Among the many tragedies that the United States (US) has faced, the Civil War ranks as one of the worst incidents. After the Civil War, the American people had heightened resentment and hatred towards the government and each other. Consequently, eleven of the Southern states decided to separate from the nation and this move threatened to divide the country into half (Greene, 2014). The tow sides were the Southern plantation farmers and the Northern abolitionists groups. The Reconstruction era represented a time for the country to amend the broken pieces that the Civil War had caused, thus allowing the nation to unite jointly and recover once again. The primary role of the Reconstruction period was not only to restore and protect the former slaves’ human rights but also to forge the unity between the once warring states (Norton, Kamensky, Sheriff, Blight, & Chudacoff, 2014).
Even though many aspects accumulated to hinder the reconstruction process such as racism and increase in white supremacy, the era represents a time when the US took a leading direction on its fight against racial inequality. This paper looks at the different aspects of the Civil War and the Reconstruction era. The aspects include the major figures that played a significant role during the period, the political, judicial, social, and economic changes experienced during the period. Finally, the paper discusses the importance of the two eras in the current American society.
The major figures that played significant roles
During the Civil War and the Reconstruction era, many famous personalities contributed to the success of the period either positively or negatively. An individual like John Wilkes Booth, a staunch supporter of the South and a renowned stage actor, is essential to the period since he was responsible for the assassination of President Abraham Lincoln on 14 April 1865 at Ford’s Theatre in Washington, D.C. After the demise of Lincoln, the controversial Vice President Andrew Johnson managed to become the next American President (Norton et al., 2014).
Abraham Lincoln is one of indisputable prominent figures in the Civil War and the Reconstruction era. He was a former lawyer from Illinois, and he won the presidential elections in 1860. In the Civil War, he led the Union to victory. After several Union victories in 1863, Lincoln introduced the reconstruction of the South Ten-Percent Plan. However, he was unable to finish the plan following his assassination at Ford’s Theatre in Washington, D.C. in 1865.
Another outstanding individual during the period is Ulysses S. Grant, who was a Civil war hero and Union general. He became famous due to his harsh war tactics that helped him easily win the 1868 presidential elections at Horatio Seymour. Grant entered politics during the Reconstruction years by joining the Republican Party. He replaced Edwin M. Stanton briefly as the Secretary of War but he stepped down after the Congress reinstated him forcefully. Before he retired after his second term, he faced numerous scandals since his cabinet was corrupt.
Horace Greeley, a former New York Tribune editor, is another important person during the period. He ran for the 1872 presidential elections with the support of Liberal Republicans and Democrats because they both wanted same agenda of governance.
Greeley’s political alliance was beneficial since it helped in weakening the Liberal Republicans’ power in the North due to the mistrust that people had concerning the Democratic Party. This aspect affirmed his importance during this era.
The Tennessee-born Andrew Johnson, a former governor and senator who managed to get the presidential seat after the assassination of the former President Abraham Lincoln, also played an important part during this period. In order to convince conservative southern states to remain in the Union, Lincoln nominated Johnson as his running mate in the 1864 elections. Johnson never aligned with any side, and he clashed with Congress for the passage of the 1866 Civil rights Bills and the 14 th Amendment. However, he became controversial when he insisted on controlling the Reconstruction process coupled with acknowledging new state governments without involving the Congress. This violation of office forced his impeachment in 1868.
Edwin M. Stanton is another important person during the period as he served under both Andrew Johnson and Abraham Lincoln as Secretary of war. He later went to support the South reconstruction initiative after joining the Republicans. Due to the constant misunderstandings between him and Johnson due to the implementation of the reconstruction policy, it forced the Congress Radical Republicans to pass the 1867 Tenure of Office Act that made Johnson have to seek the approval of Congress before dismissing any members of the cabinet. This move also allowed the Republicans in the House to impeach Johnson after he insisted on firing Stanton.
Lastly, Samuel J. Tilden is another important figure in the era. He became known after managing to overthrow a New York City politician, William Tweed, based on corruption allegations. The former New York prosecutor in 1876 competed against Rutherford B. Haves and almost became the president, which left the election results unresolved. However, in 1877, the Republicans and Democrats managed to settle their disputes with the latter agreeing to the presidential defeat by Hayes in exchange for them to remove their stationed allied soldiers from the Southern lands.
The major changes and importance to the modern American society
Some of the main events during the Civil War and the Reconstruction period include the fact that by the time the Civil War conflict subsided, the South was already in a state of economic decline, political strife, and social disorder. The total war tactic that the Union soldiers used against their Southern enemies destroyed their cities and plantations leaving the many starving slaves to align with the South as their original masters escaped the oncoming Union army (Brinkley, 2015). The rate of inflation at the time rose to unprecedented heights. For instance, a loaf of bread cost several hundred dollars. Many of the people in the South at the time died from hunger and even those who managed to survive lost all their possession regarding homes, money, clothes, slaves, and land. Due to this aspect, lawmakers in Washington had the almost impossible job of rebuilding the South by 1865 (Greene, 2014).
During this time, the Reconstruction centered on three main objectives, which included changing of the southern societies, restoring the Union, and initiating the progressive laws that favored the rights and freedom of the slaves. The 1863 public announcement of Amnesty and Reconstruction by President Lincoln, two years before the Civil War ended. The proclamation helped to lay the first part of President Lincoln’s initiatives, viz. his Ten-Percent Plan (Brinkley, 2015). This plan entailed the union to re-enlist all Southern states only provided that 10% of its population had pledged future loyalty to the US, and all Confederates excluding high-ranking, military, and governmental officials would be granted amnesty.
After the 1865 demise of Lincoln, Vice President, Johnson, took up the Ten- Percent Plan and released thousands of the captured Confederate officials. This move caused Radical Republicans in the Congress to demand harsher repercussion requiring the swearing of allegiance from half of each voting states’ citizens as opposed to just 10% as demanded earlier. Although such extreme levels of disagreements emerged between the Congress and the President, one primary factor that they agreed on was that before readmitting the southern states into the Union, they first had to abolish the slave trade (Greene, 2014).
Additionally, the radical Republicans also believed that to bar the Southern States from leaving the Union in the future, they had to experience major change within the society. Therefore, they tried to initiate the change in the South by stressing on pro-Republicans’ governments and establishing the Union government in southern laws, enfranchising African Americans, and openly punishing southern planter specialists, whom many believed instigated the Civil War. As the white republicans and unionists from the South (so-called “scalawags”) and northerners that immigrated to the South (“carpetbaggers”) decided to migrate to the South, the local southerners there rejected and labeled them corrupt and traitors. However, the US government, “through channels like the congressionally accepted Freedman’s Bureau, managed to give poor whites and freed slaves confiscated lands as well as aid in eradicating illiteracy, sanitization, and developing industrial development in reuniting the Southern cities” (Rana, 2015, p. 91).
Unfortunately, attaining the equal rights for the freed slaves proved to be the biggest challenge to the reconstruction process. Being aware that the “newly freed slaves would face racism and subtle discrimination, radical Republicans passed a series of progressive amendments and laws in the Congress that protected the blacks’ rights under the constitutional and federal law” (Link & Broomall, 2015, p. 88 ). The 14th Amendment and 1866 Civil Rights Act “allowed black citizenship, the 13th Amendment abolished slavery, and the 15th Amendment accorded black men liberty to vote, and the 1875 Civil Rights Act directly prohibited public racial discrimination” (Link & Broomall, 2015, p. 112).
The Reconstruction had mixed results. By the time the period ended, “the South and North reunited once again, and all the States at the Southern legislature had removed slavery within their constitutions” (Rana, 2015, p. 103). The long debate of federalism vs. states rights that persisted since the 1870s also ended with the Reconstruction in progress. However, the reconstruction failed in other aspects. For example, “in 1877 when President Rutherford B. Hayes decreed that the federal troops should leave the South, former slave owners and Confederate officials gradually gained power” (Rana, 2015, p. 195).
Afterwards, legislatures at the South quickly “approved ‘black codes’ that allowed the growth of sharecropping and restricted voter qualification, thus ensuring that the living standards of the freed slaves never improved” (Norton et al., 2014, p. 76)). The southern Democrats were assisted by a conservative Supreme Court as it managed to repeal the 14th and 15th Amendments as well as the 1875 Civil Rights Act. Fed up with the never-ending reconstruction process, “the Northerners could no longer be ignored by 1877, and the increase in blacks’ civil rights violations and such actions further strained the relationship between the two groups” (Norton et al., 2014, p. 116). Eventually, the liberties that the blacks expected to gain since the Reconstruction era would take almost another century to obtain.
In the entire American history, the Civil War has been one of the most significant events that have helped the country during its most crucial times after gaining independence. Viewed from different perspectives, both the Civil War and the Reconstruction period made a significant impact on the current American society and some of the influences have been extensive (Link & Broomall, 2015). The initial issue of slavery, which divided the country for long, was resolved in the aftermath of Civil War and the Union army’s victory played an integral part in attaining this outcome. The American society integrated better after solving and settling the slavery problem.
After the aftermath of the Civil War, the American economy benefited greatly mainly during the Reconstruction period. During the Reconstruction period, the country managed to generate large-scale economic activities, constant circulation of money that helped maintain the business cycle, and many equal employment opportunities emerged that helped grow the economy. These events all helped place the American economy on the right growth track. Besides, even the momentum that the Civil War and the Reconstruction gave to the American industry was something new that had never existed before since it allowed new entrepreneurs to enter the markets, thus giving them new vigor as the merchants pumped in a lot of capital (Rana, 2015).
As the manufacturing started in large-scale due to the new market entrants, the production pace increased coupled with the exploitation of the natural resources, and this aspect further boosted the American economic growth. On the other hand, as the production increased, it allowed for the opening of new trade routes that helped in a big way to hasten their economic development and growth. In addition to the already commercial market, the introduction of large-scale agricultural activities contributed to improving the general economic environment.
The Union, which emerged victorious during the Civil War, helped in expanding the country’s political system. For a while after the Civil War ended, it took some time to develop the initial weak official administration channels and in the process, democracy benefited as shown by the view that it resulted in ending slavery and passing of laws that prevented a repeat of such undertakings in the future (Brinkley, 2015). Along the same lines, the voting process also gained momentum since it helped to extend the initially controlled voting privileges to all races through enforcing the Fifteenth Amendment. After the Civil War ended, all the three Amendments, viz. 13th, 14th, and 15th were significant achievements on political grounds. Within the US, party politics also gained a boost that has continued to provide and develop a source of growth for the US democracy and society until now (Link & Broomall, 2015).
The Reconstruction process emerged as a period of misgovernment and corruption allegedly caused by permitting the African Americans to participate in the country’s politics. This bias and incorrect interpretation encouraged the South’s racial discrimination, which surprisingly survived until the 1960s, which included the system of banning blacks from voting. After studying numerous profound changes in the American race relations and extensive new research, historians today have come to the conclusion that the Reconstruction era proves itself to be a period of real advancement for the South as a whole and the former freed slaves. The Reconstruction period for all Americans was an era of fundamental improvements and changes in almost all spheres of the country’s well-being that have all had lasting impressions on the United States. The Reconstruction decline eventually left a problematic issue to the future generations as well that of racial inequality and an issue affects the American society even in the contemporary times.
Brinkley, A. (2015). The Unfinished Nation: A Concise History of the American People. New York, NY: McGraw-Hill.
Greene, L. A. (2014). Lincoln, Slavery, and Race in Civil War New Jersey: The Documentary Evidence and Treatments in Film. The Journal of the Rutgers University Libraries, 66, 34-65.
Link, A., & Broomall, J. (2015). Rethinking American Emancipation: Legacies of Slavery and the Quest for Black Freedom. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.
Norton, B., Kamensky, J., Sheriff, C., Blight, W., & Chudacoff, H. (2014). A People and a Nation, Volume II: Since 1865. Boston, MA: Cengage Learning.
Rana, A. (2015). The Many American Constitutions America’s Forgotten Constitutions. By Robert L. Tsai. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2014.