American Civil War Essay
From the start of the Civil War until the end of the Reconstruction period, America faced what can be considered a revolution. During this time, many social and constitutional developments emerged and brought great change to the country. Social developments that contributed to the revolution were the Freedmen’s Bureau, the Ku Klux Klan, and the Black Codes. Constitutional events that sparked dispute were the three civil rights bills, the Emancipation Proclamation, and the reconstruction.
Between 1860 and 1877, both constitutional and social developments merged to created drastic changes that threatened the balance of life in the United States, causing revolt throughout many Americans and bringing about reform to the nation. Before 1860, the United States was split into two sides fighting for power: the North and South. Slave states and free states were constantly competing for representation in Congress. In order to reduce conflict, the Missouri Compromise and the Compromise of 1850 were passed.
Tensions lowered to a degree, but the compromises only delayed the inevitable discord. State’s rights was a critical topic during this time period. The south believed that they had the constitutional right to secede. After Lincoln was inaugurated in 1860, seven states seceded from the Union. Four more states followed after that. South Carolina, in particular, felt their rights had been stripped off of them, and challenged the Constitution of the United States. Document A) South Carolina feared the north would gain enough power that they would abolish slavery in the south, crippling their slave-based economy.
This sequence of events induced the bloody Civil War, later leading to the enactment of the Emancipation Proclamation, which meant the freeing of slaves that were still under possession in 1863. Eventually, the 13th amendment, which abolished slavery, was passed. The end of the Civil War meant the end of bloodshed but the start of reconstruction of the nation. Although slaves were finally freed, it was still rough life for the freedmen.
Some blacks felt betrayed by their own government. They were baffled at the fact that they fought for their nation but could not vote for their representatives. In the petition to the Union convention of Tennessee, it is stated that blacks were treated unfairly in court, as the courts would not even receive “negro testimony. ” (Document C) Gideon Welles, Lincoln’s Secretary of the Navy wrote in a diary that the Federal Government has no control of whether or not blacks can vote; he felt it was up to the states to decide. Document D) In attempts to unite the nation, several acts were put into effect. The Freedmen’s Bureau, for example, was set up to help blacks read and write in order to counteract their disadvantages in education. It also provided food shelter, welfare, and medical attention to those affected by the war. Unfortunately, some acts were not in favor of the blacks, such as the Black Codes. The Black Codes prohibited blacks from renting land or even borrowing money to buy land. It also forced them to sign working contracts, synonymous to slavery.
President Johnson felt that the Black Codes were necessary because he did not want America becoming “Africanized. ” In a petition to the commissioner of the Freedmen’s Bureau, some African Americans felt their promised rights were being neglected. (Document E) On the other hand, political actions were taking place in the struggle for equal rights for all Americans. Republicans were taking control of government and were also ignoring the orders of President Johnson. Radical Republicans were struggling for equal rights throughout nation.
In 1866, the Civil Rights Act was created. This act stated that African Americans were United States citizens, shielding them from the Black Codes, and essentially overriding the Dred Scott decision. Shortly after came the Civil Rights Act of 1866. The changing of the Constitution to include the 14th amendment was considered revolutionary. (Document F) President Johnson was impeached in 1868 due to 11 crimes and misdemeanors. He was the first president in history to get impeached. After his impeachment, blacks now started to receive more equal treatment.
Blacks were finally able to vote in the 1868 election, which ended up giving the Republicans a victory. (Document G) The 15th amendment was also added to the Constitution, prohibiting any state from denying a citizen the right to vote. Although revolution was going positively throughout, the creation of the Ku Klux Klan was a negative addition. Their goal was to terrorize and scare blacks by force. (Document I) In 1870, Congress decided to ban these secret organizations and enforce the 14th and 15th amendments through the Force Acts. Document H) All in all, between 1860 and 1877, both constitutional and social developments caused great reform in America. Revolutionary ideas such as the freedom of slaves, anti-secession, and rebellion played a key factor throughout these years. The once estranged country was back on track as a unified whole. African Americans, as a result of constant struggle, gained their rights and freedom. It is safe to say that the United States faced a period of reconstruction, which amounted to the shaping of the country.
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