I've been writing an essay for school and I've been wondering what did sectionalism have to do with the American Civil War? Does sectionalism include the Missouri Compromise and the breaking away of the South? If not, what are some other examples?

  • 1
    It might help to define "sectionalism" as you are considering it.
    – T.E.D.
    Commented Feb 18, 2013 at 1:11
  • 1
    Or perhaps you should ask what "sectionalism" means in terms of the Civil War.
    – Joe
    Commented Feb 18, 2013 at 6:34
  • 1
    On another note, welcome to history.SE! Commented Feb 18, 2013 at 11:05
  • 4
    Which Civil War? The Spanish one? The English one? OK, Missouri probably only played a role in the American Civil War, but bear in mind that this is a site not only about US history. Just saying... ;-) Commented Feb 18, 2013 at 20:48
  • 1
    Jeepers Creepers, even Canada had two (sort of mini) civil wars in 1870 and 1885. hey are just not called civil wars because they were short, and well, because we are Canadian and just don't really do things like that. Commented Feb 11, 2014 at 5:07

1 Answer 1


Sectionalism was in fact a major element of the civil war. At the risk of oversimplifying, the strongest conflict was between the Northeastern industrial states (New England, New York, Pennsylvania, and New Jersey), and the "South,"( basically the 11 states that made up the Confederacy). In addition, there were two other sections: the Midwest, and border states such as Maryland, Delaware, Kentucky, and Missouri.

President Thomas Jefferson (a Virginian), feared that the Midwestern states (and "Middle South: states such as Tennessee and Mississippi), might try to break away from the 13 colonies and form a connection, either among themselves, along the Ohio and Mississippi rivers, or with British Canada over the Great Lakes, and down the St. Lawrence River. That's why he was so eager to purchase New Orleans to mollify them. (He actually made the "Louisiana" purchase.)

Other Southerners initially felt that the "agricultural" (food-producing) Midwest would find common cause with the "agricultural" (cash crop) South against Northeastern industrial and banking interests. In this regard, the Mississippi River might unite the Midwest and South, against the Northeast.

But the building of the Erie canal connecting the Great Lakes and the Hudson River pushed the Midwest agricultural trade to the Northeast. The Midwesterners found that Northeasterners needed more (and paid better for) their wheat than the South, which preferred its own corn. Also, Northeastern woolens suited the cold climate Midwest better than Southern cotton (in the days before central heating).

And Midwesterners felt that southern slave (and cash crop) agriculture undercut their (food) farming practices, and therefore considered the South competitive with, rather than complementary to themselves. Hence, the Midwest ultimately sided with the Northeast in the Civil War.

The rift between slave and free agriculture was particularly acute in the border states, e.g. in Missouri, and in Maryland between the pro-union Piedmont and the pro-slavery Tidewater regions. Most of the above mentioned border states had mini "civil wars" that were resolved in favor of the North. West Virginia "seceded from secession" (Confederate Virginia) and joined the North.

In the end, three regions, the Northeast, Midwest, and border states, plus the isolated western states of California and Oregon joined together and "ganged up" against the 11 Confederate states, thereby giving the civil war its character.

  • 2
    It is funny how on the surface people seem to be standing up for the right moral cause (e.g. getting rid of slavery), but in the end when one looks at the details it ALWAYS boils down to following the money. In this case, the midwest and border states didn't like the competition and thought they'd make more money siding with the north.
    – Dunk
    Commented Feb 18, 2013 at 23:39
  • 3
    @Dunk: It was John Maynard Keynes who famously said, "Practical men...are usually the slave of some defunct economist.
    – Tom Au
    Commented Feb 19, 2013 at 13:14
  • 1
    But then again, it's profit seeking that free the slaves, institute free market, and make us prosper. It's nice to know that good things can come out of greed.
    – user4951
    Commented Apr 8, 2013 at 1:02

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.