The Civil War and the Homestead Act
As Thomas Jefferson predicted it must sooner or later, in 1861 the American nation came to a resolution of great questions long delayed:
Would limits be set to the expansion of slavery into the territories of the West?
Would the leaders of the United States advance the ideal of a republic of free and independent yeomen by giving them preference in the allocation of the public domain, or would they receive only what was left after its most desirable portions were wholesaled in aggregates to speculators and to plantation owners?
Would the South shake itself free of British colonial-imperialism by diversifying its agriculture and then enlarging the worldview of its planter elite?
Would the requirements of the land itself be heeded—would its voice be heard—before it was so weakened as to be incapable of supporting a diverse and independent economy?
The North had become able to manufacture nearly all its own needs and also to produce surplus food and fiber for both foreign and domestic markets. The South, by contrast, was still importing most of its tools, clothing, and luxury goods. Its obsession with cotton, produced in haste and by slave labor, depreciated its land, and thus reduced its ultimate power base. The reliance of its production system upon slaves was becoming disagreeable to a growing element of British aristocratic opinion. Quite aside from what they were doing to their slaves, the planters were alienating many enlightened middleclass people by their increasingly repressive treatment of other whites. It seemed to many that the South was turning the benign face of Jefferson's