Partners in Iniquity
April 2, 2011, 7:30 pm
By SVEN BECKERT and SETH ROCKMAN
Both professional historians and the general public have long explained America’s descent into civil war as the result of the economic divergence between an industrial North and an agrarian South.
Southern planters accumulated untold riches from the labor of their slaves, declared cotton king and boldly embraced aggressive policies culminating in secession. Northerners had wisely abolished slavery, so the story runs, and found prosperity by allowing free farmers and laborers to compete in the marketplace. Nearly four decades of debate over national tariff policy — with Northerners pushing for higher tariffs to protect domestic industry, and Southerners for lower tariffs to promote cotton exports — attested to the fundamental antagonism of these two sectional economies. Only after the forces of industrial modernity had destroyed the archaic system of human bondage could the United States achieve its true economic potential.
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