The reunited US after the civil war may be described as fascinating melange between completely different worldviews on crucial social issues that permeated all aspects of life, from economic to political. Faragher, Buhle, Czitrom, and Armitage (2012) outline the Reconstruction era as a way for the US to strengthen internal relations. However, it was also a long-term political endeavor to advance the interests of “capital and labor,” achieved by freeing slaves, the cornerstone element of Southern economics (Edwards, 2015, p. 33). Thus, it is necessary to delineate the Reconstruction era as not only a social but also an economic and political undertaking with widely different goals pursued by the North and the South.
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Economically the two sides of the Civil War could not differ more. If the South was primarily agricultural, the North relied more on industrial means of production, where slave labor was less popular (Faragher et al., 2012). The central process in the South centered on slaves leaving plantations and attempting to obtain their own land, restricted from other types of labor by a lack of experience and the existence of restrictive laws (Faragher et al., 2012). Railway building and industrialization did not stimulate southern economics as they did northern ones, where they became a “vision of the nation” (Edwards, 2015, p. 37). Thus, the economic changes resulted in the freeing up of labor on both sides, with one stimulating industrialization, while the other maintained the trend of primarily agricultural activity.
A series of social issues became acute with the abolition of slavery, such as the necessity of education for former slaves and their families, the change in their social standing, and their involvement in politics. However, discrimination, violence, and a disregard for others’ liberties are also indicative of the social changes in the South during the Reconstruction era (Faragher et al., 2012). Since local governments decided social aspects of life, those areas with a Republican majority did not advance equality in their legislature, preferring instead to support segregation, from colored-only schools to white-only jobs (Faragher et al., 2012).
The domineering role of the Democratic Party in the north safeguarded their area from similar discrimination for the greater good of business, but only a national-wide change could resolve discriminatory practices (Edwards, 2015; Faragher et al., 2012). Thus, the reconstruction era set a precedent for the furthering of freed slaves’ social standing, with the North being an example of better living conditions with less fear of violent persecution.
One of the most vivid examples of change was the entrance on non-white actors into the US political arena. From mere voter participation to the organization of debate clubs, mass meetings, and petitions, former slaves aspired to take control of their freedom in all aspects of political life (Faragher et al., 2012). However, the Democratic Party took on a more welcoming approach to newfound voters, happily utilizing them to advance their goals, while the Republican Party found itself in a position where it had to defend itself (Faragher et al., 2012). Thus, the new black electorate became a way for the Democratic Party to increase its voters’ numbers, effectively utilizing the previous experience of marginalization of a group with a desire to improve their sociopolitical standing.
The rise of land ownership, political involvement, and social advancement among former slaves allowed for the betterment of that US region, which could harness this change effectively. Advancing the position of the newly freed slaves was in line with the Democratic Party’s agenda, centered on promoting industrialization and supported by its reputation as a defender of democratic rights. Conversely, the Republican Party pursued a goal of maintaining the pace of its highly productive agricultural economy that found itself failing due to an outflow of able labor. Thus, it is possible to outline the Reconstruction era’s economic, social, and political changes, which occurred in the north and south of the USA coincidentally, per the goals of each region’s political party.
Edwards, L. F. (2015). A legal history of the civil war and reconstruction: A nation of rights. New York, NY: Cambridge University Press.
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Faragher, J. M., Buhle, M. J., Czitrom, D., & Armitage, S. H. (2012). Out of many: A history of the American people (6th ed.). Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson.