American History, 1877 To Present
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Core Essay: Civil War and Reconstruction, 1860-1877
Introduction The era of the Civil War and Reconstruction was a turning point in the history of the United States. Longstanding tensions over slavery and westward expansion reached their climax when 11 states decided to leave the United States and form their own nation. The pending conflict took on revolutionary dimensions as southern slaves refused to cooperate with the Confederacy, and the US government realized it must destroy slavery to win the war. The war formally ended with a Union victory in spring 1865, but many more years of violent conflict ensued. 107th Colored Regiment at Fort Corcoran, Arlington, VA and Senator Hiram Rhodes Revels of Mississippi
! A newly empowered federal government passed 3 constitutional amendments in an attempt to abolish slavery and establish the nation on a new and more democratic footing. Yet many Americans rejected the federal government’s growing commitment to protecting the rights of all citizens. In fact, the government, controlled by the Republican Party since 1861, was
itself ambivalent about this new direction. By the 1870s, leading politicians prioritized economic growth over the rights and well being of American citizens. But economic growth did not benefit all equally. Most African Americans, Native Americans, and the industrial working class suffered from low wages and poor living conditions. Nevertheless, the nation that ultimately emerged from this contentious period was stronger and more stable than ever before. Map of the Union and the Confederacy in the Civil War
! Section 1: The Civil War • Section Question:
What were some of the most important turning points in the Civil War? Why?
• Question: Why did Lincoln’s election in 1860 lead to the secession crisis? Terms:
• Abraham Lincoln • Presidential Election of 1860 • Alexander Stephens • Secession
• Fort Sumter • Charleston When the Civil War began in April 1861, few imagined that it would last 4 years, result in the abolition of slavery, and cost some 750,000 lives. Americans elected their first Republican president, Abraham Lincoln, in a hard-fought contest that revealed bitter sectional divisions. Lincoln enjoyed strong support in the Midwest and the East; however, in most slaveholding states, his name did not even appear on the ballot. As its 1860 platform indicated, the Republican Party stood united against the extension of slavery into western territories. It also promised that the US government would invest in roads, railroads, and other infrastructure to stimulate economic growth and prosperity for all.
Map of the Presidential Election, 1860
! Many southern leaders believed Lincoln’s election was a critical turning point and insisted that it was time for the slaveholding states to break their ties to the nation. The heart of opposition to Lincoln and the Republicans was in the Deep South, where an economy based on slavery and cotton cultivation was flourishing.
The southern politicians who led the movement to secede from the United States were deeply invested in that economy. Most did not believe Lincoln and the Republicans would take immediate action against slavery, but they envisioned a bleak future if northerners remained in control of the federal government. There can be no doubt about what the Confederate States of America stood for. As its vice-president, Alexander Stephens, said in 1861, the “cornerstone” of the Confederacy was “the great truth that the negro is not equal to the white man; that slavery, subordination to the superior race, is his natural and normal condition.” In his inaugural address that March, Lincoln tried to reassure citizens of the slaveholding border states that compromise was still possible: “In your hands, my dissatisfied fellow-countrymen, and not in mine, is the momentous issue of civil war.” He reminded them that he would not interfere with slavery “in the States where it exists” but also that he would do everything he could to defend the United States against an uprising. As he spoke, a crisis was developing over the US government’s forts in the harbor of Charleston, South Carolina. In December, the state’s political leaders had declared that South Carolina was no longer part of the United States and ordered the state’s militias to confiscate all federal property. The US commander at Fort Moultrie refused to surrender, however, and moved his forces into Fort Sumter, which was better fortified. Map of Charleston Harbor with Forts
That spring, surrounded by a hostile white population and menacing militias, the soldiers inside Fort Sumter soon ran low on food and other supplies. Efforts to negotiate a compromise failed. South Carolina refused to allow the US government to supply the soldiers, and the Lincoln administration refused to give up the fort. Finally, President Lincoln ordered US ships to bring supplies into Charleston harbor. When those ships approached Fort Sumter, the South Carolina militias began shooting. The Civil War had begun.
A great enthusiasm for war swept both sections of the country. Civic leaders organized parades and made speeches; young men volunteered to fill the ranks of the warring armies. Yet politicians in the Upper South were doubtful that joining the Confederacy was in their interests.
Watch this Video :
• Question: What were the advantages and disadvantages of the South in the first two years of war? Terms:
• Characteristics of Border States: industry, agriculture, railroad, connection to northern economy
• Need to retain loyalty of border states • Union v. Confederacy overall strategy • West Virginia • Manasses, Virginia • Escaped slaves’ influence on the war • George McClellan • Failed Peninsula Campaign (1862) • Robert E. Lee • African American soldiers • Camps for escaped slaves Which side would prevail in the conflict? Many believed the Confederacy could win despite its smaller population and lesser capacity to produce weapons, food, and other supplies. In some instances, they understood, a smaller power could defeat a larger one–the American Revolution, for example. They realized that for the United States to triumph, military
forces would need to advance into Confederate territory and subdue not just the army, but also a hostile population of Southerners. By contrast, the Confederates need not occupy the North; they must simply stave off Union advances long enough to persuade Northerners that the war was not worth it. If the Northerners gave up, the Confederates would achieve their goal: independence from the United States.
At first, it looked as if things might go the Confederacy’s way. Confederate troops massed in northern Virginia, seeking to protect their capital, Richmond, and perhaps advance on the US capital of Washington. US soldiers traveled to Washington from throughout the North. Amid the enthusiasm of the conflict’s opening months, Northerners demanded an offensive. In July federal forces attacked the Confederates near Manassas, Virginia. The Confederates prevailed in the chaotic battle, and US forces retreated to Washington in disarray. The engagement revealed to Northerners that they faced a serious enemy and gave the Confederacy hope that it might quickly and decisively end the war.
First Battle of Bull Run, or First Manassas
! Already that summer, however, one of the Confederacy’s greatest weaknesses was coming to light. Enslaved African Americans were using the upheavals caused by the war as an opportunity to escape from bondage. Given the chance, they would join the effort to defeat the slaveholders’ rebellion. Everywhere the US forces were present–whether along the Confederacy’s northern frontier or in slaveholding borderstates like Maryland and Kentucky–slaves escaped and made their way to Union lines. Often they presented themselves as allies of the
United States; they carried information about Confederate positions and civilian morale and offered to work for the war effort.
As the war continued into 1862, Republicans increasingly believed they must make a full-scale attack on the Confederacy–including on slavery itself. At first, however, under the direction of Generals Winfield Scott and George McClellan, the Union Army hoped to prevail without causing major upheavals in the South. The US sent ships to blockade the Confederacy’s Atlantic coast, hoping to stop Southerners from importing food and weapons and exporting cotton to Europe. In the summer of 1862 McClellan set his sights on Richmond, hoping to demonstrate the North’s overwhelming military superiority and force the Confederacy to surrender. If this initial strategy had succeeded, the war would probably have ended without the destruction of slavery.
Watch this video :
It did not. When McClellan’s enormous and expensive drive toward Richmond failed, Lincoln began to search for a new commander and the North settled in for a longer war. Lincoln used the power of the president in wartime to declare that on January 1, 1863, slaves who lived within the unoccupied portions of the Confederacy would be free. Not only did the Emancipation Proclamation declare that slaves in the Confederacy were free; it provided for the enlistment of black men as soldiers. In Confederate territory, northern military agents enlisted thousands of black men and established camps for their family members: women, children, and the elderly.
Camps for African American Soldiers and Families
• Question: What was the “hard war” policy and what impact did it have on the North’s war strategy? Terms:
• Hard war policy • Ulysses S. Grant • Vicksburg, Mississippi • New York Draft Riots • William Tecumseh Sherman • Capture of Atlanta Remarkable changes were at hand, transformations few could have imagined when the war began. In some places, slaves began to demand pay for their labor. Black soldiers insisted on equal treatment from the government; northern African Americans petitioned the government for voting rights. The war was no longer simply about the fate of a movement for southern independence. As a result of black activism, it was now about the future of citizenship and racial equality as well. The US government’s turn to a policy of slave emancipation was part of the broader adoption of what historians have called a “hard war” policy. Ulysses S. Grant emerged as the northern general who best understood that in order to defeat the Confederacy, United States forces needed to be willing to cut loose from lengthy supply lines and obtain provisions from southern civilians and the countryside itself. Grant pioneered this strategy in the West, where he commanded a long but ultimately successful campaign to capture Vicksburg, Mississippi. The new approach intensified the war’s impact on southern civilians. Indeed, as the war continued, both armies increasingly foraged for food and other supplies on southern farms and plantations. Meanwhile, Grant’s victories in the western theater–and his willingness to try new strategies–earned him a promotion. In spring 1864, Lincoln made him general-in-chief of all US forces. For the “Hard War” Policy: Union Generals John Pope, Philip Sheridan, David Hunter, Henry Halleck, Ulysses S. Grant, William T. Sherman
! The war’s duration and the growing casualties created tensions within both the Union and the Confederacy. Both sides eventually instituted a draft–the Confederacy in spring 1862 and the Union in summer 1863. When enlistment became less a choice than a requirement, however, civilians became restless. In the Confederacy, small farmers protested the exemption of large slave owners from the draft. In places where Unionist sentiment was strong, men hid from draft agents and deserted in large numbers. Meanwhile, as prices rose and food shortages became widespread, white women took to the streets to demand support from the government. In the North, the draft galvanized opposition to Lincoln and the Republicans. In New York City, Democrats, led in some instances by Irish immigrants, rioted for 4 days, first attacking Republican institutions and then turning their wrath on the city’s black population. Draft Riots Fighting Troops and Hanging African Americans in New York
As the war dragged on it became ever more destructive. In the summer of 1864, the 2 enormous armies engaged in a lethal stalemate in Virginia, while in Tennessee, William Tecumseh Sherman struggled to push south toward the railroad hub of Atlanta, Georgia. Lincoln’s reelection hung in the balance. General McClellan, having been fired as commander of the US forces, was the Democratic candidate for president. The general remained enormously popular. His party’s platform, which promised to end the war and overturn emancipation, appealed to a war-weary public that opposed the revolutionary turn the war had taken. Lincoln himself believed he would lose the election. General Sherman Outside Atlanta and Last Known Photo of Abraham Lincoln, March 6, 1865
! Late that summer, however, Sherman’s forces captured Atlanta, giving Northerners new hope for victory and cementing Lincoln’s reelection. Sherman then drove south through Georgia and up the coast of South and North Carolina. Sherman’s march offered the best example of the “hard war” policy the Union had adopted by the end of the war. It was hard war not because the soldiers were so brutal toward southern civilians (for there is little evidence they were) but because the final blow to the Confederacy was a full-scale invasion by an army that supplied itself as it went along and was accompanied by thousands of slaves who had risked their lives in pursuit of freedom.
Section 2: Reconstruction • Section Question:
What were the goals of Reconstruction, and was it successful?
• Question: Who were the major players in the Reconstruction Era and what were their positions? Terms:
• Appomattox Court House, Virginia • The 13th Amendment • Freedmen’s Bureau • Andrew Johnson The most famous image of the end of the Civil War is Robert E. Lee’s surrender to Grant at Appomattox Court House, Virginia. There, Lee promised that his army of about 28,000 would lay down its arms and go home; at a ceremony days later, Union forces saluted the defeated Southerners as they disbanded. Yet this image of a dignified and definitive end to the war is misleading. Violent conflict and constitutional crisis continued as Americans argued over fundamental questions about democracy, rights, and power. In the South, former slaves were for the first time part of that debate, as they struggled to establish new terms of labor and landownership and fashion themselves as citizens of their communities and the nation. Lee Surrenders to Grant at Appomattox Courthouse, April 9, 1865 (Lithograph 1867)
The war’s final months were chaotic and ambiguous. Just 6 days after Lee’s surrender at Appomattox, Confederate sympathizer John Wilkes Booth assassinated President Lincoln. Jefferson Davis, the president of the Confederacy, urged Confederate soldiers to fight on, and several generals held out well into May. The US Army began to demobilize its forces, but kept about 200,000 soldiers in the former Confederate states to ensure that the rebellion was over. Amid that occupying force were some 83,000 African American men in uniform, concrete evidence of the radical turn the war had taken. The US Constitution provided little guidance about how to reunite the nation. Politicians had begun feeling their way forward before the war officially ended. At the end of January 1865, Congress passed the 13th Amendment, which permanently abolished slavery throughout the United States. Congress also established a new federal agency to oversee the transition from slavery to a system of free labor in the South. The Bureau of Refugees, Freedmen, and Abandoned Lands (known as the Freedmen’s Bureau) was housed in the war department, staffed by army officers, and headed by General Oliver O. Howard. In passing the 13th Amendment and establishing the Freedmen’s Bureau, Congress signaled that the preeminent outcome of the war was the abolition of slavery. Yet many more questions remained to be answered.
Watch this video : First Reading of the Emancipation Proclamation
Andrew Johnson, who became president when Lincoln was assassinated, had his own ideas about how national reunification should proceed. Johnson, a Unionist from Tennessee, had been a Democrat before the war but was vice- president during Lincoln’s second term. Weeks after his own inauguration, Johnson issued proclamations that would guide how former Confederates were treated and how seceded states would rejoin the United States. First, following a precedent set by Lincoln, Johnson announced that the government would “pardon” all but a few participants in the rebellion, provided they swore an oath of allegiance to the US government. Johnson excluded from the general pardon high-ranking Confederate officials and people who had left posts in the US government to join the Confederacy. Departing from his predecessor, he also denied an automatic pardon to Confederates who had owned more than $20,000 in taxable property, a policy that reflected his antipathy toward the traditional planter elite. At the same time, however, Johnson indicated that members of the excluded groups could appeal directly to the US president for restoration of their rights. Next, Johnson issued instructions to the former Confederate states on how to form new state governments and seek readmission to the United States. His policies favored white Unionists like himself, men who had opposed the
Confederacy on grounds that secession had been designed to serve the interests of the planter elite. Yet Johnson cared little for the civil and political rights of newly freed slaves. He urged the new state governments created under his plan to ratify the 13th Amendment. But he also allowed them to pass laws designed to render freed people a subservient, captive labor force and forbid black men from voting or serving on juries. These “black codes” were efforts by the southern elite to restore control over a plantation labor force formerly held in place by whips, chains, and slave patrols
! • Question:
What were the “black codes” and what effect did they have on the development of Reconstruction legislation and the lives of freedpeople after the war? Terms:
• Johnson’s policy toward Confederates and former slaves • “Black codes” • Economic value of freed slaves • Special Field Order #15 • Former slaves and slaveowners negotiating free labor • Former slaves’ efforts to form communities • Johnson’s v. Republicans in Congress • The 14th Amendment
As southern landowners tried to regroup in the wake of the war, they faced terrible odds. More than 260,000 Confederate soldiers had died in the war, leaving behind large numbers of widows and orphaned children. Fields, roads, and livestock lay in ruins; the value of the South’s slaves, roughly 3 billion dollars in 1860, had evaporated. Even as southern political leaders worked to diminish the significance of abolition, however, former slaves insisted that they were entitled to freedom and a measure of dignity. Where local leaders would not listen, they approached agents of the US government–typically soldiers stationed in the South or Freedmen’s Bureau agents. Yet federal policy was in flux. This situation became excruciatingly clear in South Carolina, Georgia, and Florida. In January General Sherman had met with a cadre of black leaders, most of them ministers, who indicated that what former slaves wanted most was plots of land where they could live with their families and farm for themselves. Sherman, looking for a way to settle the thousands of slaves who had begun to follow his forces, issued Special Field Order 15. It allowed freedpeople to settle on some 400,000 acres of land confiscated from Confederate sympathizers along the coast from Charleston to the St. Johns River in Florida. Land Grant of Sherman’s Special Field Order #15
! The promise of independent farms for former slaves proved to be short-lived, however. President Johnson soon announced that the land in question must be
returned to its former owners. Freedmen’s Bureau agents protested, and freedpeople gathered in meetings and sent petitions to Washington. They questioned how the government could reward ex-Confederates with land while depriving them–loyal Unionists–of a chance to make an independent living. They also pointed out that they had been forced to labor as slaves with no compensation. The least the government could do, they argued, was offer them a modicum or small amount of land in recognition of all that had already been stolen from them. President Johnson was unsympathetic, however, and the land was systematically restored to former owners who demanded it. Freedpeople everywhere aspired to own land, but most also knew they would have to work for someone else in the short term. Some left the farms and plantations where they had been held as slaves, unwilling to labor for their former owners. Most freedpeople could neither read nor write. When possible, then, they demanded that Freedmen’s Bureau agents oversee the labor contracts they made with employers, and they refused to sign their “mark”– usually an “X”–unless satisfied with the terms. Former slaveowners, for their part, were entirely unaccustomed to treating their laborers as equal parties to an agreement. Freedpeople’s proclivity to move from place to place unsettled them; they worried they would not have enough workers and that their farms would be unprofitable as a result. They found it difficult to believe that they could no longer whip their workers or force them to remain on their farms. Former Slave Responding to His Former Master’s Letter
! Tension saturated every aspect of relations between employers and formerly enslaved employees. In slavery, all members of a slave family had labored for the slave owner, their work lives directed not by their own preferences but by
the demands of the owner. As freedom dawned, many former slaves put family reunification first. Some left home in search of family members who had been sold away years earlier. On farms and plantations, families sought to arrange their own labor as they chose. In many cases, families decided that women would devote themselves more fully to raising food for the family to eat and to caring for the children, while the men contracted to work with the landowner. Across the South, former slave owners objected strenuously to what they viewed as the loss of part of their labor force. Similarly, freedpeople and former owners often sparred over the labor of children. Employers insisted that children must work for them and freedpeople argued for their right to determine how their own children would spend their time. Meanwhile, in cities, towns, and rural hamlets, freedpeople gathered with free African Americans from both South and North to organize schools, churches, and political organizations. Under the regime of slavery, whites had outlawed black schools in many places, forbade slaves from learning to read and write, and restricted black religious gatherings.
! After emancipation, freedpeople pooled scarce resources to support independent schools and churches. They cultivated their own religious leaders, purchased land for church use, and forged black denominations, particularly among Baptists and Methodists. They poured great energy into supporting teachers and building schools, sometimes winning support from northern missionary associations and the Freedmen’s Bureau. And they set their sights on politics. During 1865, African Americans convened state-wide meetings in both the South and the North and petitioned state governments and Washington for equal rights and full citizenship, including the right to vote.
Amid all this ferment in the South, a political crisis was developing in Washington. Congress reconvened in December 1865 amid reports that white Southerners remained defiant toward the US government. Republicans had embraced Andrew Johnson at first, but many were now concerned about his leniency toward former Confederates and about the failure of the new southern state governments to protect freedpeople’s basic rights. Many Republicans were concerned that the United States’ victory might be squandered, that without a more thoroughgoing reorganization of southern life, there would be nothing to prevent a new secession movement from developing. Dr. Congress and Mrs. Columbia Giving a Dose of Reconstruction to the South Over Johnson’s Objections
! Congressional Republicans sought a middle ground, but the president dug in his heels. First, Congress passed measures designed to protect freedpeople’s basic rights. Johnson vetoed these relatively moderate measures, signaling that he saw even moderate Republicans as political enemies and that he preferred to cast his lot with the Democrats. Congressional Republicans passed legislation over Johnson’s veto and, in the spring, passed the 14th Amendment, which established that former slaves were citizens of the United States and insisted that states could not violate the basic rights of any person living within them. The amendment gave Congress the power to enforce the amendment, opening new possibilities for federal legislation to protect individual rights. Thomas Nast Cartoon Celebrating Reconstruction Legislation, 1869
! • Question:
Why were the Reconstruction Acts of 1867 and the Fifteenth Amendment considered “radical”? Terms:
• “Grasp of war” • Radical Reconstruction • Union League • Southern Republican Party • White Unionists (“scalawags”) • Ku Klux Klan • The 15th Amendment But how could the federal government insist that southern states allow black men to vote? From the founding of the nation, state governments had been permitted to determine the qualifications of voters. Johnson’s policy had recognized this tradition in allowing the states to continue to determine who would vote. Republicans in Congress discussed many ways of working within the Constitution to insist that black men must vote. They ultimately decided that because the former Confederate states remained in the “grasp of war,” the US government retained more power than it had in peacetime. In keeping with this theory, in a series of Reconstruction Acts in 1867, Congress divided the former Confederacy into 5 military districts and directed the army to oversee the registration of new voters and the creation of new state constitutions. Once a state had met a new set of qualifications–namely, permitting all male citizens of the state to vote and ratifying the 14th Amendment–it could rejoin the United States and be freed from special oversight by the federal government.
These new policies, often called Congressional Reconstruction or Radical Reconstruction, meshed with freedpeople’s ongoing efforts to wrench themselves out of coercive relationships with their former owners and become full-fledged citizens. The spring and summer of 1867 witnessed perhaps the most dramatic political mobilization in American history. Across the South, on farms and plantations and in cities and towns, freedpeople gathered together to discuss how and for whom they would vote. The Union League Activities Supporting the Black Vote
! The Union League, an organization orchestrated by Republicans in the North, hired local leaders, many of them freed slaves, to travel through the rural South and mobilize people to vote. Freedpeople almost universally became Republicans, for the Republican Party was the party that had opposed the spread of slavery, the party of Abraham Lincoln, and the party that most supported their rights as citizens. The right to vote was a community-wide affair. Only men could actually cast ballots, but women and even children well understood the possibilities that were opening as southern African Americans for the first time joined the electorate. In the absence of a prolonged military occupation of the defeated states, it was the southern Republican Party that stood the best chance of diminishing the power of the planter class. In fact, in southern states with large African American populations and, thus, where Republicans came to power, legislatures passed laws that protected debtors and taxed large property holders more aggressively than small holders and laborers. And in a region largely bereft of public schools, these legislatures chartered and funded public schools for both black and white children. In some places, they even passed laws mandating racial integration in public accommodations such as streetcars, railroads, restaurants, and schools.
First African Americans to Congress and First Assemblymen in Louisiana, 1868
! Southern Republican coalitions were fragile, however, and their fragility was heightened by the fact that many white Southerners believed that the Reconstruction Acts were unconstitutional and that African Americans must remain a subservient class, not endowed with the rights of citizens. The Democrats rebuilt their party as growing numbers of former Confederates re-entered politics, either through presidential pardon or state mandate. White Unionists (called “scalawags”), initially an important part of the Republican coalition, gradually drifted toward the Democrats, choosing a race-based alliance with wealthy whites over a more class-driven connection with black voters. They were often nudged in this direction by violent secret societies such as the Ku Klux Klan, which conspired to intimidate and terrorize those who opposed the Democratic Party. The Republican Party thus remained strongest and most effective in states with the largest proportionate black population: Louisiana, Mississippi, Florida, and South Carolina. Both in Congress and in the southern states, Republicans put enormous confidence in the idea that black men’s enfranchisement would produce changes in southern society and protect African Americans’ rights. Some radical Republicans further believed the only way to ensure a new political and economic order for the South was to redistribute southern land, taking it from wealthy landholders and giving it to former slaves. But most Republicans were not prepared to go that far. They believed land confiscation in peacetime was unconstitutional, and they thought it was enough to make African Americans full citizens, entitled to the same economic and political rights as whites. In the winter of 1869, Congress passed the 15th Amendment, prohibiting states from discriminating against voters on the basis of race, color, or former slave status, and giving Congress power of enforcement.
Percent Vote for the Republican Party, 1868
! Since African Americans could already vote in the states under Reconstruction, the amendment’s greatest immediate impact was in the North, where many states continued to forbid black men from voting. Yet the amendment was meant to guarantee that African Americans would continue to vote everywhere and thus have the same chance of protecting their interests at the ballot box as whites. In a nation founded on the principle of self-government, perhaps it stood to reason that the 15th Amendment was the culmination of federal Reconstruction policy. Its provisions, however, proved toothless in the face of white Southerners’ violence and growing Republican indifference.
Section 3: Consolidation Focus Questions: • Section Question:
In which ways did Civil War-era developments continue to shape American history through 1877?
• Question: The Republican Party dominated Congress during the Civil War. What progressive laws did they pass that changed the US dramatically, especially in the West? Terms:
• Republican “investment” policy during the war: Homestead Act, Pacific Railroad Act, the Greenback, Land Grant Colleges
• American-Native American Battles in the West, 1860-1890 • Native Americans and the Confederacy • Sand Creek Massacre
The battle over power and politics in the South was just 1 of 2 major fronts in a war for the future of the United States. Although historians often separate the history of the US West from that of the South, the tumultuous and violent histories of the 2 regions in this period were deeply intertwined. Indeed, the question of whether slavery would be permitted in the territories acquired from Mexico was the major source of sectional conflict before the war.
Other dilemmas about the West had remained unresolved during the sectional crisis of the 1850s, including where railroad lines would be located and how they would be paid for. The parties were divided on the West, with Republicans supporting government policies that would promote settlement and economic growth and the Democrats more reluctant to commit resources that way. Another enduring question had been put on hold: As white settlers moved into new regions, what would be the government’s policies toward the Native Americans who already lived there?
During the Civil War, Republican dominance and the absence of 13 southern states from Congress made it possible to begin to answer these questions. Heirs to the Whig vision of government investment in infrastructure development, congressional Republicans passed legislation that would help Americans settle the trans-Mississippi West and exploit the region’s natural resources.
In 1862, Congress established land grant colleges and passed the Homestead Act, an attempt to help families settle public lands. The same year, Congress brought transcontinental railroads into existence by passing the Pacific Railroad Act, one of several railroad acts that granted millions of acres of government land to private railroad companies, along with millions of dollars in loans. Moreover, in 1862 and 1863 Congress also established a national paper currency–the Greenback–and created a system of national banks. These and other wartime measures helped modernize the American economy and made new forms of investment and expansion possible.
Watch this video :
White settlers continued migrating into the West. The 13th Amendment decisively established that the region, like everywhere else in the United States, would be “free soil.” But the vision of a free West was also in many respects a vision of a white West. For decades before the war, the US government had been pushing Native Americans off lands they lived on, attempting to corral them on reservations and urging them to settle in permanent farming communities and adopt Christianity. The US military had been a crucial part of that process. The army built forts in areas where white settlers and Indians were likely to come into conflict, cultivated alliances with cooperative Native groups, and fought military campaigns against those who resisted the terms the government offered. White settlement of the West continued during the war, encouraged by prosperity in the North and the discovery of gold and other valuable resources. Yet the dynamics of the war disturbed relationships between Indians and whites in many places. In Indian Territory, present-day Oklahoma, several tribes broke treaties with the US government and joined the Confederacy. On the northern plains, white settlers feared that the deployment of the army in the Civil War would create an opening for Indian uprisings. Their fears were realized in late summer of 1862, when Santee Sioux in southern Minnesota, starving and frustrated by ill treatment at the hands of federal agents, attacked government installations and white towns. Meanwhile, in Arizona and New Mexico, US forces beat back a Confederate advance and then made war on Navajos and Apaches, ultimately pushing most onto a reservation at Bosque Redondo, New Mexico.
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In the war’s aftermath, the government experimented with new policies toward Native Americans, particularly on the Great Plains. The region was home to powerful Native American groups such as the Cheyenne and Sioux, but white settlers increasingly coveted the land as a source of wealth and a throughway to the Pacific coast. The war department deployed army units, many of them fresh from duty in the South, to subdue Native groups that had refused to make treaties. Most army commanders had attempted to treat white civilians in the Confederacy according to the laws of war. They accorded Indians no such respect. At Sand Creek, Colorado, and on the Washita River in Indian Territory, for example, white soldiers murdered unarmed Native women and children in actions that would today be labeled genocide.
• Question: How were African Americans serving in political offices in the South and the Ku Klux Klan and other nativist groups
related to one another? Terms:
• “Peace policy” • Ku Klux Klan strategy • “Home rule”
Responding to criticism that the government’s policy toward Native Americans was too brutal and too expensive, the Grant administration proposed a “peace policy.” The government hired Protestant missionaries to work as Indian agents on reservations and focused on urging Native Americans to leave their traditional cultures behind and accept family farming, public education, and Christianity. It also declared an end to treaty making. Henceforth, the government would treat Native Americans as individuals, not as members of separate and sovereign Indian nations. Through such policies, the federal government sought to consolidate its authority, eliminating pockets of resistance and building a uniform regime of citizens and territory. Indeed, amid the peace policy the army continued making war on Native groups. And if the new approach held out the possibility that Native Americans could become citizens, it also demanded that they abandon their cultural heritage in the process.
As the government struggled to subdue Native American groups in the West, it also faced violent resistance from white Southerners who steadfastly refused the terms of Reconstruction policy. The Ku Klux Klan is most notorious among the many violent organizations white Southerners created to subjugate freedpeople and run the Republicans out of office. Sometimes such organizations used threats, beatings, rape, and murder for social and economic ends–to force black laborers to work for whites, force black landowners off their property, or punish members of a community for breaches of the moral order, such as adultery or dishonesty. But the Klan and other such organizations focused their greatest attention on defeating Republicans at the polls. Thomas Nast Cartoon “Worse Than Slavery” Condemning White League and Klan Violence
During political campaigns, white men often visited the homes of black and white Republicans at night. They murdered political leaders and threatened (and carried out) violence against would-be voters. Sexual violence was often part of such attacks, as night riders invaded African Americans’ homes and raped women, sometimes in the presence of their children and male relatives. In 1870 and 1871, Congress attempted to end such terrorism, passing new legislation that made conspiracy and intimidation of voters a federal crime. Yet the federal government did not have the capacity or will to enforce these laws, and in its 1876 Cruikshank decision, the Supreme Court invalidated some of the most important provisions.
In the end, the Republican vision of equal citizenship for African Americans and a peaceful bi-racial democracy was no match for southern white resistance and the resurgent Democratic Party. In some southern states, the Republicans never came to power in the first place. In others, particularly in Deep South states with large African American populations, Republican governments continued into the 1870s. Mississippi sent 2 black men to the US Senate, and 7 southern states sent black men to the House of Representatives. Even more important, African Americans continued to serve in local elected offices; elections, though tense and sometimes violent, remained competitive.
! Yet white leaders were poised to restore what they called “home rule.” They organized through the Democratic Party and in armed societies with names such as “White Leagues” and “Red Shirts” to take control of their state. Republican officials needed federal support to fend off such challenges, but by 1875, the Grant administration was no longer interested. Grant refused to send soldiers to oversee elections in Mississippi that year, after the Republican
governor, Adelbert Ames, requested help. The impact was immediate. Scared for their lives, Republican voters stayed home. The Democrats triumphed, and the federal government’s refusal to act conveyed to whites in other states that they could terrorize voters with impunity. Governor Adelbert Ames and Intimidation in the Mississippi Election of 1875
! • Question:
Why did the Republican Party retreat from Reconstruction in the 1870s? Terms:
• Republican Party’s retreat from Reconstruction • 1875 election in Mississippi • Rutherford B. Hayes • Railroad Strike of 1877 A variety of factors shaped the federal government’s retreat from Reconstruction. The Republican Party, originally galvanized in opposition to the spread of slavery, was now divided. As the former abolitionists aged, the rising generation of party leaders was wealthier and more interested in promoting economic growth than in undoing the legacies of slavery. A severe economic crisis in 1873 prompted by the overly rapid expansion of railroad companies whose executives had close ties to the party was also significant.
After 12 years of Republican power in Washington, when banks closed their doors and called in their loans, many Americans believed it was time to give the Democrats a chance. The 1874 midterm election was a landslide; Democrats won gubernatorial races in 7 southern states. Most significant for federal policy, Democrats broke the Republican monopoly on power in Congress, winning a
majority in the House of Representatives. Upheavals such as these made Republicans in Washington cautious about continuing federal intervention in the Deep South.
! Although many of the dynamics that characterized the Civil War era continued into the 1880s and beyond, it is useful to take stock of the nation as it stood in 1877, the year Reconstruction is usually said to have ended. That year, a closely fought presidential election came down to the counting of votes in 3 Deep South states–South Carolina, Florida, and Louisiana. Amid concerns about renewed sectional strife, a special election commission determined that the Republican presidential candidate, Rutherford B. Hayes, had won election but that Democrats had prevailed in the state contests. Disputed Election of 1877 and the Compromise
Democratic victories in the South were widely acknowledged to be the result of fraud and violent voter suppression. But Republicans in Washington no longer made any pretense that they would intervene. The summer after his inauguration, President Hayes deployed the US Army in northern cities, including Pittsburgh, Chicago, and St. Louis, to smash a strike led by railroad workers. And that fall, the Indian wars on the northern plains limped to an end, as groups of Sioux, Cheyenne, and Nez Perce that had waged long struggles against the government finally surrendered, destitute and exhausted. Railroad Strike of 1877 and Great Sioux War of 1876
! The nation thus emerged from the Civil War, its greatest crisis, larger and more politically stable than ever. With its vast natural resources and growing industrial capacity, it was poised to become a global power. Yet American democracy itself was a work in progress. Politically motivated violence often went unpunished, most political and civic leaders insisted that only white Protestants were “real” Americans, and large swaths of the adult population were prevented from voting because of their race or sex. Although many white Americans enjoyed prosperity and upward mobility, the nation’s farmers and laborers were increasingly demoralized by high prices, low wages, and poor living conditions. The price of national unification was high.