Amid all the printer's ink and historical speculation, the antebellum period (approx. 1820-1860) has largely been ignored until recently. The antebellum period often gets lost between the better-documented Federalist and Victorian eras. Well-educated adults are often unsure of the meaning of the term antebellum or relegate the entire pre-Civil War era to Margaret Mitchell's images of Clayton County, Georgia in Gone with the Wind with its magnolia-scented plantations, hoop skirts, and flirtatious Southern Belles.
While Mitchell's view of the Old South was not too far removed from the truth, and deserves its venerated place as a work of fiction and cinematography, it is far from giving a full historical view of all of antebellum America. Americans were acutely aware of the business climate and political activities taking place across the globe and not only those of local importance. While the speed of modern communications would be incomprehensible to them, antebellum Americans did not live in a box sealed off from the rest of the world. As will be seen, there is ample evidence that Americans affected and were affected by occurrences that took place oceans away. They were expansionists, not isolationists. Moreover, antebellum Americans were seaman, merchants, and traders; students, visitors and expatriates; Northerners, Southerners, and emigrants; who fully participated in an empire of goods coming from sources in every corner of the world. Here in this pretty world gallantry took its last bow.