An Industrialized Society?

Look at most histories of the Civil War era and you will probably see a claim that the North had an industrialized society whereas the South was primarily an agricultural society.

How true is that?

Here’s what the Census has to say about the South:

Definitely a primarily agricultural reason, right?

Now, let’s take a look at what the 1860 Census says about the rest of the country:

Does this look like it’s primarily industrial? Not to me. Let’s look at the two states with the highest number of manufacturing businesses, New York and Pennsylvania. New York had over 195,000 farms encompassing almost 21 million acres of farmland and 22,624 manufacturing locations. Pennsylvania had over 156,000 farms on over 17 million acres of land and 22,363 manufacturing locations. To say one section was primarily industrial is actually a distortion. The entire country–all sections–was primarily agricultural in 1860. There’s no doubt there was more industry in the sections outside the South, but not so much as to sustain the claim it was primarily industrial or manufacturing.


  1. I thought the old industrial/agrarian divide was done as last week’s toast? Both North and South were part of a global market economy, although the meaning of the marketplace was profoundly different in each. Charles Sellers and Walter Johnson, remind us of that in their books. 🙂

    1. I agree they were both part of the global economy, but we still often hear and read of the industrial/agrarian divide.

      1. I started the conversation in the middle. My fault. The civil war is the great divide in American industrial development as so many people have said. I was under the impression, that the idea of an industrial north and an agrarian south owed too much to folks like Charles Beard and Ulrich B. Phillips. There are oh so many problems in saying that “the north was industrial and the south was agrarian.” A lot of times, when people talk about “agrarian” societies they imply a certain type of subsistence agriculture and not, per-se the production of staple crops for a global marketplace. So, in that sense, the old saw about the South’s agrarianism is just a ploy to minimize the importance of slavery in fostering disunion.

        The South was a market-based capitalistic society just as much as the North. Both were on the verge of industrialization. The difference in railroad miles, in manufactures and all the rest does not mean that the South did not participate in the marketplace. It merely means that success in the southern marketplace meant a person invested capital in land and slaves to grow cotton to buy more land and more slaves.

        I don’t think we can truly make the argument that the South was agrarian in the sense of a rural society practicing substance agriculture. So many of these planters bought everything including hogs from northern factors. I prefer, at least in my head, to think of the South not as agrarian, but as practicing commercial agriculture for a global economy. It’s rather a different thing. You caught the middle, or the end, of a long argument on the subject I’ve been having for a long while.

        1. There is a lot to agree with there.

  2. Since you are tackling so much of the good stuff Al, someday you should consider the ludicrous “bankster” excuses and made up economics. The cool new trend seems to be go off on a tangent of economics talking about market prices and saying things like the north wanted to create a central banking system so they needed to deal with the south etc etc…

    of course, completely circumventing slavery in the process. This is what I mean here:

    “The south was a natural enemy to the centralized fiat based economic system the North wanted to create. The south could over saturate the market and drive prices down but because it was mostly all slave labor the suppliers didn’t lose much at all because their expenses were nil thus staying sound in banking lows, especially since the south maintained significant international trade options with its agriculture. The rest of Europe had already moved to centralized banks based on the same format of our modern day Federal Reserve (unified national currency based on debt trading), and the US was hell bent on following suit and all they needed to do was crush the unruly southern physical asset based economy and bring it back in line.”

    1. So much garbage to take out, so little time.

      1. Jason Perez · · Reply

        Another way of looking at it is that you’ll never run out of stuff to blog about. That’s one problem you’ll never have to worry about with this crowd!

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