|1st Passage: “Expansion and Internal Conflict”
Expansion westward seemed perfectly natural to many Americans in the mid-nineteenth century. The spirit of nationalism that swept the nation in the next two decades demanded more territory. Now, with territory up to the Mississippi River claimed and settled and the Louisiana Purchase explored, Americans headed west in droves. Newspaper editor John O'Sullivan coined the term "manifest destiny" in 1845 to describe the essence of this mindset, which lead eventually to the conquest of much of Mexico.
The land obtained from Mexico quickly became the subject of a bitter feud between the Northerners and Southerners. Abolitionists rightly feared that attempts would be made to plant cotton in the new territory, which would bring the blight of slavery. Slaveholders feared that if slavery were prohibited in the new territory, southern slaveholding states would lose power in Congress. On August 8, 1846, Wilmot introduced legislation, the Wilmot Proviso, in the House that boldly declared, "neither slavery nor involuntary servitude shall ever exist" in lands won in the Mexican-American War. This touched off even more debate and resentment.
An attempt was made to resolve the problem, called the Compromise of 1850. California was admitted to the Union as a free state.. In exchange, the south was guaranteed that no federal restrictions on slavery would be placed on Utah or New Mexico. Slavery was maintained in the nation's capital, but the slave trade was prohibited. Finally, and most controversially, a Fugitive Slave Law was passed, requiring northerners to return runaway slaves to their owners under penalty of law. The Compromise of 1850 settled the issue of slavery temporarily, but may have further divided the country along the lines of slave and free territory.
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Another serious source of contention occurred in the Nebraska territory in 1854. In that year, a senator named Stephen Douglas of Illinois proposed a law that would make the area open to statehood. The Kansas-Nebraska Act allowed each territory to decide the issue of slavery on the basis of popular sovereignty. Kansas with slavery would violate an earlier compromise, which had kept the Union from falling apart for the last thirty-four years. The long-standing compromise would have to be repealed. Opposition was intense, but ultimately the bill passed in May of 1854. Territory north of the sacred 36°30' line was now open to popular sovereignty. The North was outraged.
The Kansas-Nebraska Act began a chain of events in the Kansas Territory that foreshadowed the Civil War.
The last major event prompting conflict occurred in 1857 before the Supreme Court in the case of Dred Scott vs. Sandford. In 1846, Scott sued for his freedom on the grounds that he had lived in a free state and a free territory for a prolonged period of time. Finally, after eleven years, his case reached the Supreme Court. At stake were answers to critical questions, including slavery in the territories and citizenship of African-Americans. The verdict was a bombshell. The Court ruled that as a black man Scott was excluded from United States citizenship and could not, therefore, bring suit. According to the opinion of the Court, African-Americans had not been part of the "sovereign people" who made the Constitution. The Court also ruled that Congress never had the right to prohibit slavery in any territory.
Missouri Historical Society. Portrait of Dred Scott by Louis Schultze, painted from a photograph.
2nd Passage: “The Civil War”
The Civil War was a tragedy of unimaginable proportions. For four long and bloody years, Americans were killed at the hands of other Americans. One of every 25 American men perished in the war. Over 640,000 soldiers were killed.
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The war was fought in American fields, on American roads, and in American cities with a ferocity that could be evoked only in terrible nightmares. Nearly every family in the nation was touched by this war. Scarcely a family in the South did not lose a son, brother, or father.
Four long years of battle changed everything. No other event since the Revolutionary War altered the political, social, economic, and cultural fabric of the United States. In the end, a predominantly industrial society triumphed over an agricultural one. The Old South was forever changed. The blemish of slavery was finally removed from American life after the passage of the 13th Amendment, though its legacy would long linger.
Southern states began to leave the Union beginning with South Carolina in late 1860. The secession ceased when Virginia, Arkansas, Tennessee, and North Carolina joined the C.S.A. following the skirmish at Fort Sumter.
On paper, the Union outweighed the Confederacy in almost every way. Nearly 21 million people lived in 23 Northern states, 3 times as many as in the 11 Confederate states. The North had an enormous industrial advantage as well. In 1860, the North manufactured over 90 percent of the country's firearms, railroad locomotives, cloth, pig iron, and boots and shoes. Under the Anaconda plan, the North made sure the south could not import these and other war essentials.
Yet, the South also had a great nucleus of trained officers. Seven of the eight military colleges in the country were in the South. The South also proved to be very resourceful. By the end of the war, it had established armories and foundries in several states. They built huge gunpowder mills and melted down thousands of church and plantation bells for bronze to build cannon. The South's greatest strength lay in the fact that it was fighting on the defensive in its own territory. Familiar with the landscape, Southerners could harass Northern invaders.
During the war, the nation transformed itself in many ways, especially in regards to the reasons for fighting the conflict. By the wars end many such as Lincoln himself realized that the motive was more than just keeping the union together. A deeper and moral rationale was needed to justify this bloody war. Lincoln expressed this in two great documents: The Emancipation Proclamation, which freed all slaves held in confederate territories, and the Gettysburg Address, which redirected the cause towards the fulfillment of equality once promised years prior during the writing of the Declaration of Independence.
3rd Passage: “Reconstruction”
Reconstruction refers to the period following the Civil War of rebuilding the United States. It was a time of great pain and endless questions. On what terms would the Confederacy be allowed back into the Union? What was to be the place of freed blacks in the South? Did Abolition mean that black men would now enjoy the same status as white men? What was to be done with the Confederate leaders, who were seen as traitors by many in the North?
Although the military conflict had ended, Reconstruction was in many ways still a war. This important struggle was waged by radical northerners who wanted to punish the South and Southerners who desperately wanted to preserve their way of life.
This drawing of African American soldiers returning to their families in Little Rock, Arkansas, after the war captures the exhuberant spirit of many former slaves upon gaining their freedom. They were soon to find out that freedom did not necessarily mean equality.
Slavery, in practical terms, died with the end of the Civil War. Three Constitutional amendments altered the nature of African-American rights. The Thirteenth Amendment formally abolished slavery in all states and territories. The Fourteenth Amendment prohibited states from depriving any male citizen of equal protection under the law, regardless of race. The Fifteenth Amendment granted the right to vote to African-American males. Ratification of these amendments became a requirement for Southern states to be readmitted into the Union. Although these measures were positive steps toward racial equality, their enforcement proved extremely difficult.
The period of Presidential Reconstruction lasted from 1865 to 1867. Andrew Johnson, as Lincoln's successor, proposed a very lenient policy toward the South. He pardoned most Southern whites, appointed provisional governors and outlined steps for the creation of new state governments. Johnson felt that each state government could best decide how they wanted blacks to be treated. Many in the North were infuriated that the South would be returning their former Confederate leaders to power. They were also alarmed by Southern adoption of Black Codes that sought to maintain white supremacy. Recently freed blacks found the postwar South very similar to the prewar South.
The Ku Klux Klan was co-founded by former Confederate general, Nathan Bedford Forrest.
The Congressional elections of 1866 brought Radical Republicans to power. They wanted to punish the South, and to prevent the ruling class from continuing in power. They passed the Military Reconstruction Acts of 1867, which divided the South into five military districts and outlined how the new governments would be designed. Under federal bayonets, blacks, including those who had recently been freed, received the right to vote, hold political offices, and become judges and police chiefs. They held positions that formerly belonged to Southern Democrats. Many in the South were aghast. President Johnson vetoed all the Radical initiatives, but Congress overrode him each time.
Economically, African-Americans were disadvantaged. Most had skills best suited to the plantation. By the early 1870s sharecropping became the dominant way for the poor to earn a living. Wealthy whites allowed poor whites and blacks to work land in exchange for a share of the harvest. The landlord would sometimes provide food, seed, tools, and shelter. Sharecroppers often found themselves in debt peonage system. In many ways, this system resembled slavery.
There were attempts in the South to change and adopt radical Republican initiatives. Carpetbaggers were Northerners who saw the shattered South as a chance to get rich quickly by seizing political office now barred from the old order. "Scalawags" were southern whites, who allied themselves with the Carpetbaggers. As a result of these individuals and agencies such as the freemen bureau, many blacks voted during the early years of reconstruction. That quickly changed.
Many Southern whites could not accept the idea that former slaves could not only vote but hold office. It was in this era that the Ku Klux Klan was born. A reign of terror was aimed both at local Republican leaders as well as at blacks seeking to assert their new political rights. Beatings, lynchings, and massacres, were all in a night's work for the clandestine Klan. Unable to protect themselves, Southern blacks looked to Washington for protection. After ten years, Congress and the radicals grew weary of federal involvement. The withdrawal of Union troops in 1877 brought renewed attempts to strip African-Americans of their newly acquired rights, perhaps best seen with the passage of Jim Crow laws which legalized segregation
1st Passage: “Expansion and Internal Conflict”
List and briefly describe 3 events that led to conflict between the North and the South.
2nd Passage: “The Civil War”
How did Lincoln recommit the Civil war towards the moral ideals of freedom and equality?
3rd Passage: “Reconstruction”
Identify and describe the major legislative protections for African American during Reconstruction.
Examine the economic, political, and social problems African Americans faced during this time period.