Throughout the passages from diaries, letters and newspaper accounts from Northerners and Southerners in Voices from the House Divided the subject of class and social order provides a consistent contrast between the two sides. Southern attitudes conform to a general view of the hierarchical nature of their society. But the Northern writers reflect the incredible fluidity of Union society where the assumption of equality is terribly important but is often just a convenient means of building up a different kind of hierarchy -- one based on merit among those who can prove themselves.
Mary Chestnut's remarks about the universal education in the North touch on the comparison of attitudes perfectly. She is given the letters of a dead Union soldier and notes that "one might shed a few tears" over some of his letters -- women being the same everywhere (17). But then she notes "what a comfort the spelling was" (17). They had been willing, she notes, to admit that universal schooling could have put the North ahead of the South in some ways. But the letters seem to demonstrate that this is not true -- "the spelling is comically bad" (17).
Underlying Chestnut's remarks, which are a casual part of her longer entry, is the nagging fear many Southerners had regarding the manifest ability of the North to progress economically and socially while the south stagnated in its adherence to the old order. Slavery, for the Southerners, was merely the name given (by Northerners) to those who occupied the lowest rung of their social ladder. By calling attention to the fact that this bottom rung of the ladder (source of most of their economic power) was only held in place by the force of chains made the Southerners angry. Leaving aside the immorality of slavery, they were seeing the very fabric of their social order come under attack.
Maria Daly similarly realizes that slavery is merely the starting point in the eradication of a social order...