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U.S. History Curriculum

Courtesy of
George Burson
Aspen School District
Aspen, Colorado
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Understand the similarities and differences that existed between the ante-bellum North and the South.

The South and North had similarities in that they shared 50 years of history, they had economies that were interdependent, they both were nationalistic, and they both looked to the West for their future. But slavery divided the two regions more than the similarities pulled them together.

In the North, manufacturing production increased from less than $200 million in 1815 to over $1 billion in 1859. Increased immigration (1830s: 500,000; 1840s: 1,500,000; 1850s: 2,500,000) supplied the necessary labor for the increase in production. The technological revolution and the railroad increased productivity dramatically. For example, prior to the invention of the McCormick Reaper in 1831, one man could reap 1/2 acre of wheat a day. With the reaper 2 men could reap 6 acres a day -- an increase of 600% in productivity. This meant that: l) bread could be sold at half it previous price; 2) grain production could be increased sixfold, thus making the U.S. a grain producer for Europe; and 3) manpower previously concentrated in agriculture could be diverted into many other forms of production. A working class grew up in the North.

Typically a worker worked 12-15 hours a day 6 or 7 days a week. Skilled workers made $4-$10 a week; unskilled workers made from $1-$6 a week. This wage was enough to support a single man, but not a family. To survive, married laborers had to have their wives and children work. Wealth was maldistributed in both the North and the South. By 1860 the top 10 percent of the Northern population held an estimated 68 percent of the total wealth. Nearly 95 percent of the wealth of the nation was held by 30 percent of the population.

Southerners accepted slavery as a necessary part of southern society for the following reasons: l) Slavery was a profitable institution. Southern capital was primarily invested in slaves and land. By 1860, the average price of a field hand was around $1,000. In 1860 the South grew over a billion pounds of cotton -- it was 2/3 of all U.S. exports; 2) The ownership of slaves determined one's social status; 3) slavery was a method of race control. By 1860, there were 3.5 million black slaves in the South out of a total population of 10.6 million. Southerners feared that emancipation would bring about black equality or even black retaliation against whites. 4) slavery insured the labor force necessary for a plantation economy.

Nat Turner's rebellion in 1831 killed 60 whites and after that the fear of a slave revolt caused the South to tighten its grip on slavery. Thirteen out of every 15 southern whites did not own slaves--they had a social interest in slavery; to them slavery was a means of keeping the black race subjugated (as segregation would be to a later generation of whites).

Slaves had almost no rights under state laws. They were chattel -- movable property. They did not have the right to marry, to govern their children, to read and write, to worship as they pleased, to testify against white people in court, or to sell their labor. The master set the terms of the relationship between himself and his slaves.

Southerners feared that if slavery could not expand into the western territories the number of "free" states would become great enough to pass a Constitutional amendment abolishing slavery. Additional territory was also needed to sell off the "excess" slaves that were accumulating in the Old South. The North wanted to stop the expansion of slavery into the western territories for the following reasons: l) By 1860, many Northerners saw slavery as an outmoded labor system and an embarrassment to our democracy. In addition to the U.S., only Cuba and Brazil still had legal slavery. 2) The North wanted to insure that western land would be settled by free white labor, not black slave labor. They wanted this settlement not because slavery was bad for black people, but because it was bad for white people. Every acre farmed by a black slave was an acre that could not be farmed by a free white.

Thus, the Civil War was a conflict between two different societies over which one would control the political, economic, and social destiny of the nation. The north represented the wave of the future -- urban, industrial, and mechanized. The South represented the past: a rural, agricultural society based on slave labor. When Abraham Lincoln was elected President in 1860 on a platform that opposed the further expansion of slavery, the South correctly understood that it had lost the struggle. It had two choices: either accept the inevitable loss of control (during the 72 years from 1788 to 1860, the South controlled the presidency for 50 years, and the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court for 60 years), or secede. The South seceded because it believed that secession was the only way it could preserve and spread slavery (Confederate leaders planned on spreading slavery into the Caribbean and Central America after the war).

Most Southerners believed that the states had created the federal government, the federal government had not created the states. Under this theory of constitutional law, most eloquently espoused by John C. Calhoun during the nullification crisis, since the states (not the people) created the Union the states could secede it at their pleasure. Lincoln held that the Union could not be dissolved because it was created by the citizens of the country as a whole and not by the states ("We the people of the United States in order to form a more perfect union . . . "). Thus, to Lincoln, session was illegal. Lincoln always insisted that the states had not seceded since they could not, and he treated, in as much as possible, Southerners as being in a state of insurrection rather than in a state of warfare against the United States. This debate over the nature of the Union was ended once and for all by the Civil War. Prior to the Civil War, "the United States" was invariably a plural noun: "the United States are a free government." After the Civil War, it became a singular: "The United States is a free government."


Understand the events that illustrate the conflicts between the North and the South from the Compromise of 1850 to the election of Abraham Lincoln.

Review: The Missouri Compromise (1820); Abolitionists turn militant (1830s); the tariff crisis of 1832; the question of Texas, 1836-45; and, the Wilmont Proviso.

The Compromise of 1850. In 1849 gold was discovered in California and California applied for admission to the Union as a free state--the population of California increased from 15,000 in 1848 to 100,000 by the end of 1849. Southern Congressmen were incensed over this action, they had assumed that slavery would expand into the Mexican cession. The South regarded this action as a supreme crisis in which the preservation of the slave system and the entire social structure of South was at stake. If slavery could be excluded from CA it could probably be excluded from all of the many future states that would follow. The South feared that if slavery could not expand into the recently acquired territory the following would happen: l) The political balance of power between slave and free states would be destroyed in the Senate; 2) slavery would wither and die because it could not expand; and, 3) ultimately enough free states would come into the Union to pass a constitutional amendment abolishing slavery.

Provisions of the Compromise of 1850. 1) California came into the Union as a free state. 2) The rest of the Mexican cession was organized as territories with no reference to slavery (popular sovereignty). 3) The slave trade was abolished in Washington, DC 4) A stronger fugitive slave law was enacted. The North refused to enforce this act and the South felt betrayed. These acts were not actually compromises in that a majority of both northern and southern congressmen refused to vote for the provisions that benefited the other side.

Uncle Tom's Cabin. Written by Harriet Beecher Stowe in 1852, this book emphasized the cruel and impersonal nature of slavery. After the Bible it was the best seller of the 19th century. It reinforced regional stereotypes. The North believed that all slave owners were evil, and the South believed that they were being unfairly vilified.

The Ostend Manifesto (1854). The U.S. ambassadors to Britain, Spain and France met at Ostend, Belgium. One of the items they covered in their meeting was the U.S. annexation of Spain's colony of Cuba. They claimed that "Cuba is as necessary to the U.S. as any of its present members." When the document they sent to President Pierce urging Cuban annexation was leaked to the press many Northerners objected to what they believed was slave conspiracy to increase slave territory.

The Kansas-Nebraska Act (1854). Every city in the east wanted to be the eastern terminus for the first transcontinental railroad. Senator Stephen Douglas (D. Ill) was the chairman of the Senate Committee on the Territories. He wanted to organize the northern territories so a railroad could be built through them to the Pacific with Chicago as the eastern terminus. The southern territories to the Pacific had already been organized under the Compromise of 1850. Douglas had to give southern congressmen an incentive to vote for the organization of the northern territories. He gave them this incentive by introducing the Kansas-Nebraska Act which organized the northern territories under the provision of popular sovereignty -- this act nullified the Missouri Compromise. A mini-civil war soon broke out in Kansas over the introduction of slavery into the territory. This conflict kept bitterness in the nation over the slavery question at a white heat, and helped kill the Whig party. The Democratic party became, to a large extent, a southern party, and compromise became even more difficult.

The Breakdown of Political Parties. A disastrous consequence of Kansas-Nebraska was the effect which it had on the system of political parties. At the time of Pierce's election there were two national parties. In presidential elections, the winner, whether Whig or Democrat, usually won both in the North and in the South. This situation had an immensely moderating influence on sectional extremism in either party, for each wing needed allies in the other section to win against adversaries in its own section who belonged to the opposite party. In 1852 this delicate sectional balance began to weaken, and with the Kansas-Nebraska Act it almost collapsed.

The Whig part was hurting because of steadily increasing immigration. The mostly Irish Catholic immigrants affiliated overwhelming with the Democrats. The potato famine sent 1,200,000 Irish to the United States in the 1840s. Total immigration in the four years preceding the defeat of the Whig candidate Winfield Scott in 1852 exceeded the total of Scott's popular vote. After 1852 most Whigs felt that Whiggery was a losing proposition. Each sectional wing felt that its alliance with the other sectional wing cost more locally than it was worth nationally; all recognized that continued immigration would be fatal to a party which failed to attract the immigrants.

Kansas-Nebraska offered the northern Whigs a way out, for it bitterly antagonized northern antislavery Democrats. After the storm of opposition that swept the North over Kansas-Nebraska in 1854, the number of northern Democrats in the House of Representatives fell from 91 to 25. As the antislavery Democrats swarmed out of the Democratic party, the northern Whigs recognized the potential allies whom they so badly needed. But they knew the Whig label would be an obstacle to alliance. Hence they abandoned the Whig organization. Southern Whigs, because of their proslavery stance, joined the Democratic party.

In the political confusion of the 1850s two focal points began to emerge. Antislavery sentiment began to concentrate in the Republican party; anti-immigrant sentiment in the American or Known Nothing party. Since the Know Nothings were partly a secret order, it was possible for a person to be both a Know Nothing and a Republican--in the Congress elected in 1854, a majority of free state members were both. Through complicated political maneuvering, the Republicans were able to become the dominate party and they replaced the Whigs as the second major political party. The Know Nothing influence meant that the Republican party received a nativist infusion which continued to make itself felt for more than a century. Yet the Republican party was able to avoid any explicit identification with nativism.

The Brooks-Sumner Affair (1856). Senator Charles Sumner (R. Mass.) made a bitter speech against slavery and the "slave power" that included personally insulting remarks about elderly Senator Butler from SC. Butler's nephew, Rep. Preston Brooks, observing the "Code of the Southern Gentleman," attacked Sumner on the floor of the Senate with his cane. Sumner was out of the Senate for 3 years because of the attack. Southerners praised Brooks and sent him more canes "to whip the Yankees with," while northerners concluded that southern honor was a fraud. Sumner's bitter words and Brooks bitter deed made it easier for each region to form an ugly stereotype of each other.

The Dred Scott Decision (1857). The Supreme Court decision in Dred Scott v. Sandford made all compromise impossible because it declared the concept of popular sovereignty unconstitutional. The slave Dred Scott had been taken by his master into free territory where slavery was forbidden under the Northwest Ordinance of 1787 and the Missouri Compromise. Scott lived as a slave for 4 years on free soil -- when his master returned him to the slave state of Missouri, Scott sued for his freedom. Chief Justice Roger B. Taney, a Southerner, wrote the majority opinion for the Supreme Court. The Court stated that slaves were not citizens of the U.S. (since they were property) and therefore they could not sue in U.S. courts. In addition, Taney stated that Congress could not forbid the importation of slavery into any region of the U.S. (as had been done in the Missouri Compromise), because that would discriminate against the citizens of the states and violate their right to take their property wherever they please. This decision completely polarized positions on slavery--the South believed that the decision allowed slavery to be extended into all the territories, and the North believed that the Court's decision should be ignored and slavery should be kept out of all the territories.

John Brown's Raid on Harper's Ferry, Virginia (1859). John Brown was a radical abolitionist who had earlier murdered pro-slavery men in Kansas. On October 16, 1859, Brown and 22 other men (some of them black), attacked the federal armory at Harper's Ferry with the idea of getting arms and using these arms for a general slave uprising. The raid failed, Brown was captured, tried by a Virginia court, and executed. To many in the North, Brown was a martyr, to the South, Brown was an example of the lengths the North would go to destroy slavery and the southern way of life.

The election of Abraham Lincoln to the Presidency in 1860. The Democratic party split over the issue of slavery. The Southern Democrats nominated John C. Breckinridge of KY. He ran on a platform of supporting the Dred Scott decision and a federal slave code. The Northern Democrats nominated Stephen Douglas. The Republican party had been formed in 1854 by northern Whigs who realized that their party had been killed by Kansas-Nebraska. The Know-Nothings, a secret anti-immigrant group, also played a large role in forming the party. The Republican platform supported the transcontinental railroad, a Homestead Act, a high protective tariff, and the non-expansion of slavery; including the repeal of the Kansas-Nebraska Act. The Republicans nominated Abraham Lincoln who was an ex-Whig, and the richest trial lawyer in Ill. Lincoln had gained fame when he ran against Douglas for the Senate in 1858. Representatives from the border states sought a compromise and formed their own party, the Constitutional-Union party, and nominated John Bell of TN. Lincoln won the election with only 39% of the popular vote--the smallest percentage in history. In the south, Bell and Breckenridge received 85% of the popular vote; Lincoln was not even on the ballot in some southern states. In the North, Lincoln and Douglas received 86% of the popular vote. Lincoln received 180 Electoral votes, Douglas 12, Breckinridge 76, and Bell 39. Thus, the polarization of the nation was complete.


Understand why the South seceded from the Union and understand why the North objected to secession.

After his election Lincoln supported a constitutional amendment that would guarantee the protection of slavery in the states where it already existed against any further interference by the federal government. This amendment could not be repealed. Lincoln though, was very clear that he would allow no further expansion of slavery. This compromise was not acceptable to the South. Lincoln was elected on November 6, by February 22, seven states had left the Union, set up their own nation--the Confederate States of America--and elected Jefferson Davis their first president.

By the time of Lincoln's inauguration on March 2, 1861, the Confederacy had taken over most federal property in the South. Fort Sumter, in Charleston harbor, was still in federal hands. Lincoln wanted the Confederacy to fire the first shot so they would appear to be the aggressor. This action would help unite the North and make it easier for the border states to choose to stay in the union. When Lincoln found out that the garrison was running out of food he sent a resupply ship to the fort, and the confederate forces opened fire on the fort on April 12, 1861. It surrendered the next day and the war began. The Confederate attack forced every state to choose between the Union and the Confederacy and the upper south states seceded at this time.

Few in the North approved of slavery, but even fewer approved of black equality. The North was anti-slavery and anti-black. But, the South, by secession, changed the issue from one of slavery to the survival of the republic. To the North the support of slavery was wrong, but the support of secession was treason. Secession united the North. The root cause of the conflict--the issue of race relations--was not even perceived as an issue.


Understand the military aspects of the Civil War.

Northern resources were much greater than the South's. These resources allowed the North to win a war of attrition. Even agriculture showed a Northern advantage -- two-thirds of the nation's improved farmland was in the North. It had three times as many horses as the South (an important military advantage since by the end of the war the Union army was losing around 500 horses per day). Of the over 128,000 industrial firms in the nation, only 18,026 were in the South. New York State alone produced four times as much in terms of value of manufactured products as the entire Confederacy. More firearms were made in one Connecticut county than in the entire South.

Northern population: 22,200,000
Southern population: 10,600,000 (including 3,500,000 slaves)

Northern industrial workers: 1,300,000
Southern industrial workers: 110,000

Northern railroad mileage: 22,000
Southern railroad mileage: 9,280

The Union Army outnumbered the Confederate Army 5 to 2.

The crucial handicap of the South was that the North could replace equipment faster than it wore out. The South's equipment was virtually all from the North or from Europe, and when it was used up it could not be replaced.

In addition to having fewer resources than the North, the Southern military and political strategy was flawed by three basic errors.

The First Major Southern Error: Romantic Concept of War. The romantic ideal of chivalry created a state of mind which caused Southerners to think of war somewhat as if it were an extension of the medieval tournament -- a test of bravery upon the battlefield, and not a matter of firepower, transport, commissary, and logistics. The Civil War stood at the dividing line between the old and the new, between a war fought by machines and a war fought by men. The southern folk, who were completely preindustrial in their culture and largely preindustrial in their lives, were slow to understand the new concept of warfare.

The Second Major Southern Error: Faith in King Cotton to Win British Support. The South believed that because of the British need for southern cotton, Britain would come into the war on the side of the South. Britain imported 700 million lbs. of cotton from the south every year (out of a total import of 900 million lbs. annually); two-fifths of Britain's exports were manufactured cotton goods; and out of a population of 21 million, not less than 4 million were dependent, either directly or indirectly, upon employment in the textile industry. This policy failed because: l) British industry had stockpiled over a year's supply of cotton; 2) while the textile industry languished, the British economy was stimulated by the Union demand for British goods; 3) Britain was dependent on northern wheat to feed its people; 4) by the end of 1862 Union armies had penetrated the South at many points and began to ship cotton to Britain; 5) the Emancipation Proclamation won many sympathizers in Britain; and, 6) the Union victories at Gettysburg and Vicksburg convinced Britain that the North would win the war and they did not want to back a looser.

The Third Major Southern Error: Fighting a Defensive War. The Confederacy supposed that northern sentiment was so badly divided that the northern public would not support a war of invasion against the South. And, on the other hand, a southern invasion of the North would tend to unite the North. In strictly tactical terms, defensive warfare is less costly. Military men figure that for an attack to succeed the attacking force needs a ratio of 4-1 against the defense. Also, an invading army has to maintain supply lines of wagon trains. Historically, no large army on the offensive had ever maintained supply lines as long as the Union would have to maintain in order to penetrate the lower South. The role of the railroads in resupply was underestimated by the South. A defensive war meant that the Confederacy would forgo an effort to win; it would confine itself to preventing the Union from wining. This meant that the war would continue until the North got tired of fighting. But a long war meant the South would steadily use up its resources, and that the South would be exposed to the ravages of war while the North would not.

Even though both sides resorted to conscription by 1862, both armies were primarily made up of civilian volunteers. In the north a potential conscript could secure permanent immunity from service by hiring a substitute to serve in his place, or by paying a fee of $300 -- as President Lincoln did for his own son. The substitute system gave rise to the saying: "rich man's war, poor man's fight."

Over 25% of the 776,829 men drafted failed to report, and an additional 200,000 men deserted. Canada received nearly 90,000 Americans during the war, nearly 30,000 of them deserters, others trying to dodge being enrolled in the first place. In the South, plantation owners could avoid service if they were needed to oversee their slaves.

In April, 1861 the U.S. army was about 16,000 strong with most of the force involved in Indian fighting in the west. The Civil War involved armies ten times larger the U.S. had ever seen, with no officers who had ever commanded more than a few brigades, with an acute shortage of men possessing any kind of military experience, with no officer-candidate schools to train officers, and with no coordinating machinery to keep the operations of various armies in coherent relationship with one another.

The supply system was primitive. Hardtack was the staple food of the Union army. It was a solid cracker, some three inches square and nearly half an inch thick; solid, hard and nourishing. If the hardtack got moldy it was usually thrown away as inedible, but if it just got weevily it was issued anyway. Heating it over a fire would drive the weevils out; more impatient soldiers simply ate it in the dark and tried not to think about it.

Sanitation was poor in both armies -- about 220,000 Union soldiers died of disease during the war. Half of the deaths from disease were caused by intestinal ailments, mainly typhoid, diarrhea, and dysentery. Half of the remainder came from pneumonia and tuberculosis. Battle attrition was high. Hardly anybody realized it at the time, but the Civil War soldier went into action just when technical improvements in the design of weapons created a great increase in fire power and gave the defense a heavy advantage over the attack. By the fall of 1862 almost all the troops on both sides used rifled Springfield muskets. With an effective range of 250 yards, and firing a .50 caliber bullet, the rifled musket brought advancing troops under killing fire four or five times as far off as used to be the case with smooth-bore weapons. Like the machine gun in 1914, here was a weapon which upset all the old theories. The invention of rifled artillery doubled its range over the old smooth bore pieces, and generals who knew how to use them could often break up an attack before it even got started. Yet field tactics were still developed around the idea of sending massed troops smack into and over the enemy line. Smooth bore weapons were inaccurate at any range. Thus, the foot soldier was actually a spear carrier in disguise, the bayonet was the decisive weapon, and an infantry charge was based on the idea of getting close enough to the enemy where they could either impale their opponents or force them to run away. But with development of rifled musket and artillery it just didn't work that way any more.

A battle line whose flanks were anchored and which had any kind of protection in front was, in fact, just about invulnerable to a frontal attack. Unless one had a huge advantage in numbers, about the only way to overrun a defensive position was to flank it. In front, a brigade might have the direct power of 1,500 rifles; caught end-on, at either extremity of its line, it had a fire power of exactly two, and so was utterly helpless unless it could shift its position fast. If a whole army could be flanked, the inevitable result was complete defeat.

The Northern strategy was to: 1) divide the South along the Mississippi River; 2) penetrate the heart of the Confederacy through Georgia (Sherman's March to the Sea); 3) capture the Confederate capital of Richmond; and, 4) blockade the Confederate coast.

On July 21, l861, 35,000 Union soldiers (mostly 90 day volunteers) moved South on Richmond. At the Battle of Bull Run they were defeated. Later, under General McClellan the Union Army landed on the tip of the peninsula between the York and James River, only 50 miles from the southern capital. In this operation McClellan characteristically dragged his feet, although he was opposed only by a very weak force which fooled him by painting large logs black and mounting them to resemble cannon. By July 1862 the campaign was called-off, and McClellan was relieved of his command.

Using its superior naval forces the Union forces seized all the Confederate island positions off the southern coast. In March 1862 the Confederate ironclad vessel the Merrimack attacked the Union blockade ships at Hampton Roads and sank two of them. The next day the Union ironclad, the Monitor, fought the Merrimack to a standstill, thereby neutralizing her. After that time Union naval superiority was never challenged.

After extensive and bitter fighting, by March 1862 the Confederates were driven out of Missouri. By January 1862 the Confederates were forced out of eastern KY. In February 1862 Major General Ulysses S. Grant, who had once been dismissed from a captaincy in the peacetime army because of frequent drunkenness, captured the Confederate forts of Henry and Donelson where the Tennessee and Cumberland rivers entered the Ohio. This action opened the Cumberland river as a highway for the Union forces into the heart of Tennessee, and most of Tennessee was back in the Union within nine months of secession. Lincoln appointed Andrew Johnson as military governor. On April 24, 1862, Admiral David Farragut ran the Confederate forts south of New Orleans and took the city.

Thus, by the time McClellan started seriously engaging the Confederates outside of Richmond, the Union had already won most of Missouri, West Virginia, and much of Kentucky and Tennessee. It had occupied the Confederate islands; it had defeated the South's bid for naval supremacy through the use of ironclads; it had captured the largest city in the Confederacy; and it gained control of the Mississippi River south as far as Memphis and north as far as Port Hudson, Louisiana.

The Southern army under Robert E. Lee succeeded in keeping a session of Union commanders from taking Richmond. But the fierce battles took a heavy toll of Southern men that could not be replaced. In July, 1863, Lee moved north hoping to cut northern railroad lines, and force Lincoln to move more troops to the defense of Washington (and away from Richmond). At Gettysburg, Pennsylvania on July 2 and 3 the Confederate army made its supreme effort which failed -- after loosing over 25,000 men, Lee was lucky to get the remainder of his army back to Virginia. On the balance, despite all the heroic action, the fighting in the east was inconclusive. Inconclusive results spelled defeat for the Confederacy. The Army of Northern Virginia's great offensive power was forever broken.

After a 47 day siege, on July 4, 1863 Vicksburg surrendered, yielding 30,000 prisoners and northern control of the Mississippi River. The war would go on for another 21 months, but in effect the result was assured -- the Confederate forces were hopelessly overpowered.

In March, 1864 Grant was made general-in-chief. Grant, using his superior forces relentlessly, drove Lee back into a defensive position at Petersburg where he stayed until the last week of the war. Simultaneously, William T. Sherman began his march to the sea, destroying everything of use to the Confederacy in a swath sixty miles wide. On December 10, Sherman reached Savannah. Resupplied from the sea, Sherman then turned north to join Grant.

During these final campaigns, the Confederacy had no hope of winning. The only reason they continued to resist was the hope that the North might grow weary of the heavy losses and therefore choose not to finish the war that it had won. However Grant's heavy casualties dropped off sharply after June 1864, and the capture of Atlanta in September caused the morale of the northern public to soar. In November, 1864 Lincoln was reelected with 55 percent of the vote. In April, 1865, Richmond was captured and burned. Lee surrendered the remnants of the Army of Northern Virginia on April 9, 1865 at Appomattox Court House.

The war had cost the lives of 40% of the total combined forces for both sides. 618,000 soldiers died and almost 500,000 were wounded: 360,000 Union and 258,000 Confederate deaths (World War II deaths: 405,000). The Battle of Gettysburg killed more men (7,058) than had died in the Revolutionary War and the War of 1812 combined. One out of 11 men of service age was killed in the war. About 1 out of 6 was either killed or wounded. Because of the smaller population base during the Civil War, had World War II produced the same proportion of casualties as did the Civil War, over 2.5 million men would have died.

On April 14, 1865 President Lincoln attended a play at Washington's Ford Theater. He was assassinated by John Wilkes Booth, a pro-Confederate fanatic.

Yet among Lincoln's papers historians have found a 1854 document which stated: "If A can prove conclusively that he may of right enslave B -- why may not B snatch the same argument, and prove equally, that he may enslave A? You say A is white and B is black. It is color then; the lighter having the right to enslave the darker? Take care. By this rule, you are to be the slave to the first man you meet with a fairer skin than your own. You do not mean color, exactly? You mean the whites are intellectually the superiors of blacks, and therefore you have the right to enslave them? Take care again. By this rule, you are to be slave to the first man you meet with an intellect superior to your own. But you say, it is a question of interest; and if you make it your interest, you have the right to enslave others. Very well. And if he can make it his interest, he has the right to enslave you."


Understand Northern racial views.

Southern secession transformed the issue in America from a question of slavery or race to a question of Union, on which most of the North could unite. Northern support of the war was based upon a coalition of Unionists who knew they could not defeat the secessionists without antislavery support and antislavery men who knew they could not abolish slavery without the unionist support, nor without defeating the Confederacy. The victory of the coalition put an end to its reason for existence, for the two allies ceased to need one another. The Confederate surrender did just what secession had done, but in a reverse direction: it transformed the issue back again from a question of union to a question of the status of blacks, and on this question blacks had far fewer supporters in the North as freedmen than they had ever had as slaves. Whenever a successful coalition breaks up after a war because of dissension among the victors, the vanquished find an opportunity to assert themselves. This is what happened in the defeated South.

Abraham Lincoln's racial views illustrate the ambivalence that many northerners had concerning slavery and blacks. The strongest evidence of the racist strain in Lincoln's thinking appeared in one of his debates with Stephen A. Douglas in 1865. Lincoln said: "I will say then, that I am not, nor ever have been in favor of bringing about in any way the social and political equality of the white and black races; that I am not, nor ever have been in favor of making voters or jurors of Negroes, nor of qualifying them to hold office, nor to intermarry with white people; and I will say, in addition to this, that there is a physical difference between the white and black races which I believe will forever forbid the two races living together on terms of social and political equality. And inasmuch as they cannot so live, while they do remain together there must be the position of superior and inferior, and I as much as any other man am in favor of having the superior position assigned to the white man."

Lincoln also stated in the Lincoln-Douglas Debates that the Republicans looked upon slavery as "a wrong. . .a moral, social, and political wrong." Thus, to Lincoln, and many northerners, it was not the racial prejudice and discrimination that bothered them about slavery, it was the institution itself. Segregation and legal inequality were acceptable, but slavery was not.

Lincoln spelled out the question of the priority of his values to Horace Greeley in an August, 1862 letter: "My paramount object in this struggle is to save the Union, and is not either to save or destroy slavery. If I could save the Union without freeing any slave, I would do it; and if I could save it by freeing all the slaves, I would do it; and if I could save it by freeing some and leaving others alone [which is exactly what he did in the Emancipation Proclamation], I would also do that. What I do about slavery and the colored race, I do because I believe it helps save this Union, and what I forbear, I forbear because I do not believe it would help save the Union. . . . I intend no modification of my oft-expressed personal wish that all men everywhere be free."

In short, for Lincoln one belief -- about the value of the Union--was more important than another belief -- about the moral wrong of slavery. Lincoln never lost sight of the fact that he was fighting a war supported by an unstable coalition of conservative Unionists and radical antislavery men, and that if the coalition ever broke down, he would lose the war. The other crucial circumstance was that the border slave states were on hair-trigger, and the slightest false step would send them into the Confederacy.

With the preceding in mind, Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation September 22, 1862 after the Northern victory at Antietam. Basically, it stated that in those areas still in rebellion against the United States on the first of January, 1863, all slaves should be emancipated. The document did not physically free anyone, even after three months, because it applied only to areas over which the Union government had no control. The Proclamation was one last attempt by Lincoln to get the seceding states to cease their resistance and thus save their slaves. Slavery was legal in Kentucky and Delaware until 8 months after the war, when the ratification of the 13th amendment brought it to an end.

Lincoln also knew that the Proclamation would make it difficult for Britain and France to support the Confederacy once the Civil War became a war of slave emancipation. Finally, the North was becoming sickened by the high casualties of the war. The Proclamation allowed the Union to use freedmen in the army. About 179,000 blacks served in the military -- 12 percent of the total Union force at the end of the war was black. They were paid about $7 a month (half of white pay).


Understand the goals and objectives of the different plans of reconstruction put forth by President Lincoln, President Johnson, and the "Radicals" in Congress.

During Reconstruction (18651877) the nation had to grapple with the following problems:  1) what role would the freedmen play in American society?  2) how much power should the ex-Confederates be allowed in southern and national polity  3) which branch of the federal government -- executive or legislative--would dominate the national government?  The different plans of reconstruction were attempts to deal with these problems.

Lincoln's plan of Reconstruction (December 8, 1863). When 10% of the whites of a state took an oath supporting the Constitution, the Union, and the wartime measures emancipating slaves, they might organize a republican form of government for the state, which would be recognized as the true government of the state, and they might receive a full pardon for any service to the Confederacy "with restoration of all rights of property, except as to slaves." The process of reconstruction would be managed by former Confederates. Lincoln did not anticipate black participation in the forming of these governments; the proclamation contained no guarantees of rights for blacks, beyond the recognition of emancipation. Tennessee came back into the Union in 1866 under this plan.

The Wade-Davis Bill (July, 1864). An attempt by the Republicans in Congress to take the reconstruction process away from the executive branch and to insure that ex-Confederates would have little power on the national level. Required 50% of the body of citizens eligible to vote (excluding ex-Confederates by requiring an oath of continuous past loyalty: the so-called "ironclad oath") to petition to form a new government. Implicitly the Radicals did not encourage a speedy restoration to the Union for it was unlikely that any former Confederate state could easily meet these demands. Blacks were excluded from participation. Vetoed by Lincoln. This bill drew the issue not only as to what the policy of reconstruction should be, but also where the authority for deciding policy lay--with the Congress or the President.

The Johnson Plan for Reconstruction (May, 1865). Andrew Johnson was a Union Democrat from Tennessee. He was a rigid, anti-black, anti-southern planter, and he never understood the attitudes of northerners. He was selected as Vice President by the Republicans in an attempt to prove that it was a Union Party in the broadest sense. In April 1865 John Wilkes Booth made him President for a term only 40 days short of the full four years.

Johnson issued two proclamations while Congress was in recess. He granted amnesty to former Confederates who took an oath of loyalty to the Constitution and federal laws. Their property was restored to them, except for slaves and any lands and goods that were already in the process of being confiscated. 14 classes of persons were excepted from the general amnesty, including the highest-ranking civil and military officers, all those who had deserted judicial posts or seats in Congress, and persons whose taxable property was worth more than $20,000. These men had to make individual applications for amnesty (this clause illustrates Johnson's hatred of the planter class).

In the second proclamation in which Johnson outlined his requirements for the reconstruction of North Carolina, and which foreshadowed the policy he would follow in future proclamations to other states, Johnson appointed a unionist provisional government, with authority to hold an election for a constitutional convention to reorganize the government of the state. Eligibility to vote in this election was restricted to those who had taken the loyalty pledge (which admitted ex-Confederates), and who were eligible under the laws prior to secession (which excluded blacks). The southern states had to nullify their ordinances of secession, show their acceptance of the abolition of slavery by ratifying the 13th amendment, and repudiate the Confederate war debts (again attacking the planter class). Johnson failed to enforce these terms (for example MS failed to ratify the 13th amendment) yet Johnson nevertheless recognized the reconstructed governments.

In elections held in the fall of 1865 the voters of the South sent many prominent ex-Confederates to Congress including 4 former rebel generals and the Confederate vice president, Alexander Stephens. Congress rejected Johnson's plan because they wanted to insure black participation (for their Republican votes), and they wanted to reduce the power of the planter class (who were the leaders of the southern Democrats). The Southern congressmen were turned away at the door. The Radicals informed Johnson that they would not welcome traitors into their midst. Congress also wanted to regain the power that it had lost to the Executive during the Civil War.

In an attempt to continue to regulate black labor the Southern states passed a series of "black codes" that restricted the rights of blacks. In some states, blacks were permitted to work only as domestic servants or in agriculture. Other states made it illegal for blacks to live in urban areas. In no state were blacks allowed to vote or bear arms. Mississippi required freedmen to sign 12 month labor contracts before January 10 of each year. Those who failed to do so could be arrested, and their labor sold to the highest bidder.

The Republicans in Congress were determined to assert their authority over the South and the president. They passed a Freedmen's Bureau Act (1866) that oversaw the welfare of the freedmen, exercised military jurisdiction in the South by taking a case involving a freedman out of the civil courts and dealt with it by military law. The Civil Rights Act of 1866 sought to protect the freedmen's rights by bringing such rights under federal jurisdiction.

The Radicals then took control of reconstruction by imposing military reconstruction upon the South (March, 1867). The South was divided into 5 military districts with a general of the army in charge of each. The military governors were to conduct a voter registration, for which blacks would be eligible, but whites who held public office before the Civil War and supported the Confederacy would not. When the registration was completed, the governors were to hold elections for new constitutional conventions for each state. These conventions were required to write black suffrage into the new state constitutions. When the constitutions had been drafted by the conventions and ratified by the voters and when the 14th amendment had been ratified by the state, the state's constitution might be submitted to Congress for approval. If approved, the state would be readmitted.

The fight for control of the national government led to the impeachment and trial of Andrew Johnson. In 1867 Congress passed the Tenure of Office Act forbidding the President from removing officeholders who had been appointed by him and confirmed by the Senate (in 1926 the Supreme Court ruled that Congress can not interfere with the President's control over the executive branch). Johnson removed Secretary of War Stanton who had been appointed by Lincoln. He was working with the Radicals in Congress in an attempt to undermine Johnson's authority. In March, 1868 the House of Representatives, by a vote of 126 to 47, impeached Johnson on 11 counts. Nine of these counts dealt with the Tenure of Office Act and two of them accused Johnson of trying to discredit Congress. The Senate tried the President. The vote to convict him was 35 to 19, one short of the 2/3 majority required for conviction. With this result the independence of the executive branch was maintained and the attempt to remove Johnson from office collapsed, but for the rest of his term, Congress, not Johnson, made the major policy decisions for the country.


Understand the "Civil War amendments" to the Constitution.

The "Civil War amendments" were an attempt by Congress to insure that the goals of Reconstruction could not be overturned by southern state legislatures after ex-Confederates had regained control.

The Thirteenth Amendment ended slavery and gave Congress the power of enforcement.

The Fifteenth Amendment proclaimed that neither the federal nor the state government could deny the right to vote because of race, color, or previous condition of slavery. If the Republicans could outlaw disfranchisement of blacks on a nationwide basis by a constitutional amendment, there would be several advantages: 1) it would avoid arousing the electorate in the northern states--the state legislatures understood the advantage of the of the black vote to the party; 2) they would fight one battle instead of a whole series; and, 3) the amendment would gain them black votes as a partial offset to the anti-black votes which they had already antagonized by their southern policies. Black enfranchisement added about 146,000 voters to the Republican party and these voters were strategically distributed in states that usually were very close in presidential elections.


Understand the Compromise of 1877.

The presidential election of 1876 marked the official end of Reconstruction. The Republicans nominated Rutherford B. Hayes, and Democrats Samuel J. Tilden. Tilden won the popular vote (52% to 48%), but Republican-controlled election boards in Florida, South Carolina, and Louisiana claimed victory -- despite higher Democratic votes. They claimed that blacks had been prevented from voting in those states. Without the electoral votes of these states, Tilden had 184 undisputed votes -- 1 short of the majority he needed. If the disputed votes all went to Hayes, he would have the 185 necessary to win. Congress appointed an Electoral Commission consisting of 15 men selected from the House, Senate and the Supreme Court. Since the Commission divided on strict party lines, 8 Republicans to 7 Democrats, in all of its decisions, it lost any moral authority which it might have had. Democrats were convinced, probably correctly, that the Republicans were stealing the election they had fairly won. Because they controlled the House of Representatives, they were in a position to prevent the completion of the count of votes by refusing to meet with the Senate in a joint session, which is constitutionally required for receiving the electoral votes.

The Election Commission awarded the Presidency to Hayes and the Democrats agreed not to try block the election (since Tilden would not be elected anyway) and the Republicans agreed to withdraw the last remaining troops from the South (which Hayes was probably going to do after the election anyway). Southern Democrats gave great publicity to their action in "ransoming" the last two of the states (SC & LA) which were still "unredeemed," but they said much less about the fact that they had also extorted from Hayes a promise to support large subsidies and perhaps railroad land grants for a Texas and Pacific railroad, which would permit southern financial adventurers to enjoy some of the governmental largesse which they had been denouncing the Republicans for receiving.

With the Compromise of 1877 the Democratic ascendancy completely subordinated Southern blacks. They were a subordinate caste, not yet legally segregated, but segregated in practice, and legal segregation would come by 1900.

The Civil War was not fought for black rights. It was a conflict between two forms of society over which one would dominate the American system. Slavery was seen as a impediment to future American progress by the North. Most Northerners thought of the freedmen simply as a local southern problem, and during Reconstruction considered policy for them primarily as an aspect of protecting the program and the power of the Republican party. White Southerners did not want blacks to have social, political, or economic equality and their programs reflected that goal. Thus, neither side was committed to black rights. When the Republicans realized that they could remain in power without the black Southern vote, they abandoned them. When Southerners regained local control in the 1880s they insured that blacks would be disfranchised and segregated. It was not until the 1960s when a growing northern black vote became important, and television showed the world southern racism, that blacks gained the legal rights that had been denied them since they had been brought to the New World. Thus, while the American people had achieved what Lincoln called his "paramount objective"--saving the Union -- they had not been able to resolve a dilemma which was perhaps insoluble in any case -- the dilemma of reconciling the sections without sacrificing the quest for a new life by American blacks, or of creating the basis for such a new life without making the hostility between the sections permanent. To the North, the reconciliation of the white Southerner to the Union was more important the protection of the legal, social, and political rights of the black Southerner.


Understand the economy of the South after Reconstruction.

After the Civil War, Southern political leaders hoped to copy the economic success of the North. They invited Northern business people to invest money in industry and transportation in the South. Despite some limited advances, however, the South remained a "colony" of the North. The South essentially produced raw materials for Northern factories. So rapid was the expansion of the North and West that by 1900 the South had a smaller percentage of the nation's factories and capital than it had in 1860.

Throughout this period, Southerners were poorer and less urbanized than Northerners. In 1860, the income of the average Southerner was about 72 percent of the national average--in 1900 it was 51 percent. Only 8.5 percent of the population of the South Atlantic states below Maryland was urban in 1890, as compared with 51.7 percent of the population of the North Atlantic states from Pennsylvania up. In 1880 the estimated per capita wealth in the South was $376 as compared with a national average of $870. In 1919 it was estimated that per capita income in the South was about 40 percent lower than the national average. Closely related to Southern poverty was a lag in literacy, education, libraries, public health, and living standard.

The South also lost political power during this period. During the 72 years between Washington and Lincoln, Southerners controlled the presidency for 50 years. In 60 of those years the Chief Justice had been from the South. The South had also furnished about half of the Supreme Court justices, nearly half of the men of Cabinet rank, and more than half of the Speakers of the House of Representatives. During the next 50 years no Southerner was elected president or vice president, and Southerners made up only about 10 percent of the Supreme Court justices, diplomats, and Cabinet members. Well into the twentieth century, the South remained a satellite of both northern industry and northern politics.

Go on to  Ch. VII.  United States: 1877-1890

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