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.
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.
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.
Even before the Civil War had concluded, Northern politicians were busy making Reconstruction plans for the Confederate States. Reconstruction—the process by which seceded states were to re-enter back into the Union—was a difficult process for the United States for two reasons. Firstly, civil rights had to be secured for the emancipated slaves, against Southern protest; and secondly, the Union needed to be reunited as quickly as possible, with as little “punishment” to the Southern states as possible. Abraham Lincoln and Andrew Johnson made great strides to reunite the Union as quickly as possible, but sometimes overlooked Black civil rights in the process. Once the Radical Republicans in Congress took over the Reconstruction the Blacks gained more civil rights and the Southern states were treated more harshly than before. The definitive goal of Reconstruction was to secure rights for Blacks and reunite the Union as effectively as possible, though there was disagreement as to how best this should be done.
When Abraham Lincoln was in charge of the Reconstruction he worked to reunite the Union as quickly as possible. His lenient Ten-Percent Plan allowed easy re-entry into the Union for previous Confederate states; when ten percent of the voters who had voted in the Election of 1860 pledged loyalty to the Union, that state would be allowed re-entry. Lincoln’s top priority was maintaining the unity of the nation at all costs. In his most famous speech, he said he wished to bring the nation together “…with malice toward none; with charity for all” to achieve “a just and lasting peace”. Though his top concern was not Black civil rights, he fought for fair treatment of the Southern states and as little “punishment” as possible. Lincoln’s Reconstruction was about maintaining the integrity of the Union; Black civil rights came second.
Andrew Johnson had policies similar to Lincoln’s when he first took power, but gradually became more conservative as his term continued. He favored a swift Reconstruction with as little conflict as possible. Johnson was often criticized by the Radical Republicans in Congress for being too favorable to the Southern states, by giving amnesty to former Confederate officials and opposing legislation that protected former slaves. Though one might question Johnson’s motives for opposing Black civil rights laws like the Civil Rights Act of 1866, he did not do so out of malice for Blacks, but rather out of a desire to end the Reconstruction as promptly as possible. As Johnson said, “We want to get it done as quickly and inexpensively with as much creativity and flexibility as we can have.” To achieve this goal, Johnson often made considerable concessions to the South during his term as President. Like Lincoln, his primary concern was maintaining harmony in the nation and suppressing sectional discord.
Although Lincoln and Johnson made considerable concessions to the South during their terms, extremist Southern states like South Carolina kept denying the outcome of the war by attempting to reinstitute Blacks into slave-like conditions through unfair laws. Unreasonable “Jim Crow” laws, Black Codes, and poll taxes sought to replicate the conditions of slavery for Blacks in the post-Civil War South by promoting discrimination and segregation. However, after the Radical Republicans took control of the Reconstruction, harsher “punishments” were inflicted on the Southern states to make them accept new laws protecting blacks. In many Southern states, military governments were established until the states accepted the terms of re-entry into the Union. This included acceptance of the 14th and 15th Amendments, guaranteeing the right of citizenship and suffrage to Black American males. Furthermore, the Radical Republicans started the first United States welfare agency, the Freedman’s Bureau, proving food, clothing, and education for freed slaves. Despite their good intentions, however, the Bureau failed to establish the freed slaves as landowners. Though many Southerners at the time believed the Radical Republican dominated Congress was excessively harsh to former Confederate states, this was not the case; passing harsh laws and imposing military government was the only way to guarantee the Blacks their civil rights amidst the tireless discrimination of the South. The Congress had the best interests in mind for the security of the former slaves and for the future of the country.
Although President Lincoln, President Johnson, and Congress had different approaches to reconstructing the South, it is evident that the main motives of the Reconstruction process were to secure the civil rights of freedmen and to consolidate the political goals and gains of the newly re-constituted nation. The Reconstruction faced much opposition and criticism during the 1860s; however, it was able to make noble strides in the protection of countless Black Americans in the decades to come.
Aboukhadijeh, Feross. "Post-Civil War Reconstruction in the South" StudyNotes.org. Study Notes, LLC., 05 Jan. 2014. Web. 10 Mar. 2018. <https://www.apstudynotes.org/us-history/sample-essays/post-civil-war-reconstruction-in-the/>.