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ACROSS THE ATLANTIC THE VICTORY OF NORTHERN ARMS HAD preserved American unity. But immense problems had now to be faced. The most urgent was that of restoring order and prosperity to the defeated Confederacy. Great areas in the South, along the line of Sherman’s march, and in the valley of Virginia, had been devastated. Atlanta, Columbia, Charleston, Richmond and other cities had been grievously damaged by bombardment and fire. The life of the South had come to a standstill. Farming, denied a market by the Northern blockade, had fallen into stagnation, despite the heroic efforts of Southern women and the faithful slaves to keep the land in cultivation. The blockade had also caused severe shortages in many common goods, and the breakdown of transport within the Confederacy had brought all within the grip of famine. The entire and inflated Southern banking system had collapsed. Confederate paper money and securities were now worthless. The whole region was reduced to penury. As the ragged, hungry soldiers of the Confederacy made their way homeward after Appomattox they were everywhere confronted by scenes of desolation and ruin.

Reconstruction was the word. But a prime difficulty in reconstructing the South was the future of the Negro. In spite of Lincoln’s Proclamation of 1863, which nominally freed the slaves in the rebellious states, millions of them had continued throughout the war to work loyally for their old owners. At the end of the war many of them believed that Emancipation meant that they need no longer work. They made off to the nearest town or army camp, depriving the plantations of their labour and presenting the Union authorities with an alarming problem. There was another reason for tackling the question of the Negro, for in some parts of the Union he was legally still a slave. Lincoln’s Proclamation had abolished salvery only in those areas under Confederate control. It had not applied either to the parts of the Confederacy occupied by the Union or to the four slave states which had remained loyal. Only two of these states, Maryland and Missouri, had outlawed slavery within their limits. Further action was needed, especially since doubts were expressed in many quarters about the constitutional Tightness of Lincoln’s Proclamation and of the Act passed by Congress in 1862 abolishing slavery in the Territories. The Thirteenth Constitutional Amendment was therefore proposed, prohibiting slavery in all areas within the jurisdiction of the United States.

But here was a complication. The American Constitution provided that no amendment was valid until it had been ratified by three-quarters of the states. As the Union now consisted of thirty-six states, some at least of the eleven former Confederate states would have to ratify if the Thirteenth Amendment was to become effective. The position of the states which had seceded from the Union had to be defined. If they had in fact left the Union should they return as the equals of their conquerors? If so, on what conditions?

While the war was still in progress Lincoln had dismissed the question of the legal status of the Confederate states as a “pernicious abstraction.” He had been concerned only with restoring them to their “proper practical relation with the Union.” In December 1863 he had set out a plan for their readmission. Pardon was offered, with a few exceptions, to all adherents of the Confederacy who would take an oath of loyalty to the Union. When such oaths had been taken by 10 per cent of the electorate of any state it remained only for state Governments to be established which were prepared to abolish slavery. Then they would be readmitted. Lincoln’s “10 per cent plan” was never carried out. Reconstructed Governments were set up in 1864 in three of the Confederate states which had fallen under the control of Union armies, but Congress refused to seat the Senators and Representatives whom they sent to Washington.


Congress believed that Reconstruction was its business, and not the President’s. The Radical Republicans who dominated Congress did not wish to smooth the path of the South’s return to her allegiance. They wanted a harsh and vengeful policy, and they especially desired the immediate enfranchisement of the Negro. Radical vindictiveness sprang from various causes. The most creditable was a humanitarian concern for the welfare of the Negro. These feelings were shared only by a minority. More ignoble motives were present in the breasts of such Radical leaders as Zachariah Chandler and Thaddeus Stevens. Loving the Negro less than they hated his master, these ill-principled men wanted to humiliate the proud Southern aristocracy, whom they had always disliked, and at whose door they laid the sole blame for the Civil War. There was another and nearer point. The Radicals saw that if the Negro was given the vote they could break the power of the Southern planter and preserve the ascendancy over the Federal Government that Northern business interests had won since 1861. To allow the Southern states, in alliance with Northern Democrats, to recover their former voice in national affairs would, the Radicals believed, be incongruous and absurd. It would also jeopardise the mass of legislation on tariffs, banking, and public land which Northern capitalists had secured for themselves during the war. To safeguard these laws the Radicals took up the cry of the Negro vote, meaning to use it to keep their own party in power.

Even if Lincoln had lived to complete his second term he would have met with heavy opposition from his own party. The magnanimous policy he had outlined in April 1865, in the classic address delivered from the White House, was shattered by the bullet that killed him a few days later. The new President, Andrew Johnson of Tennessee, though sharing Lincoln’s views on Reconstruction, was markedly lacking in political gifts. Nevertheless, from Lincoln’s death until the end of the year, while Congress was in recess, Johnson was able to put into effect a Reconstruction plan closely resembling Lincoln’s. Each Southern state, in conventions chosen by loyal electors, could qualify for readmission to the Union by repealing the Ordinances of Secession, repudiating the Confederate war debt, and abolishing slavery. The South, anxious, in the words of General Grant, “to return to self-government within the Union as soon as possible,” was quick to comply. Southerners then proceeded to elect state legislatures and officials, chose Senators and Representatives to go to Washington, and ratified the Thirteenth Amendment, which went into force in December 1865.

When Congress reconvened in that same month it declined to seat the elected Representatives of the South. Ignoring Johnson’s work, Congress went on to put its own ideas into practice. Its first step was to set up a Joint Committee on Reconstruction, charged with the task of collecting information about Southern conditions. Early in the new year this body, under Radical control, reported that drastic measures were necessary to protect the emancipated Negro. Congress promptly took action. First came the Freedmen’s Bureau Bill, which prolonged the life and greatly extended the powers of an agency set up earlier to assist Negroes to make the transition to freedom. This was followed by a Civil Rights Bill, conferring citizenship on the Negroes and granting them equality of treatment before the law. Both these measures were vetoed by Johnson as unconstitutional infringements of the rights of the states. The Civil Rights Bill was repassed over Johnson’s veto and became law. The Radicals meanwhile aimed at making doubly sure of their purposes by incorporating its provisions in the Fourteenth Amendment.

The quarrel between Johnson and the Radicals was now open and bitter, and the Congressional elections of 1866 witnessed a fierce struggle between them. The Radicals were much the more astute in presenting their case to the electorate. They pointed to a serious race riot in New Orleans as proof of Southern maltreatment of the Negro, and to the recently enacted Black Codes as evidence of an intention to re-enslave him. Their leaders carried more conviction with the Northern electors than did Johnson, whose undignified outbursts during a speaking tour lost him much support. The result was a resounding victory for the Radicals, who obtained a two-thirds majority in both Houses of Congress. The way was now clear for them to carry out their own plan of Reconstruction, for they were strong enough to override the President’s vetoes. A series of harsh and vengeful Reconstruction Acts was passed in 1867. The South was divided into five military districts, each under the command of a Federal Major-General. The former Confederacy was to be subjected to Army rule of the kind that Cromwell had once imposed on England. In order to be readmitted to the Union the Southern states were now required to ratify the Fourteenth Amendment and to frame state constitutions which provided for Negro suffrage—and this in spite of the fact that very few of the Northern states had as yet granted the Negro the vote.

Not content with these successes, the Radical leaders then tried to remove the President from office by impeachment. This would have suited them well, for as the law then stood Johnson would have been replaced by the President of the Senate, who was himself a leading Radical. According to the Constitution, the President could be thus dismissed on conviction for treason, bribery, or other high crimes and misdemeanours. Yet Johnson’s opposition to Radical policies had never overstepped constitutional limits, and his enemies were put to some difficulty in framing charges against him. After vain endeavours to find any evidence of treason or corruptibility, the Radicals put forward as a pretext for his impeachment Johnson’s effort, in August 1867, to rid himself of his Secretary of War, Edwin M. Stanton. This unscrupulous politician had long merited dismissal. He had been in the habit of passing on Cabinet secrets to the Radical leaders while professing the utmost loyalty to the President. But when Johnson demanded his resignation Stanton refused to comply. For some months he continued to conduct the business of the War Department, in which he finally barricaded himself. Stanton justified his conduct by reference to the Tenure of Office Act, a measure recently adopted over Johnson’s veto as part of the Radical effort to diminish the powers of the Presidency. No Cabinet officers, the Act had declared, were to be dismissed without the consent of the Senate. Failure to obtain consent was punishable as a high crime.

Thus in March 1868 the Radical leaders were able to induce the House to adopt eleven articles impeaching Andrew Johnson at the bar of the Senate. The only concrete charge against him was his alleged violation of the Tenure of Office Act. Yet this measure was constitutionally doubtful, and its violation became a crime only because the Radicals said so. In spite of the weakness of their case they came within an ace of success. In the event they failed by a single vote to obtain the two-thirds majority in the Senate which they needed to convict the President. Seven Republican Senators, withstanding immense and prolonged pressure, refused to allow the impeachment process to be debased for party ends. They voted for acquittal.

By the narrowest possible margin a cardinal principle of the American Constitution, that of the separation of powers, was thus preserved. Had the impeachment succeeded the whole course of American constitutional development would have been changed. Power would henceforth have become concentrated solely in the legislative branch of the Government, and no President could have been sure of retaining office in the face of an adverse Congressional majority. Nevertheless the Radicals were strong enough in Congress during the rest of Johnson’s term to be able to ignore his wishes. A further Republican victory at the polls in 1868 brought General Ulysses S. Grant to the White House. The triumph of the Radicals was now complete, for the ineptitude in high office of the victorious Union commander made him their tool.

The political reconstruction of the South ground forward in strict accordance with the harsh legislation of 1867. Under the superintendence of Federal military commanders elections were held in which the Negro for the first time took part. Almost a million coloured men were enrolled on the voting lists. At the same time more than a hundred thousand Southern whites were disfranchised because they had been in rebellion. Negro voters were in a majority in five states. Yet the Negro was merely the dupe of his ill-principled white leaders. These consisted either of Northern adventurers, known as “carpet-baggers,” whose main purposes in going South were to make fortunes for themselves and to muster the Negro vote for the Republican Party, or of Southern “scalawags,” who were prepared, for the sake of office, to co-operate with a régime that most Southern whites detested. Between 1868 and 1871 “carpet-bag” and “scalawag” Governments, supported by the Negro vote and by Federal bayonets, were installed in all the Southern states. When these states were deemed to have complied with the Radical requirements they were allowed to return to the Union.

Fraud, extravagance, and a humiliating racial policy were imposed upon the South by Radical rule. It could be maintained only by the drastic use of Federal power. To bolster up the “carpet-bag” Governments Congress initiated the Fifteenth Amendment, which laid down that suffrage could not be denied to any citizen on grounds of “race, colour, or previous condition of servitude.” A series of laws placed Congressional elections under Federal management, and authorised the use of military force to suppress violence in the Southern states. These measures were prompted by the vigorous efforts of white Southerners, both by legal methods and by threats to Negro voters from secret societies like the Ku Klux Klan, to overthrow the “carpet-bag” Governments and restore white supremacy. For a time repression achieved its purpose, but gradually state after state was recaptured by white voters. This success was partly due to the stubbornness of Southern resistance and partly to a change in Northern sentiment. By the early 1870’s the ordinary Northerner had become fully alive to the political shortcomings of the Negro and was scandalised by the corruption of the “carpet-bag” Governments. The Northern business man wanted an end to unsettled conditions, which were bad for trade. Above all, Northerners became weary of upholding corrupt minority Governments by force. They began to withdraw their support from the Radical programme.

By 1875 the Radical Republicans had so far lost control that only South Carolina, Florida, and Louisiana were still in the hands of the “carpet-baggers.” In the following year a way was opened for these states to recover control of their own affairs. After the Presidential election of 1876 disputes arose in these three states over the validity of the election returns. The matter was extremely important, since the nineteen electoral votes at stake were sufficient to decide the Presidential contest. The Democratic candidate, Samuel J. Tilden, had obtained 184 electoral votes, or one short of a majority. The Republican, Rutherford B. Hayes, therefore needed all the disputed nineteen. When the controversy was referred to the House of Representatives it was obvious that the Republican majority in that Assembly would decide in favour of Hayes. So as a sop to Democratic opinion generally, and to the South in particular, Hayes’s supporters promised that Federal troops would be withdrawn from the South as soon as Hayes took office. Mollified by this concession, the South abandoned its opposition to Hayes. In April 1877, a month after Hayes assumed the Presidency, and twelve years after Lee’s surrender at Appomattox, the last Federal garrisons left the South. The remaining “carpet-bag” Governments promptly collapsed, white supremacy was everywhere restored, and the period of Radical Reconstruction was over.

It had not been altogether an evil, for the “carpet-bag” legislatures promoted a number of long-overdue reforms and accomplished some good work in building roads and bridges. But it was on the whole a shameful and discreditable episode. In the judgment of an American historian, the “negro and carpet-bagger Governments were among the worst that have ever been known in any English-speaking land.” Reconstruction left in the South a legacy of bitterness and hatred greater by far than that produced by four years of war. Remembering the Republicans as the party of Negro rule, the white South for the next fifty years would vote almost to a man for the Democratic Party. The Negro himself gained little lasting benefit from Reconstruction. His advancement had been the plaything of self-seeking and cynical men, and was set back for an incalculable period.


From the end of Reconstruction until the closing decade of the century American politics lacked interest. Memories of the Civil War remained fresh, especially in the South, and the passions aroused by it could still be revived. Indeed, they often were, especially by the Republican Party, which made a practice at election times of “waving the bloody shirt” and denouncing their Democratic opponents as rebels and traitors. Yet the issues of the war itself were dead, and unreplaced. No major questions divided the parties, no new policies were initiated, and scarcely a measure deserving the attention of the historian was placed on the Statute Book. Nor were the political personalities of the time any more exciting than the events in which they took part. A succession of worthy, mediocre men filled the Presidency, the chief virtue of their administrations being the absence of the corruption which had disgraced the two terms of the unfortunate General Grant. With few exceptions Congress too was filled with what one historian has called “sad, solemn fellows.”

Yet if the politics of the period were insignificant its economic developments were of the first importance. Throughout the generation that followed the Civil War the pace of economic change quickened and the main outlines of modern America emerged. Between 1860 and 1900 the population of the Union soared from thirty-one to seventy-six millions. This increase was due in part to the heavy influx of European immigrants, who within forty years totalled fifteen millions. Cities grew fast. Great mineral deposits were discovered and exploited, giving rise to vast new industries. “No other generation in American history,” it has been remarked, “witnessed changes as swift or as revolutionary as those which transformed the rural republic of Lincoln and Lee into the urban industrial empire of McKinley and Roosevelt.”

Economic change transformed not only the regions which became great industrial centres, but the country as a whole. Even in the South a revolution was afoot. In Southern agriculture change was inevitable because of the disorganisation wrought by the war and the ending of slavery. Nearly all the great planters, impoverished by the war and crushed by taxation during the Reconstruction, were compelled to split their plantations and sell, often at absurdly low prices. Thousands of small farmers were thus able to increase the size of their holdings. An even greater number of Southern whites for the first time became landowners. The old sprawling plantations disappeared, and were replaced by an infinitely greater number of small farms, engaged for the most part in growing the same crops as before the war. Negroes however continued as in the days of slavery to provide the bulk of the labour for cotton cultivation. Because they lacked capital few of the coloured freedmen were able to buy farms or to pay rent. A novel form of tenantry known as “share-cropping” therefore came into being. Furnished by the farmer with land and equipment, the Negro—and later the landless white—gave their labour in return for one-third of the crop they produced. By these means Southern agriculture slowly revived. But it was almost twenty years before the cotton crop of the former Confederate states reached the level of 1860. From then on expansion was rapid, and by 1900 the pre-war figures had been more than doubled.

This period saw also the beginnings of large-scale industry in the South. The Southern textile industry, very small before 1860, managed in time to recover and then to expand. Towards the end of the century the South, with its raw material at hand and its supply of cheap labour, possessed almost two million spindles and was daring to challenge New England’s position in the home market. At the same time the tobacco industry flourished in North Carolina and Virginia, and the discovery of coal and iron deposits in Tennessee and Alabama led to the rise of a Southern iron industry. Yet the South remained predominantly agricultural, and the growth of Southern industry was insignificant compared with that of the North.

The Civil War had given a great impetus to Northern output. The Federal armies had needed huge quantities of arms and equipment, clothing and footwear. Fortified by Government contracts, Northern manufacturers embarked on large-scale production. Furthermore, in the absence of Southern representatives Congress passed into law the protective measures demanded by Northern industrialists and financiers. But the assistance thus afforded did no more than speed the coming of the American Industrial Revolution. The United States were, and still are, extraordinarily rich in mineral wealth. They possessed about two-thirds of the known coal deposits of the world, immense quantities of high-grade iron ore, equally great resources in petroleum, and, in the West, huge treasuries of gold, silver, and copper. Through their inventive ability and their aptitude for improving the inventions of others Americans grasped the power to turn their raw materials into goods. To this they added a magnificent transport system of railroads and canals which fed the factories and distributed their products. Moreover, America could look to Europe for capital as well as labour. The bulk of her industrial capital came from British, Dutch, and German investors. Much of the brawn and not a little of the brain that went into her making were also supplied by the great immigration from Europe.

Thus favoured, American industry forged swiftly ahead. Each decade saw new levels of output in the iron and steel mills of the Pittsburgh area, the oil refineries of Ohio, Pennsylvania, and elsewhere, the flour mills of Minneapolis and St Paul, the meat-packing plants of Chicago and Cincinnati, the clothing and boot and shoe factories of New England, and the breweries of Milwaukee and St Louis, to mention only the biggest of American industrial enterprises. In each of these fields great captains of industry arose, the most powerful of whom were Rockefeller in oil and Carnegie in steel. With untiring energy and skill, and with ruthless disregard for competitors, these men built up economic empires which gave them great wealth and a formidable power over the life of the community. Carnegie and Rockefeller, indeed, together with Morgan in finance and Vanderbilt and Harriman in railroads, became the representative figures of the age, in striking contrast to the colourless actors upon the political scene. Though the morality of their business methods has often been questioned, these men made industrial order out of chaos. They brought the benefits of large-scale production to the humblest home. By 1900, owing to their vigorous efforts, American industry was concentrated in a number of giant corporations, each practically a monopoly in its chosen field. This was a state of affairs presently to be challenged by Federal authority. But meanwhile the United States had ceased to depend on European manufactures; they were even invading Europe with their own. Thus America passed through a gilded age of which the millionaire seemed, at least to European eyes, the typical representative. Yet it was at the same time an age of unrest, racked by severe growing pains. There was much poverty in the big cities, especially among recent immigrants. There were sharp, sudden financial panics, causing loss and ruin, and there were many strikes, which sometimes broke into violence. Labour began to organise itself in Trade Unions and to confront the industrialists with a stiff bargaining power. These developments were to lead to a period of protest and reform in the early twentieth century. The gains conferred by large-scale industry were great and lasting, but the wrongs that had accompanied their making were only gradually righted. All this made for a lively, thrusting, controversial future.

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