Part 1 In "The Similarities Between the Antebellum North and South," Edward Pessen argues that the pre-Civil War North and South were much more alike than conventional scholarship supposes. Traditionally, historians have assumed that, because slavery was such a predominant factor in the South and so scarce in the North, it led to other significant differences which aggravated the onset of the Civil War.
Pessen contends that the differences were far outweighed by the similarities, and he supports his argument with considerable evidence. While the agricultural specialization of each region differed as the result of differing climatic conditions, for instance, farming in both areas followed similar patterns. Farmers in both regions were self-sufficient but were part of a complex economic system. Pessen believes that historians have focused on superficial differences instead of essential similarities of economic, social, and political systems.
Class distinctions followed similar patterns in both regions, and wealth was distributed in the same unequal way in both North and South. Urban development in the South followed the same structure as that of the North, and "Southern whites, rural and urban, lived as did Northerners - in a stratified society marked by great inequalities in status, material condition, and opportunity" (Pessen 57).
Pessen suggests that traditional historical interpretation has sought to emphasize regional differences in order to explain the Civil War. Yet he notes, "Wars between strikingly dissimilar antagonists break out not necessarily because of their differences, important as these are, but because of their equally significant similarities" (63).
James M. McPherson's "The Differences Between the Antebellum North and South" is a response to Pessen's article. McPherson argues that superficial similarities can be found among almost any societies, especially those existing near one another at the...