Antebellum America refers to the period between the end of the Revolution and the beginning of the Civil War. The term (A Latin word meaning pre-war) is generally used with regard to life in the American South, and it deals largely with the issues peculiar to that region. It focuses on matters such as life on the plantation, slavery, the economy of the South, and issues dealing with Southern society in the years before 1861. In this section we will deal primarily with the decades leading up to the Civil War, with special focus on the 1850s. The issues that led to Southern secession and the succeeding Civil War began during the Revolutionary era but intensified after the abolitionist movement began to focus the nation’s attention more and more on the “peculiar institution” of slavery. By 1850, that issue was clearly the dominant area of conflict in American life.

Following the Jeffersonian and Jacksonian, eras the nation began to change, even as it expanded farther to the west. Immigration patterns shifted, new religious sensibilities arose, and cultural issues such as the roles of women in American society evolved. The industrial revolution continued to reshape the American economy, more intensively in the North than in the South, and economic forces altered the lifestyles of most American families. Political alliances and differences among various groups and regions became more sharply focused than had been the case before the Age of Jackson. In all, the changes during the years leading up to the Civil War were profound, and the nation found itself facing challenges both new and old, demanding the attention of the people.

In this section we will focus mostly on the portion of Antebellum America during the decades preceding the Civil War 1830-1850. The decade of the 1850s, which was dominated by the growing intebsity of the debate over slavery, will be covered in the Civil War section.



A brief bibliography below indicates additional sources of information on life in the antebellum South:

  • William J. Cooper Jr. & Thomas E. Terrill. The American South: A History (Volume 1)
  • James C. Cobb. Away Down South: A History of Southern Identity
  • C. Vann Woodward. The Burden of Southern History
  • W.J. Cash. The Mind of the South
  • Elizabeth Fox-Genovese. Within the Plantation Household: Black and White Women of the Old South
  • Robert William Fogel. Without Consent or Contract: The Rise and Fall of American Slavery
Sage Home Expansion & Manifest Destiny Antebellum Home Civil War Updated February 11, 2018