Explain how conflicting geographical differences between the northern and southern states of America led to the outbreak of the American Civil War. (15 Marks) 

Mentors Comments:

  • World history by Norman Lowe
  • The question is based on the theme of the American Civil War.
  • The question seeks to ascertain the geographical causes of the American Civil War in detail.
  • Briefly introduce the contrast between the geography of northern American and Southern American (Confederate) states.
  • In the main body first brief a little on the context of the question, explain the American civil war.
  • Explain in detail the various geographical factors that led to the War.
  • Interlink the aspects of geography to economy, socio-cultural advancement, political philosophy etc. 
  • Conclude by saying how the election of Abraham Lincoln lit the spark of the Civil War with the secession of southern states


The American Civil War was a civil war fought in the United States from 1861 to 1865, between the North (the Union) and the South (the Confederacy). The Civil War began primarily as a result of the long-standing controversy over the enslavement of black people. Karl Marx defined it as a struggle between two historical epochs – the feudal and the capitalist. The victory of the latter made possible the eventual recognition of the human dignity and the civil rights of African-Americans.

Conflicting geographical differences led to the outbreak of the American Civil war:

  • In the mid-19th century, while the United States was experiencing an era of tremendous growth, a fundamental economic difference existed between the country’s northern and southern regions.
  • In the North, manufacturing and industry was well established, and agriculture was mostly limited to small-scale farms, while the South’s economy was based on a system of large-scale farming that depended on the labour of black slaves to grow certain crops, especially cotton and tobacco.
  • Between 1815 and 1861 the economy of the Northern states was rapidly modernizing and diversifying. Although agriculture—mostly smaller farms that relied on free labour—remained the dominant sector in the North, industrialization had taken root there.
  • Moreover, Northerners had invested heavily in an expansive and varied transportation system that included canals, roads, steamboats, and railroads; in financial industries such as banking and insurance; and in a large communications network that featured inexpensive, widely available newspapers, magazines, and books, along with the telegraph.
  • By contrast, the Southern economy was based principally on large farms (plantations) that produced commercial crops such as cotton and that relied on slaves as the main labour force.
  • Rather than invest in factories or railroads as Northerners had done, Southerners invested their money in slaves—even more than in the land; by 1860, 84 per cent of the capital invested in manufacturing was invested in the free (non-slaveholding) states.
  • The price of cotton, the South’s defining crop, had skyrocketed in the 1850s, and the value of slaves—who were, after all, property—rose commensurately.
  • By 1860 the per capita wealth of Southern whites was twice that of Northerners, and three-fifths of the wealthiest individuals in the country were Southerners.

The other factors that led to the outbreak of the civil war include The Collapse of the Two-Party System between Democrats and Whigs, Slavery in the territories, secession of the states like South Carolina, the elections of 1860 where there was a lack of a candidate with national appeal.

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Akankhya Behera
Akankhya Behera
2 years ago

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