By 1850 the national territory stretched over forest, plain, and mountain . Within its far-flung lim- its dwelt 23 million people in a Union comprising 31 states . In the East, in- dustry boomed . In the Midwest and the South, agriculture flourished . After 1849 the gold mines of Cali- fornia poured their precious ore into the channels of trade .

New England and the Middle At- lantic states were the main centers of manufacturing, commerce, and finance . Principal products of these areas were textiles, lumber, cloth- ing, machinery, leather, and wool- en goods . The maritime trade had reached the height of its prosper- ity; vessels flying the American flag plied the oceans, distributing wares of all nations .

The South, from the Atlantic to the Mississippi River and beyond, featured an economy centered on agriculture . Tobacco was important in Virginia, Maryland, and North Carolina . In South Carolina, rice was an abundant crop . The climate and soil of Louisiana encouraged the cultivation of sugar . But cotton eventually became the dominant commodity and the one with which the South was identified . By 1850 the American South grew more than 80 percent of the world’s cotton . Slaves cultivated all these crops .

The Midwest, with its bound- less prairies and swiftly growing population, flourished . Europe and the older settled parts of America demanded its wheat and meat products . The introduction of la- bor-saving implements — notably the McCormick reaper (a machine to cut and harvest grain) — made possible an unparalleled increase in grain production . The nation’s wheat crops swelled from some 35 million hectoliters in 1850 to nearly 61 million in 1860, more than half grown in the Midwest .

An important stimulus to the country’s prosperity was the great improvement in transportation fa- cilities; from 1850 to 1857 the Ap- palachian Mountain barrier was pierced by five railway trunk lines linking the Midwest and the North- east . These links established the economic interests that would un- dergird the political alliance of the Union from 1861 to 1865 . The South lagged behind . It was not until the


late 1850s that a continuous line ran through the mountains connecting the lower Mississippi River area with the southern Atlantic seaboard .

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