The panic of 1857 initiated a general inquiry between free traders and protectionists into the deficiencies of American economic practices. A key aspect of this debate was the ultimate fate of the American worker, an issue that was given added emphasis by a series of labor demonstrations and strikes. In an attempt to maintain the material welfare of laborers, northerners advocated a program of high tariffs, free western lands, and education. But these proposals elicited the opposition of southerners, who believed that such policies would not serve the needs of the slaves system
. Indeed, many people of the period saw the struggle between North and South as an economic one whose outcome would determine whether laborers would be free and well paid or degraded and poor.
more here: The Panic of 1857 and the Coming of the Civil War by James L. Huston