Diversity in Antebellum America
During the Antebellum Period, the differences between the lives and political demands of Americans in the North, South and West became clearer. Americans had long tended to have strong loyalties to their respective states and regions. This tendency grew stronger in the decades before the Civil War. Thus, although the struggles of small farmers in all regions may have been similar, most saw themselves as northerners, southerners or, westerners first, and farmers second.
Nevertheless, agriculture was one major issue which affected all Americans. Despite continued industrialization, the nation was still predominantly agricultural. In addition to people who worked on farms, forming the majority of the labor force, urban dwellers were concerned about the agricultural industry because of its affect on food prices. Merchants also closely followed the status of American agriculture, since many American exports, including cotton and tobacco, were agricultural products.
On small family farms, all members of the family would take part in the work, which began early in the morning and continued at least until sunset. Children might attend school, but only sporadically and rarely beyond the elementary school level. In the cities, adults worked mostly in clerical or service industries, as well as a relative few in factories. Children attended school more consistently than those in rural areas, but regular attendence was still rare.
While life on the farm was hard and sometimes lacking in excitement, it was generally safer than life in the lively, but often dangerous city. Cities provided opportunities to meet diverse people and take part in a wide range of activities. Theaters hosted local and traveling performers. Societies and organizations of all kinds flourished. Fancy hotels and restaurants began to appear. Nevertheless, the high crime rates, frequent fires and poor sanitation threatened the lives and well-being of residents. Overcrowding in slums and tenements was also dangerous for the rural newcomers and the many immigrants who spent at least some time in the urban centers of the United States.