America in the 1850s

Slavery and Sectional Animosity

One can clearly see that there was a difference between the North and the South. Was there also a perceived West?

Yes. When we examine the language and speech of the 1850s, it is clear that Americans thought of themselves as belonging to one of three sectional groups: the commercially inclined North, the agriculturally inclined South, and the West, which was a combination of these two impulses.

The West, as people defined it in 1850, started somewhere in the Buckeye State of Ohio and moved toward the setting sun, culminating somewhere in the state of Iowa. The population of all the states in this area—which we now label the Midwest—were surging, and the number of horses, cattle, and sheep were growing apace. Indiana, for example, went from a population of 686,000 in 1840 to one of 988,000 a decade later. And Illinois made truly exceptional progress, increasing from 476,000 in 1840 to 851,000. Anyone who spent time in the Western states during the 1850s decade noted the energy and willpower of their people.


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