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Economic Transformations in Antebellum America

Page history last edited by Robert W. Maloy 1 year ago


AP U.S. History Period 4: 1800-1848


Key Concept 4.2 — Innovations in technology, agriculture, and commerce powerfully accelerated the American economy, precipitating profound changes to U.S. society and to national and regional identities.



Antebellum America (1835-1860):

Antebellum (latin for 'pre war') era was a time of great economic, social and political growth and/or change.


  • Prior to the Civil War great technological advancements were made, social and political groups worked for anti-slavery legislation as well as women's equality and the economic foundation of the country changed.



A. The Transportation Revolution and Creation of a National Market Economy


Crossing of the Alleghany, Pennsylvania Railroad, 1853


Crossing of the Alleghany, Pennsylvania Railroad, 1853



Railroads, canals, turnpikes and steam boats made the transportation of goods much more efficient. It provided jobs, made travel much easier by connecting the east coast to the west coast.







  Watch a video about the Erie Canal

Creation of a National Market Economy


  • Characteristics of a National Market Economy:
    1. Specialization in agriculture
    2. National and international market system
    3. Use of money and credit
    4. Domestic manufacturing
    5. Rapid economic growth
    6. Potential growth of domestic investment capital


  • Factors that Influenced the Creation of the National Market Economy:
    1. High profits from the Napoleonic Wars/War of 1812
    2. Internal expansion to the Mississippi River
    3. Development of commercial agriculture
    4. Revolution in transportation
    5. Public policy at state and national levels to promote enterprise
    6. Nationalism of the Republican Party (aka Jefferson Party)
    7. Judicial nationalism, creation of legal requirements for a national market


  • Effects of the Creation of the National Market Economy:
    1. Boom-Bust cycles
    2. Increased sectionalism
    3. Psychological dislocations
    4. Economic expansion
    5. Growth of a two party system
    6. Creation of conditions that would allow for the Industrial Revolution


Information taken from the Historical Text Archive

B. Beginnings of Industrialization and Changes in Social and Class Structures

external image 200px-Hebrew_timeline.svg.pngCheck out this Timeline for important dates and advancements during this time period


Drawing of first patented lockstitch sewing machine, invented by Elias Howe, 1845
Drawing of first patented lockstitch sewing machine, invented by Elias Howe, 1845



Beginnings of Industrialization


    • Mass Production
      • Daily News Papers(1835): the penny press was an affordable and economically savvy way to spread information, political views and agendas. The first Daily Newspaper was the New York Herald, which quickly became a metropolitan stronghold.
      • Manufacturing: Textile manufacturing was extremely popular during this time in the Northeast, particularly in Massachusetts. The south was still based economically on agricultural advancements because of the free labor and fertile soil. Other forms of manufacturing also became booming industries during this period: iron, textiles, flour mills in the Mid-Atlantic States.
      • Sewing Machine: 1848 the sewing machine was invented improving the labor of women in the household


Changes in Social and Class Structures


    • Social and Class Structures
      • The middle-class were the fastest growing group in the Antebellum period.
      • Women in harsh and dangerous conditions with low wages.
      • Immigrants also worked in horrible conditions for ridiculously low wages
      • Social mobility was possible to a small extent


    • Immigration
      • Huge influx of immigrants in the Antebellum Period
      • Majority of them were German and Irish
      • They were seen as a great opportunity for cheap labor by some Americans
      • Nativists were hostile towards them because they:
        • Took jobs from the Americans
        • Their religions were gaining some influence in politics


Historical Biography Page:  The Lowell Mill Girls


Dramatic Event page:  Seneca Village, an African American 19th Century Settlement


C. Immigration and Nativist Reaction


  1. Immigration: Mostly European immigrants: Irish, Italian, and German. Because of cheaper transportation costs, high famines in Europe, and the rumors of better opportunities in the United States, there was an influx of immigrants. 
  2.  Nativist Reaction: Worried about the cultures of immigrants. Nativists believed that immigrants were too different and did not fit in with American values and morals. The creation of the Know-Nothing Party was part of the Nativist Reaction to immigration.


The Irish Potato Famine and Mass Migration


  • Phytophthora infestans, the fungus that invades the potato plant and causes its rapid decay, affected many countries, starting with the United States, traveling the globe before infesting Ireland. Unfortunately, 2/3 of Ireland's population relied on the produce to sustain themselves and get their nutrients.
    • What followed is known as the Great Hunger in which more than 1 million Irish men, women, and children, perish by starvation. 



Man Sifting Through Soil

Margaret Lyster Chamberlain


Learn more about the Great Hunger at Quinnipiac University's Great Hunger Museum


  • A great many Irish migrated to the United States, altering the cultural and social atmosphere of a less diverse United States. Today the Irish American community thrives in many part of the country.


  • At the outbreak of the Civil War, America was home to approximately 1.6 million people of Irish birth, most refugees from the Famine. 


Although they are now a prosperous part of America's demographics, the Irish were not received well by the xenophobic America public, they were treated poorly as immigrants and classified as sub-human.


The Irish were given similar status to black America's in the social and economic hierarchy; many were indentured servants


D. Planters, Yeoman Farmers, and Slaves in the Cotton South






See The Geography of Slavery in Virginia from the University of Virginia.

By 1830 slavery was primarily located in the South, where it existed in many different forms. African Americans were enslaved on small farms, large plantations, in cities and towns, inside homes, out in the fields, and in industry and transportation.


  • Though slavery had such a wide variety of faces, the underlying concepts were always the same. Slaves were considered property, and they were property because they were black. Their status as property was enforced by violence -- actual or threatened. People, black and white, lived together within these parameters, and their lives together took many forms.


  • Enslaved African Americans could never forget their status as property, no matter how well their owners treated them. But it would be too simplistic to say that all masters and slaves hated each other. Human beings who live and work together are bound to form relationships of some kind, and some masters and slaves genuinely cared for each other. But the caring was tempered and limited by the power imbalance under which it grew. Within the narrow confines of slavery, human relationships ran the gamut from compassionate to contemptuous. But the masters and slaves never approached equality.


  • The standard image of Southern slavery is that of a large plantation with hundreds of slaves. In fact, such situations were rare. Fully 3/4 of Southern whites did not even own slaves; of those who did, 88% owned twenty or fewer. Whites who did not own slaves were primarily yeoman farmers.


  • Practically speaking, the institution of slavery did not help these people. And yet most non-slaveholding white Southerners identified with and defended the institution of slavery. Though many resented the wealth and power of the large slaveholders, they aspired to own slaves themselves and to join the priviledged ranks.


  • In addition, slavery gave the farmers a group of people to feel superior to. They may have been poor, but they were not slaves, and they were not black. They gained a sense of power simply by being white.

Information taken from pbs.org. Click here to read the rest of the article.


The mural on the page depicts a 1917 suffrage parade in New York. Anna Howard Shaw, in cap and gown, leads the parade in New York, and at the right is Carrie Chapman Catt, president of the National American Woman Suffrage Association. Left: Jeanette Rankin of Montana, the first woman elected to the House of Representatives. Right: Joseph H. Rainey of South Carolina, the first African American elected to the House of Representatives.

external image Flickr_-_USCapitol_-_Women%27s_Suffrage_Parade%2C_1917.jpg

  1. Seneca Falls Convention:
    • Considered the jumpstart to the women's rights movement. It was the Declaration of Sentiments, that requested equal rights for women and the end of discrimination based on gender


    • Elizabeth Cady Stanton/Susan B. Anthony: Both very influential in the abolitionist movement and the women's rights movement dedicated to making a change. But it is also important to note, that the women's rights movement was for white women, while the abolition movement was for women of color. Both were not fought as a cohesive movement, but as separate entities. Stanton, after fighting passionately to free the slaves relinquished her fight and dedicated her time to the Women's Rights Movement. She created the Women's Bible and was extremely influential for achieving the vote in 1920.


  1. Harriet Beecher Stowe
    • 1852: wrote Uncle Tom's Cabin, which arguably became the jumpstart to the Civil War by introducing controversial issues and carefully crafting the experience of a slave.


Link to Influential Literature page on Harriet Beecher Stowe and Uncle Tom's Cabin


  1. Cotton Mills:
    • Women began to shift from housework, to economically accountable work in the manufacturing industry. While men held the management positions, women and children were responsible for working on the floor in the factories. Men require a hire pay rate than women, so not only were women paid less than the average man, but they were also expected to work unreasonable hours with only a few breaks a day. The working conditions were detrimental to their health and extremely dangerous. While the work was dangerous, conditions awful and the pay unrewarding, the manufacturing industry served as a gateway to independence for women. They become economically self sufficient and moved out of the house. It started to change the framework of the United States and planted the seeds for the second feminist wave.

A major difference between Northern and Southern societies prior to the Civil War is illustrated by the role women played in the
A. establishment of educational institutions in the South.
B. growth of the Northern factory system.
C. emergence of a Southern literary tradition.
D. explosion of religious revivalism in the North.

Answer: B
"In the half-century before the Civil War, women formed a significant part of the labor force in many northeastern factories. This was especially so in the early textile mills, where they tended spindles, operated looms, and performed a variety of finishing tasks. A factory system employing a comparable number of women did not emerge in the South until after the Civil War (Oklahoma Subject Area U.S. History Study Guide).


Frederick Douglass, 1855
Frederick Douglass, 1855



Frederick Douglass: Escaped from slavery as a teenager and eventually moved North for freedom. He created a publication called The North Star and worked for the abolition movement.

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