The northern states preferred tariffs (taxes on imported goods) to make foreign goods more expensive than locally made goods. This would encourage people to buy the cheaper local goods. The southern states preferred tax-free trade with Britain in order to get cheap manufactured goods in exchange for raw cotton.
Britain had shipped a large number of Africans to its North American colonies to work as slaves in the tobacco, sugar cane and cotton plantations there. The Africans were captured and shipped in the most wretched conditions to a foreign country, to live and work amidst a people very different from them in terms of race, colour, language and religion. The slaves had no rights and received no wages for their labour.
They were bought and sold, given away as gifts and even gambled away like any other property. There were no laws to protect them from the cruel treatment they often received from their masters. They lived in unhygienic conditions, were often badly fed and suffered from various diseases. Many were worked to death.
After the USA gained independence, slave labour continued to be used in the cotton plantations of the southern states. The slave trade gained new strength here when the Industrial Revolution increased the demand for cotton. In the northern states, on the other hand, most people worked in factories as paid labourers. Farms were few and small, and could afford to pay the labourers they employed. The northern states were influenced by liberal ideas, and between 1777 and 1804 most of them abolished slavery and became ‘free states’. The ‘slave states’ of the south opposed the abolition of slavery.
As industries expanded in the USA, a large number of settlers arrived from Europe, especially from Ireland, Britain and Germany. Most of them preferred to settle in the north.
Thus, the north soon had a much larger population than the south. The settlers from Europe brought with them knowledge of new developments in science and technology. This contributed to the industrial growth of the northern states. The unexplored territories in the western regions of North America began to be explored and people from the USA began to settle there.
Some newly settled territories were absorbed into the USA as new states. The Southerners (people of the southern states) wanted the new states to be slave states, while the Northerners (people of the northern states) wanted them to be Free states. A movement for the abolition of slavery began in the north and gained strength around 1830. Those who joined this movement were called abolitionists.
Compromise of 1850:
Initially, new territories were absorbed in a manner that ensured an equal number of slave states and free states.
This was done to ensure the even distribution of seats in the Senate between slave states and Free states. A problem arose in 1849, when the territory of California wanted to join the USA as a free state. The Congress feared that the southern states would break away from the union if the balance between the slave states and Free states was disturbed. Ultimately, in 1850, California was allowed to join as a free state. This tilted the balance in favour of the Free states.
To please the slave states, the law providing for the capture and return of fugitive (runaway) slaves was made stricter than before.
Fugitive Slave Act (1850):
According to the Fugitive Slave Act (1850), runaway slaves had to be returned to their masters. The law also punished individuals who helped slaves to escape. The Fugitive Slave Act (1850) was strongly resented by the abolitionists.
In 1852, Harriet Beecher Stowe’s book Uncle Tom’s Cabin was published. It described the pathetic condition of the slaves in America and roused widespread popular resentment against slavery.