Life in the North & South in Pre-Civil War America: Lesson for Kids

Lesson Transcript
Ashley Davis

Ashley has taught first, fourth, and fifth grades and holds a master's degree in Curriculum and Instruction.

Expert Contributor
Lesley Chapel

Lesley has taught American and World History at the university level for the past seven years. She has a Master's degree in History.

In this lesson, you'll learn about differences between the North and the South in pre-Civil War America. This lesson will focus on the differences in the economies. You will also learn about slave life in the South and ways slaves rebelled. Updated: 10/13/2020

Differences in the North and South

Think about the last time you went to a friend's home. Does your friend's family do everything the same as yours? Probably not, even if they live right down the street. This is exactly what happened in our country before the Civil War. Different areas did things differently, and it divided the country. The United States was so divided that there was even a boundary, called the Mason-Dixon Line, an imaginary line that divided the country into the North and South.

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  • 0:04 Differences in the…
  • 0:28 Economy of the North
  • 0:58 Economy of the South
  • 1:33 Divided but Connected
  • 2:20 A Slave's Life
  • 2:55 Lesson Summary
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Economy of the North

In the North, farming was important for a family's food production, but it was not a way of life. The rocky soil and climate in the area did not promote farming. This led the development of an industrial economy in the North, an economy in which manufacturing and textile development, fishing, and whaling were the primary means to gain wealth. Additionally, northern states and residents were very involved in the development of the railroad system in the United States. The diverse opportunities of the North allowed it to grow at a faster rate than the South.

Economy of the South

Unlike the North, the South relied on an agricultural economy, an economy in which farming was the primary means of wealth. In fact, here, wealth was frequently measured by how much land and how many slaves you owned. Plantations, or large farms, boasted hundreds of acres of land on which to grow cash crops, or plants grown that could be sold for cash. Mainly, plantation owners focused on growing cotton, indigo plants (plants used for their blue dye), and tobacco, which they could sell quickly and easily. Southerners just focused on selling their crops instead of creating and selling goods with the crops they grew.

Divided But Connected

As you're learning, the North and South did things very differently. Despite the differences, the North's economy was supported by the South's, and the South's economy was supported by the North's. Since the North had an industrial economy focused on manufacturing, it needed the crops grown in the South to produce goods. For instance, a northern textile factory would need cotton from the South to develop its fabrics. Therefore, many of the materials grown in the South were sold to northern industry owners.

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Additional Activities

Prompts About Life in the North and South Before the Civil War for Kids:

Definitions Prompt:

In your own words, provide the definitions of all of the bolded terms from the lesson (Mason-Dixon Line, industrial economy, agricultural economy). Each definition should be one to two sentences in length.

Example: Farming is the main component of an agricultural economy.

Graphic Organizer Prompt:

Create a chart, poster, or some other type of graphic organizer that compares and contrasts the economy of the North to the economy of the South. You could use drawings to illustrate different parts of the two economies.

Example: You could draw cotton for one part of the South's agricultural economy and you could draw a fisherman for one part of the North's industrial economy.

Essay Prompt 1:

Write an essay of one paragraph that explains how the Northern and Southern economies were connected, in spite of their differences. Also make sure that your essay answers the following question: Why couldn't Southerners sell their products to Europe?

Example: Since the South lacked railroad development, Southerners could not move agricultural products to seaports for shipment to Europe.

Essay Prompt 2:

In one paragraph, write an essay that describes the life of a slave in the South. Also make sure that your essay answers the following question: How did slaves rebel against their owners?

Example: Slaves could steal or destroy their owners' crops.

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