started as merely differences in culture, ended up being one of the main causes of the American Civil War.

Social Sectionalism

The north and the south developed distinct cultures.  They spoke with different accents and had different ways of viewing the world.  People in the south lived a fairly rural way of life.  It was a slow paced way of living that was much different than the north.  On average, they had less schooling and were more likely to be poor than people in the north.  The south had particular customs which placed a great emphasis on the relationships between men and women and their traditional roles.  Women were often put up on a pedestal as “perfect” or “pure”.

Because slavery was such a major part of everyday life in the south, the institution of slavery became important socially as well. The number of slaves that you owned indicated how wealthy you were.  Therefore, not only was slavery an economic benefit to people in the south, but it also defined how they fit into society as a whole.  People in the North, however, tended to be more educated.  Since the economy of the North was based upon manufacturing and trade, people tended to be more likely to live in larger cities and to have attended school for longer periods of time.  People in the North tended to view slavery as something foreign and brutal.  Because of these different attitudes and social structures, it became easy to view people from the other region with suspicion or as less than you.  Because of this it became easier for many people to engage in war with a region that was very different from themselves

  1. What is sectionalism?
  2. What are the three types of sectionalism?
  3. How did James Monroe think of the different sections of America?
  4. Based upon the context clues, which word best describes the meaning of “variations” in the text.?
    1. Similarities
    2. Differences
    3. Meanings
    4. Changes
    5. Based upon the context clues, which word best describes the meaning of “domestic” in the text?.
    • Family
    • Interpret
    • National
    • States
  1. What is a tariff and why did the south not like them?
  2. What was the major cash crop of the south?
  3. Why was there constant political sectionalism in the 1800s?

Name two states that entered the United States in the 1800s and describe if they entered as Slave or Free states.

  1. Name two ways that the north and south were different as far as their cultures.

What side are you on?

Directions: Read the quote in the boxes on the left. Then, decide whether the quote is representing the interests of the North or the South. Write your answer in the middle section.  Finally, explain why you chose your answer. Write your reasons in the box on the right

Quote North or South? Why?
“The institution of slavery must not be spread into any more Northern Territories.  My factories simply cannot contend with the cheap labor.” – Elliot Smith, 1820
“Slavery, although an evil, is a necessary evil.  I don’t and wouldn’t ever intend to stop slavery.  The negro is not accustomed to freedom and wouldn’t handle it safely.  My argument was and always has been that slavery should be voted on and controlled by each state.” – Tobias Johnson 1819
“If Missouri is entered as a new state, the balance of power will shift in our direction.  This is a good thing.  A new slave state would ensure that the north cannot impose their ideas.  Cotton will continue to reign supreme.” –George Nelson 1820
“Maybe they’re not accustomed to our fast pace of doing things here.  But it still stands.  Slavery must not extend into the Arkansas region of the United States.”  – Jens Thompson“I agree with Clay and his companions.  Compromise is the only way to keep this institution alive and well.  The manufacturers to the north of us are constantly trying to impose tariffs and create it hard for our plantations to survive.”  -Lee Underwood 1821
“I feel that if we are ever going to stop the institution of slavery, it must be done little by little.  We must cut it off where we can.  If they produce so much cotton, we must raise a tariff against them.  Furthermore, allowing slavery to extend into new states cannot be allowed.”  –Robert Hope Warren
“They allow slavery because they are uneducated and dull.  True patriots are ones that work for themselves and don’t rely on the labor of others.”- Frederick Paxton Brown
“We stood by and allowed the tariffs to pass.  What are we going to do, stand by and allow the Yankees to tell us that we can’t control our own states?  If Missouri wants to have slavery, it should be allowed to.”- Greely Horace
“I cannot sit idly by and watch men of supposed good character allow slavery to spread westward.  The barons of cotton are pushing their slavery way of life on everyone.  Pretty soon our home state of Indiana will be full of those sympathetic to slavery.” –Byron Smith

A Visual History

Directions:  look at a picture and figure out which of the three types of sectionalism the picture represents.

Picture Number Describe the Picture What type of Sectionalism Why?
Picture Number Describe the Picture What type of Sectionalism Why?

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