Economic History of Antebellum US


The United States of 1776 laid its foundation on the ideal
of liberty. “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all
men are created equal...” read the declaration that freed
the U.S. from British rule. In the decade that followed, the
U.S. fought a war and created a government of citizen
participation that became the envy of European citizenry.

America also wanted freedom from British industrial and
economic power. America, a nation of farmers, designed
a manufacturing economy, which, through fortunate
geography and clever political, financial, and intellectual
maneuvering, overcame Britain’s advantages and transformed
the U.S. into an industrial leader.

Meanwhile, geographic and economic forces led the
agricultural South to a plantation economy of cash crops,
mostly tobacco and cotton. Sustained by a set of highly
developed financial and export/import markets, the
American South became a symbol of flamboyant wealth.

Unfortunately, the American ideal of liberty was badly
tainted by two centuries-old institutions. First, African
slavery dominated the Southern economy, forcing millions
of captive Africans into plantation labor. Second,
the institution of female coverture denied fundamental
civil rights to American women.

A large portion of American citizens, however, were
appalled by these transgressions of liberty and morality
and built powerful anti-slavery and women’s rights
movements. This course will:

● examine the cultural and economic forces that
crafted the North’s manufacturing sector into a
powerful industrial economy.
● study the anti-slavery and women’s rights
movements, which came to eclipse America’s
political and family relations.
● explore the economics of slavery, its influence on
the profitability and wealth of Southern plantations
and on the structure of the Southern and U.S.
economies, which led America to a bitter civil war.

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