American History Lecture Six

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Lecture - Questions

This is a good time to pause and consider if you would like to take the CLEP exam for college credit at the end of this course. The cost is only about $89, the time is at your convenience at a local community college, and the credit earned can be worth thousands of dollars.

In 1835, a Frenchman named Alexis de Tocqueville published a book entitled "Democracy in America," which was collection of observations about our young nation based on his nine-month visit. This book remains the most comprehensive analysis of American culture, and includes many insightful statements like "the religious aspect of the country was the first thing that struck my attention." De Tocqueville also observed about America, "I have nowhere seen woman occupying a loftier position."


In the 1850s, the Whig Party collapsed. Its antislavery wing became the Republican Party in the North, and the wealthy southern Whigs joined the Democratic Party in the South. There have always been geographic strengths and weaknesses in political parties: in areas of the country where one party is strong, the opposing party is weak. Recall that the Federalist Party in 1800 was strong in Massachusetts, while the Democratic-Republican Party was strong in Virginia. Jackson's Democratic Party was strong in the West (Tennessee) and South, while the Whig Party was strong in the northeast.

In the late 1850s, the Republicans were strong in the North, and Democrats were strong in the South (the opposite is true today). At that time the Republican Party was young and had not fully developed, and there were still many northern Democrats, which gave the Democrats the upper hand in elections. The Democratic Party presidential candidates won both in 1852 (Franklin Pierce) and in 1856 (James Buchanan). Both Pierce and Buchanan were Democrats and pro-slavery.

For the presidential election of 1860, the Republican Party platform supported the Wilmot Proviso and rejected slavery in the territories, and thereby rejected Stephen Douglas's approach of "popular sovereignty." Abraham Lincoln, the Republican nominee for president, had switched from the Whig Party to the Republican Party in 1856, and in 1860 campaigned for president by advocating saving the Union (keeping the North and South together in one country).


In 1860, the South threatened to secede (break away) from the United States if the Republican Abraham Lincoln were elected president. Lincoln and many of his supporters considered that to be election rhetoric or bluffing by the South to try to influence the election. After all, the South had threatened to secede before (as South Carolina did during the Jackson Administration), and never did actually leave. Lincoln did not expect the South to secede after he won.

The Republican Party was antislavery with respect to the (western) territories and many in the Republican Party also wanted slavery abolished even in existing states (though that was not the official position of the Party). Several southern states, particularly South Carolina, considered opposition to slavery to be opposition to South Carolina itself, which depended heavily on slavery. Many in the South felt so strongly about slavery that they wanted to break away if and when a Republican became president. Note that the South also had fundamental differences with the North on other issues, such as the tariff and the significance of state's rights.

Lincoln was elected in November 1860, but presidents then were not inaugurated until four months later, in March of the following year. (That has since been moved to the earlier date of January 20 for inaugurations after a presidential election.) That gave the South a long period to act, before Lincoln had any power to do anything about it.

Merely four days after the election of the new President Lincoln, on November 10, 1860, the South Carolina legislature called for a convention to consider secession from the United States. South Carolina, the state of John Calhoun (who died in 1850), always had one of the largest slave populations (by percentage) and for decades had been the leader in calling for secession. South Carolina residents were well-informed about the issues of states rights and how their heroes of John Calhoun and even Thomas Jefferson had championed the rights of states in the past by nullifying federal law.

South Carolina moved quickly. The first convention met in Charleston, South Carolina on December 20, and unanimously passed the first ordinance of secession:

We, the people of the State of South Carolina in convention assembled, do declare and ordain ... that the Union now subsisting between South Carolina and other States, under the name of 'the United States of America,' is hereby dissolved.

With that, South Carolina declared herself a new and independent country, and her residents celebrated with parties, fireworks, and revelry in the streets.

By the end of January 1861, six other southern states imitated South Carolina and declared their independence from the United States, all prior to the inauguration of Lincoln as the new President. They were Mississippi, Florida, Alabama, Georgia, Louisiana and Texas. A diarist in the South, Mary Boykin Chesnut, summed up the feeling of many southerners: "We are divorced, North and South, because we have hated each other so."[1]

After that, there was some calm as the nation awaited Lincoln's Inaugural Address, which is the speech a president gives to the nation on the day he is sworn it. Fearful for his own life, Lincoln rode the train from Illinois to D.C. wearing a disguise. In his Inaugural Address, Lincoln tried to preserve the Union by appeasing the southern states: "I have no purpose, directly or indirectly, to interfere with the institution of slavery in the States where it exists. I believe I have no lawful right to do so, and I have no inclination to do so."[2] Lincoln was not yet a prayerful man (he would soon become one), and his speech contained only a passing reference to God. He concluded by both begging and warning the South: "The Government will not assail you. You can have no conflict without being yourselves the aggressors. You have no oath registered in heaven to destroy the Government, while I shall have the most solemn one to 'preserve, protect, and defend it.' I am loath to close. We are not enemies, but friends. We must not be enemies. ..."[2]

Lincoln's weak speech persuaded no one. Some of my prior students have suggested that the real problem in 1861 was a lack of leadership just when the nation needed it most. Where was George Washington, or someone like him, at our nation's crucial moment? Instead, Lincoln was at our helm and he used a lawyer-like approach to a problem that cried out for something more meaningful. Lincoln had the respect and confidence of virtually no one in the South.

One month after his inauguration, in April, Lincoln told South Carolina that he needed to re-supply a federal garrison there called Fort Sumter. South Carolina did not trust Lincoln and felt this was a trick to fool and possibly attack it. So South Carolina demanded the surrender of federal troops at Fort Sumter. Shots were fired (it's unknown who fired first), and South Carolina quickly captured Fort Sumter on April 12th. Lincoln called for Union (North) troops on April 15th. Within weeks more states seceded, bringing the total to 11 of the states overall that seceded by the end of June 1861: Arkansas, North Carolina, Virginia and Tennessee.

There had been compromises between the North and South in 1820, 1850 and 1854. One last attempt at compromise occurred in 1861, led by Senator John Crittenden of the border state of Kentucky. Congress passed a constitutional amendment in 1861 to protect slavery in the South, in the hope that would satisfy it. But this amendment was never ratified by the States because war broke out before the States could even consider it. It seems unlikely that the northern states would have agreed anyway.

Meanwhile, Congress passed two "Confiscation Acts" in order to help the President win the war. The Confiscation Act of 1861 authorized the Union to seize any property, including slaves, which were being used to aid the South in its "insurrection" against the North.[3] The Second Confiscation Act was next passed in 1862, taking the additional step of ordering freedom for any slaves belonging to slave-owners engaged in "treason" against the United States:[4]

That every person who shall hereafter commit the crime of treason against the United States, and shall be adjudged guilty thereof, shall suffer death, and all his slaves, if any, shall be declared and made free; or, at the discretion of the court, he shall be imprisoned for not less than five years and fined not less than ten thousand dollars, and all his slaves, if any, shall be declared and made free ....

Civil War - 1861-1862

U.S. in 1864: Red states are the Confederacy, light blue are border states which refused to join the Confederacy, and dark blue is the Union

The view in the North was that the southern states had no right to secede, and thus their declarations of secession were null and void. The South was still part of the United States, according to the North, and the fighting by the South (as at Fort Sumter) constituted an insurrection or a "civil war."[5] In the South, its view was that Lincoln was the aggressor in trying to fortify a northern position in South Carolina (Fort Sumter), and the resulting conflict was the "War of Northern Aggression" or "War Among the States." For a long time one could tell whether a stranger was from the northern part of the United States, or the southern part, simply by the name the person used to talk about the conflict. It is said that the winner of a war gets to name it, so "Civil War" is what we will use.

The eleven states that seceded formed the Confederate States of America, or simply the "Confederacy". It adopted its own constitution,[6] elected its own president (Jefferson Davis), had its own capitol city (Montgomery, Alabama), and printed its own money. Its unique national flag, the "Confederate Flag," remains controversial wherever used today (and it is still displayed in some parts of the South).

The first major battle of the Civil War was at Bull Run, near Manassas, Virginia, on July 21, 1861.[7] By then Virginia had also chosen to secede and its local hero, General Robert E. Lee, remained loyal to his State. Lincoln offered him command of the Union forces because Lee was the most respected American military commander at the time, but he chose to represent his home state instead.

In this first major battle the emotional South crushed the North, and people fled into nearby D.C. But the South made a mistake of not charging immediately to take D.C., as urged by one of the greatest American (southern) generals, "Stonewall" Jackson (who had previously been a physics teacher at Virginia Military Institute). Had the South captured D.C. in this first battle, it may have broken the will of the North to continue fighting. But General Lee was not as clever and as aggressive as Stonewall Jackson, and the North had a chance to regroup. Still, it was a big victory for the South. Chastened by this initial defeat, President Lincoln fired his general and replaced him with George McClellan.

McClellan was an important figure throughout the war, and eventually ran against Lincoln for president in 1864 and may have defeated him had the southern states been able to participate and vote. McClellan held a dim view of Lincoln, and frankly thought Lincoln was incompetent. McClellan often ignored Lincoln's calls and urgent requests. For example, early one evening President Lincoln left McClellan an urgent message to respond to him, no matter how late. McClellan, upon receiving the message, simply ignored it and went to sleep. A brilliant student at West Point (second in his class), McClellan was a masterful organizer who was running large railroads just before the Civil War. Upon taking command, McClellan quickly fortified and protected D.C., and built up the Army of the Potomac into powerful force for the North (the Union).

But McClellan himself had a serious character flaw: he did not want to put his army into battle. McClellan was the best general ever at ... retreating. He could and did supervise massive retreats of his army with minimal casualties and loss of equipment.

McClellan did not engage the South in battle in the fall of 1861 and soon 1862 had arrived. Time was on the North's side, as it had over three times the free population and a much more developed manufacturing and transportation system. For the South to win the war, it had to win quickly. But the South simply waited.

McClellan also waited, and waited, and waited. He much preferred defense to offense. He did not like the harm caused by war, including the loss of life. As described above, McClellan did not get along with Lincoln and did not think much of him. Finally, Lincoln wrote this famous letter to McClellan:[8]

My Dear McClellan:
If you are not using the army, I should like to borrow it for a short while.
Yours respectfully,
Abraham Lincoln

Amid the Union failures in 1862, Lincoln also suffered a personal tragedy. Lincoln lost his beloved young son, William ("Willie"), after a brief illness that was probably caused by contaminated water in D.C. "Lincoln feels his loss very deeply," was an understatement of the impact as reported by Harper's Weekly, the prominent national magazine.[9] In fact, Mrs. Lincoln mourned for a year and President Lincoln was profoundly shaken by his son's death.[10] Though Lincoln had little use for religion in his youth, this tragedy may have put him on a path towards faith. Even General McClellan did his best to console Lincoln about this personal tragedy.

Back to the war in 1862: the Union General McClellan's superb defensive skills came in handy when the Confederate General Lee launched a massive invasion of northern territory (Maryland, which had been sympathetic to the Confederacy). Known as the "Battle of Antietam," this was the single bloodiest day in battle in all of American History (the three days of battle at Gettysburg, discussed below, resulted in even greater numbers of casualties). Savage combat for twelve hours resulted in the death, wounding or disappearance of 23,000 soldiers on September 17, 1862. But McClellan's defense was successful, and this success encouraged President Lincoln to issue a preliminary version of the Emancipation Proclamation.[11] General McClellan, however, should have pursued the retreating Confederate Army. He failed to do so.

President Lincoln fired General McClellan in November 1862.

The Trent Affair

The American San Jacinto (right) stops the British Trent ship (left) (painting by Edward Sylvester Ellis in 1887)

A fascinating international incident occurred on the Atlantic Ocean that nearly brought Great Britain into the Civil War. Two Confederate envoys had departed from Charleston, South Carolina toward Cuba, and then on toward England on a mail ship called the "Trent". The envoys used this circuitous route in order to sneak through the Union navy blockade and reach Britain. The envoys had been sent by Confederate President Jefferson Davis to obtain recognition by Britain and France of the independent sovereignty of the Confederacy. Up until this point Great Britain and France had maintained their diplomatic relations with the North (the United States) and viewed the Confederacy as in rebellion, not an independent nation. Davis hoped that early victories by the South against the North (the Union) would cause Britain and France to receive these envoys and recognize the Confederacy.

But on November 8, 1861, Charles Wilkes, a U.S. Navy Officer (on the side of the North), intercepted the Trent and ordered a search of this British ship, despite lacking permission from Washington or Britain for such a bold move. This search discovered the Confederate envoys, and the U.S. Navy took them prisoner along with their aides, and then released the ship so it could continue on to England.

The British were furious at the Union for this invasion of Britain's own sovereignty on the ship, and demanded both an apology and a release of the envoys. Britain even ordered troops to Canada (which was still a colony of Britain) and sent additional ships to the Western Atlantic. Britain at this time was still far more powerful than the United States.

But Britain's demands took nearly a month to reach Washington, D.C., due to a malfunction in the transatlantic cable for communications. Ultimately, President Lincoln did authorize an apology and released the envoys to freedom, and thereafter both the Union and the Confederacy attempted to persuade Britain to side with it. Instead, Britain continued to remain neutral.[12]

Civil War - 1863-1865

On January 1, 1863, Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation. This historic document proclaimed all slaves in areas in rebellion to be "forever free."

Already Lincoln was planning for a post-War South. His plan for readmitting southern States to the Union (that is, readmitting their representatives to Congress) was issued in his Proclamation of Amnesty and Reconstruction in 1863: don't prosecute Southerners, help reconstruct the South, and readmit states when 10% of the people take an oath of loyalty to the United States. Lincoln was more generous to the South than many in the North wanted to be. The North, after all, had substantially more casualties in the Civil War than the South did. About 620,000 Americans died in the Civil War, which is nearly as many as the total number of Americans who died in all other wars combined.

But the Civil War was far from over. The Union (North) had a lucky break when the Confederacy (South) lost its best general, perhaps the finest ever in American history: "Stonewall" Jackson. A brilliant teacher, General Jackson earned his nickname "Stonewall" in July 1861, when he led the famous "Stonewall Brigade" from the Shenandoah Valley region of Virginia against the Union at the Battle of 1st Manassas. There he and his unit withstood attack after attack by the Union Army, and emerged victorious against all odds. "Look, there stands Jackson like a stone wall" against the assaults, it was said. In May and June of 1862, Jackson led a brilliant military campaign in the Shenandoah Valley, winning at Front Royal, Winchester, Cross Keys and Port Republic. But tragedy struck him a year later at the Battle of Chancellorsville when, at 9pm on May 2, 1863, he was accidentally fired upon by his own soldiers who mistook him for the enemy as nighttime made it difficult to see. Known as "friendly fire," such incidents have caused a loss in life of many figures throughout history. He died soon thereafter, and the Confederacy lost its most brilliant and daring commander.[13]

Meanwhile, the Union Army (the North) was under new command after the firing of McClellan in late 1862, and it began winning battles against the Confederacy in 1863. The key turning point occurred around July 4, 1863 in two different locations: Gettysburg, Pennsylvania (July 1-3) and Vicksburg, Mississippi (July 4). The losses of the South on those days have been described as "mortal blows." It was Ulysses S. Grant who led the Union to victory at Vicksburg, and geographically that had the huge impact of cutting the South in half.


The three-day battle at Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, at the beginning of July 1863, is the most important in all of American history. It could be the subject of an entire course, featuring military strategy, enormous human tragedy, and endless debates about why it happened and whether the outcome could have been different. Its location is only about a two-hour drive from our class and is a "must see" stop for tourists. Lincoln himself traveled there to deliver the most famous speech in American history later in 1863: the Gettysburg address.

The Union and Confederate armies collided on a farmer's field. The Union side (the "Army of the Potomac" in this case) had 83,289 men; the Confederate Soldiers (the "Army of Northern Virginia") totaled 75,054 men. It was a chance encounter in which neither side expected the other side to have as many troops as it did. Both sides fought ferociously expecting the other side to cut and run. From just three days of fighting, the results were very grim: 10,000 soldiers killed, 30,000 wounded, and another 10,000 captured or missing; more Confederate soldiers were killed and wounded than Union soldiers (the opposite was true for most other battles).

Confederate General Robert E. Lee commanded the southern troops, and he hoped to push through Gettysburg and then march on D.C. itself by attacking from the north. Up until this time General Lee, who had been first in his class at West Point, had never lost a battle. He planned his strategy with expert precision, utilizing three different points of assault to break the Union line in order to defeat them. General George Meade led the Union troops. In contrast with General Lee's military brilliance, General Meade made his major decision based on a majority vote of his subordinates! But some of those subordinates were brilliant themselves.

At dawn, General Lee started by firing cannons from the largest cannonade assembled in history to this date. But the Union troops were closer than he thought, and the cannon balls sailed harmlessly over their heads to explode behind them. It was the first of many mishaps for the South. General Lee sent a massive cavalry of 5,000 men to outflank the Union soldiers, but upon meeting a small amount of resistance (led by Union commander George Custer, who became notorious later in history), the southern cavalry retreated rather than fighting on.

The Union held two key positions which can be visited today: Little Round Top, which was the crucial high ground on the left flank of the Union forces, and Culp's Hill, which protected the Union's right side. General Lee's forces repeatedly tried to take those small hills, and repeatedly failed amid devastating casualties.

Pickett's Charge

The most tragic engagement of all occurred on the third day: General Lee ordered his General George Pickett to lead his 15,000 men into a massive frontal assault against the Union forces, the largest direct attack in the history of the Western Hemisphere. Pickett knew it was a mistake and told Lee so, but Lee insisted. The Union forces slaughtered the charging soldiers; 60% of them were killed, wounded or captured, and the remainder, including Pickett himself, fled to safety. General Lee then had to retreat to Virginia, and the Union had won the most important battle of the war. This was the turning point in favor of the North.

Four months later, in November 1863, President Lincoln took a train ride out to Gettysburg to honor the dead. It was then a massive cemetery. Lincoln found faith as he prepared his remarks. Though not in the early drafts of his speech for that commemoration, while on the train Lincoln inserted in his own handwriting the phrase "under God" after the reference to "one Nation," so that his speech would refer to "one Nation, under God."[14]

President Lincoln then delivered his "Gettysburg Address" at the farm-turned-battlefield-turned-cemetery. Lincoln's short speech remains the most famous in all of American history. It ends with the immortal words "that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom -- and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth."


Lincoln soon took notice of Grant's success and by spring of May 1864 Lincoln elevated Grant to command of the Union forces in Virginia. Grant was no military genius and had been only an average student at West Point, although he was a superb horseman. But what made Grant so valuable to Lincoln was that Grant did not mind shedding blood on both sides. Grant used the superior numbers of the Union to win battles against the South, led by General Robert E. Lee, in 1864 in Northern Virginia.

1864 was an election year for the presidency, and McClellan ran against Lincoln. Early in the year it looked like McClellan would win. "Copperheads" were northern "peace" or pacifist Democrats who opposed Lincoln's war efforts against the seceded South, and they supported McClellan. Quakers in the North, for example, would have likely supported McClellan rather than Lincoln.

But then the Union Army started to win overwhelming victories on the battlefield, and the more it won, the more popular Lincoln became among voters. Union General William Tecumseh Sherman really broke the back of the South's morale and will to fight. General Sherman brutalized Georgia by destroying everything in a 60-mile-wide path from Atlanta to the ocean, known as his "March to the Sea" in late 1864. To this day some southerners are bitter about this destruction, which Sherman justified a way to crush the opponent and end the War. To the South, General Sherman was as evil as a modern-day terrorist, and the popular movie Gone With the Wind decries the excessive hardship caused by Sherman and the Union troops.

Lincoln was still worried about possibly losing the presidential election in 1864, and he even replaced his current Vice President with a Democratic southerner, Andrew Johnson, in order to help attract Democratic voters. Lincoln wanted to appease voters (including the Copperheads) who were tired of the war, and broaden his support.

To further help Lincoln win reelection, absentee voting was instituted for the first time. This enabled thousands of Union soldiers to vote by mail rather than show up at the polling booths in their home town. Much later absentee voting was allowed for everyone, so they could vote by mail while away from their voting booths.

Lincoln showed his sympathy for the South by vetoing the Wade-Davis Bill in 1864, which would have imposed a very harsh reconstruction plan on the South demanded by the northern "Radical Republicans," which was a group of congressmen most determined to punish the South for slavery and the Civil War. That Bill, which never became law, would have established virtually impossible conditions for Confederate states to rejoin the union, by requiring a majority in each State to take an oath of loyalty stating that they had always been loyal to the United States, before the State could be readmitted. Lincoln, fearful of a backlash by Radical Republicans for blocking their bill, used a "pocket veto" to prevent this from becoming law. A "pocket veto" is a procedure allowed under the Constitution whereby legislation is considered vetoed if the President does nothing within ten days and Congress has adjourned; doing nothing is a less controversial way of dealing with a crisis than doing something people do not like.

Lincoln then defeated McClellan in the election of 1864, aided by the exclusion of southern voters from the election (who would have voted against Lincoln). McClellan dropped out of national politics after losing this election, but much later McClellan became Governor of New Jersey (1878-81).

In March 1865, Lincoln's Second Inaugural Address was the opposite of his First: he now saw the world and the Civil War in moral rather than legal terms. His Second Inaugural Address was filled with spiritual references, reflecting that Lincoln had found faith in God. He is one of the few public officials to display an increase in faith while wielding earthly power.


By fall 1864 the South was running out of resources and spirit. "Southern Disunion" began to occur in September 1864, as characterized by a high desertion rate, riots, food shortages, and even South Carolina ignoring Acts of its own Confederacy. Fearful of a slave rebellion, the Confederation delayed in arming the slaves.

Congress was preparing for the Union victory. It passed the Freedmen's Bureau in March 1865, which established a government agency to help emancipated blacks get food and medical supplies, and to find jobs.[15]

Under General Ulysses S. Grant the Union army was racking up big wins against the Confederate army in Virginia in early 1865. A Union victory was becoming inevitable. To avoid further loss of life, General Robert E. Lee surrendered at the Appomattox Court House in Virginia on April 9th. The terms of surrender were generous to the South: southern officers were allowed to keep their arms, and soldiers were allowed to keep their horses. Some observers complained that it looked more like Grant was surrendering to Lee rather than Lee surrendering to Grant. Truth be told, Grant did have enormous respect for Lee, as most soldiers on both sides did.

Five days later, on Good Friday, April 14th, Lincoln was attending a theatrical performance (that's an odd way to spend Good Friday, one might observe), and Lincoln was assassinated by John Wilkes Booth, who was himself an actor sympathetic to the South. Some suggest that Lincoln accepted this ending to his life. Booth's crime was part of a conspiracy to assassinate the top persons in government, including Vice President Andrew Johnson and Secretary of State William Seward. General Ulysses S. Grant was to be with Lincoln at the theater but canceled his attendance. Of all the targets of the conspiracy, only Lincoln died.[16] The conspirators were quickly caught and either killed in the chase (Booth) or tried and hung. The expression "your name is mud" comes from the conviction and imprisonment of Dr. Samuel Mudd for treating Booth's broken leg after Booth's crime. Dr. Mudd was later pardoned by President Andrew Johnson, who became president upon Lincoln's death.

Lincoln remains a controversial historical figure to this day. His original goals were not moral, and he admitted that he was not trying to abolish slavery. He was trying to save the Union. He even agreed to try to preserve slavery as a way of saving the Union. A cynic might point to Lincoln's career as a railroad lawyer as the prime motivation for his obsession with unity. The profitability of a railroad depends heavily on national unity; if a country were to break up, then the railroad might not work nearly as well with different sections refusing to cooperate with each other. Today Lincoln is idolized in the North, but is still disliked by many in the South.

President Andrew Johnson

Vice President Andrew Johnson, who was liked by almost no one, became president in spring 1865 when Lincoln died. When Johnson succeeded Lincoln as president, it was only the third succession of presidential power in our history (the first was Tyler becoming president after Harrison's death, and the second was Millard Fillmore becoming president after Zachary Taylor's death).

Johnson was a Democrat from Tennessee, not a Republican. In fact, the Radical Republicans in Congress loathed and ridiculed him. They even spread an unjustified rumor that Johnson was drunk during his inauguration. Johnson was blunt speaking, and that did not help win him any friends. He went on a nationwide speaking tour called the "Swing Around the Circle," during which he harshly and unsuccessfully criticized his opponents in Congress. Meanwhile, at this time the United States was missing all the southern states of the Confederacy: they did not have any seats in Congress. Simply put, the United States was in disarray in 1865.

Congress was controlled by the "Radical Republicans" who wanted to impose harsh conditions on the South both to protect the freed slaves and to punish the South for the War. Congress, led by the Radical Republicans, improperly attempted to control Johnson by passing the Tenure of Office Act in 1867. This required Senate approval before the President could fire his own Cabinet officials, and this law sought to stop Johnson from firing Edwin Stanton, the Secretary of War, who was allied with the Radical Republicans in Congress. In 1868, Congress also passed the Command of the Army Act, which restricted the President in how he commands the army.

But Johnson did not back down. He attempted to fire Stanton, which the Radical Republicans considered to be grounds for impeaching Johnson. Thaddeus Stevens was a representative from Pennsylvania who would talk about the South as "conquered territory," and was a typical Radical Republican. He led the House of Representatives to vote by an astounding margin of 126-47 to impeach Johnson:[17]

that Andrew Johnson, President of the United States, be impeached of high crimes and misdemeanors in office.

But impeachment is not removal from office. Rather, it is like filing charges against someone, and it is up to the Senate under the Constitution to decide whether to remove the official from office. That requires a 2/3rds vote of the Senate. After a trial in the Senate, Johnson survived by only one vote. Johnson then continued to serve the remainder of his term in office.


"Reconstruction" is the 12-year period from the end of the Civil War (1865) to 1877. The term describes exactly what happened: the South was "reconstructed" from its shambles. To do this, the North sent troops into the South to control its operations. Procedures were established for admitting the Confederate states back into the Union (actually, they supposedly were never allowed to leave, but they did need to be readmitted back into Congress). Obviously much animosity -- and racism -- remained after the end of the actual fighting. New constitutional amendments were required to make slavery illegal and to protect the rights of African Americans (Amendments 13, 14 and 15).

Congress passed the Civil Rights Act of 1866 to establish the rights of blacks to testify in court, make contracts, and hold property. President Johnson vetoed the bill, but Republicans enjoyed such a large majority in Congress that it then passed the bill over Johnson's veto (with a 2/3rds majority, which is known as "overriding the veto").

The United States divided the South into five military districts by passing the Military Reconstruction Act in 1867. The federal government then sent in federal troops (the Union army) to govern each military district. This was humiliating to the South. Many northerners (who were given the derogatory name "carpetbaggers") moved to the South to form quasi-military governments, often at the expense of southern taxpayers. The term "carpetbaggers" is still used today to describe any politician who moves to a new state to be elected to office (as when Hillary Clinton moved to New York to become a U.S. Senator in 2000, as a stepping stone to her presidential campaign in 2008). "Scalawags" were white southerners who teamed up with the carpetbaggers who governed the South during Reconstruction.

The 13th Amendment to the Constitution banned slavery, and it was ratified quickly. The 14th Amendment was ratified with more difficulty, as it is a complex Amendment that protects many rights of citizens against interference by any State. It was intended to protect the former slaves and give Congress special powers to protect them further, but in recent years has been expanded by the courts to apply in ways never intended (such as abortion). Congress provided additional protection to former slaves by passing the Civil Rights Act of 1875, which prohibited racial discrimination in hotels, theaters, public transit, employment and other public places and also established the right of former slaves to serve on juries. But later the Supreme Court held the Civil Rights Act to be unconstitutional, deterring Congress from passing more laws like it until the 1960s.

Southern whites interfered with voting (also called "suffrage") by former slaves, and the 15th Amendment was ratified to protect that right: "The right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of race, color, or previous condition of servitude. ... The Congress shall have power to enforce this article by appropriate legislation."[18] Much later, in 1964, the 24th Amendment was passed to ban charging a poll tax to interfere with the right to vote.

So remember these Reconstruction Amendments, all of which were added to the U.S. Constitution in the five years following the Civil War (1865-1870):

  • 13th Amendments: abolish slavery
  • 14th Amendment: give all races equal rights
  • 15th Amendment: give all races the right to vote

Meanwhile the South was passing laws of its own to continue to discriminate against African Americans. Beginning in 1866, the South passed Black Codes or "Jim Crow" laws to subjugate blacks and restrict them in voting and from holding office. In 1868, the Ku Klux Klan (KKK) was founded in the South. It was a secretive society of white supremacists, who intimidated by burning crosses and killed African Americans.

Unfortunately, the KKK was not a small group. It was widespread across the South and extended even towards the North. It recruited young people. One long-serving and powerful Democratic Senator, Robert Byrd of West Virginia, once belonged to KKK. So did the Democratic Supreme Court Justice Hugo Black in his youth.

Congress cracked down on the KKK by passing the Force Act in 1870, which banned any use of force or terror to interfere with voting based on the person's race. Congress also placed elections in the South under the authority and jurisdiction of the federal officers in order to prevent intimidation of African Americans.

In 1872, Congress passed the Amnesty Act, which pardoned many Rebels from the old Confederacy and allowed them to reenter public life.

Reconstruction was not formally ended until there was a disputed outcome for election of President in 1876. The Compromise of 1877 cut a deal between the North (Republicans) and the South (Democrats) whereby the South consented to Republican Rutherford Hayes becoming President and the North agreed to withdraw the remaining federal troops still in the South.

The Presidential Election of 1876 was a virtual tie, and the compromise to resolve it ended Reconstruction

Other Happenings During the Civil War and Reconstruction Periods

There were additional important developments between 1861 and 1877.

In 1862, Congress passed the Homestead Act, which granted 160 acres to anyone who farmed land for 5 years. This encouraged people to migrate westward. Also in 1862, Congress passed the Pacific Railway Act, which provided taxpayer subsidies and land in order to build a transcontinental railroad to connect the East Coast with the West Coast. This railroad was completed in Utah in 1869 and facilitated more of a national economy.

There was one more significant piece of legislation enacted in 1862: the Morrill Land Grant Act, which established agricultural colleges. It gave each state 30,000 acres times the state's number of congressmen.

Immigration was controversial in the 1860s. Specifically, Chinese immigration into California caused many union laborers to object, because the Chinese would work more industriously and for less pay than union workers. The Burlingame Treaty was signed between the United States and China in 1868, and it permitted unrestricted immigration by Chinese to the U.S. The Chinese immigrants were the only ones who could complete the building of the railroad over the treacherous Sierra-Nevada mountain range, which finally enabled linking the West Coast to the East Coast by railroad. Afterward, factory owners as far away as Massachusetts would transport Chinese immigrants from California in order to break a strike by union workers (in other words, replace the local striking workers with the transported Chinese immigrants).

Conflicts with Indians continued during the Civil War and afterward. The Sioux Wars lasted from 1864 to 1867 between Indians and the Union army in Colorado, Montana, and the Dakotas (North and South Dakota). The most famous battle of all, however, occurred a decade later. General George Custer was a highly popular and charismatic cavalry officer who sported long yellow hair and the latest fashions in his clothing. But he had also graduated last in his class at West Point, in contrast to many of the Civil War officers who took their coursework more seriously. In 1876, Custer led his men to Little Big Horn (now in Montana) to handle a conflict with Indians. Custer's superiors opposed an immediate attack on the Indians, and told Custer to wait before leading the charge. Overly aggressive and perhaps attempting to become a hero, Custer charged ahead anyway. The Sioux and Cheyenne warriors, led by Sitting Bull and Crazy Horse, then overwhelmed Custer and his men and slaughtered all of them. The warriors scalped all of Custer's men, except Custer himself, whose strange clothing may have misled the warriors into thinking he was an innocent civilian! This massacre at Wounded Knee is popularly known today as "Custer's Last Stand."

Another embarrassing bit of history during this period was corruption in the government of New York City, where the "Tammany Hall" of the Democratic Party ruled from 1805 to 1871. It was finally broken up when its leader "Boss Tweed" was imprisoned for taking tens of millions of dollars from the city and his opponents won the election in November 1871. His famous quote when caught stealing was, "What are you going to do about it?"

In the New York City elections of 1868, Tammany Hall had worked to steal the outcome by giving this advice:[19]

When you've voted 'em with their whiskers on, you take 'em to a barber and scrape off the chin fringe. Then you vote 'em again with the side lilacs and a mustache. Then to a barber again, off comes the sides and you vote 'em a third time with the mustache. If that ain't enough and the box can stand a few more ballots, clean off the mustache and vote 'em plain face. That makes every one of 'em good for four votes.

When Boss Tweed was eventually arrested, robber baron Jay Gould posted a multi-million dollar bail for him. A decade later, in 1886, Tammany Hall regained power, and ran New York City politics until 1932, when Fiorello La Guardia was elected. La Guardia airport is named after him.

Offsetting all that bad news was some good news from the late 1800s. Baseball developed as a uniquely American sport during the Civil War, as soldiers found a way to pass the time between battles. After the war, informal leagues began to develop. The first professional team was the Cincinnati Red Stockings (now the "Reds"), formed in 1869. Then, the same year as the massacre of Custer's men in Little Big Horn, 1876, the National League was founded. The American League -- the league for the New York Yankees -- did not arise until 1903.

Grant Administration

Once the Civil War ended, the powerful forces of capitalism brought the United States new prosperity remarkably quickly. Most countries, not benefiting from the free enterprise that exists in the United States, would take 50 to 100 years to recover from such a devastating Civil War. But the United States recovered in less than 10 years. By 1875, the United States had a budget surplus (taking in more money than it spent), and it enjoyed a budget surplus for every year until 1893! In contrast, rarely has there been a budget surplus in the United States since 1975.

The first president elected after the Civil War ended was, not surprisingly, the Union General credited with winning it: Ulysses S. Grant. He won the presidency in 1868 (after President Andrew Johnson completed his term) and served two full terms, through 1876. Grant was a Republican who favored the "gold standard" for the economy, which means he preferred "hard money" (gold) over "soft money" (paper that can lose its value due to inflation). Grant, however, was considered a weak executive for not properly supervising the bureaucrats who worked for him. Specifically, Grant is blamed for having a corrupt Administration, even though he was not corrupt himself.

His presidency was at the beginning of the "Gilded Age," a name given by the writer Mark Twain to describe a period that appeared golden on the surface but was the opposite underneath. This period, and the Grant Administration, is criticized for corrupt business and government dealings. We will discuss the Gilded Age more in the next lecture.

But the truth is that the American economy prospered enormously during this period, particularly in the 1870s and 1880s. There was almost no government regulation that burdens businesses so much today. It was a spectacularly creative and industrious period, with many of the greatest inventions (e.g., light bulb, telephone, motion pictures, and phonograph) developed then.

Nevertheless, historians emphasize business and government scandals that occurred in the absence of modern regulation. In 1869, for example, there was the "Fisk-Gould Scandal," in which financiers ("Wall Street" types) tried to corner (monopolize) the gold market. This caused "Black Friday," with the price of gold first going way up, and then going way down. The Grant Administration broke up the scheme by selling gold reserves.

Speculation is a form of gambling with the price of land, or gold, or stocks, causing the prices to fluctuate widely and hurting people who lose money because of it. Speculation about the price of gold was considered undesirable because it pushed the price much higher than its real value.

Next government corruption occurred in the Credit Mobilier scandal, which consisted of bribery with a construction company that had been created by the powerful Union Pacific Railroad in the period of 1865-69. This scandal, first uncovered in 1872 by Congress, symbolized the government corruption of the Grant Administration. Specifically, owners of the Union Pacific Railroad formed a new company, the Credit Mobilier of America, in order to award it with profitable contracts to build a railroad out West. Then stock in this construction company was given to influential congressmen, who next approved spending taxpayer money to pay for the railroad construction. The result was huge profits for the owners of the railroad and the congressmen, at the expense of taxpayers. A New York newspaper publicized the scandal just before the 1872 elections, and the Speaker of the House (the Republican James Blaine of Maine) set up congressional hearings to investigate and publicize the scandal. The hearings lasted into 1873 and discredited the government.[20]

Another scandal, the Whiskey Ring, was even worse. It consisted of many government agents in the Grant Administration participating in a conspiracy or scheme to steal whiskey taxes for themselves. To help pay for the Civil War, federal liquor taxes were increased to very high amounts. But many distillers bribed officials in the Department of the Treasury to reduce the cost of their tax stamps. An investigation resulted in the conviction of more than 100 officials in the Grant Administration, and even Grant's private secretary, Orville Babcock, was accused (but he was never convicted).[21] As a result of these scandals, there was growing public pressure to end the "spoils system" first established by President Andrew Jackson.

In 1873, the Republican-controlled Congress doubled the salary of the president to $50,000 a year (a great deal of money in those days), and increased the salary of many other officials in government. The public was outraged, and their outcry caused a partial repeal.

Grant had to deal with a big problem caused by the Civil War: inflation. Wars are expensive. Remember how Britain taxed the colonies after the French and Indian War? Someone has to pay the expenses of war: the hospitals, weapons and ammunition, food, transportation, and (meager) wages for soldiers.

The revenue from tariffs was not enough to pay for the Civil War. Lincoln started an income tax for the first time (it expired in 1872). He suspended the payment by the government to citizens in gold and silver, to protect its reserves. He taxed manufacturers and the public through sales taxes. But most of all, Lincoln financed the Civil War by issuing "greenbacks", similar to our green dollar bills today. This was a change from monetary practices under Alexander Hamilton, when all currency was backed by gold or silver. Lincoln's greenbacks were not backed by anything at all. The government simply printed and distributed them.

Inflation and the Gold Standard

When the government increases the amount of money out there, it causes inflation. Everyone starts to realize that the money is not worth as much anymore because the government is printing more of it. So inflation increased during the Civil War. What cost $100 when the War started in 1861 cost about $170 after it was over. That's 70% inflation in just a few years, which is terrible if you have money in the bank. Your savings are then worth only a little more than half what it was before the war. Guess how much that $100 cost in 1861 would be worth today. (About $2,282!). You can compare inflation between any two years with this website:

Recall our ongoing struggle between debtors (farmers) and creditors (bankers). Which side likes inflation? (The farmers.) Their income increases because eggs, meat, milk, etc., are all increasing in prices when there is inflation. Meanwhile, the money the farmers owe the bank does not increase; it is still the same loan as when they initially borrowed the money from the bank to set up their farm. So farmers love inflation, while bankers dislike it because the real value of the loan decreases during inflation due to the decrease in the value of the paper money used to pay off the loan.

Whether to have more inflation, or less inflation, became the single biggest issue between the Civil War and 1900. This conflict manifested itself in many different ways.

The first issue arose just after the Civil War: what should the government do about all the greenbacks? The farmers loved them, but the bankers did not. The bankers, who were powerful within the Republican Party (and, before that, in the Whig Party), demanded that the government stop issuing money unless it is backed by gold. Many people still feel the same way today, but for a different reason: preventing the government from printing more money helps limit government power. The less the government can print and spend, the less power it has.

Then the financial Panic of 1873 hit. Like the Panic of 1837, this financial panic caused many railroads to shut down. Unemployment increased. Just as the power of a political party goes in cycles, the economy goes in cycles also. Prosperity alternates with recessions or depressions. Good times alternate with bad times. Republicans blamed the financial panic on too much speculation in railroads, and passed a law limiting the availability of money for everyone, including speculators. Republicans did this by making gold (and not silver) the only monetary standard of United States currency, which opponents called the "Crime of 1873" (a new coinage law that halted the mining of silver and made gold the sole standard for currency). This ended Alexander Hamilton's policy of "bimetallism", which set both gold and silver as standards of currency in a 15:1 ratio of silver to gold.

Recall that President Jackson had issued the "Specie Circular" in 1836 in response to inflation and land speculation resultant from the increase in paper money at that time. Jackson's Specie Circular provided that only gold and silver (and sometimes Virginia land scrip) would be accepted by the government for payment for public lands. After the Panic of 1837, Jackson's Specie Circular was repealed in 1838.

Money then became scarcer when Grant converted to the gold ("hard money") standard, and inflation ended. Farmers were outraged, calling this the "Crime of 1873." What cost $100 in 1872 cost only $77.82 by 1880. Deflation, not inflation, was occurring! Deflation is devastating to farmers. The prices for the goods they are selling decreases, while the real value of their loans that they have to pay back grows larger.

So the farmers formed a new political party in reaction to the deflation and "Crime of 1873": the Greenback Party. The so-called "Greenbackers" opposed the gold standard and opposed allowing people to turn in Greenback currency for gold. They were farmers and debtors who wanted inflation, and who wanted silver coins to cause inflation. In 1878 and 1880 the Greenback Party won two dozen seats in Congress. But that was not enough to change the country, and the government went ahead with redeeming greenbacks in gold. The Greenback Party peaked in 1878 and disappeared by 1884 as the political issues changed.


  2. 2.0 2.1
  5. In Texas v. White, 74 U.S. 700 (1869), the U.S. Supreme Court held by a 5-3 margin that secession was not allowed by the U.S. Constitution, and that the southern ordinances of secession were "absolutely null." This opinion has been criticized, however, because it was written by Chief Justice Salmon Chase, who was a former member of President Lincoln's Cabinet during the Civil War, and hence had already been against secession.
  6. The Confederate constitution was similar to the U.S. Constitution, but did have one advantage: the Confederate constitution gave its president the power of the "line-item veto," which enabled him to veto specific items of spending in legislation without vetoing the entire bill. The U.S. President does not have this power under the U.S. Constitution.
  7. "During the war, the North generally named a battle after the closest river, stream or creek and the South tended to name battles after towns or railroad junctions. Hence the Confederate named Manassas after Manassas Junction and the Union named Bull Run for the stream Bull Run." See
  14. The origin of the phrase "under God" is the General Orders of George Washington on July 2 and 9, 1776: "The fate of unborn millions will now depend, under God, on the courage and conduct of this army" (July 2); "the peace and safety of the Country now depends, under God, solely on the success of our arms" (July 9). See . Later, the imagery of "under God" appeared in a cartoon in 1788 celebrating the ratification of the Constitution by Massachusetts.
  18. U.S. Const., 15th Am.
  19. A. Callow, The Tweed Ring 210 (1966) (quoting M. Werner, Tammany Hall 439 (1928)).