Sectionalism is the expression of loyalty or support to a particular region of one’s country, rather than the country as a whole. In contrast to simple feelings of local pride, sectionalism arises from deeper cultural, economic, or political differences and can lead to violent civil strife, including insurrections. In the United States, for example, the enslavement of the African people created feelings of sectionalism that eventually led to the Civil War fought between Southerners, who supported it, and Northerners, who opposed it. In this context, sectionalism is the opposite of nationalism —the conviction that national interests must always be placed before regional concerns.
Sectionalism in the Civil War
On June 16, 1858, three years before the Civil War, then US Senate candidate and future US President Abraham Lincoln prophetically warned that “A house divided against itself cannot stand.” In these words, Lincoln was referring to the deepening regional divisions over the enslavement of the African people that threatens to tear the young nation apart.
The regional divisions Lincoln spoke of first appeared during the great westward expansion that began in the early 1800s. The industrial East and Northeast were irritated to see their younger, more capable workers drawn to new opportunities in the growing western territories. . At the same time, the West was developing its sectional sentiments based on the colonists’ common sense “rude individualism” and the belief that they were being disrespected and exploited by wealthy Eastern businessmen. Although slavery was also spreading to the West, most people in the North still ignored it.
By far the strongest and most visible feelings of sectionalism during the 1850s were growing in the south. Sidelined by its dependence on agriculture rather than industry, the South considered slavery – already largely abolished in the North – essential to its economic and cultural survival. In fact, however, fewer than 1,800 of the South’s total white population of over 6 million owned more than 100 slaves in 1850. These large plantation owners were held in high esteem and considered the economic and political leaders of the South. As such, its cultural values - including virtually unanimous support for the enslavement of African people – came to be shared by all levels of southern society.
The South’s disdain for the North increased when the US Congress, then controlled by the Northerners, voted to annex one new western territory after another, on the condition that slavery was never permitted within its borders.
The sectional conflict between North and South reached new heights in 1854 when Congress passed the Kansas-Nebraska Act annexing the vast territory between the Missouri River and the Rocky Mountains. While aiming to ease sectoral tensions by offering a lasting solution to the contentious issue of slavery, the project had the opposite effect. When Nebraska and Kansas were finally admitted to the Union as free states, the South resolved to defend slavery at all costs.
When Abraham Lincoln was elected president in 1860, the South saw secession as the only way to retain slavery. After South Carolina became the first state to withdraw from the Union on December 20, 1860, the ten Southern Low states soon followed . Half-hearted attempts by outgoing President James Buchanan to stop secession failed. In Congress, a proposed compromise measure intended to appease the South by extending the 1850 Missouri Compromise line separating the free and pro-slavery states from the Pacific Ocean also failed. When the federal military forts in the South began to be overrun by separatist forces, war became inevitable.
On April 12, 1861, less than a month after President Abraham Lincoln took office, southern forces attacked Fort Sumter, South Carolina. Spurred on by the divisive effects of sectionalism in America, the Civil War – the bloodiest conflict in the country’s history – had formally begun.
Other examples of sectionalism
While slavery in the United States is perhaps the most cited example of sectionalism, profound regional differences also played roles in the development of other countries.
Among the four constituent countries of the United Kingdom, sectionalism figured most prominently in the development of modern Scotland, where strongly sectionalise political parties and factions first appeared in the 1920s. Most prominent among them was the Scottish National League (SNL). ), formed in London in 1921. Created by leaders of earlier sectionalise parties (the Highland Land League and the National Committee), the SNL campaigned for Scottish independence reflecting the ancient traditions of Gaelic popular sovereignty. Eventually, the UK granted the Scottish Parliament the authority to control Scotland’s laws, judicial system, and home affairs, while the UK Parliament retained control of defense and security.
In 1928 the National League of Scotland reorganized itself as the National Party of Scotland, and in 1934 it merged with the Scottish Party to form the Scottish National Party, which today continues to work towards complete Scottish Independence from the United Kingdom and the rest of the United Kingdom. European Union.
In 1977, the once-French colony of Quebec began a movement to gain independence from Canada as its own French-speaking sovereign country. Quebec is the only Canadian province where French-speaking citizens constitute a majority, while English speakers are an officially recognized minority group. According to the 2011 Canadian census, nearly 86% of the population of Quebec speaks French at home, while less than 5% of the population does not speak French. However, the French-speaking people of Quebec feared that continued Canadian control would erode their language and culture.
In 1980 and again in 1995, Quebec held referendum votes to decide whether to remain a Canadian province or become an independent country. Although the margin was significantly smaller in the 1995 referendum, independence was rejected in both votes, leaving Quebec under the control of the Canadian government. However, as a result of the independence movement, the Canadian government granted the indigenous people of northern Quebec Inuit people a degree of self-government, helping them maintain their traditional language and culture.
Sectionalism can currently be found in the Spanish region of Catalonia, a semi-autonomous region of around 7.5 million people in northeastern Spain. The wealthy region has its own language, parliament, police force, flag and anthem. Fiercely loyal to their land, Catalans had long complained that the Spanish government in Madrid was allocating a disproportionately large share of its tax dollars to the poorest parts of Spain. In an October 1, 2017 referendum declared illegal by the Spanish Constitutional Court, around 90% of Catalan voters supported independence from Spain. On 27 October, the separatist-controlled Catalan parliament declared independence.
In retaliation, Madrid imposed a direct constitutional rule on Catalonia for the first time in its 1,000-year history. The Spanish government sacked Catalan leaders, dissolved the region’s parliament and, on December 21, 2017, held a special election, won by the Spanish nationalist parties. Former Catalan president Carles Puigdemont has fled and remains wanted in Spain, accused of raising a rebellion.
After the Soviet Union‘s collapse in 1991, the former Cold War Soviet satellite country of Ukraine became an independent unitary state . However, some regions of Ukraine remained densely populated by Russian loyalists. This division of sectionalise loyalties resulted in rebellions in the eastern regions of Ukraine, including the self-declared republics of the Donetsk People’s Republic, the Luhansk People’s Republic and the Crimean Peninsula.
In February 2014, Russian troops took control of Crimea and held a disputed referendum in which Crimean voters chose to secede and join Russia. Although the United States, along with many other nations and the UN, have refused to recognize the validity of Russia’s annexation of Crimea, its control remains disputed between Ukraine and the Russian Federation.