A contented, successful and united nation. How far is this an accurate comment on the United States of America between 1820 and 1850?

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Jessica Ellis

‘A contented, successful and united nation’. How far is this an accurate comment on the United States of America between 1820 and 1850?

On the surface America appears to be extremely contented and successful as its economy was booming and many American’s shared in the growing prosperity. The North’s transportation and communication aided its industrial growth and the    profitability of the South’s agrarian economy was constantly growing with the invention of the cotton gin and ever increasing exports. However it is obvious that not everyone participated and gained from the apparent success of the nation and although united by a shared language, history and internal trade, there was deep resentment between the North and South, particularly in relation to their opposing stances on slavery.

There are many reasons for the growth of the very successful antebellum economy in northern America, including the Market Revolution, technological developments and the ‘American System’. The huge internal improvements – the creation of roads, canals and extensive railways helped with the production and transport of coal, iron and steel, allowing for American produce to be sent throughout not only the continent but the world. Tariffs on imports protected the domestic industry and funds were raised for further investment in the infrastructure. The economy was further aided by the American education system which led to high levels of literacy, and the fact that the country had a wealth of natural resources such as wood, coal, iron and gold. The north during this period appear very united in their quest for improvement, for example the development of the factory system made producing goods much more efficient and the ‘American System’ – the interchange ability of parts – made manufacturing cheaper and the country became more capital intensive, encouraging spending to boost the economy. All this suggests that America was a very successful nation during the antebellum period.

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In the South merely 10% of the population lived in towns by 1850 compared with 26% of Northern Americans; there was an abundant supply of cheap land which helped increase the cotton trade and allowing the food production to increase fourfold between 1840 and 1860. The South became known as the ‘Cotton Kingdom’, supplying the industrialising North, as plantation agriculture became very profitable during this time, especially with the use of slaves as cheap labour and the invention of the cotton gin, and therefore there is a huge argument for the south being completely successful. The meaning of ‘success’ ...

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