The Social, Economic, and Political Reconstitution of the Civil War and Reconstruction

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Middlebury College
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During the start of the Civil War in 1861, the United States faced one of its greatest challenges as the southern and northern states underwent political, social, and economic divide. While the North became commercially and industrially advanced, the South remained largely agricultural, and thus, the states in the region relied on slaves to conduct its agricultural endeavors (Gunderson, 1974). The issues of African-American slavery further exacerbated the problem, and it separated the North from the South in that the southern states wanted to uphold it but the Northern states objected. In fact, the North wanted to eliminate or limit the spread of slavery but the South wanted to maintain and even expand it. For this reason, the issue of slavery became a focal point of the political crisis that constituted the culmination of the Civil War. According to Foner (1974), after the 1860 elections, Abraham Lincoln was sworn in as the president, which prompted 11 southern states to secede from the Federal Union in the year 1861. The main reason for their secession was to establish their independent confederacy of states to protect the institution of slavery that the northern states threatened (Gunderson, 1974). Therefore, it can be derived that the cause of the Civil War was mainly for the southern states to protect their interests. The North, however, reiterated that the secession was unconstitutional and were inclined to use military force to restore the union. In effect, it resulted to a bloody Civil War, but after four years of fighting, the North finally was able to restore the union, mainly via utilizing force of arms. The Civil war and the Reconstruction led to political changes, such as the adoption of Jim Crow laws and the passing of Civil War Amendments, development of social changes, for example, freeing slaves, advocating equality, and the development of the Ku Klux Khan (KKK), as well as economic changes, which entailed the rebuilding of cities and towns and the adoption of industrialization in the South.

Politically, the Civil War and the Reconstruction led to the development of Jim Crow laws. Even though they were oppressive against the blacks, they enables the African-American population to exercise their political rights of voting. Before, African Americans, being slaves, were not allowed to vote. However, after the Civil War and Reconstruction, their plight had been solved because slavery was abolished (Smith, Anderson, & Rackaway, 2015). They were then allowed to have equal rights, just as the whites, and for this reason, the Civil War and Reconstruction led to the abolishment of discrimination against the blacks. In addition, the Civil War and the Reconstruction culminated in the development and adoption of the Reconstruction Amendments, encapsulated in the 13th, 14th, and 15th amendments of the U.S. Constitution, and were adopted after the end of the war, mainly between the years 1865 and 1870, which were the immediate five years after the war (Bestor, 1964). The amendments were important in reconstructing the South by freeing slaves, which was deeply rooted to the institution. For this reason, after the reconstruction, slavery was abolished in the U.S., which was encompassed in the 13th Amendment, which was proposed and underwent ratification in 1865. The 14th Amendment, which was proposed in 1866 but ratified two years later in 1868, addressed the issue of citizenship rights, as well as the equality in protecting the rights of every American, both whites and blacks (Bestor, 1964). On the other hand, according to Bestor (1964), the 15th Amendment, which was proposed in the year 1869 but underwent ratification in 1870 prohibited discrimination in the voting rights of all citizens based on aspects of color, servitude, and race. As such, politically, the Civil War and Reconstruction reconstituted the elimination of all discrimination tendencies that whites had against the blacks, as well as being legally recognized as equals. As such, these Amendments were specifically designed to guarantee freedom to the former slaves, especially in the southern states, and eliminating instances of civil rights discrimination exercised against all Americans.

In effect, blacks were involved in the politics, and in consequence, they could win seats in all levels of the government. For this reason, the Civil War and the Reconstruction were important in shaping the American political sphere as the blacks, who were former slaves, could now participate in politics and lead Americans at all government levels without any form of discrimination. For instance, elected senator Hiram Rhodes Revels from Mississippi took over Jefferson Daviss seat (Smith, Anderson, & Rackaway, 2015). However, in the South, whites countered political help blacks received from the Civil War and Reconstruction, for example, adopting literacy tests, grandfather clauses, poll taxes, as well as the Jim Crow laws. In the North, it led to the creation of five military districts while in the West, it led to the enactment of the Homestead Act, which encouraged migration to the West by providing the settlers with 160 acres of land in return to paying fees, as well as the adoption of railroad construction.

The Civil war and the Reconstruction also had social ramifications. In essence, as dictated by the 13th, 14th, and 15th Amendments, the former slaves would be treated equally as the whites and would be free from their masters (Button, 2014). According to Burton (2014), they gained equal status with their former masters. However, in the South, it also led to development of the KKK, which was a social organization whose main intention was to protect white dominance and control over the blacks. Even though the amendments adopted were meant to eliminate instances of discrimination, instead, in the South, it resulted in increased racial prejudice, meaning that blacks were more oppressed, which is evidenced by how they adopted grandfather clauses, poll taxes, and Jim Crow laws, specifically designed to ensure white dominance (Smith, Anderson, & Rackaway, 2015). For this reason, racial segregation replaced the slavery in the South, as well as the adoption of black codes. However, it meant that the Civil Rights groups were more organized, and signaled the rise of southern nationalism. In the quest to help the blacks, the South created the Freedmans Bureau, with the sole intention of helping the former slaves. However, in the North, the Federal government did little in assisting the needy, and the Freedmans Bureau was one of its efforts designed to aid them. In the North, slavery officially ended with the passing of the amendments and gender roles changed as women could take positions to work as teachers, factory workers, and nurses.

Lastly, the Civil War and the Reconstruction also led to significant economic changes. It led to increased commercialization and industrialization in the whole country. However, the economic impacts were largely contributed by the Norths control of the Federal Government. The war led to the passing of legislations critical to the U.S. economic expansion, such as the Morrill Tariff, which was adopted in 1861 aiming to raise the rates to 20%, thereby ending a 30-year period defined by declining rates (Ayer, 1992). Increased industrialization also saw the enactment of the Transcontinental Railroad Act, which ensured the funding of railroad construction. In addition, as Ayer (1992) articulates, the Morrill Land Grant Act, having been enacted in 1862, led to adoption of mechanical and agricultural colleges by granting 30,000 acres to every state that remained in the union to each congressional member. It also led to the development of the National Bank Act in the year 1863, which saw the implementation of new banking standards in the American banking sector. As pointed out earlier, the war led to the adoption of the Homestead Act, where individuals were granted 160 acres for anyone who settled on the western territory for five years with the sole intention of becoming a citizen (Ayer, 1992). These acts helped shape the economy of the U.S. in the late 19th Century, as well as in the 20th Century. In the South, it also led to the destruction of King Cotton and the plantation system which meant that slaves could no longer work on the cotton plantations. Due to industrialization, mechanization was adopted instead of slavery. There were economic costs, however, associated with the Civil War and the Reconstruction because since most of the war occurred in the south, cities underwent massive destruction. For this reason, the reconstruction saw the need of rebuilding the cities and towns that were destroyed. As such, it can be concluded that the Civil war and the Reconstruction led to political, economic, and social changes, which helped the social, economic, and political institutions of the U.S.


Ayer, E.L. (1992). The promise of the new south: Life after reconstruction. New York, N.Y.: Oxford University Press.

Bestor, A. (1964). The American civil war as a constitutional crisis. The American Historical Review, 69(2), 327-352.

Button, J.W. (2014). Blacks and social change: impact of the civil rights movement in southern communities. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press.

Foner, E. (1974). The causes of the American civil war: recent interpretations and new directions. Civil War History, 20(3), 197-214.

Gunderson, G. (1974). The origin of the American civil war. The Journal of Economic History, 34(04), 915-950.

Smith, M.A., Anderson, K., & Rackaway, C. (2015). Civil War, Reconstruction, and retrenchment. In State voting laws in America: Historical statutes and their modern implications (pp. 14-21). New York, N.Y.: Palgrave Macmillan.

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