Lesson 1: Antebellum America

Getting Started

The United States was not yet 100 years old when it was torn apart by the Civil War. The divisions between the North and the South that eventually led to war had been widening for some time. In this lesson, you'll learn about what life was like in each region in the antebellum period and how the differences between the two influenced the events leading up to the Civil War. (The term antebellum comes from the Latin words ante, meaning "before," and bellum meaning "war," so antebellum refers to the time before the war, in this case the American Civil War.)

Stuff You Need

  • A History of US Volume 6: War, Terrible War 1855-1865 by Joy Hakim
  • colored pencils
  • hole punch
  • index card
  • scissors
  • tape and/or glue or glue stick
  • two sheets of 9" x 12" colored paper, preferably blue and gray

Ideas to Think About

  • How can conflicts over principles, culture, and values create disunion in a society?
  • How do differences in geography, population, wealth, natural resources, and economic capacity influence a society's power to force the resolution of conflict in its own favor?

Things to Know

  • By the start of the Civil War, there were 22 million people in the North. The North was home to far more factories, a more extensive railway system, and many more large cities than the South.
  • At the start of the Civil War, the South was still a largely agricultural region that was home to roughly 9 million people, over one third of them enslaved. The agricultural economy relied on slave labor on plantations for the production of cash crops (agricultural crops that are produced for sale to make a profit), especially cotton.
  • Antebellum refers to the time period before the American Civil War.
  • The Industrial Revolution refers to the expansion of the use of machines and factories in creating mass-produced goods.
  • Immigration is a foreigner's entrance into a country for purposes of permanent residency.
  • Slavery was a system in which some people were held as the legal property of other people and forced to work for them.
  • A cash crop is an agricultural product grown for sale.


  • Identify changes in society resulting from the Industrial Revolution. (SS)
  • Explain how industry and the mechanization of agriculture changed ways of life in America. (SS)
  • Organize and interpret information in a variety of ways including graphs, charts, timelines, and maps. (SS)
  • Use appropriate mathematical skills to interpret social studies information such as maps or graphs. (SS)
  • Describe the agrarian economy in the South. (SS)
  • Trace the boundaries constituting the North and the South and identify the differences between agrarians and industrialists. (SS)

Introducing the Lesson

Explain to your child that over the next two days he will begin a timeline that he will work on throughout this unit. In this lesson, he will be focusing on the differences between the North and the South leading up to the Civil War.
NOTE: The Reading and Questions section for this lesson refers to three maps from A History of US Volume 6: War, Terrible War 1855-1865, third edition, revised. Previous editions of the book (2003 or before) lack some or all of these maps. If you are using an older edition, your child can use the following websites to answer the map-related questions.
Web Link
Web Link
Reading and Questions
Materials: A History of US Volume 6: War, Terrible War 1855-1865 by Joy Hakim
Look over the map* at the beginning of A History of US: War, Terrible War 1855-1865 by Joy Hakim and read over the information on pages 162-163. Also read pages 9-22 for some background information about the Civil War. Next, answer the questions below.

*You'll notice that the information on the left side of the map shows differences between Union and Confederate areas using ratios. You may be familiar with ratios from your explorations in math and science. A ratio shows the relationship between two amounts. For example, a ratio of 2 to 1 (written 2:1) means that for every 1 of the second thing, there are 2 of the first thing. For example, in A History of US: War, Terrible War 1855-1865, the initial map shows an iron production ratio of 15:1, indicating that fifteen times as much iron was produced in Union areas of the country than in Confederate areas during the Civil War.
  1. Based on the map, which part of the country had more factories and industrial operations, the North or the South? How do you know?
    The North had more factories, which can be seen both in the graphics on the map, which show symbols for industrial and agricultural production, and in the information on the left-hand page which lists the Union as having 10 times the factory production value of the Confederacy.
  2. Describe the kind of work done in the North (see pages 162-163). Who do you think did most of that work and what role did machines play?
    Answers may vary, but your child will probably notice that, in addition to agricultural work, there are many people listed as laborers, carpenters, shoemakers, clerks, tailors, merchants, blacksmiths, and seamstresses. The map of the Northern economy shows mining, shipping, metalworks, textiles, and timber as well as agriculture. Many of these people might have used machines in this kind of work.
  3. Describe the kind of work that was done in the South (see pages 162-163). Who do you think did most of that work and what role did machines play?
    Answers may vary, but your child will probably notice that the jobs listed for Southern states and the map of Southern economies both show much more emphasis on agriculture than industrial capacity. Slaves did much of the agricultural work. Machines played a much smaller role in this kind of work than in the factory work that took place in Northern cities.
  4. What do you see as the biggest differences between the North and South just before the Civil War?
    Answers will vary, but your child may mention that the Southern states tended to be more rural and agricultural while the Northern states had larger cities and more economic emphasis on industry. Slavery, of course, was prevalent in the South and widely supported there while it was illegal in much of the North and challenged by Northern abolitionists.