Examining the Civil War Examining the Civil War A war that originated because the nation was divided ultimately marked the beginning of a truly unified United States. The Civil War put to rest the increasing sectionalism that divided the North, the South, and the newly colonized West. At the root were the issues of slavery in the South, and the attempt of the Southern states to withdraw from the Union. Although many lives and untold millions were lost in personal belongings, livestock, and structures, the Civil War set in motion the progression towards a unified Nation.
During the 18th and 19th century, slavery was a very significant aspect of the development of the nation. The economic, social, and political development of the nation during this period was directly associated to slavery even though society condemned it as morally wrong. The following will detail the significance of slavery in the economic, social, and political development of the 18th and 19th century America. Additionally details will show the economic, social, and political impacts of the conflict as well as why a democratic nation failed to address the crisis peacefully.
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Before the Civil War, many decades before, the rural South’s economic society depended upon its market of the production and export of rice, tobacco, sugar and cotton. Slave labor was the main way to produce these crops. Slavery helped develop and establish the plantation system. “Slaves represented an enormous capital investment, worth more then all the land in the Old South” (Davidson, 2002, p 242). Slavery was the most profitable investment in the production of the staple crops.
With an average of $30 to $35 a year, and sometimes even less, a slave-owner ended up taking home 60% of the yearly wealth from the slave’s labor. Not many whites owned slaves; however, those that did held political power, great wealth and authority. Even though there was great wealth to be gained from slavery there were people and regions that did not agree with it. Because of these disagreements, the nation was plagued by sectionalism. Instead of looking at the nation as united, westerners, northerners and southerners started to identify themselves regionally rather than as Americans. The regional differences that had served to build America, now threatened to destroy it” (The Social Studies Help Center, 2006). There were many differences in regions and these differences produced variations in culture and economy. The North tended to concentrate on trade, manufacturing, and shipping while the South focused on agriculture, and the Mid-Atlantic had the makings of both regions. As the economic differences developed so, followed cultural differences as well. The north was used to a lifestyle of a faster pace, and the southerners were accustomed to the leisurely lifestyle of the gentleman farmer.
Though there were battles between the regions over the tariffs of 1816 and 1828, the worst battle was over slavery. To the south slavery was the essential element to the production of cotton and cotton was the most essential element to the economy. As the production of cotton grew, so slavery grew with it. The south knew that the North was out to abolish their foundation of cheap cotton production. They believed that in order to keep the north out of it, they needed to keep the Senate on their side. To do this, they needed to make sure that states that were entering the Union were slave states.
As a result of the North wanting the opposite, a compromise had to happen, thus when Missouri entered the Union, the Missouri Compromise of 1820 came into effect. The compromise did not last long because with California’s admission, the compromise would have cut the state in two, thus a new compromise was needed. The compromise of 1850 was established and California was admitted as a free state, but there was a stipulation. Nevada and New Mexico had to be allowed a popular vote on slavery. With the compromises and the admission of Free states and slave states, the battle of slavery and sectionalism was quiet but not for long.
The Civil War did not explode suddenly but instead the sentiments of the North and South were building for a climax to the escalating discontent of the American people. It came slowly from a long series of arguments and irritations. The democratic nation did many things to address the issues, but the controversy over slavery became more intense, tempers were inflamed, and extremists were so uncompromising that the basis for a peaceful adjustment of differences was lost (Hansen, 1962, p. 9). The North and the South had been following different paths ever since the start of settlement in America.
The climate and geography shaped extremely different economic and social patterns in the North and in the South. Aided by the Industrial Revolution, the North became a region of large-scale industries, big cities, and lone distance commerce. The South with its warm weather, long growing season, and unbroken terrain favored agriculture. The laborers used to cultivate the crops were at first white indentured servants, but they gradually became slaves from Africa and the West Indies. As slavery spread in the South, opposition to it spread in the North (Davis, 1983, p. 9). An uneasy South eyed the growing wealth and power of the North and the debate over slavery neared the boiling point. A succession of political crises plagued the nation and Congress created proposals and compromises aimed to soothe the rising tension. Some proposals only heated passions even more. The fugitive Slave Act guaranteed that slaves who escaped to Northern states could be returned to their Southern masters. This act placed full power of the federal government behind efforts to recapture escaped slaves.
The intervention of the federal government in the plight of escaped slaves infuriated Northerners. Making issues worse was the Kansas-Nebraska Act that allowed the settlers of these two territories to decide whether to enter the Union as slave states or free states. The sense of common interest and mutual sympathy that had bound the North and South together during the American Revolution was gone (Davis, 1983, p. 33). The House of Representatives was under control of the Northern States, but the Senate belonged to neither section. The extension of slavery to Missouri touched off another debate.
Southerners trapped in their dependence on slavery accused Northerners of exaggerating the evils of slavery and challenged the right of the North to meddle in the affairs of the South. When Maine was admitted as a Free State and Missouri as a slave state, the slavery issue was seemingly settled. A boundary line was also drawn from east to west, states north of the line would be free and states south of the line would be slave. The Missouri Compromise only papered over the problem of the extension of slavery and it was satisfactory to no one.
The actions of Congress had aligned that states against each other on a sectional basis, for the first time in the history of the nation (Davis, 1983, p. 36). Tariffs that protected the profits of Northern manufacturers caused increased hardship in the South. The recession caused additional hardship. Roads and bridges feel into ruins as plantation profits declined and planters abandoned their fields (Davis, 1983, p. 39). Even those against slavery were not on the same path of thought. Extremists wanted slavery outlawed and the free blacks absorbed into society on an equal footing with whites.
Others thought that slavery would eventually end in the Southern states, if they could block it from new territories. A third group wanted to free the slaves and ship them back to Africa (Davis, 1983, p. 39). By mid-century, the opposition to slavery had spread in the North. In the South, commitment to slavery was unchangeable. In spite of the terrific momentum toward secession, a final effort was made to reconcile the South and salvage the Union. Some of the Senators put together a proposal to reestablish the Missouri Compromise line and extend it to California.
Attempts were also made to strengthen the Fugitive Slave Law. The proposal died on the Senate floor (Davis, 1983, p. 119). Lincoln’s election as President gave southern secessionist the opening for which they had been waiting, and by February 1861, seven states of the lower South had voted to leave the Union. Major Robert Anderson was appointed commander of the three forts in Charleston Harbor. It was presumed that he would act with Southern bias in the looming crises because he was from Kentucky, had a Georgia wife, and owned slaves. Anderson knew the slightest misstep or miscalculation would touch off a war.
When Anderson moved to Sumter the South saw this as aggression. Anderson’s had hoped that by occupying Sumter, which gave him a stronger position he would prevent or at least delay on outbreak of hostility. The Union would not leave the fort because it was a Federal institution and the South saw it as a piece of their property and refused to leave it in the hands of the Union. Fort Sumter became the final cause and first objective of the unavoidable war (Davis, 1983, p. 123). Long before Confederate guns boomed over Sumter, America had already begun its Civil War.
What ended as a clash of great armies started as a battle of ideas and economics. It was a conflict of secession again union, slavery against freedom, farm against factory. It was a struggle of the nation’s past against its future. The results of the Civil War created economic disparity in the South where businesses, homes, and plantations had been burned. The South suffered a loss of their workforce and an emotional let down that would have to be counteracted in order to secure the financial future of the region and of the country. Even without adding the market value of freed slaves, southern wealth declined 43 percent, transforming what had been the richest section in the nation (on a white per capita basis) into the poorest” (Davidson, 2002, p. 449). The first in a long line of economic downturns came with the emancipation of the slaves, which was issued in 1862, and the welcoming of black troops into the army drastically changed the culture and the economy in the South (Clayton, 2003). This development prompted thousands of slaves to escape to freedom.
How would the South continue to flourish as an agricultural society without many of its workers and what would become of these prized cotton fields that just a few years ago yielded large profits? Those who remained on plantations resisted the continuation of slavery by not doing their work or by destroying farm equipment. These developments hurt the Confederacy, a new workforce had to be gathered in order to pick up after the devastation but with the freedom of mobility, many slaves did not want to live in the South and many moved North. “I must go. If I stays here I’ll never know I’m free” (Davidson, 2002, p. 66) was the words of one slave that was contemplating staying in the South or moving elsewhere for a brighter future. Both sides faced labor shortages, inflation, and other economic problems. However, in 1863, it was clear that the North’s greater resources were allowing it to meet their challenges while the South could not. Among the many problems the South faced, invading armies disrupted the South’s food growing regions, which caused a food shortage. Their labor shortage and lack of goods contributed to inflation. In the North, the war affected those industries that depended heavily on Southern markets and cotton.
As the war dragged on, shortages and the falling value of Confederate currency caused unbelievable inflation (Clayton, 2003). While both sides had to deal with the practical and political problems of a long costly war, the South had it much harder. These two issues alone caused many problems for the South throughout the entire war. Corruption after the war seemed commonplace and was a definitive roadblock on the road to financial recovery. Corruption was occurring in the North and in the South and was creating huge debts for all those involved in the mishandling of funds. During these years, the Democratic Tweed Ring in New York City alone stole more money than all the Radical Republican governments in the South combined” (Davidson, 2002, p. 465). The lack of morality created the corruption and the corruption was known and talked about in the country but the answer to the corruption was not present at the time. The road to recovery seemed to exist with corruption because without the unmoral politicians contracting jobs out, many things that helped stimulate the economy would not have even happened. At the start of Reconstruction, it was clear that the nation had been changed forever by the war.
Many human lives had been taken and families destroyed. It had destroyed most of the South’s shipping industry and most of the railroads. It had devoured farmland and livestock. Factories and cities lay smoldering. The value of southern farm property had plunged by approximately 70% (Clayton, 2003). Black southerners were freed and trying to start their new lives in a poor region with slow economic activity, plantation owners lost workers and land and poor white southerners could not find work because of the competition of the freed black southerners.
Everybody faced his or her own hardships and fears. Basic issues concerning the nation’s political system were at stake but it was not even clear which branch of government had the authority to decide on any of those issues. Andrew Johnson made matters worse for the southern economy when he fought against government aid to businesses. “Johnson strongly supported states rights and opposed government aid to business” (Davidson, 2002, p. 456). The lack of help from the American government to aid the south in Reconstruction seemed to further increase the debt shared by many southerner’s.
The southern states had to rely upon themselves to regain their economic stability without their businesses, fields and workers. The lack of help from government increased the gaps between the booming industries of the North and the paralyzed South. With the Reconstruction came changes in farming which was part of an economic reorganization in the “New South” (Clayton, 2003). These changes affected the long-term health of the South’s economy. African Americans took to sharecropping in order to gain economic freedom while not being considered wage laborers.
The whites still owned the land but under this practice, different African Americans could farm different plots then share the crop at the end of the year. The idea which seemed resourceful for the time was more of a cry of new found freedom rather than an economic gain because while utilizing the sharecropping technique “black families often sank into perpetual debt” (Davidson, 2002, p. 469). Socially the nation was at odds with one another. Deep racism, lack of government help, and thousands of questions plagued the citizens and government.
The white population was at grips while the former slaves finally had reason to celebrate the Union’s victory. The Civil War created the ability of blacks to educate themselves, vote, own land, move, practice religions and even have last names. The rights associated with the Union’s victory gave the African American community what it rightfully deserved, the right to an identity. Black families were created following the Civil War in which marriage became legal and creating a household with children and an income became commonplace.
The ability to marry legally was a large right which was denied of all slaves. The marriage would never falter and unlike the past “Secret” marriages, this time the wife or husband could not be stripped of the family. The development of black families meant a central location and like all civilizations families need certain things to sustain their physical and mental well beings. Education and schools followed the freedom along with churches. “In freedom, the schoolhouse and the black church became essential institutions in the black community” (Davidson, 2002, p. 67). Education was a valuable asset because it brought the African American community out of the dark and into light. Blacks could understand politics, read the bible, study, and pursue literacy and achievement which was never before possible. Literacy and education paved the road to political activism and gained the blacks limited political power, but political power no less. No longer could the blacks be looked upon as a totally ignorant population that could be taken for granted. Education brought power and power is just what many freed slaves craved.
Racism filled the country from brim to brim and organizations such as the Ku Klux Klan evolved and established themselves after the Civil War. Andrew Johnson was an outspoken racist who only wanted revenge on the masters and did not place care or concern into the welfare of African Americans. The advancement of freed slaves was blocked in many sectors of the country because of the outstanding racism. “Racism stimulated white southern resistance, undercut northern support for black rights, and eventually made northerners willing to write off Reconstruction, and with it the welfare of African Americans” (Davidson, 2002,p. 75). The wars numerous political consequences ranged from the corruption that occurred after the war to the loss of power experienced by southern politicians. The federal government had to face the uneasy tasks of Reconstruction, African American rights, and the assassination of Abraham Lincoln. Andrew Johnson took the presidency as a staunch racist with different ideas on how to reconstruct the nation. Johnson believed in strong state rights and because of this that many of the states developed “black codes”. Each state passed a series of laws, often modeled on it s old slave code, that applied only to African Americans” (Davidson, 2002, p. 457). The advancement of African Americans was not a priority in the eyes of Andrew Johnson and he spent much of his time abolishing slavery and trying to erase the national debt caused by the length war. The politics of Johnson were so hated that the 1867 Congress tried to impeach the president and failed “one vote short of the two-thirds majority needed” (Davidson, 2002, p. 262). The Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution gave the African Americans undeniable rights.
They were to be created equal and have the same rights and privileges of the white Americans and that these new found rights could never be infringed upon. The amendment was a success even with Andrew Johnson’s harsh criticisms and his campaigning for the South to not ratify it. Ultimately the amendment was ratified and the African Americans made large strides towards civil liberties under the Constitution. The ratification of the Fourteenth Amendment further more opened up the political canals to a much larger scale and suddenly African Americans hurled themselves into the political arena. During Reconstruction between 15 and 20 percent of the state officers and 6 percent of members of Congress (2 senators and 15 representatives) were black” (Davidson, 2002, p. 463). The Fifteenth Amendment enhanced the voting rights of men and presented African Americans with even more political power because according to the amendment “It forbade any state from denying the right to vote on grounds of race, color, or previous condition of servitude” (Davidson, 2002, p. 471). The final act of Reconstruction legislation was the Civil Rights Act of 1875, which gave African American numerous rights outside of the political realm.
The Freedmen’s Bureau which was aided by the United States government aided in the transition from slavery to freedom. The bureau was a union like institution in which blacks would be guaranteed certain rights and liberties that the white landowners could not overlook and ignore. The blacks were treated as laborers with contracts and wages and the Bureau sought to make sure there was no wrong doings in the processes and interactions between blacks and whites. The Bureau later shut down but “it was the most effective agency in protecting blacks’ civil and political rights” (Davidson, 2002, p. 69). The disbanding of the Bureau would lead to darker times in American history as the efforts of Reconstruction would slowly be turned away and blacks were left more and more to fend for themselves. As the Bureau was left disbanded, the evolution of White Supremacy and the failure of Reconstruction loomed into the near future. The Civil War presented the American people with its first internal fight over economic policy, expansion, and slavery. Ultimately the lives of Americans would be forever changed through the course of actions leading up to and resulting from the war.
The Civil War brought vast changes to the country and to the citizens of the newly unified United States in a multitude of ways, ways in which modern day America is still reflecting upon and living in the aftermath of the greatest internal struggle in American history. References Clayton, A. , Perry, E. I. , Reed, L. , Winkler, A. M. (2003) America Pathways to the President Modern American History. Copyright 2003 by Pearson Education, Inc. Davidson, J. (Ed). (2002). Nation of nations: A concise narrative of the American Republic (3rd ed. , Vol. 1). New York: McGraw-Hill.
Retrieved on April 7, 2007 From http://mycampus. phoenix. edu/secure/resource/resource. asp Davis, W. C. (1983). The civil war, Brothers against brothers. The war begins. Chicago, IL: Time-Life Books, Inc. Faust, P. L. (2002). Historical times encyclopedia of the civil war. Retrieved April 14, 2007, from http://www. civilwarhome. com/warcost. htm Hansen, D. (1962). The civil war. New York: Duell, Sloan, and Pearce. The Social Studies Help Center. (2006). Sectionalism. Retrieved on April 13, 2007 from http://www. socialstudieshelp. com/Lesson_29_Notes_SEC_HO. htm