American Civil War Reconstruction Essay

Essay on The Civil War and Reconstruction

The Civil War was the turning point in the US history, while the Reconstruction era has completed the achievements of the Civil War and changes launched by the war. At the same time, the outcomes of the Civil War and Reconstruction were disappointing to a large part of the US population, especially slave, whose liberation was one of the major drivers of the Civil War, but the Reconstruction granted them with basic rights and liberties. However, the position of African Americans did not change much. Nevertheless, the Civil War and Reconstruction have laid the foundation to the further development of the US as one nation but, at the same time, the Civil War and Reconstruction have laid the foundation to the further controversies between different social groups in the US society, such as the social tension between different racial groups.

Causes of the Civil War

The major cause of the Civil was slavery and attempts of its abolition triggered Southern states to protect their economic interests and traditional social order based on the exploitation of slaves. The slave labor comprised the core of Southern economy since slaves were employed on cotton plantations and other fields which allowed Southern states to boost their export of cotton mainly. In such a situation, the abolition of slavery would undermine the Southern economy

Furthermore, the growing disparity between industrialized North and Agricultural South misbalanced the power of Northern and Southern states. Slavery prevented South from radical changes and rapid industrialization, while the North needed resources available on the South and wanted to export capital to continue the industrialization of the nation.

Political struggle between abolitionist and proponents of slavery at the top political level laid the political ground for the Civil War. In this regard, attempts of Southern states to preserve larger rights and liberties that provided them with the larger autonomy and sovereignty confronted the growing pressure from the part of the federal government that attempted to take broader control over states.

Civil War

Lincoln’s election as the President of the US triggered the secession of Southern states, who opposed to his policy of the abolition of slavery in the US. Southern states were unwilling to remain in the union with states opposing slavery, while the election of the President A. Lincoln meant the high probability of the abolition of slavery and Lincoln had started this policy since the beginning of his Presidency, as he took the office.

In response to the election of Lincoln, Southern states declared the secession from the US. Hence, the attempts of the North to regain the unity of the nation resulted in the outbreak of active military actions in the course of the Civil War (Epperson 192). The major developments of the Civil War included the Naval war which resulted in the blockade of Southern states but the superior navy of Northern states.

As the major ports were blocked, Southern states had grown exhausted and running out of resources essential for the maintenance of the struggle against the union forces. At this point, it is worth mentioning the fact that the North attempted to undermine the situation in Southern states, declaring the abolition of slavery and freeing all slaves, as the Northern army advanced southward (Norton 159). In such a way, they gained the support of slaves, who were eager to set themselves free. The Emancipation Proclamation issued by Lincoln in 1863 guaranteed the liberation of all slaves in rebellious states.

In addition, the Northern army recruited African Americans, who joined Northerners in their struggle against Southern states. Eventually, the South had proved to be unable to restrain the assaults of the North and the war ended up in 1865 after four consecutive years of struggle and battles (Watson 125). At this point, it is important to place emphasis on the fact that slavery and policies conducted by the North in relation to slavery had had a considerable impact on the development and outcome of the war. The attempts to abolish slavery triggered the outbreak of the Civil War. During the War, Northern states undermined the economic situation in the South encouraging slaves to rebel against their masters in the South and join the Northern army which they perceived as the liberation army. In such a way, Northern states destabilized the situation in Southern states, undermined their economy and used slaves and their liberation as an important part of their strategy that led them to the overall success in the war. In such a situation, they used their technological superiority and naval blockade to complete the defeat of the South and finally declared the official abolition of slavery nationwide as the result of the war to show that the war had reached its major goal that actually became the primary cause of the war.

Outcomes of the Civil War and Reconstruction

Furthermore, by the end of the war, the Thirteenth Amendment to the US Constitution was implemented and granted slaves with freedom making the Emancipation Proclamation norms universal and permanent. In such a way, the Thirteenth Amendment brought freedom to slaves nationwide and formally abolished slavery in the US.

At first glance, the major goal of the Civil War was achieved but the abolition of slavery alone was not enough to integrate former slaves into the US society and make them a part of the nation. Instead, further legislative changes were needed since slaves should have equal rights and opportunities to exercise their freedom (Watson 175). Otherwise, they would have changed nothing but their formal status to freemen.

In response to the urgent need of changing the legal and socioeconomic status of former slaves, the US Congress implemented the Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendments to the US Constitution in 1868 and 1870 respectively (Epperson 188). These amendments formally guaranteed African Americans with equal rights and liberties compared to white Americans and eliminated the existing semi-slavery which persisted shortly after the Civil War, when slaves were freed but had not got equal rights and liberties and their legal status was uncertain.

At the same time, the Reconstruction had failed to bring the consistent improvement to the socioeconomic status of former slaves. African Americans had equal rights and liberties just like other citizens of the US but they did not have economic opportunities to enhance their position in the society. For instance, they did not have opportunities to find a good employment and high wages because they were low-qualified labor force but the main problem was their desperate poverty, which forced them to agree to work for next to nothing simply to survive (Norton 182). In such a situation, they turned out to be in a desperate position and held the lowest socioeconomic standing in the US society.

Nevertheless, the liberation of African Americans still resulted in the tightening competition in the labor market, especially in the South which suffered from considerable economic losses. In fact, the Civil War had disastrous effects which had affected the development of Southern states of the US for a long time (Epperson 211). The export of cotton was almost ruined by the end of the war. The liberation of slaves undermined the economy of South because landowners could not exploit the free labor force. Instead, they had to hire freedmen or poor whites. In such a situation, Southern states needed a lot of time to recover.

However, the poor economic situation in the South caused the social unrest, racial discrimination and oppression of African Americans, whom white Americans kept treating in the South as mere commodities. In such a situation, the whites opposed to the liberation of slaves. To ensure the protection of rights and liberties of African Americans and defeat any attempts of reviving Confederate mood in the South, Lincoln introduced Freedmen’s Bureau in 1865 which was the government agency aiming at the protection of rights of African Americans. The Freedmen Bureau helped African Americans to get freedom and find employment and urged former slave owners to liberate their slaves and rebuilding their plantations to create jobs for African Americans.

However, the post-war resistance of Southern states was so strong that the government had to deploy the army to make land and slave owners to liberate slaves and protect their basic rights and liberties. In such a way, the government attempted to protect African Americans and helped them to improve their position in the society but these efforts were insufficient and short-running. More important, in response to such protectionist government policies, white Southerners launched their organization which aimed at the maintenance of the white supremacy and ongoing oppression of African Americans as second-class citizens. For instance, Ku Klux Klan emerged during the Reconstruction and cases of lynching of African Americans in Southern states of the US were quire frequent that justified the deployment of the army to protect African Americans shortly after the Civil War.

 At the same time, the abolition of slavery, the liberation of slaves and their integration into the US society were not the only goals of the government policy during the Reconstruction. In fact, one of the main goals of the government was to regain control over all states and preserve the US as one nation, as a united country. In such a situation, even the deployment of the army in Southern states during the Reconstruction had dubious goals (Richardson 164). Along with the protection of African American population, the army maintained the authority of the federal government and minimized any risk of the attempt of the new rebel which could outbreak easily, if there were no government troops that could oppress any rebellion fast.

Moreover, the focus of the federal government on needs of African Americans and their integration into the US society was short run. In fact, as soon as the federal government had managed to take control over all states and establish socioeconomic and political stability, the government had started to complete the Reconstruction and refuse from any additional policies, government agencies and other strategies that required additional resources to protect rights and liberties of African Americans and their socioeconomic position in the US society (Norton 188). In fact, by the end of the Reconstruction, millions of African Americans were left on their own with their economic and social problems, stumbling through their life in desperate poverty and their position in the US society had not changed much since the Civil War.

Conclusion

Thus, the Civil War and Reconstruction contributed to consistent changes in the US society among which the abolition of slavery was the main change that took place in the US in that time. However, the abolition of slavery, as the primary goal of the Civil War, brought African Americans freedom but not equal rights, liberties and opportunities. In fact, their rights and liberties were expanded as they got equal rights and liberties after the implementation of the Thirteenth, Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendments to the US Constitution (Watson 215). However, efforts of the federal government to provide African Americans with jobs and better life, they still remained in a disadvantageous position by the end of the Reconstruction, as the Freedmen’s Bureau folded up its operations and the federal government distanced from the support of African Americans. At the same time, the American Civil War and Reconstruction had achieved successfully another goal, which was not declared openly. The war and Reconstruction completed the profound economic change abolition the outdated mode of production, slavery, and expanding opportunities for the rapid industrialization of the entire nation, from the North to South. In addition, the war and Reconstruction had enhanced the role of the federal government, its authority and decreased the sovereignty of people and autonomy of states.

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Always use specific historical examples to support your arguments.

Study Questions

1.

In what ways was Reconstruction a success? A failure? Explain.

Reconstruction was a success in that it restored the United States as a unified nation: by 1877, all of the former Confederate states had drafted new constitutions, acknowledged the Thirteenth, Fourteenth, and Fifteenth Amendments, and pledged their loyalty to the U.S. government. Reconstruction also finally settled the states’ rights vs. federalism debate that had been an issue since the 1790s.

However, Reconstruction failed by most other measures: Radical Republican legislation ultimately failed to protect former slaves from white persecution and failed to engender fundamental changes to the social fabric of the South. When President Rutherford B. Hayes removed federal troops from the South in 1877, former Confederate officials and slave owners almost immediately returned to power. With the support of a conservative Supreme Court, these newly empowered white southern politicians passed black codes, voter qualifications, and other anti-progressive legislation to reverse the rights that blacks had gained during Radical Reconstruction. The U.S. Supreme Court bolstered this anti-progressive movement with decisions in the Slaughterhouse Cases, the Civil Rights Cases, and United States v. Cruikshank that effectively repealed the Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendments and the Civil Rights Act of 1875.

Meanwhile, the sharecropping system—essentially a legal form of slavery that kept blacks tied to land owned by rich white farmers—became widespread in the South. With little economic power, blacks ended up having to fight for civil rights on their own, as northern whites lost interest in Reconstruction by the mid-1870s. By 1877, northerners were tired of Reconstruction, scandals, radicals, and the fight for blacks’ rights. Reconstruction thus came to a close with many of its goals left unaccomplished.

2.

Some historians have suggested that had Lincoln not been assassinated, Radical Republicans in the House might have impeached him instead of Andrew Johnson. Defend this argument.

Radical Republicans in Congress might have impeached President Lincoln after the Civil War, had he not been assassinated, because he and Congress had contrasting visions for handling postwar Reconstruction. Ultimately, however, Congress ended up impeaching President Andrew Johnson, who followed many parts of Lincoln’s blueprint for Reconstruction.

In 1863, Lincoln wanted to end the Civil War as quickly as possible. He feared that strong northern public support for the war would wane if the fighting continued and knew that the war was also taking an enormous toll on northern families and resources. Lincoln worried that if the war dragged on, a settlement would be reached that would leave the North and South as two separate nations. As it turned out, his fears were justified: by late 1863, an increasing number of Democrats were calling for a truce and peaceful resolution to the conflict.

As a result, in the Proclamation of Amnesty and Reconstruction of 1863, Lincoln drafted lenient specifications for secessionist states for readmission into the Union—an attempt to entice Unionists and those tired of fighting in the South to surrender. His Ten-Percent Plan, part of the proclamation, called for southern states to be readmitted into the Union after 10 percent of the voting public swore a loyalty oath to the United States. In addition, he offered to pardon all Confederate officials and pledged to protect southerners’ private property. Lincoln did not want Reconstruction to be a long, drawn-out process; rather, he wanted the states to draft new constitutions so that the Union could be quickly restored.

Radical Republicans, on the other hand, wanted the South to pay a price for secession and believed that Congress, not the president, should direct the process of Reconstruction. The Radical Republicans saw serious flaws in Civil War–era southern society and were adamant that the South needed full social rehabilitation to resemble the North. Many Republican Congressmen also aimed to improve education and labor conditions to benefit all of the oppressed classes in southern society, black and white. To quicken this transformation of the South, Congress passed a series of progressive legislation, including the Civil Rights Act of 1866, the First and Second Reconstruction Acts, the Ku Klux Klan Act of 1871, the Civil Rights Act of 1875, and the Thirteenth, Fourteenth, and Fifteenth Amendments to the U.S. Constitution.

In the end, Radical Republicans in the House impeached President Andrew Johnson in 1868 because he repeatedly blocked their attempt to pass radical legislation. For example, Johnson vetoed the Civil Rights Act of 1866, the Freedmen’s Bureau charter, and the ratification of the Fourteenth Amendment, all of which were progressive, “radical” bills. Had Lincoln remained alive, he might have been in the same position himself: he wanted Reconstruction to end quickly and did not necessarily favor progressive legislation. Indeed, Lincoln had made it clear during the Civil War that he was fighting to restore the Union, not to emancipate slaves. It is likely that Lincoln thus would have battled with Congress over the control of Reconstruction, blocked key Reconstruction policies, and met as vindictive a House as Johnson did 1868.

3.

Explain how three of the following shaped northern politics during Reconstruction: a) black codes b) the Depression of 1873 c) Crédit Mobilier d) the “Swing Around the Circle” speeches e) the Resumption Act of 1875

The Crédit Mobilier scandal, the Depression of 1873, and the Resumption Act of 1875 focused attention away from the South and onto political and economic woes in the North. All three thus played a role in ending Reconstruction.

In the 1860s, executives of the Union Pacific Railroad created a dummy construction company called Crédit Mobilier and then hired themselves out as contractors at high rates to earn large profits. The executives bribed dozens of Congressmen and cabinet members in Ulysses S. Grant’s administration, including Grant’s vice president, to allow the scam to work. The scheme was eventually exposed, and many politicians were forced to resign. Along with other scandals, such as the Fisk-Gould gold scandal and the Whiskey Ring, Crédit Mobilier distracted northern voters’ attention away from southern Reconstruction and toward corruption and graft problems in the North.

When the Depression of 1873 struck, northern voters became even less interested in pursuing Reconstruction efforts. Unemployment climbed to 15 percent, and hard currency became scarce. With pressing economic problems, northerners did not have time to worry about helping former slaves, punishing the Ku Klux Klan, or readmitting southern states into the Union.

Moreover, the Republican Party’s adherence to unpopular, strict monetary policies in response to the depression—such as the Resumption Act of 1875—opened the door for the Democratic Party to make large political gains, accelerating the end of Reconstruction. The Resumption Act reduced the amount of currency circulating in the economy in an effort to curb inflation caused by the depression. Although the act improved economic conditions in the long run, it made for harder times in both the North and South in the short run. The Act was Republican-sponsored, so Democrats were able to capitalize on its unpopularity to rally support for their party. This increased popularity translated into election victories that enabled Democrats to retake the South, bringing Reconstruction to a close.

Suggested Essay Topics

1. Compare and contrast Lincoln’s plans for Reconstruction, Presidential Reconstruction, and Radical Reconstruction.

2. What effect did Reconstruction have on blacks? Were they better off after Reconstruction than they were before the Civil War?

3. Was the impeachment of President Johnson justified? Why or why not? What were the consequences of his acquittal in the Senate?

4. What effect did the Compromise of 1877 have on politics in the North and South?

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