In his “Lords of the Loom” study of the years preceding the war, author Thomas H. O’Conner asserts that “Throughout much of traditional historical literature, the conservative Northern Whigs in the decades before the Civil War have either been completely overlooked, or else dismissed out of hand with vague generalizations.” He further credits fellow author Vernon Parrington with cautioning his readers that “the Puritan and the Yankee were two halves of the New England whole.” Conner’s book is the story of what happened “when the Puritan conscience collided head-on with the Yankee zeal for profit – when the moral desire to uproot the evils of slavery reached the point where it had to be weighed against the economic demands for more slave-grown cotton” – for New England mills.
Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.org
Money Versus Morality Up North
“In 1941, Philip Foner, in his “Business and Slavery,” made an appeal for a more detailed study of the Northern businessman and his reaction to the coming of the Civil War. Countering the popular interpretation that the war was a product of two conflicting economic systems, Professor Foner presented his own observations regarding the concerted efforts of the New York financial interests to check any and all movements which tended to precipitate an intersectional struggle.
Foner’s challenge has failed to arouse very much historical enthusiasm, apparently, for many recent historical treatments of the critical years before the Civil War continue to generalize upon the essential economic antagonisms of the North and the South, and still look upon the Northern industrialist as the catalytic agent which propelled the sections into bloody warfare.
One of the most distinctive presentations of this economic point of view came into the twentieth century with the writings of Charles Beard. The South, according to Beard, was an area of “planters operating in a limited territory with incompetent labor on soil of diminishing fertility,” in contrast to the industrial men of the North who “swept forward . . . exulting in the approaching triumph of machine industry, [and who] warned the planters of their ultimate subjection.”
The economic interpretation was carried into the twenties by the work of Vernon Parrington . . . enthusiastic about the “agrarian democracy” of the West, sympathetic at times toward the interest of the South, Parrington had little regard for the ideals of a middle class which was busily engaged in “creating a plutocracy.” In the decades before the war, claimed Parrington, the major parties of the United States chose to follow the economic interests of “master groups, heedless of all humanitarian issues”; and once the war was over, the “slave economy could never again thwart the ambitions of the capitalist economy.”
[Despite considerable evidence to the contrary], Writers continue to generalize upon New England’s “hatred of Southerners and their institutions” and often describe this hatred so intense that New England would “do everything possible to destroy slavery.”
(Lords of the Loom: The Cotton Whigs and the Coming of the Civil War, Thomas H. O’Conner, Charles Scribner’s & Sons, 1968, excerpts pp. 1- 6)