The Antebellum Years

Though exact dates in history are often the subject of higher criticism, America endured an era known as the “antebellum (Before the war) years” and this speaks (roughly) of an America; post War of 1812, up to the beginning of the Civil War in 1861.

Prior to this antebellum era, the American landscape was comprised almost exclusively of farmers and frontiersmen/woodsmen, but industry was moving forward at a never before seen pace: with the inventions and advancements of the water-powered rolling, cotton gin, steam engine, and other (mostly farming) machinery, America was rapidly changing from a loose connection of states to an industrial nation.

I found an interesting story of a man named Samuel Slater (Born 1768-Died 1835) – “The Father of the American Industrial Revolution” who moved from England to the U.S. in 1789 @ 21 years of age. Samuel came to the U.S. the year our Constitution was ratified by Congress. Samuel was in the U.S. long enough to witness our birth, the War of 1812 and the earliest years of this antebellum period.

Having worked in the textile/fabric factories in England (Built the 1st textile mills in the U.S.), Samuel brought a lot of advanced knowledge of the industry with him to the U.S.

From his emergence on the scene in 1789 until 1815 (End of the War of 1812) there were more than 140 cotton mills within 20 miles of Providence, Rhode Island; and Samuel owned 13 of his own before his death.

While the “South” was primarily known for its agriculture and shipping industries, the North; and Westward expansion, were witnessing not only this onslaught of industrial growth, but a great influx of people migrating to the larger cities.

From Virginia southward to Florida, and westward to the coasts of Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana and Texas, some of America’s greatest shipping ports were found: as the eventual Confederacy (South) would own nearly all eastern sea ports, the “South” was also harassed with increasing and massive import/export taxation and fees, by the Federal Government, though much of those imported goods were headed to people, homes and businesses, in the North.

Population, industrial and economic growths were the single largest contributing factors that gave the north a greater advantage in the ensuing Civil War of 1861-1865. The continued progression of free and slave states and territories, saw its infancy even before America declared independence from Great Britain, up to the ratification of the 13th amendment to the U.S. Constitution in 1865; which officially abolished slavery.

The abolition movement itself was furthered spurred on by other social movements such as women’s rights and labor movements: women’s suffrage itself almost lost its infancy fight for what would become the 19th amendment, due to many southern white women not wanting to stand on/with the abolition movement itself, with many believing that standing with abolitionists, would hurt their own cause.

This antebellum era saw some of the largest labor union movements in American history. In major cities such as Baltimore, Boston, Philadelphia, Cleveland, Detroit and New York, manufacturing was booming, but laborers suffered tremendously under 12-14 hour shifts, horrid and unsafe working conditions.

These long shifts, no benefits and dangerous working conditions were not exclusive to men only, with women and children comprising a good portion of labor positions in manufacturing. States; beginning with New Hampshire (1847) and Pennsylvania (1848), passed more and more legislation, protecting Union’s

Religion itself grew exponentially in the antebellum era, and played a major role in the abolition movement; as for many, slavery was indeed, a sin. In addition to slavery, this religious movement also played a role in the women’s movement, child labor, and other social and cultural areas of life, economic concerns and even political areas.

The antebellum era was also witness to the peak (1820-1850) of the “The 2nd Great Awakening” (1790-1850). A tremendous revival that focused largely on conversion to the Christian faith, a return to higher moral standards, condemnation of alcohol, and with a particular emphasis on curing many of society’s ills: slavery, women’s rights, and other things viewed as “sin”, in eager anticipation of the return of Christ. For many, a focus was to bring heaven to earth, by creating it through their own actions and piety.

As history records in its name, this “Antebellum” Era closes with the looming Civil War.

Our next segment in our History series.