The Civil War Era (1850–1877)
The Civil War Era (1850–1877)
How They Were Governed
The Confederate States of America was a group of eleven southern states that seceded from the United States of America (the Union) before the outbreak of the Civil War. They formed their own government to preserve slavery and states’ rights. The events leading to the secession were many and varied, but disagreements and turmoil between southern and northern states had existed almost from the inception of the United States. By the late 1850s the states were on the brink of a civil war. As the election of 1860 approached, southerners feared that a Republican administration—specifically Abraham Lincoln (1809–1865), the Republican Party presidential nominee—would immediately free the slaves. They claimed that a Republican administration would be unacceptable to them and saw secession as their only option if this were to occur.
Differences that Led to Secession
The differences between the North and the South were long entrenched. Besides their respective antislavery and proslavery sentiments, the North-South differences involved culture, economics, politics, and power. The North was primarily urban and industrial, whereas most of the South was rural and agricultural. The North thought that tariffs on manufactured goods would protect the growth of industry, whereas the agricultural South was against the tariffs. The North wanted to grant free land to settlers, whereas the South wanted settlers to pay for land. The North wanted a centralized banking system, whereas the South wanted a decentralized system.
One major issue was whether new territories and states should have legalized slavery. Even many working-class northerners who did not reject slavery on moral grounds worried that if slavery crept northward, slaves would take jobs that white workers might otherwise be hired to do. In contrast, southerners had a lifestyle and economy supported by slave labor, and they worried that free states and territories abutting slave states might harbor fugitive slaves and negatively influence the institution of slavery. In addition, both the North and the South worried about the balance of power in Congress tipping toward one side or the other.
Uncle Tom’s Cabin
Tempers and passions were aroused in 1852 with the publication of the book Uncle Tom’s Cabin, by Harriet Beecher Stowe (1811–1896). Northerners believed the book revealed the realities of slavery. Southerners characterized it as an unfair depiction of the situation. Northerners bought and read the book, whereas southerners criticized, burned, and banned it. The book’s author was an abolitionist who had never been to the South or personally observed slaves and their situation. However, in A Key to “Uncle Tom’s Cabin”, Stowe discussed interviews she had done with slaves and slave owners, as well as other research she had done on the topic.
Within a week of its publication, Uncle Tom’s Cabin sold ten thousand copies. The book was turned into plays unauthorized by Stowe, and its influence was felt in both the United States and Europe. By 1854 the book had been translated into sixty languages. Uncle Tom’s Cabin was so influential and added so much to the increasing bitterness between the North and the South that many historians consider it to have been a contributory factor to the Civil War. The Harriet Beecher Stowe Center reports that Lincoln was purported to have said to Stowe when he met her in 1862, “So you’re the little woman who wrote the book that started this Great War!”
Uncle Tom’s Cabin had tremendous emotional power—so much so that the phrase “Uncle Tom” has become a part of the English language as a strongly derogatory term for a black person who accepts white values and goals uncritically, or who is humiliatingly subservient or deferential to whites in an effort to win their approval.
Secession and Formation of the Confederate States of America
In response to Lincoln’s election in November 1860, South Carolina seceded from the Union, and was soon followed by six other states: Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, and Texas. On February 4, 1861, all these states but Texas, which would become involved later, sent delegates to centrally located Montgomery, Alabama, to begin organizing an independent government. Within four days, on February 8, 1861, the delegates had adopted a provisional constitution, which officially created the Confederate States of America. Under this constitution, a provisional government was to be established until a permanent one could be put in place. The delegates who had assembled became the congress; they unanimously elected Jefferson Davis (1808–1889) of Mississippi as president and Alexander H. Stephens (1812–1883) of Georgia as vice president for terms of one year.
The provisional government of the Confederacy took over most of the federal property within its borders. A few forts, including Fort Sumter in Charleston, South Carolina, remained under federal control. When federal forces approached the fort to resupply it in April 1861, Confederate troops regarded this as a hostile act, opened fire, and forced the fort to surrender. In response, President Lincoln called for seventy-five thousand troops to be sent to the South to stop the rebellion, marking the beginning of the Civil War.
With this call to arms, four more states immediately seceded from the Union and joined the Confederacy: Arkansas, North Carolina, Tennessee, and Virginia. The western counties of Virginia were not in favor of secession, however, and as a result, a new Union state—West Virginia—was founded in 1863. As each state seceded from the Union, it passed an Ordinance of Separation declaring its sovereign independence and separate existence from the Union and adopting the provisional constitution of the Confederacy. With Virginia’s entrance into the Confederacy, the Confederate capital was moved from Montgomery to Richmond, a larger, more industrial city in Virginia.
Besides the eleven states that formed the Confederacy, four others were slave states: Delaware, Maryland, Missouri, and Kentucky. Although they all had strong southern ties, after prolonged debates and controversies within their borders, they each decided that their interests lay with the Union. Missouri and Kentucky, however, had factions that formed pro-Confederate state governments. The Confederacy admitted these two states but never controlled them.
A Permanent Constitution and Government
On March 11, 1861, the Confederate delegates adopted a permanent constitution. Most of the constitution of the Confederate states was taken from the U.S. Constitution, but some changes reflected the fact that the Confederacy embraced states’ rights. For example, there was no general welfare clause as in the preamble to the Constitution’s “We the people of the United States, in order to form a more perfect Union, … promote the general welfare,” or as in Article 1, Section 8, “The Congress shall have Power To lay and collect Taxes, Duties, Imposts and Excises, to pay the Debts and provide for the common Defence and general Welfare of the United States.” Like the U.S. Constitution, the Confederate constitution allowed the levying of taxes, but not for the purpose of the general welfare. In addition, with states’ rights in mind, the Confederate constitution declared that the federal government could not levy protective tariffs to shelter domestic industries from foreign competition (the South had suffered high prices because of tariffs), could only use general revenues for programs that benefited everyone (not a specific segment of the population), and could not overrule state court decisions. States had the right to maintain their own armies and enter into agreements with one another. Regarding ownership of slaves, the Confederate constitution preserved the right, but it did not reopen the foreign slave trade.
The Confederate constitution provided for executive, judicial, and legislative branches of government. A president and vice president were to be elected to serve a single term of six years each. An election was held on November 6, 1861, and the unopposed provisional heads of state were elected to serve the first permanent term. The inauguration of Davis and Stephens on February 22, 1862, marked the beginning of the permanent Confederate government. The Confederate constitution provided for a federal supreme court, but one was never brought into existence. It also provided for “inferior courts as the Congress may, from time to time, ordain and establish.”
The Confederate Congress was the legislative branch of government. It was patterned after the U.S. Congress and consisted of a Senate and a House of Representatives. Two senators were to be chosen by each state legislature for representation in the Confederate Senate, whereas members of the House were to be elected. The number of Confederate representatives from each state was to be based on population.
The Confederate Congress also followed the Union’s lead in establishing six departments: State, Treasury, War, Navy, Justice, and Post Office. The only differences were that the Union had not yet created a Department of Justice and that the Confederacy omitted the Union’s Department of the Interior. Those who had worked in these departments previously for the U.S. government now held their same jobs for the Confederate States of America.
Status and Sentiments at the Time of War
As the Union and the Confederacy prepared for war, the North had twenty-three states with twenty-two million people versus the South’s eleven states and nine million people. The population of the South included more than three million slaves. Although many northerners had antislavery sentiments, President Lincoln was not fighting to abolish slavery but to preserve the Union. The South was fighting for the opposite cause: it wanted to secede from the Union, but it was also fighting to establish a nation that guaranteed a person’s right to own slaves.
By contrast, northern abolitionists hoped to abolish slavery and wanted blacks to have the right to join the North and serve in the Union army. As the war progressed, more and more Northerners began to agree with this goal. Frederick Douglass (1818–1895), an abolitionist leader, called for Lincoln to emancipate the slaves. Lincoln was worried, however, that if he did that, the border states might rebel and join the Confederacy.
Delaware, Maryland, Missouri, Kentucky, and West Virginia were slave states that geographically lay between the Union states and the Confederate states but did not join the Confederacy. These came to be known as border states, and their geographical location also served as a metaphor for the allegiances of these states. Although they did not join the Confederate States of America, many people within these states held pro-Confederate sentiments. In Missouri and Kentucky these factions formed Confederate governments recognized by the Confederacy but unrecognized by the Union and by the states themselves. The North-South split even tore apart some families in border states, with brothers facing each other on different sides of battlefields.
At the time of the secession and formation of the Confederate States of America, two territories also permitted slavery, although few people in those territories owned slaves. What was the Indian Territory is today the state of Oklahoma, and what was the New Mexico Territory is today the states of Arizona and New Mexico. Native American tribes within the Indian Territory, feeling abandoned by the Union, fought for the Confederacy because the Union had not paid them monies owed and had withdrawn their troops from the area. Not all Native Americans agreed with this course of action, however, even though the Confederacy had promised to protect and defend them. Nonetheless, the Indian Territory was not a part of the Confederate States of America, and present-day Oklahoma is sometimes referred to as a border state. The New Mexico Territory was split into northern and southern factions at the thirty-fourth parallel of latitude, but it, like the Indian Territory, was never part of the Confederacy either. Arizona and New Mexico are rarely, if ever, called border states.
The border states appear to have been geographically, economically, and ideologically critical to the outcome of the Civil War and the downfall of the Confederacy. Geographically, they provided a buffer zone between ardent Unionists and equally zealous secessionists. The border state of Maryland was a critical buffer in that it protected Washington, D.C. The border states were also economically important. Maryland and Delaware were centers of manufacturing and provided much-needed equipment for the war effort. If that significant manufacturing capability had been, instead, in the South, it would have strengthened the South and weakened the North, possibly changing the outcome of the war. It even affected how well the troops were fed, because the North had the manufacturing capability to increase its production of agricultural equipment so farmers in the West could produce more wheat and corn. Ideologically, the fact that the border states were slave states yet chose to remain in the Union weakened the South’s claim that it needed to break from the Union to save its slave-based economy. Even today, the border states are transition zones of geography, economic approach, and ideology between the northern and southern parts of the United States.
Concerns of the Confederate Government
The government of the Confederate States of America was born on the brink of war and matured as the war began. Thus, the Confederacy’s main concern was raising and maintaining an army, for if it lost the war it would cease to exist. The Confederacy relied on volunteers to fight the war until April 16, 1862, when the Confederate Congress passed the first national conscription act in U.S. history. At first, the act required military service of all able-bodied men aged eighteen to thirty-five with some exceptions, but eventually the age range was widened from seventeen to fifty.
The Confederacy was facing an awesome challenge: It had fewer states and people than the Union, and it was a center of agriculture, not manufacturing. Because of the South’s near inability to produce arms or textiles, Southern soldiers were not as well equipped in the tools of war nor as well clothed as Northern soldiers—ironically, they were not even as well fed. Although the Confederate government convinced plantation owners to shift some of their cotton cultivation to the production of food, the shift was not dramatic enough to satisfy the full needs of the South.
Cotton was, however, an economic and political weapon that the Confederacy thought would be useful in the war effort. Cotton from the South was important to the world economy. Senator James Henry Hammond (1807–1864) of South Carolina wrote to Senator William Henry Seward (1801–1872) of New York before the Civil War: “Without the firing of a gun, without drawing a sword, should they [Northerners] make war upon us [Southerners], we could bring the whole world to our feet. What would happen if no cotton was furnished for three years? … England would topple headlong and carry the whole civilized world with her. No, you dare not make war on cotton! No power on earth dares make war upon it. Cotton is King.”
Many economists agreed with this view. The Confederacy adopted an international relations policy during the Civil War called cotton diplomacy. The Confederacy hoped that European governments would put economic and diplomatic pressure on the Union for the Southern cause. As the war progressed, the Confederacy expected England and France to enter the war and break the blockades that the Union had formed around Southern ports so that the flow of cotton could continue. The Confederacy, of course, badly needed imported goods and the revenue from its money-making export. The South never convinced these other world powers to intervene in the war, but cotton diplomacy was successful in garnering financial aid for the South.
Dissolution of the Confederate States of America
Neither King Cotton nor Confederate troops would win the war for the Confederate States of America. Battlefield victories in 1861 and 1862 gave Confederate troops the strength to continue fighting, but from 1863 on finances dwindled and battlefield successes reversed. The troops became increasingly demoralized. Union troops occupied much of the South, and Confederate government officials were unable to get to Richmond to do the work of the government. Its day-to-day operations became seriously impeded.
On April 3, 1865, the flag of the United States of America was raised over the Confederate capital of Richmond. The Civil War was officially over on April 9, when the commander of the Confederate forces, General Robert E. Lee (1807–1870), surrendered to the Union commander, Ulysses S. Grant (1822–1885), at Appomattox Court House in Virginia. This surrender precipitated the dissolution of the Confederate States of America.
After four years of war, the dissolution of the Confederate States of America and the emancipation of the slaves by President Lincoln left the South economically, socially, and politically in a shambles. Its economic structure had been based largely on an agrarian economy assisted by slaves, and that structure was now dissolved. In addition, the region experienced massive war-related property damage, and Confederate money became completely devalued. The South’s social system had been intimately linked to its plantation-style economy (where large farms grow a single crop for export, such as cotton or tobacco), and that, too, was gone. A new social structure would have to be established, including a new association between blacks and whites. The Confederate States of America was dissolved, and both former Confederates and Union politicians wondered how they could be politically united. Thus, the next chapter in U.S. history began: the Reconstruction, in which economic, social, and political structures would be redefined and rebuilt in an effort to reunite the North and the South into one United States of America.
See also Reconstruction
Impeachment is a process undertaken by Congress to investigate and gather information on alleged wrongdoing by a federal official, such as a judge, the president, or the vice president. During the impeachment process, as in a trial, the accused may be found not guilty. Thus, impeachment does not necessarily mean that the accused is removed from office. During the Civil War era (1850–1877), three people were impeached by Congress: U.S. district judge West Hughes Humphreys in 1862, President Andrew Johnson in 1867–68, and Secretary of War William W. Belknap in 1876. Humphreys (1806–1882) was found guilty of the charges against him and removed from office. Johnson (1808–1875) and Belknap (1829–1890) were acquitted—found not guilty of the charges.
The Who, Why, and How of Impeachment
Article 2, Section 4, of the U.S. Constitution states who can be impeached and why: “The President, Vice President and all civil Officers of the United States, shall be removed from Office on Impeachment for, and Conviction of, Treason, Bribery, or other high Crimes and Misdemeanors.” “High crimes and misdemeanors” are not defined in the Constitution and can encompass a wide range of acts; there has never been agreement on standards for impeachable offenses. Also, “misdemeanors” does not carry today’s legal definition of a crime punishable by less than one year in jail, such as minor theft. It simply means a misdeed. In Johnson’s case, one of his misdemeanors was speaking disrespectfully of Congress “in a loud voice.”
Various sections and clauses of the Constitution discuss how impeachment works. Article 1, Section 2, states: “The House of Representatives … shall have the sole power of impeachment.” Not all the intricacies of the process are spelled out in the Constitution, but what this part of the Constitution means is that the House of Representatives is the branch of Congress that investigates the charges and gathers evidence. The House then develops the individual charges, which are called articles of impeachment. For the accused to be tried on these charges, the House must first vote, and a majority vote is required for the accused to be tried on the charges. If the majority vote is reached, the accused is said to have been impeached, and a trial takes place in the Senate.
Article 1, Section 3, Clause 6, of the Constitution states: “The Senate shall have the sole power to try all impeachments. When sitting for that purpose, they shall be on oath or affirmation. When the President of the United States is tried, the Chief Justice shall preside: And no person shall be convicted without the concurrence of two thirds of the members present.” Because the Senate has the sole power to try impeachments, the Senate’s decision cannot be appealed to the courts or any other legal body. Therefore, an affirmative ruling by two-thirds of the Senate members present at the trial on the articles of impeachment is a guilty verdict and the final decision. With this decision, the accused would be removed from office.
Article 1, Section 3, Clause 7, of the Constitution states: “Judgment in cases of impeachment shall not extend further than to removal from office, and disqualification to hold and enjoy any office of honor, trust or profit under the United States: but the party convicted shall nevertheless be liable and subject to indictment, trial, judgment and punishment, according to law.” This part of the Constitution means that the accused can also stand trial in civil or criminal court for the same offenses. However, the outcomes of civil or criminal trials cannot affect or change the ruling of the Senate.
President Johnson, Radical Republicans, and Impeachment Provoked
Although the impeachment of President Johnson was seemingly about a violation of a federal act called the Tenure of Office Act of 1867, it was really about his political disagreements with Congress. Articles of impeachment were written and voted on in the House of Representatives, a majority vote was reached, and a trial was set in the Senate. The disagreements were so contentious that in May 1868 the Senate came within a single vote of removing a president from office for the first time in U.S. history.
The Tenure of Office Act required the consent of the Senate for dismissal of any federal official whose initial appointment had required Senate confirmation. Congress had passed this act in March 1867 over the veto of President Johnson. It was unclear, however, whether the act applied to federal officials appointed by one administration but dismissed by another. In this particular case, President Johnson wanted to dismiss Secretary of War Edwin Stanton (1814–1869), who had been appointed by President Abraham Lincoln (1809–1865). Stanton’s approach was that of a Radical Republican, and he attempted, by working with congressional Radicals, to block Johnson’s policies after the war. Radical Republicans were strong antislavery advocates who thought Johnson’s policies did not go far enough in guaranteeing legal equality for freed slaves.
Congress refused consent of Stanton’s dismissal, but President Johnson would not accept the Senate’s decision, believing the Tenure of Office Act unconstitutional. In an effort to obtain judicial review of the constitutionality of the act, Johnson ignored Congress and appointed General Lorenzo Thomas (1804–1875), the adjutant general of the army, to the cabinet position of secretary of war. Instead of a judicial review, Johnson provoked impeachment proceedings.
Disagreements over the Tenure of Office Act were not the only differences Congress had with President Johnson. There was a basic disagreement of political philosophies: radicalism versus conservatism. Radical Republicans wanted racial equality. To accomplish this goal, they wanted to impose strict political, legal, and constitutional requirements on the former Confederate states as a prerequisite for their rejoining the Union as equals with other states. On the contrary, President Johnson was a conservative and opposed such stringent prerequisites. He advocated a quick and “soft” approach to Reconstruction (the period after the Civil War, when the country and the government were adjusting to life after the war).
Congress did not like Johnson’s vetoes of major Reconstruction laws, such as the Freedmen’s Bureau Act (1865) and the Civil Rights Act (1866). The Freedman’s Bureau Act established a new agency within the War Department to provide help to freed slaves, including giving them land, providing schooling for their children, and ensuring their rights via military courts. President Johnson thought that the Freedmen’s Bureau Act was too expensive and unconstitutional. The Civil Rights Act granted citizenship and equal rights to people of all races in the United States. Johnson thought that blacks were not qualified for U.S. citizenship.
Although the Declaration of Independence stated “We hold these truths to be self-evident: That all men are created equal,” the United States did not stand by nor enforce this conviction for almost one hundred years after the document was signed. Instead, the country allowed African blacks to be imported like products and sold into servitude. Not until the Civil War and the emancipation of southern slaves did the United States begin to concern itself with equal rights for all.
The Civil Rights Act of 1866 was the first civil rights legislation proposed in U.S. history. President Andrew Johnson (1808–1875) vetoed the bill, but his veto was overturned by a two-thirds majority in both houses of Congress. The bill became law, giving former slaves citizenship. The first paragraph in this historic document states:
Be it enacted by the Senate and House of Representatives of the United States of America in Congress assembled, That all persons born in the United States and not subject to any foreign power, excluding Indians not taxed, are hereby declared to be citizens of the United States; and such citizens, of every race and color, without regard to any previous condition of slavery or involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall have the same right, in every State and Territory in the United States, to make and enforce contracts, to sue, be parties, and give evidence, to inherit, purchase, lease, sell, hold, and convey real and personal property, and to full and equal benefit of all laws and proceedings for the security of person and property, as is enjoyed by white citizens, and shall be subject to like punishment, pains, and penalties, and to none other, any law, statute, ordinance, regulation, or custom, to the contrary notwithstanding.
Civil Rights Act of 1866, 14 Stat. 27–30 (April 9, 1866).
Johnson’s Articles of Impeachment
The House of Representatives developed eleven articles of impeachment against President Johnson. Nine of the articles had to do with Johnson’s violation of the Tenure of Office Act. One article charged him with failing to enforce the Reconstruction laws, and one addressed his behavior in office, stating that the president did “make and declare, with a loud voice certain intemperate, inflammatory, and scandalous harangues, and therein utter loud threats and bitter menaces, as well against Congress as the laws of the United States duly enacted thereby, amid the cries, jeers and laughter of the multitudes then assembled in hearing.” This article of impeachment ends with the following denunciation of Johnson: “Which said utterances, declarations, threats and harangues, highly censurable in any, are peculiarly indecent and unbecoming in the Chief Magistrate of the United States, by means whereof the said Andrew Johnson has brought the high office of the President of the United States into contempt, ridicule and disgrace, to the great scandal of all good citizens, whereby said Andrew Johnson, President of the United States, did commit, and was then and there guilty of a high misdemeanor in office.”
Johnson’s Trial and Acquittal
President Johnson’s Senate trial began on March 30, 1868. Johnson’s defense team argued that the Tenure of Office Act was unconstitutional, citing precedents that placed the power to dismiss a cabinet member was exclusive to the office of the president, whereas the power to appoint a cabinet member belonged to both the president and the Senate. The defense team further argued that even if the act were constitutional, Stanton was not Johnson’s appointee and, therefore, Johnson could remove him without violating the Tenure of Office Act. In addition, Stanton had refused to relinquish his office, so technically Johnson had not removed him from office. Johnson’s attorneys explained that the president had wished to test the constitutionality of the law, not violate it. He had committed no crime by his attempt to remove Stanton, so he should not be convicted of “high crimes and misdemeanors.”
The House prosecution team argued that the Tenure of Office Act was constitutional, that Johnson had knowingly violated the law, and that therefore he should be punished. The Senate vote was one short of the two-thirds majority needed for conviction. Although the vote was split along party lines, seven Republicans also voted “not guilty.” Historians suggest that these Republicans were still angry with Johnson but were convinced by his defense team that he had committed no crimes. President Johnson’s impeachment trial is considered to be an important case historically because it showed that the process should be used only to investigate criminal activity, not to avenge political differences between the executive and legislative branches of government.
The Impeachment of West Hughes Humphreys
West Hughes Humphreys was a judge in the U.S. District Court for Tennessee. Before becoming a judge, Humphreys served in the Tennessee state legislature from 1835 to 1838 and as the Tennessee state attorney general from 1839 to 1851. In 1853 he was appointed to his judgeship by President Franklin Pierce (1804–1869). Humphreys was a secessionist, and when the Confederate States of America was formed, Humphreys became a judge for the Confederate District Court of Tennessee. In May 1862 the U.S. House of Representatives began the impeachment process and voted on several articles of impeachment, but Humphreys’s main crime was serving as a Confederate judge. The other articles were related secessionist charges, such as calling for secession and giving aid to an armed rebellion. In June 1862 the U.S. Senate unanimously convicted him of the charges, removed him from office, and barred him from ever again holding a U.S. office.
The Impeachment of William W. Belknap
William W. Belknap was the secretary of war under President Ulysses S. Grant (1822–1885). Belknap was accused of accepting bribes from a trader at a Native American trading post. As the House of Representatives prepared to impeach him on bribery charges, Belknap, hoping to avoid the public humiliation, offered his resignation to President Grant. Grant accepted the resignation, but an angry House of Representatives continued with the impeachment process anyway and voted unanimously to bring articles of impeachment to the Senate. The Senate debated whether it had jurisdiction over Belknap because he was no longer a government official. Ultimately, the Senate voted in favor of having the trial, but Belknap was acquitted of the charges. Most Senators believed that Belknap was guilty of the charges, but as the trial progressed most decided that they did not have jurisdiction after all.
The Belknap trial set a precedent that the resignation of a government official—the primary objective of impeachment—ends the impeachment proceedings. This was the case in 1974 with President Richard Milhous Nixon (1913–1994). When he resigned from office, the impeachment proceedings against him ended. The only other president to have been impeached is William Jefferson Clinton (1946–), who was acquitted of the charges on February 12, 1999. The impeachment process is used most often to remove federal judges from the bench after the discovery of criminal activity. Over the history of the United States, the impeachment process has convicted and removed from office seven judges.
See also Richard Milhous Nixon
See also William Jefferson Clinton
When the Civil War ended in 1865, the United States was torn apart politically, socially, and economically. Reconstruction was the process meant to bring the country back together, readmitting Confederate states to the Union, restoring property, and helping the South shift from an economy based on slave labor to one without slaves. In addition, the status of the newly freed slaves had to be determined. Reconstruction underwent three phases: presidential Reconstruction from 1863 to 1866, congressional (Radical) Reconstruction from 1866 to 1873, and Redemption from 1873 to 1877.
Presidential Reconstruction Begins: Lincoln’s Ten Percent Plan
The period of presidential Reconstruction was controlled by Presidents Abraham Lincoln (1809–1865) and Andrew Johnson (1808–1875), with the goal of quickly reuniting the country. Lincoln inaugurated a program of Reconstruction in several southern states even before the war ended. Along with advocating a swift and easy process, he promoted the idea of leniency toward former supporters of secession. Lincoln’s Reconstruction plan, which he proclaimed to be in effect on December 8, 1863, was called the Ten Percent Plan. This meant that 10 percent of all citizens who had voted in the 1860 election in each seceded state had to take an oath of loyalty to the United States to be readmitted to the Union. When 10 percent took the oath, the state could set up a new government, which Lincoln would recognize.
The Radical Republican Response: The Wade-Davis Bill
Radical Republicans—a faction of the Republican Party that strongly supported emancipation and opposed the Confederacy—disagreed with Lincoln’s approach and took a harder line against the Confederacy. They wanted to punish the South and secessionists, so they passed the Wade-Davis Bill in June 1864. Senator Benjamin Franklin Wade (1800–1878) of Ohio and Representative Henry Winter Davis (1817–1865) of Maryland authored the bill. The Wade-Davis Bill required that more than 50 percent of the Confederate states’ white males take a loyalty oath to be readmitted to the Union. However, Lincoln refused to sign the bill, and it never became law.
Johnson Takes over Reconstruction
Lincoln died on April 15, 1865, shortly after the war ended and before he could accomplish much with Reconstruction. He had, however, already issued the Emancipation Proclamation on January 1, 1863, and he was instrumental in the passage of the Thirteenth Amendment, which formally abolished slavery in the United States. The amendment passed both the Senate and the House before his assassination and was ratified after his death on December 6, 1865.
His successor, Vice President Johnson, took over the presidency on April 16, 1865. Johnson would struggle with Reconstruction and with Congress—most specifically with the Radical Republicans—during his time in office. Lincoln, a Republican, had taken the unusual step of choosing a Democratic vice presidential running mate for the election of 1864, thinking that it would help broaden the ticket’s appeal and promote national unity. However, being a Democrat and a southerner, Johnson was naturally lenient toward the South and, therefore, he continually clashed with the Radical Republicans. He tried to pursue Reconstruction in the manner Lincoln chose, but Radical Republicans thought Lincoln’s approach was too weak. Consequently, a political war between the president and the Radical Republicans began to brew.
To avoid confrontation with Congress and make the Reconstruction process easier, Johnson began to implement his program soon after taking office in April and before Congress came back into session in December. He appointed provisional governors in Mississippi, Georgia, Texas, Alabama, South Carolina, and Florida and asked each to oversee his Reconstruction program in the South. Johnson’s program also included pardons to those in the former Confederacy who would take an oath of allegiance to the Union and presidential approval of new state governments and elected representatives to Congress in former Confederate states that had abolished slavery. However, even though Confederate states were required to abolish slavery, many enacted laws called Black Codes that regulated the rights of freed slaves and kept them in an inferior position to whites. Mississippi was the first state to do so, enacting the laws on December 2, 1865, and the other former Confederate states followed. The laws of Mississippi and South Carolina were considered to be the most stringent.
The Black Codes of Mississippi provide an example of laws that former Confederate states developed after the emancipation of the slaves to regulate their civil and legal rights. Under the Mississippi Black Codes “all freedmen, free negroes, and mulattos” could sue, be sued, acquire property, and marry each other, but they could not marry whites. They were to sign contracts for work with their employers (often for low wages) but could be captured and returned to their employer if they left before their contract was up. People who returned the offending workers were paid a bounty. As stated in the Mississippi Black Codes: “Every civil officer shall, and every person may, arrest and carry back to his or her legal employer any freedman, free negro, or mulatto who shall have quit the service of his or her employer before the expiration of his or her term of service without good cause and said officer and person shall be entitled to receive for arresting and carrying back every deserting employee aforesaid the sum of five dollars, and ten cents per mile from the place of arrest to the place of delivery.”
In addition, the Black Codes often made virtual slaves out of orphans and other young people. For example, in the Mississippi Black Codes, “all freedmen, free negroes and mulattoes” under the age of eighteen who were orphans or not cared for by their parents were to be reported to the government and given an apprenticeship with a “suitable person” who would “protect the interest” of the minor. That person would have to pay the state of Mississippi for this apprentice and was required to feed, clothe, and educate the child, who was “bound by indenture” until age twenty-one for males and eighteen for females. If the apprentice ran away, he or she would be brought back to the master or taken to jail.
The Black Codes in Mississippi also required freed slaves either to work or be considered vagrants, a crime punishable by fine and/or imprisonment. Thus, freed slaves were pushed into accepting contractual employment with extremely low wages or risk being jailed for vagrancy. The law also prohibited whites and blacks from socializing together:
All freedmen, free negroes and mulattoes in this State, over the age of eighteen years, found on the second Monday in January, 1866, or thereafter, with no lawful employment or business, or found unlawful assembling themselves together, either in the day or night time, and all white persons assembling themselves with freedmen, Free negroes or mulattoes, or usually associating with freedmen, free negroes or mulattoes, on terms of equality, or living in adultery or fornication with a freed woman, freed negro or mulatto, shall be deemed vagrants, and on conviction thereof shall be fined in a sum not exceeding, in the case of a freedman, free negro or mulatto, fifty dollars, and a white man two hundred dollars, and imprisonment at the discretion of the court, the free negro not exceeding ten days, and the white man not exceeding six months.
Mississippi Legislature, Laws of the State of Mississippi, Black Codes of Mississippi 1865 (Jackson, 1865, 1866), 82–93, 165–167.
Radical Republicans Retaliate: The Freedmen’s Bureau and Civil Rights
In December 1865 Congress convened for the first time since Johnson had taken office in April of that year. By this time most southern state governments were in place and had elected representatives to Congress. Congressional Radical Republicans disliked what Johnson had done, and they gained the support of others who were also angered at seeing many Confederate leaders returning to positions of influence. The Black Codes of many southern states also inflamed the Radical Republicans, as well as many other northerners, because these laws maintained many of the economic and social facets of slavery in the South.
The Radical Republicans wielded their power, and Congress refused to seat any senator or representative from the old Confederacy. Congress also wanted to deal with postwar humanitarian issues that it felt Johnson had ignored. Much of the South had been destroyed, and illiterate slaves—now freed—had no means by which to feed, clothe, house, educate, and support themselves. To meet these needs, Congress established the Bureau of Refugees, Freedmen, and Abandoned Lands in March 1865. Commonly called the Freedmen’s Bureau, this federal agency provided emergency food and shelter to people dislocated by the war and aided and protected former slaves. It was originally intended to exist for one year, but in July 1866 the bureau was reorganized under the War Department. Although President Johnson vetoed this extension of the bureau, Congress overrode the veto. The bureau’s new structure under the War Department gave it military backing and allowed military courts to try civil rights violations of former slaves. The Freedmen’s Bureau was fully operational from June 1865 to December 1868 and continued some of its work through 1872. President Johnson disbanded the agency in that year because of funding problems.
At this same time, Radical Republicans and others in Congress responded to the Black Codes by supporting federal civil rights legislation for blacks and former slaves. Congress passed the Civil Rights Act of 1866 in March of that year. President Johnson vetoed the bill on the grounds that it was unconstitutional, but Congress overrode the veto the next month. This act gave citizenship to freed slaves and placed limits on the Black Codes.
Besides their disagreements over the Freedmen’s Bureau and civil rights legislation, Radical Republicans and President Johnson argued over the allegiance of white southerners. Johnson asserted that white southerners were remorseful over the Civil War and were now loyal to the Union. The Radicals believed that even though a few white southerners might feel that way, most did not. Although Johnson denounced the Radical Republicans and called a few of them traitors, the Radicals continued to bar former Confederate leaders from politics. During the summer of 1866, many northerners came to agree with the opinion of the Radicals when white rioters in Memphis and New Orleans attacked residents in predominantly black sections of those cities.
Congressional (Radical) Reconstruction Begins
The November 1866 congressional election reflected the feeling of much of the North: people were supportive of the ideas of the Radical Republicans, who scored major victories. The Republican Party was favored in the results, with more than a two-thirds majority of Republicans being voted in to both houses of Congress. It was then that Congress enacted its own program of Radical Reconstruction, opposing the moderate programs of presidential Reconstruction. Radical Reconstruction emphasized civil and voting rights for the freed slaves.
The Republican Congress passed a series of laws that specified steps the former Confederate states would have to follow to create new state governments and regain their representation in Congress. The steps included allowing blacks to vote and requiring the states to ratify the Fourteenth Amendment, which granted blacks citizenship. The Fourteenth Amendment was passed by Congress in June 1866 and ratified by the states in 1868. Therefore, those states that did not complete the process of re-creating their state governments by 1868 were also required to ratify the Fifteenth Amendment, which gave black men the right to vote.
Paying a Political Price: The Impeachment of President Johnson
President Johnson vetoed the congressional Reconstruction laws, but Congress overrode his vetoes. Johnson would pay a big political price for his disagreements with Congress. In March 1867 the Tenure of Office Act was passed, requiring the Senate’s consent for the dismissal of any federal official whose initial appointment had required Senate confirmation. President Johnson vetoed the act, but Congress overrode him. Congress believed that this law would keep Johnson from dismissing Secretary of War Edwin Stanton (1814–1869), who had been appointed by President Lincoln. Stanton was a Radical Republican, and congressional Radical Republicans wanted him to remain in the president’s cabinet. Johnson, however, wanted to dismiss him because Stanton had attempted, by working with congressional Radicals, to block Johnson’s policies. Congress refused consent of Stanton’s dismissal, but President Johnson would not accept the Senate’s decision, believing the Tenure of Office Act was unconstitutional. In an effort to obtain judicial review of the constitutionality of the act, he fired Stanton and appointed General Lorenzo Thomas (1804–1875), the adjutant general of the army, to the position. However, instead of a judicial review, Johnson unwittingly provoked impeachment proceedings for himself.
Historians note that Johnson’s impeachment was really about the political differences between him and Congress, rather than his refusal to abide by the Tenure of Office Act. Nonetheless, in spite of all the animosity between the president and Congress, the Senate failed by one vote to convict Johnson and remove him from office.
Republican Governments in the South
In the mid- to late 1860s new Republican governments emphasizing civil and voting rights for the freedmen (freed slaves) were established in the South under the terms of congressional Reconstruction. The Radical Republicans imposed federal military rule over most of the South to uphold these governments as the former Confederate states wrote new constitutions and were readmitted to the Union. Approximately 20 percent of southern white voters initially supported the Republican Party, but that support dwindled to nearly nothing. Thus, the Republican Party in the South evolved into the party of northern whites who had moved to the South (called carpetbaggers), a minority of southern whites (called scalawags), and freedmen. This coalition controlled Republican state governments from about 1866 to 1870.
Carpetbaggers and Scalawags
Carpetbaggers and scalawags were much reviled in the South during Reconstruction. Northern whites moved to the South for a variety of reasons. Many were businessmen who came to make their fortunes growing cotton. They hired freedmen to work their crops, and many became wealthy landowners. The term carpetbagger was a slur against these northerners, who were seen as unprincipled opportunists looking to cash in on the South’s tragedy. However, some northern whites also hoped for reconciliation between the South and the North, believing that they could help the South become a region of economic prosperity once again. Scalawags—also a term of derision—were white southerners who joined the Republican Party in the hopes of bringing reform to southern postwar politics. Many had sympathized with the Union during the war, some as secret abolitionists. Social and economic class was important to the scalawags: Many of them had come from the working class, and they were careful to distinguish themselves from the wealthy plantation class that had ruled the South before the war.
The presence of carpetbaggers and scalawags—and their close political ties with freed slaves—led to an atmosphere of bitterness and violence in the postwar South, especially because of their power within the Republican Party. From the end of the war until about 1870, the Republicans, led largely by carpetbaggers and scalawags, controlled the political landscape of the former Confederate states. Although they were gradually overthrown by a socially and fiscally conservative branch of the Democratic Party known as the Redeemers, the turmoil created by the war and the new role of former slaves led to the rise of groups such as the Ku Klux Klan, which resorted to all manner of violence to keep blacks and white Republicans from voting.
Despite their quest to dominate the South politically, many of the carpetbaggers and scalawags did have altruistic motives. Recognizing the devastation the war had caused across the South, they set to work introducing industry, streamlining farming techniques, and creating transportation systems in rural areas. Additionally, many northerners, particularly women, moved South after Emancipation to help educate freed slaves. Carpetbaggers and scalawags worked together to establish public schools for both former slaves and poor whites in the South.
President Grant and His Corrupt Administrations
President Johnson completed the remainder of Lincoln’s term through 1868, but this Democrat was not nominated by the Republicans to run in the next presidential election. Instead, Ulysses S. Grant (1822–1885), famous and popular because of his accomplishments as a Union general during the war, unanimously won the Republican nomination. Although Grant supported the congressional Reconstruction policy, it was his great popularity that won him the election.
During Grant’s first administration, dissatisfaction grew among Radical Republicans over what they considered corruption in some of the federally backed reconstructed governments. A branch of the Republican Party broke away in 1872. Scandal after scandal blemished Grant’s administration, but he took no action. Grant also did little to make Reconstruction a success. Nevertheless, he won the Republican nomination for president once again in 1872 and was elected to a second term.
White Southerners versus Republican State Governments
Most white southerners formed conservative coalitions that battled the Republicans throughout the South. Their party names varied, but eventually they called themselves Democrats. During the time that southern state governments were controlled by Republicans, many southern Democrats were hostile because the Republicans protected the rights of freed slaves and allowed them to hold office. Southern Democrats believed that the Republican state governments were illegitimate and that the few native southern whites who held office under the Radical governments were traitors to their race. Southern Democrats also viewed northern whites who came to the South to make money or to hold office as people who simply wanted to take advantage of the South and its resources.
In 1870 the Fifteenth Amendment was ratified, which gave black men the right to vote. For the most part, these new black voters cast their ballots for the Republican Party, which had freed them from slavery. However, secret white supremacist organizations were formed, such as the Ku Klux Klan and the Knights of the White Camellia, which worked to prevent blacks from voting. These groups caused violence at the polls, and northerners became increasingly tired of the disorder that regularly accompanied elections in the South. Congress passed acts in 1870 and 1871 that gave the president the power to use federal troops to prevent the denial of voting rights. Violence declined, but intimidation tactics were successful in keeping many blacks from the polls. These events and a severe nationwide economic depression beginning in 1873 undercut northern support for Reconstruction. Increasing numbers of northern whites spoke of leaving the race question to southern whites.
Redemption and the End of Reconstruction
Beginning in 1873, the third phase of Reconstruction had begun: a political movement known as Redemption. During the Redemption, which lasted from 1873 to the end of Reconstruction in 1877, conservative white southerners (calling themselves Redeemers) overthrew the Republicans and took control of each state. By 1874, in part because of voter disgust at corruption in the Grant administration, the Democrats gained control of the House for the first time since the war began. By 1876 Republicans controlled only three states; Democrats had taken the rest. Besides Grant’s corrupt administration, internal divisions within the Republican Party, white terror, and northern apathy allowed conservative white Democrats to take the South.
A disputed presidential election brought Reconstruction to a formal end. The outcome of the election of 1876 between the Republican governor Rutherford B. Hayes of Ohio (1822–1893) and the Democratic governor Samuel J. Tilden of New York (1814–1886) was difficult to determine because of a variety of accusations on both sides of voting irregularities, including physical intimidation, bribery, and uncounted and destroyed ballots. Talks between leaders of both parties resulted in the unwritten Compromise of 1877. Democratic leaders accepted Hayes’s election in exchange for Republican promises to withdraw federal troops from the South, provide federal funding for internal improvements in the South, and name a prominent southerner to the president’s cabinet. The federal government would no longer intervene in southern affairs. When the troops were withdrawn, the Republican governments in Florida, Louisiana, and South Carolina collapsed. Democrats controlled every southern state, and Reconstruction formally ended.
Although Reconstruction was a failure, it did accomplish the goal of inserting racial equality into the Constitution with the passage of the Fourteenth and Fifteenth amendments. These amendments would be used later in history to challenge the segregation of blacks in many areas of society. However, when Reconstruction ended, racism intensified, black poverty worsened, and segregation became a way of life. The country’s initial effort to establish racial equality had failed to integrate blacks into the legal, political, economic, and social systems of the country.
Important Figures of the Day
Born in Virginia, Henry Clay (1777–1852) was a U.S. congressman, Speaker of the House of Representatives, senator, and secretary of state. He was nominated three times for president, in 1824, 1832, and 1844, but was never elected. He was well known during the antebellum period (the years leading up to the Civil War) for his development of the Great Compromise of 1850, which many historians consider his greatest accomplishment. This bundle of five laws appeased both the North and the South, temporarily soothing tensions at a time when they were at a high point.
Clay’s Political Beginnings
After only three years of schooling in Hanover County, Virginia, Clay worked as a clerk in a grocery store and a few years later secured a job copying and transcribing records for the courts. Encouraged to study law, Clay began legal studies in 1796 and graduated with his degree at the age of twenty. He left Virginia for Kentucky because frontier land disputes provided endless opportunities for attorneys. He subsequently became known as the best defense attorney in Kentucky.
Clay’s political career began around 1798 with his first political speech. In 1799 he was appointed to a constitutional convention in Kentucky, where he worked—unsuccessfully—to have slavery abolished. In 1803, when still only twenty-six, Clay was elected to the Kentucky legislature and was then appointed to fill an unexpired term left vacant in the U.S. Senate in 1806–1807 and another in 1810–1811.
During his years in the Senate, Clay became known as an exceptional leader. In 1808 he was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives and was immediately chosen as Speaker of the House. During his fourteen years of service in the House of Representatives, interrupted only by his short return to the Senate in 1810–1811, he was reelected five times to the House speakership.
Forger of the Missouri Compromise of 1820
As Speaker of the House, Clay worked hard to help forge the Missouri Compromise of 1820. At that time, rapid population growth in the North had bolstered northern representation in the House of Representatives, leaving the South with less than 50 percent of the members. The Senate, however, was evenly balanced because the number of slave states and free states was the same: There were eleven of each. The situation became complicated when Missouri applied for statehood as a slave state and Maine as a free state. Northern congressmen, however, wanted to restrict slavery in Missouri. Clay developed a compromise in which Maine would be admitted as a free state if Missouri was admitted as a slave state. However, slavery would be restricted to the 36°30′ north latitude, which would leave unsettled portions of the Louisiana Purchase north and west of Missouri free from slavery, but would leave the future territory of Arkansas and Oklahoma open to the expansion of slavery. The compromise passed in the House by a three-vote margin. Missouri and Maine were admitted to the Union simultaneously, which preserved the North-South equality in the Senate.
A Presidential Nominee and Secretary of State
In 1824 Clay made his first run for the presidency. It was a four-way race with each candidate representing a part of the country, and thus the votes were split four ways. As a result, no candidate received a majority of the electoral vote so the House of Representatives was to decide the outcome among the top three candidates. Andrew Jackson (1767–1845) had the strongest showing in the election and was expected to win the vote in the House. Clay knew that he and John Quincy Adams (1767–1848), the other front-runner, shared a common political philosophy, so he used his influence as Speaker of the House to sway the vote to Adams. Adams rewarded Clay with the position of secretary of state, but Clay had made bitter political enemies.
Two More Presidential Nominations
As secretary of state, Clay accomplished little, became bored with his position, and then retired from politics temporarily. However, the outcome of the 1828 presidential election reenergized him when Jackson won the presidency over the incumbent Adams. Clay was opposed to many of Jackson’s policies, so he reentered politics and was elected to the Senate once more. As the 1832 election approached, Clay was nominated as the Republican presidential candidate against Jackson. Jackson won easily.
Remaining in Congress, Clay took the lead against the policies of the Jackson administration and continued working toward his lifelong goals of federal support for infrastructural improvements (such as roads and bridges), protective tariffs (to safeguard domestic products from cheaper imports), and preservation of the national bank (to help stabilize the currency and link a national financial system). Clay accepted reelection to the Senate, but after many years of fighting political opponents he resigned in 1842. Once again, he became a presidential candidate—this time for the Whig Party in the 1844 election.
Clay’s downfall in the election of 1844 was his stand on Texas: he supported its admission to the Union. He got the vote of southerners in his party, for they saw Texas as a potential slave state and a source for fresh cotton-growing lands. Nonetheless, his pro-Texas policy cost him the vote of the decisive state of New York. James K. Polk (1795–1849) won the election.
After his third loss as a presidential candidate, Clay continued a vigorous political life. He was reelected to the Senate in 1849 at a time when differences between the North and the South were heating up as they had before Clay’s brokering of the Missouri Compromise of 1820. The problems had the same roots: the expansion of slavery into the new territories and the balance of power in Congress between slave states and free states. Clay wanted to cool the fire between the North and the South as he had done so effectively before with the Missouri Compromise.
Clay made his first proposal for compromise on January 29, 1850, introducing a series of resolutions that provided for the admission of California to the Union as a free state; the organization of territorial governments in Utah and New Mexico without mention of slavery; a new and more stringent fugitive slave law; abolition of the domestic slave trade in Washington, D.C.; and monetary compensation to Texas for the withdrawal of its claims to portions of New Mexico. Each resolution appealed to either northern or southern views, and Clay thought that as a package it might be a compromise that both sides could accept. The resolutions were proposed as an omnibus bill, which is a general name for a bill that combines several measures, possibly diverse, into a single unit.
Zachary Taylor (1784–1850) was president at the time and opposed the omnibus bill, as did certain factions in both the North and the South. Only a minority supported all the provisions of the bill, and it failed to pass in the Senate. President Taylor died on July 9, 1850, and Vice President Millard Fillmore (1800–1874), who favored the compromise, took over. The Illinois senator Stephen A. Douglas (1813–1861) supported the compromise as well, and as chairman of the Committee on Territories, Douglas dominated the Senate at the time. With his supporters, Douglas assembled different majorities for each of five separate bills, and the Senate voted on each separately. All passed and by September the House had passed each separately as well. President Fillmore signed the bills into law in September 1850.
The five laws of the omnibus bill have become known as the Compromise of 1850. This compromise cooled a difficult situation that had become almost a national crisis. It did not, however, resolve the disagreements between the North and the South, which in the next ten years finally boiled over into civil war.
“The Great Compromiser”
Clay died less than two years after the Compromise of 1850 was signed into law. He has been nicknamed “the Great Compromiser” for his important work on this document and on the Missouri Compromise of 1820. He became the first person to lie in state in the Capitol Rotunda in recognition of his successfully forging of compromise solutions to issues that threatened to break apart the Union. Historians recognize that Clay played an integral role in keeping the United States from civil war in both 1820 and 1850. Nevertheless, nine years after the death of the Great Compromiser, the Union succumbed to a war between the states.
See also Compromise of 1850
James Buchanan (1791–1868) served as the fifteenth president of the United States, from 1857 to 1861, just before the beginning of the Civil War. Although a Pennsylvanian, Buchanan had pro-South and proslavery leanings. He was inaugurated during tumultuous times: The arguments over slavery in the territories had built to a fever pitch. Although initially viewed as unbiased, Buchanan sided with the South in many of the political confrontations of his presidency, which resulted in his political death.
Born in Pennsylvania, Buchanan studied law as a young man. After his admission to the bar in 1812, he practiced law in Lancaster, Pennsylvania. Two years later he was elected to the Pennsylvania assembly as a Federalist, which was a political party that advocated a fiscally and militarily strong Union and that showed little interest in states’ rights. Voter support for the Federalist Party was dwindling, however, and consequently the Federalist Party declined dramatically in its membership. By 1820 Buchanan was aligned with and a leading member of the new Democratic Party. In that year he was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives as a Democrat.
A Representative, Foreign Minister, and Senator
After his initial election to the House in 1820, Buchanan was elected four more times. Then from 1832 to 1834 he served as the minister to Russia, appointed by President Andrew Jackson (1767–1845), and became the first foreign minister to negotiate a commercial treaty between countries. Buchanan left his post when he was elected to the U.S. Senate in 1834; he served in the Senate through 1845. Although from Pennsylvania, Buchanan frequently agreed with the views of southern politicians. He believed secession was illegal, but he also believed that going to war to stop secession was illegal. He was viewed as a moderate and seemed a contender for the Democratic nomination for president in the election of 1844.
Buchanan did not win his party’s nomination for the 1844 election. Instead, James K. Polk (1795–1849), a southern slave holder from Tennessee, won the Democratic nomination and the election, becoming the eleventh president of the United States. Polk appointed Buchanan to his cabinet as secretary of state, and Buchanan served the full term from 1845 to 1849. Among his successes as secretary of state were the negotiation and signing of the Oregon Treaty of 1846 with Great Britain, which settled a boundary dispute in Oregon, and the negotiation of the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo with Mexico, which was the peace treaty that ended the Mexican-American War (1846–1848) and gave the United States (in return for a sizeable fee) many of its southwestern states.
In spite of these successes, Buchanan was, once again, not the Democratic presidential nominee. Franklin Pierce (1804–1869) won the nomination in 1852 and went on to win the election. When Pierce took office in 1853, he appointed Buchanan as the minister to Great Britain, a post he held until 1856. Living in Great Britain for those years helped Buchanan secure the Democratic presidential nomination in 1856 because he was away during years of escalating disagreements between the North and the South. Because of his good relations with politicians in both sections of the country, Buchanan won the election of 1856 and was inaugurated in 1857, but this proslavery Democrat was unable to defuse the ever-increasing national tensions.
Two days after Buchanan took over the presidency from Pierce, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in the important slavery case Dred Scott v. Sanford. Dred Scott (c. 1795–1858) was a slave who had traveled to a free state and territory with his master, John Emerson. With the help of friends and supporters, Scott sued for his freedom in the Missouri courts. Although he had won his freedom initially, the Missouri Supreme Court overturned the decision. Scott then took his case to the federal level and eventually to the U.S. Supreme Court, but the High Court did not rule in his favor, finding instead that the Missouri Compromise was unconstitutional because Congress had no authority to prohibit slavery in the federal territories. Thus, Scott was not free. The High Court also ruled that blacks of African descent were not U.S. citizens and therefore did not have the right to sue in court. This Court decision was highly controversial and deepened the divide between the North and the South. Buchanan backed the Supreme Court decision.
Although Buchanan appeared initially to be a candidate who would bridge the divide between the North and the South, his pro-South and proslavery leanings quickly became evident after his inauguration. Along with supporting the Dred Scott decision, Buchanan later supported the proslavery Lecompton Constitution for the new state of Kansas despite much greater support in the state for the antislavery Topeka Constitution. By then the conflict over slavery in the Kansas Territory had reached a climax. Buchanan was a Democrat, and his decision to support the Lecompton Constitution was one of the factors leading to the split of the Democratic Party into northern and southern factions. Before the split, the Democratic Party was the last political institution in the country that had supporters in both the North and the South.
The 1860 Presidential Election
Throughout the 1850s the United States had been divided over issues surrounding slavery, states’ rights, the balance of power between free states and slave states, and manufacturing versus slave-supported agrarian economies. Decisions made by Buchanan emphasized the differences, inflamed tensions, and deepened the growing split within the Democratic Party. As a result, by the time of the 1860 presidential election, the political system split four ways into the Northern Democratic Party, the Southern Democratic Party, the Republican Party, and the Constitutional Union Party (made up of those who supported neither the Democrats nor the Republicans).
Although Buchanan had appointed southerners to his cabinet—which strengthened his ties to the southern wing of the Democratic Party—he was not the presidential nominee of the Southern Democratic Party. The Republican Party nominated the midwesterner Abraham Lincoln (1809–1865); the party had extensive support from northern voters because Buchanan’s continuing support of slavery had alienated many northern Democrats. Between Lincoln’s win and his inauguration, seven southern states seceded from the Union. Buchanan was still president and refused to surrender southern federal forts to the seceding states. In response, southern troops seized the forts. Thus, as Buchanan left office, the nation was on the brink of war.
A Difficult Retirement
Buchanan returned to Pennsylvania and retired from politics after Lincoln’s inauguration. At first, he was a virtual prisoner at his Lancaster estate because many Americans were hostile to him, believing he was responsible for the Civil War. Buchanan became physically ill as the verbal attacks intensified. Eventually, the public accusations waned and he recovered.
After his recovery, Buchanan worked to restore his reputation by ending his relationships with Confederate leaders, publicly supporting President Lincoln and the Union war effort, and defending his decisions in his 1861 book Mr. Buchanan’s Administration on the Eve of the Rebellion. At the end of the book, Buchanan wrote: “In conclusion, it may be permitted to me to remark that I have often warned my countrymen of the dangers which now surround us. This may be the last time I shall refer to the subject officially. I feel that my duty has been faithfully, though it may be imperfectly, performed; and whatever the result may be, I shall carry to my grave the consciousness that I at least meant well for my country.” Buchanan died eight years after he left office.
A highly effective secretary of state under Presidents Abraham Lincoln (1809–1865) and Andrew Johnson (1808–1875), William Henry Seward (1801–1872) was an antislavery leader from New York who helped found the Republican Party in 1854. He is also well known in history for negotiating the purchase of Alaska in 1867, which was criticized at the time as “Seward’s Folly.”
Early Life and Career
Born in Florida, New York, in 1801, Seward attended Union College in Schenectady. After completing his studies he worked at two law firms, an experience that helped him pass the bar exam in 1822. Seward joined the law firm of Judge Elijah Miller and married Miller’s daughter, Frances, two years later.
While working as an attorney, Seward became interested in politics. He left the law practice when he won a seat in the New York Senate in 1830, serving until 1834. He was then elected governor of New York in 1838 and again in 1840. At the end of his second term he returned to his private law practice. After a few years Seward reentered politics when the New York legislature chose him in 1849 as their representative to the U. S. Senate, where he served through 1861.
During Seward’s Senate career, he established himself as an antislavery leader. He opposed the Compromise of 1850, a collection of laws that tried to address various issues, including slavery, in a manner that would appease both the North and the South so as to calm tensions between them. Seward opposed the compromise because it did not end the expansion of slavery and strengthened the fugitive slave law, requiring citizens to return slaves to their owners. He gave his first speech in the Senate on this issue. In his “higher law” speech, Seward contended that the new territories of the West were governed by a “higher law than the Constitution”—a moral law established by “the Creator of the universe.” Seward became well known because of the speech and was called on to help in the formation of the Republican Party in 1854. In 1858 he delivered another famous speech in which he declared that having free states and slave states within a single country caused “irrepressible conflict” and that the United States would have to choose one system or the other. Those prophetic words may have lost him his party’s nomination for president because many Republicans thought a candidate with this point of view was not electable.
Secretary of State
At the Republican National Convention in 1860, Seward competed with Abraham Lincoln for the party’s nomination for president. Lincoln won both the nomination and the presidency. He offered Seward the cabinet post of secretary of state. After a somewhat tenuous beginning, Seward showed great diplomatic abilities during the Civil War, easing tensions between the United Kingdom and the United States when they came dangerously close to war. He also negotiated the purchase of Alaska in 1867, which was called “Seward’s Folly” by his critics. Others, however, realized the potential value of this land.
On the night Lincoln was shot by John Wilkes Booth (1838–1865), Seward was stabbed in his home by a co-conspirator of Booth’s as part of the assassination plot. Seward was wounded but recovered. After Andrew Johnson (1808–1875) took over the presidency, Seward continued on as secretary of state, focusing on the reconciliation of the North and the South during Reconstruction.
Seward retired from politics at the end of Johnson’s term in 1869 and died in 1872. Historians suggest that Seward was one of the most effective secretaries of state and that his greatest accomplishment was keeping the United States and Britain from war at a critical time in U.S. history.
The fourteenth president of the United States during the antebellum period—the years leading up to the Civil War—Franklin Pierce (1804–1869) also served in the New Hampshire legislature, the U.S. House of Representatives, and the U.S. Senate.
Early Life and Education
Pierce was born in New Hampshire in 1804 and enjoyed his rural boyhood with eight siblings. He attended the Hancock and Francestown academies, both located in New Hampshire, before moving on to his postsecondary education at Bowdoin College in Brunswick, Maine. After graduating from Bowdoin, Pierce studied law and then entered politics.
The Young Politician
Pierce was a Democrat and, at the age of twenty-four, he was elected to the New Hampshire House of Representatives. He served from 1829 to 1833, including a term as Speaker of the House from 1832 to 1833. Pierce was the youngest member of the U.S. House of Representatives when he was elected in 1832. In 1836 he was elected to the U.S. Senate, serving from 1838 until his resignation in 1842. Pierce resigned his Senate seat for personal reasons: His wife, Jane, disliked life in the nation’s capital, and Pierce found it difficult to control his alcoholism as a senator.
Back in New Hampshire, Pierce resumed the practice of law and became a state district attorney. He was offered but declined the Democratic nomination for New Hampshire governor and President James Polk’s (1795–1849) appointment as the U.S. attorney general.
When the Mexican-American War broke out in 1846, Pierce enlisted in the military. He was soon made a colonel and then brigadier general. During battle he fell from his horse and was seriously wounded, but he was able to return to fighting and showed skill as a military commander.
After the war ended, Pierce’s supporters suggested him for the 1852 Democratic presidential nominee because of his strong support for the Compromise of 1850, a series of laws that tried to appease both northerners and southerners on the slavery issue. The Democratic platform included a pledge not to agitate the slavery question and to uphold the compromise. Pierce won the election.
Pierce and his wife had three children; two died as small children and the third was crushed to death in a train wreck two months before Pierce took office in 1853. Pierce entered the presidency tired and grief-stricken, and soon he would have to deal with turmoil throughout the country as well.
The issue of slavery in the territories recurred as Kansas and Nebraska were organized. The Missouri Compromise of 1820 and the Compromise of 1850 had somewhat smoothed over tensions between the North and the South on the slavery issue in the territories, and the Kansas-Nebraska Act was developed in 1854 to appease both regions once again. Pierce believed that approving the Kansas-Nebraska Act would further the transcontinental railroad, northwest migration, and national unity and would appeal to both sides on the slavery issue. Instead, it aroused anger and passion. Pierce was unable to settle the resultant problems, and in the next presidential race he was not nominated to run.
The Postpresidential Years and Legacy
After his presidential term was over, Pierce returned to New Hampshire and struggled once again with his alcoholism. He damaged his reputation not only with his drinking but also by declaring his support for the Confederacy. Pierce died of cirrhosis of the liver in 1869 at the age of sixty-four. His wife predeceased him in 1863.
Pierce was probably elected president more for what he did not do than what he did do. He was not the champion of any cause and did not offend either the North or the South. Because of his relative neutrality, it was widely believed he would be able to maintain peace in the country. Ironically, it was Pierce, in his backing of the Kansas-Nebraska Act, that helped bring the country closer to Civil War.
Jefferson Davis (1808–1889) was the president of the Confederate States of America, which was the group of states that seceded from the Union just before the Civil War began. In the years leading up to the Civil War, Davis was a leading southern spokesman from Mississippi during his terms as a member of both the U.S. House of Representatives and the U.S. Senate. He also served as the secretary of war under President Franklin Pierce (1804–1869) from 1853 to 1857.
Early Life and Education
Davis was born in Christian County, Kentucky, in 1808 (some sources say 1807). The youngest of ten children, Davis moved twice with his family: in 1811 to Louisiana and in 1812 to Mississippi. Davis began his extensive education at the age of five in a log cabin schoolhouse near his Mississippi home. Two years later he began attending the St. Thomas School at the St. Rose Priory in Springfield, Kentucky. He was the only Protestant attending the Catholic school at the time. In 1818 he switched to the newly founded Jefferson College in Mississippi, which then operated as a preparatory school. At age thirteen Davis went on to Transylvania University in Lexington, Kentucky, where he remained until 1824. Davis concluded his education at the U.S. Military Academy in West Point, completing four years of study and becoming commissioned as a second lieutenant in June 1828.
From the Military to Politics
Davis served in the U.S. Army in the Northwest from 1828 to 1833. He resigned from the military in 1835 after his family and friends convinced him that he could achieve distinction in a civil career. In addition, Davis had fallen in love with Sarah Knox Taylor, the daughter of Zachary Taylor (1784–1850), who was the commander of Davis’s post at the time and who would later become president of the United States. Taylor was opposed to the marriage, but was somewhat relieved by Davis’s decision to leave the military. The couple married shortly after Davis’s resignation and moved to Mississippi, where Davis became a plantation owner on eight hundred acres of land his brother gave him. However, both Davis and his new wife contracted malaria, and Sarah died only three months after the wedding. A despondent and ill Davis went to Cuba to recuperate.
After his recuperation, Davis returned to Mississippi, living in seclusion and learning how to best manage his land and slaves. After eight years of this private life, Davis entered politics as a delegate to the Democratic National Convention in 1843. He became known through his speeches, and in 1844 he was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives, serving from 1845 to 1846. During this time he was married again, to Varina Howell, in 1845. Congressman Davis resigned his term to serve in the Mexican-American War (1846–1848), a war that led to the acquisition of new territories in the West—territories that eventually became the states of California, Nevada, Arizona, New Mexico, and Utah. In 1847 he was appointed by the governor of Mississippi to fulfill the term of a deceased senator and was elected to that seat in 1848.
The Prewar Years
Davis’s time in the Senate coincided with discussions about the expansion of slavery into the new territories. Southerners supported the idea of slavery in the territories, whereas northerners opposed it. Senator Davis advocated the division of the western territories into slave and nonslave sections by using the 36°30′ parallel as the North-South dividing line as decided by the Missouri Compromise of 1820. This appealed to southerners but not to northerners, and it was ultimately voted down. Davis thought that disregarding this previous compromise was dangerous to the peace of the country. As the final terms of the Compromise of 1850 were formulated, Davis saw very little that was favorable to the South. Along with other measures, the compromise organized the territorial governments in Utah and New Mexico without mention of slavery.
Davis resigned his senate seat in 1851 to run for governor of Mississippi, but he lost the race. Shortly thereafter, President Pierce called on him to serve as the secretary of war. Davis served the full term, from 1853 to 1857, after which Pierce was not nominated again to run for the presidency. With his cabinet position gone, Davis returned to the Senate, elected by the legislature of Mississippi. He was assigned the chairmanship of the Committee on Military Affairs. During this time he worked to prevent the hostilities between the North and the South from splitting the nation apart. By 1859 Davis was considered a national statesman and leader, ranking among the most prominent living Americans.
The Civil War Years
The nation was in turmoil by the presidential election of 1860. Besides their respective antislavery and proslavery sentiments, differences between the North and the South involved culture, economics, politics, and congressional power. There was so much conflict in the country at that point that four political parties, rather than two, nominated candidates to run for president. Davis was considered, but he was not interested in the presidency. The Republican Abraham Lincoln (1809–1865) won the election. The election of a Republican president was a tremendous blow to the South because the Republican Party held strong antislavery sentiments and was viewed as anti-South as well. Lincoln’s election triggered the secession of eleven southern states, which formed the Confederate States of America. Davis opposed secession but felt it was a political necessity to preserve states’ rights, which the South felt were seriously threatened by the Republican administration. When Mississippi seceded from the Union, Davis left his seat in Congress, apologizing for any pain the discord had caused.
The Mississippi legislature immediately elected Davis to command its state forces—a responsibility he desired—but a few weeks later the provisional congress of the Confederacy elected Davis as its president—a responsibility he never desired. He was elected by popular vote to serve a six-year term and was inaugurated on February 22, 1862. President Davis had many serious problems with which to deal: the funding of the Southern forces, opposition of state governors to his appointments of military officers, and interference of the state courts in military matters. He had few military advisers, but with his extensive education and experience in the military, Davis felt comfortable making most military decisions alone or with his appointee, General Robert E. Lee (1807–1870), the commander of the Army of Virginia. Nonetheless, Davis was criticized for many of his decisions during the Civil War.
Although Davis did not obtain help from foreign governments to fund his troops, the Confederate armies were formidable opponents of the Union forces. As president, Davis was a committed, driving force behind the Southern armies, but many believe he should have recognized defeat sooner than he did. In spite of these criticisms, however, many scholars agree that Davis guided the Confederacy as well as could be expected under the circumstances of secession and with only a nonindustrial Southern economy to support the war effort.
After the War
Davis was captured by Union troops in Georgia on May 10, 1865, and was imprisoned in Virginia from 1865 to 1867. During his imprisonment Davis was indicted for treason against the United States. A few influential northerners and southerners, including the newspaper publisher Horace Greeley (1811–1872) and the steamship and railroad tycoon Cornelius Vanderbilt (1794–1897), posted the bond for his release from prison. The government dropped the case against him in 1868. Barred from holding political office again, Davis became a businessman and author, writing The Rise and Fall of the Confederate Government (1881) and A Short History of the Confederate States of America (1890). Still well liked by many southerners, Davis made occasional speeches in which he advocated reunion and reconciliation with the North while maintaining southern principles. Until his death in 1889 at the age of eighty-one, Davis opposed a powerful centralized federal government.
Andrew Johnson (1808–1875) served as a member of both houses of the Tennessee legislature, the governor of Tennessee, a member of both houses of the U.S. Congress, the sixteenth vice president, and the seventeenth president of the United States. He also held local political office in his early career. As president, Johnson, a Democrat, battled with a Republican Congress, which ultimately led to his impeachment. He was acquitted of all charges and served out his presidential term.
A Young Apprentice
Born in Raleigh, North Carolina, in 1808 and having had no formal education as a boy, Johnson was apprenticed to a tailor in his early teens. During his apprenticeship the shop foreman and a local minister taught Johnson basic reading and writing. When he was seventeen, he moved to Tennessee and opened his own tailor shop. Soon after the move, Johnson met Eliza McCardle, whom he married in 1827. Better educated than Johnson, McCardle became his tutor as well as his wife.
Johnson’s tailoring business grew, but, coming from humble beginnings, he decided to enter politics to represent the working class against plantation aristocracy. His powerful voice and love of public speaking soon helped him get elected to the post of alderman in his municipality. Then, at the age of twenty-two, he was elected as the mayor of Greeneville, Tennessee.
From Tailoring to Politics
By 1835 Johnson was elected to the Tennessee House of Representatives and later to the Tennessee Senate; he served through the 1830s and early 1840s. In 1843 Johnson was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives. He lost his seat in 1852 when voting boundaries were changed, but won the office of governor in 1853. He served two terms, through 1857. In that year he was elected to the U.S. Senate.
During his time in the Senate, Johnson gradually alienated himself from southern Democrats. He did not sympathize with the concerns of wealthy southern plantation owners, and when Abraham Lincoln (1809–1865) was elected president in 1860, Johnson fought the secessionist Democrats in Tennessee for several months. When the Civil War began shortly thereafter, in 1861, Johnson stayed in the North while all the other southern congressman returned to the South. He was known as a war Democrat—a southern Democrat who favored Lincoln’s military approach to Confederate secession.
From Vice President to President
After Union forces pushed the Confederates out of most of Tennessee in 1862, Lincoln appointed Johnson military governor of the state to restore order and build a pro-Union government. In 1864, in spite of Johnson being a Democrat, Lincoln chose him as his vice presidential running mate in his bid for a second term in office. Lincoln won the election but was shot and killed shortly after his inauguration by the assassin John Wilkes Booth (1838–1865). Johnson became president and took the oath of office on April 15, 1865.
Before his assassination, Lincoln had begun a plan of Reconstruction—a process meant to heal the country and readmit Confederate states to the Union. At that same time, Radical Republicans—a strongly anti-Confederate faction of the Republican Party—were in power in Congress. Lincoln and Johnson approached Reconstruction with a lenient attitude toward the Confederacy, hoping to unify the country as quickly as possible. The Radical Republicans’ hard line against the Confederacy was strongly opposed to Lincoln’s and Johnson’s approach. Johnson was against many of the Radical Republicans’ policies designed to grant civil rights to former slaves. This major difference in Reconstruction policies and attitudes caused a serious rift between Congress and President Johnson, resulting in Congress wielding its power and taking over the policy making of Reconstruction. In addition, the Republican-controlled House of Representatives impeached the president on a technical point of law—maintaining that he had violated the Tenure of Office Act of 1867, which prohibited the president from removing anyone from office who had been appointed with the approval of the Senate—but the impeachment really had more to do with political disagreements. The Senate trial resulted in Johnson’s acquittal by one vote.
Final Years and Legacy
In 1868 neither Republicans nor Democrats chose to nominate Johnson for the presidency. After his term ended, Johnson tried unsuccessfully to win a seat in the U.S. House but was instead elected to the Senate in 1875. He died one year later from a stroke. However, with this short Senate term, Johnson became the first and only former president (as of this writing) to serve as a senator after serving as president.
Most historians view Johnson as a president unable to compromise and deal with his opponents. He is said to have done more to lengthen and worsen national discord during Reconstruction than he did to help heal the wounds of war.
Abraham Lincoln (1809–1865) was the sixteenth president of the United States, from his inauguration on March 4, 1861, until his assassination on April 14, 1865. He is considered by many historians to have been the greatest U.S. president, credited with saving the Union, freeing the slaves, and guiding the country through the devastating years just before and during the Civil War.
Lincoln was born on February 12, 1809, in a log cabin just south of Hodgenville, Kentucky. In 1816 Lincoln’s family moved from Kentucky to Indiana to find richer farm land with a more secure land title and, in small part, to leave a state in which slavery was a way of life. Lincoln’s parents disapproved of slavery and belonged to a church with the same sentiments. Growing up in an antislavery context had a powerful influence on Lincoln’s ideas and future political approach to the slavery issue. His family lived in Indiana until 1830, when they moved once again—this time to Illinois.
During his childhood, Lincoln attended school infrequently, but he did get a basic education in reading, writing, and arithmetic. Lincoln also educated himself through his voracious reading, and he improved his math skills on the job as a store clerk.
State Politics, Law, and Marriage
Lincoln’s first known foray into politics was a speech he gave in 1830, in which he advocated government subsidies for “internal improvements” in the Midwest, such as roads, dams, and bridges (in more modern terminology this is known as infrastructure). He supported the cause of internal improvements throughout his career, understanding that they were needed to foster trade, commerce, and economic growth.
In 1832 Lincoln decided to run for a seat in the Illinois House of Representatives. He lost in this first attempt, but two years later he was elected to the first of four successive terms as a Whig. The Whig Party existed from about 1832 to 1856, and Lincoln’s affiliation with it was natural in that the party was concerned primarily with infrastructural improvements, as was Lincoln. During his time in the Illinois House, beginning in 1834, Lincoln educated himself in the law. By September 1836 he felt ready to take the bar examination. He passed it and received a license to practice law. While remaining a member of the Illinois House (until 1842), Lincoln embarked on a career as a lawyer. He eventually built his law practice into one of importance, and he practiced in both state and federal courts. On March 3, 1837, Lincoln made his first public declaration against slavery.
In 1839 Lincoln met Mary Todd, the daughter of a prominent Kentucky banker and the cousin of his law partner. They became engaged, and on November 4, 1842, they married. In May 1844 the Lincolns bought a house in Springfield, Illinois, where they lived until Lincoln was inaugurated president in 1861.
The U.S. House of Representatives
Lincoln decided not to run for the Illinois House in the 1842 election. Instead, he focused his energies on expanding his law practice. In 1846 he felt ready to enter national politics and ran for an Illinois seat in the U.S. House of Representatives, still as a Whig. He won the election and began his term in December 1847, during the debates over the Mexican-American War (1846–1848). Despite the widespread support for the war in Illinois, Lincoln opposed the war. Lincoln’s political reputation in his home state suffered because of his stance, and when election time arrived he chose—once again—not to run and returned to his law practice in Springfield. He took this time to rebuild his name and stature.
In 1854 Lincoln was motivated to reenter politics when the Kansas-Nebraska Act was passed. This act had been formulated to address the reoccurring issue of slavery in the territories as the Nebraska Territory was readied for future settlement and the passage of a transcontinental railroad. To address the issue, Stephen A. Douglas (1813–1861)—at this time an influential and somewhat powerful U.S. senator from Illinois—proposed the act, which would allow slavery’s expansion into areas of the Midwest where slavery had been prohibited by the Missouri Compromise of 1820. In spite of likely negative consequences to the uneasy peace of the country, and in spite of the anger of his political party, Douglas pushed the bill through Congress with the approval of President Franklin Pierce (1804–1869).
Many Americans were enraged at the passage of the Kansas-Nebraska Act. As a result, a new political party formed—the Republican Party—comprised of those who did not want slavery to extend into the new territories and were thus inflamed about this legislation. Lincoln was a key figure in organizing the Illinois opposition to the Kansas-Nebraska Act, and he joined the Republican Party, as did many other former Whigs. Lincoln attended the first Republican National Convention in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, in June 1856. He was considered for the vice presidential slot but did not get the nomination. John C. Fremont (1813–1890), an explorer, surveyor, open opponent of slavery, and one of California’s first senators, was the party’s nominee for president, and Lincoln campaigned for him. Fremont lost the election to the Pennsylvania Democrat James Buchanan (1791–1868).
A Run for the U.S. Senate
In 1857 the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in the Dred Scott v. Sanford case. This decision held that the Missouri Compromise of 1820 was unconstitutional because Congress had overstepped its authority in banning slavery in the territories and that blacks of African descent had no rights because they were not U.S. citizens. Along with the Kansas-Nebraska Act, this ruling cleared the way for the advancement of slavery in the West. Lincoln immediately spoke out against the High Court’s decision, believing that it was part of a Democratic conspiracy that would lead to the legalization of slavery in all states.
In 1858 Lincoln was nominated by the Illinois Republican Party to run for the U.S. Senate against the incumbent Democrat Stephen A. Douglas, the “father” of the Kansas-Nebraska Act. Lincoln now had a national forum to debate the issue of slavery and other critical events. In accepting his nomination, Lincoln delivered one of his best-known addresses: the “House Divided” speech. The title comes from a sentence in the introduction, which paraphrases a statement by Jesus in the New Testament. Lincoln spoke to the crisis before the country in strong terms—so strong that many thought it inappropriate for the occasion and believed that it might have lost him the Senate seat.
We are now far into the fifth year since a policy was initiated with the avowed object and confident promise of putting an end to slavery agitation. Under the operation of that policy, that agitation has not only not ceased but has constantly augmented. In my opinion, it will not cease until a crisis shall have been reached and passed. “A house divided against itself cannot stand”. I believe this government cannot endure, permanently, half slave and half free. I do not expect the Union to be dissolved; I do not expect the house to fall; but I do expect it will cease to be divided. It will become all one thing, or all the other. Either the opponents of slavery will arrest the further spread of it and place it where the public mind shall rest in the belief that it is in the course of ultimate extinction, or its advocates will push it forward till it shall become alike lawful in all the states, old as well as new, North as well as South.
The Lincoln-Douglas Debates
As Lincoln and Douglas each campaigned to win the U.S. Senate seat from Illinois, they agreed to a series of formal political debates in seven Illinois cities. The primary issue discussed was slavery, which would also be in the forefront of the 1860 presidential election. Although Lincoln won the debates, he lost the Senate race. He was, however, launched into national prominence. Both debaters were eloquent speakers and, as such, they gained extensive popular notice.
The 1860 Presidential Race
Lincoln gained stature through the debates and national recognition among Republicans. He received his party’s nomination for president in 1860. The Democratic Party, however, was not as unified as was the Republican Party. It was split between northern and southern factions on the slavery issue, and each faction nominated its own presidential candidate. Douglas was nominated by the Northern Democratic Party, and Vice President John Breckinridge (1821–1875) was nominated by the Southern Democratic Party. A fourth political party, the Constitutional Union Party, was formed from the last remnants of the Whig Party. It nominated former U.S. senator John Bell (1797–1869) from Tennessee.
Slavery and its entry into the new territories was the primary issue of the 1860 presidential election. As campaigning continued, southerners became more and more wary of the Republican Party. They believed that Lincoln and the “black Republicans,” as they called them, would free the slaves immediately if elected to office. As election day approached, southerners claimed that a Republican administration would be unacceptable to them and that southern slave states would have no recourse but to secede from the Union if a Republican administration were voted in. Lincoln, however, had no intention of freeing the slaves after taking office; he simply wanted to keep slavery from extending into the territories. Foremost on his mind was keeping the Union intact.
Lincoln Wins, Southern States Secede, and the Civil War Begins
On November 6, 1860, Lincoln won the presidential election with a solid lead. In response, South Carolina seceded from the Union, followed by six other states. They organized a provisional government and constitution, which officially created the Confederate States of America. About one month after Lincoln took office, Confederate troops opened fire on Union forces who came to resupply Fort Sumter in the harbor of Charleston, South Carolina. Lincoln called for seventy-five thousand troops to be sent to the South to stop the rebellion. Four more states immediately seceded from the Union and joined the Confederacy.
Initially, the South won many battles, but gradually the North began to gain an advantage. Although Lincoln’s goal—and the goal of the North—was to preserve the Union, not to abolish slavery, Lincoln was approached by abolitionists, Radical Republicans, and the former slave Frederick Douglass (1818–1895), a leader in the abolitionist movement and lecturer on freedom, all of whom lobbied for the abolishment of slavery. Lincoln approved of abolition in principle, but he postponed action against slavery until he thought he had garnered wide support among the populace. Lincoln raised the issue with his cabinet, but the reaction was mixed. Secretary of War Edwin Stanton (1814–1869), however, realized that an emancipation proclamation could deprive the Confederacy of slave labor and bring additional men into the Union army. He advocated immediate emancipation.
Slaves Freed in the Confederacy
Lincoln issued his famous Emancipation Proclamation on January 1, 1863. As commander in chief of the Union forces, he was able to declare all slaves in Confederate areas that had been overtaken by Union forces as freed. In July 1863 military successes at Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, and Vicksburg, Mississippi, turned the war decisively in favor of the North. As the Union forces conquered the South, thousands of slaves were freed each day. In the border states, which had not seceded from the Union and were not a part of the Confederacy, it would take a congressional act or legislation by the states themselves to free the slaves held there. Lincoln structured the Emancipation Proclamation in this way so as not to provoke the ire of the border states, which he believed were crucial to the war effort.
Before issuing the Emancipation Proclamation, Lincoln’s war goal had been preserving the Union. He now added the emancipation of slaves and lobbied Congress to adopt the Thirteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which abolished slavery everywhere in the United States. The Thirteenth Amendment passed the Senate on April 8, 1864, and the House on January 31, 1865. The necessary number of states ratified it by December 6, 1865.
The Emancipation Proclamation (January 1, 1863)
The following is an excerpt from Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation:
That on the first day of January, in the year of our Lord one thousand eight hundred and sixty-three, all persons held as slaves within any State or designated part of a State, the people whereof shall then be in rebellion against the United States, shall be then, thenceforward, and forever free; and the Executive Government of the United States, including the military and naval authority thereof, will recognize and maintain the freedom of such persons, and will do no act or acts to repress such persons, or any of them, in any efforts they may make for their actual freedom.… Now, therefore I, Abraham Lincoln, President of the United States, by virtue of the power in me vested as Commander-in-Chief, of the Army and Navy of the United States in time of actual armed rebellion against the authority and government of the United States, and as a fit and necessary war measure for suppressing said rebellion, do, on this first day of January, in the year of our Lord one thousand eight hundred and sixty-three, and in accordance with my purpose so to do publicly proclaimed for the full period of one hundred days, from the day first above mentioned, order and designate as the States and parts of States wherein the people thereof respectively, are this day in rebellion against the United States, the following, to wit: Arkansas, Texas, Louisiana (except the Parishes of St. Bernard, Plaquemines, Jefferson, St. John, St. Charles, St. James Ascension, Assumption, Terrebonne, Lafourche, St. Mary, St. Martin, and Orleans, including the City of New Orleans), Mississippi, Alabama, Florida, Georgia, South Carolina, North Carolina, and Virginia (except the forty-eight counties designated as West Virginia, and the counties of Berkley, Accomac, Northampton, Elizabeth City, York, Princess Ann, and Norfolk, including the cities of Norfolk and Portsmouth), and which excepted parts, are for the present, left precisely as if this proclamation were not issued. And by virtue of the power, and for the purpose aforesaid, I do order and declare that all persons held as slaves within said designated States, and parts of States, are, and henceforward shall be free; and that the Executive government of the United States, including the military and naval authorities thereof, will recognize and maintain the freedom of said persons. And I hereby enjoin upon the people so declared to be free to abstain from all violence, unless in necessary self-defence; and I recommend to them that, in all cases when allowed, they labor faithfully for reasonable wages. And I further declare and make known, that such persons of suitable condition, will be received into the armed service of the United States to garrison forts, positions, stations, and other places, and to man vessels of all sorts in said service.
The Emancipation Proclamation: A Transcription (January 1, 1863), U.S. National Archives & Records Administration, http://www.archives.gov/exhibits/featured_documents/emancipation_proclamation/transcript.html (accessed February 23, 2007).
Gettysburg—The Great Battle of the War
During the Civil War there were more than two thousand land engagements between the forces of the North and the South. Of them, the battle of Gettysburg (Pennsylvania, July 1–3, 1863) is considered the great battle of the war because more people died there than in any battle ever fought in North America. It was a downturn in the war for the Confederacy, and its forces never fully recovered. A cemetery for the Union dead was made from a portion of the Gettysburg battlefield, and the dedication of the battlefield and cemetery on November 19, 1863, provided Lincoln with an opportunity for a major speech. However, he gave only a two-minute address, eulogizing the Union soldiers and reminding the audience of the soldiers’ sacrifice for Union solidarity and for the principle of equal rights for all as stated in the Declaration of Independence. Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address is considered one of the best examples of eloquent oratory in U.S. history.
The Gettysburg Address (November 18, 1863)
The following is the text of Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address:
Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent, a new nation, conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal. Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation, or any nation so conceived and so dedicated, can long endure. We are met on a great battlefield of that war. We have come to dedicate a portion of that field, as a final resting place for those who here gave their lives that the nation might live. It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this. But, in a larger sense, we can not dedicate—we can not consecrate—we can not hallow—this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it, far above our poor power to add or detract. The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here. It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us—that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion—that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain—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.
The Gettysburg Address (November 18, 1863), U.S. Library of Congress, http://www.loc.gov/exhibits/gadd/images/Gettysburg-2.jpg (accessed March 10, 2007).
A Second Term, an End to the War, and Assassination
The Republican Party nominated Lincoln again as its presidential candidate for the 1864 election under its temporary name of the National Union Party. The name change was an attempt to woo so-called war Democrats to their side. (War democrats were against emancipation but for a military end to the war.) Although Lincoln had doubts that he would be reelected, he garnered 54 percent of the popular vote. He defeated his Democratic challenger, General George Brinton McClellan (1826–1885), and on March 4, 1865, delivered his second inaugural address. Lincoln concluded his address by urging an end to the war and unity of the nation: “With malice toward none, with charity for all, with firmness in the right as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in, to bind up the nation’s wounds, to care for him who shall have borne the battle and for his widow and his orphan, to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace among ourselves and with all nations.”
Just one month later the Confederate general Robert E. Lee (1807–1870) surrendered to the Union general Ulysses S. Grant (1822–1885) in Appomattox Courthouse, Virginia, ending the war on April 9, 1865. Six days later, on April 15, 1865, Lincoln died, shot the previous night at Ford’s Theater by the white supremacist and Confederate activist John Wilkes Booth (1838–1865).
Lincoln made his last public speech on April 11, 1865, regarding Reconstruction. Even before the war ended, Lincoln had been developing a plan of Reconstruction—a method of readmitting states back into the Union and restoring property (but not slaves). Lincoln wanted Reconstruction to be a relatively quick and easy process, but many Radical Republicans and moderates wanted to punish the South. Lincoln would not be able to carry through on his plans of a reconciliation of the South and the North. Nonetheless, during his time as president, he changed the future of the country by saving the Union and freeing the slaves.
Charles Sumner (1811–1874) was a Republican and leading U.S. senator from Massachusetts during the Civil War and Reconstruction. He was a strong advocate of emancipation and civil rights.
Education and Early Career
Born in Boston, Sumner was well educated as a young man. He attended the Boston Latin School, Harvard College, and Harvard Law School, graduating in 1833. Before practicing law, Sumner visited the U.S. Supreme Court and the U.S. Senate while they were in session to observe and learn. He left Washington with distaste for politics, but he also quickly became bored in his legal practice. He learned how to lecture at Harvard, but by age twenty-six he was still unexcited with what he was doing, so he left for Europe. Sumner spent more than two years abroad learning multiple languages and developing an understanding of European governments and law. On his return he resumed his legal practice but remained unsatisfied with the profession.
The summer of 1845 was a turning point in Sumner’s career. He was chosen as the orator for Boston’s Independence Day celebration; he delivered a speech to more than one hundred military guests of the city. Sumner suggested in his speech that war was dishonorable, insulting many in his audience. His speech generated a great deal of discussion, and Sumner felt energized and realized he had the ability to sway audiences. In spite of insulting his audience in his first major speech, he became a popular speaker because of his stately eloquence, imposing stature, and lofty themes.
Oratory, the Senate, and an Antislavery Agenda
Now realizing he could use public speaking to further his antislavery agenda, Sumner accepted a seat in the U.S. Senate to replace another champion of persuasive oratory: Daniel Webster (1782–1852). Webster had retired and resumed his law practice. (Some historians suggest that Webster retired from the Senate because his now-famous Seventh of March Address, given during the debates over the Compromise of 1850, was scorned by northern abolitionists and many other northerners, especially those in Webster’s home state of Massachusetts.) Sumner took his seat in the Senate in late 1851 and observed the workings of the Senate for the first few sessions. In his first Senate speech, Sumner attacked the Fugitive Slave Act and called for its repeal. The speech provoked anger from the South and support from the North.
Criticism Leads to Brutal Attack
In May 1856, during Senate deliberations about the crisis in Kansas, Sumner delivered the passionate speech “Crime against Kansas.” Sumner vigorously opposed the Kansas-Nebraska Act, which enabled the residents of the new territory to decide by popular vote whether slavery would be allowed. The act was passed on May 30, 1854, and within a year of its passage, thousands of settlers poured into the Kansas Territory from both the North and the South and began warring over slavery. Each side hoped to influence the vote on the slavery issue, becoming more and more deeply involved in a confrontation known as Bleeding Kansas.
In his “Crime against Kansas” speech, Sumner made critical remarks about several proslavery senators, including Senator Andrew Butler (1796–1857) of South Carolina, who had helped Senator Stephen A. Douglas (1813–1861) of Illinois write the Kansas-Nebraska Act. Sumner mocked Butler, who was not present at the time, and charged him with taking “a mistress … who, though ugly to others, is always lovely to him; though polluted in the sight of the world, is chaste in his sight. I mean the harlot, Slavery.” Sumner’s remarks infuriated Representative Preston Brooks (1819–1857), the son of one of Butler’s cousins, who felt his family honor had been insulted. A few days after Sumner delivered his speech, Brooks approached Sumner as he sat working in the Senate chamber. Brooks chastised Sumner for his remarks against Butler and South Carolina while raising his metal-tipped cane and then struck Sumner on the head multiple times, beating him unconscious. Brooks walked calmly out of the chamber amid stunned onlookers.
Overnight, both men became heroes in their respective regions of the country. The House of Representatives censured Brooks, and he resigned. Although he was reelected, he died soon thereafter. Sumner, however, recovered over a three-year period and returned to the Senate for eighteen more years.
Return to the Senate and the Press for Civil Rights
Sumner returned to the Senate in 1859, just before the election of Abraham Lincoln (1809–1865), southern secession, and the Civil War. Southern leaders were becoming more aggressive on slavery, and Jefferson Davis (1808–1889), who would become the president of the Confederacy after secession, put forward resolutions affirming the inviolability of slavery in the territories. These resolutions passed easily. In retaliation, during the Senate debate on the admission of Kansas as a free state, Sumner delivered an impassioned speech on the “Barbarism of Slavery.” His speech was an immense influence on the presidential election of 1860, in which the antislavery Republican Abraham Lincoln was elected.
Lincoln’s goal was to keep the Union intact, but Sumner continually pressed the president to free the slaves, grant them civil rights, and, after the war began, enlist them in the Union army. When Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation on January 1, 1863, Sumner had already influenced public sentiment toward approval.
In 1861 Sumner was made chairman of the Committee on Foreign Relations, a position that suited him well and that he held for a decade. During his tenure, however, Sumner sought to control U.S. foreign policy, and this tendency created a rift between him and the administration of Ulysses S. Grant (1822–1885), which had begun in 1869. As a result, Senate leaders removed him from his powerful chairmanship in 1871.
Throughout Reconstruction and during the war, Sumner advocated for equality for blacks and urged Congress to play a dominant role in the Reconstruction process to help achieve this goal. During congressional Reconstruction, in which Congress took over the process from President Andrew Johnson (1808–1875), Sumner thought that civil rights for blacks could be established. After that, Sumner expected, civil rights could gradually occur in the North. At the time of his death from a sudden heart attack in 1874, he was still working toward these goals.
Sumner was a man of determination and drive and was devoted to the cause of freeing slaves and procuring their civil rights. At the end of the Civil War he was considered one of the most influential men in public life alongside Lincoln. Yet, unlike Lincoln, Sumner had tendencies toward self-righteousness and tunnel vision, which led to conflicts, such as the one with Brooks that nearly killed him and the one with President Grant that cost him a powerful committee chairmanship. Sumner was unquestionably a powerful and persuasive orator, but sometimes, to his detriment, he was unable to consider the views of his opponents or any views that might compromise his fervent, focused ideals. In spite of these shortcomings, Sumner was indisputably a major force in the struggle that put an end to slavery and moved the nation to civil rights for freedmen.
Stephen A. Douglas
A native of Vermont, Stephen A. Douglas (1813–1861) lived much of his life in Illinois and was a key figure in national politics during the antebellum (pre–Civil War) years. As a democratic U.S. senator from Illinois, Douglas dominated the upper house of Congress at that time. Using his considerable political power, Douglas helped pass Henry Clay’s (1777–1852) Compromise of 1850, a collection of laws meant to calm the tensions between the North and the South on the issue of slavery in the newly acquired territories of the West. A few years later, Douglas became instrumental in the development and passage of the Kansas-Nebraska Act, which provided for the slavery question to be decided by the territories themselves by popular vote. The passage of the Kansas-Nebraska Act in 1854 enraged the country and is thought to have been the one piece of legislation most directly responsible for driving the nation into civil war in 1861.
Education and Early Career
Douglas was born in Brandon, Vermont, in 1813. His father died when Douglas was an infant, and his uncle helped him obtain schooling. He apprenticed with two cabinetmakers and later went on to attend Canandaigua Academy in New York. After completing his formal education, Douglas moved to Illinois and took a job as a schoolteacher while learning law from borrowed books. He was admitted to the bar in 1834, elected Illinois state attorney in 1835, and elected to the Illinois legislature in 1836.
Douglas enjoyed politics and had excellent political skills. By 1843 he was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives and served two terms, ending in 1847. While in Washington, he met and married Martha Denny Martin, the daughter of a wealthy North Carolina plantation family. The couple was offered a plantation and slaves as a wedding gift from Martha’s family, but Douglas refused and moved his wife to Chicago instead. Martha gave birth to two sons and then died giving birth to their daughter. The infant girl died weeks later as well. Despondent, Douglas traveled the world for ten months and then returned to Washington politics.
The Compromise of 1850
In 1847, after completing his second term in the House, Douglas was elected to the U.S. Senate. His goals were to keep the country united and to expand the United States westward. He worked toward these goals by backing the Compromise of 1850, which was developed by fellow senator Henry Clay, who intended it to ease tensions between the North and the South regarding slavery in the western territories. Clay tried to pass this group of laws as a unit—called an omnibus bill—but this strategy failed. As chairman of the Committee on Territories, Douglas had a powerful position in the Senate and decided to use another strategy to pass the compromise measure. He put forth each part of the compromise as a single piece of legislation, hoping to cobble together different groups of supporters for each part. The strategy worked, and by mid-September the Compromise of 1850 became law.
The Kansas-Nebraska Act
After his victory in pushing through the 1850 compromise legislation, Douglas became involved in the organization of the Nebraska Territory, which was part of the Louisiana Purchase bought from France in 1803. He was interested in having the first transcontinental railroad, which was being discussed at the time, to run from Chicago to San Francisco—through the Nebraska Territory. Votes from both the North and the South would be needed for federal support of the Chicago route. Douglas therefore proposed a bill, the Kansas-Nebraska Act, to help appease the South—the harder group from which to get votes—as the Nebraska Territory was being organized. This act provided for the slavery question to be decided by the territories themselves by popular vote, or what was called popular sovereignty.
To create an equitable situation, slavery could not be prohibited to those living in the Nebraska Territory before a vote was taken on the slavery issue. If it was prohibited, only those without slaves would be allowed to settle the land, which would favor the outcome of a “no” vote to slavery. Therefore, Douglas was forced to amend the final bill, adding an explicit repeal of that section of the Missouri Compromise of 1820 prohibiting slavery north of 36°30′ latitude. Northerners were outraged and southerners were pleased. In spite of the anger this created, and with the approval of President Franklin Pierce (1804–1869), Douglas pushed his bill through both houses of Congress because he believed that popular sovereignty was the democratic and fair resolution to the problem. The bill became law on May 30, 1854, and the relative political calm so carefully engineered by the Missouri Compromise and the Compromise of 1850 was over. Although Douglas was interested in the unity of the country, his actions resulted in just the opposite: the country moved closer to disunity and war.
In 1856 Douglas lost the Democratic nomination for president to James Buchanan (1791–1868), but he supported Buchanan’s candidacy. Soon after the election (Buchanan won), Douglas married Adele Cutts (1835–1889), the great-niece of Dolly Madison (1768–1849). When he returned to Washington after his wedding, Douglas realized that Buchanan, who had appeared to be a president who would help unite the country, was in fact upholding southern interests. Buchanan supported the proslavery Lecompton Constitution for the new state of Kansas despite much greater support in Kansas for the free-state Topeka Constitution. Douglas denounced the Lecompton Constitution, declaring that it negated the concept of popular sovereignty. He broke with the proslavery faction of the Democratic Party to fight for fairness in Kansas.
The Lincoln-Douglas Debates
In 1858 the Illinois Democratic Party nominated Douglas to run against the Republican Abraham Lincoln (1809–1865) for the Illinois U.S. Senate seat. Lincoln and Douglas agreed to a series of formal political debates in seven Illinois cities. The primary issue discussed was slavery, which would also be in the forefront of the 1860 presidential election. Lincoln won the debates but lost the Senate seat to Douglas. Both men were eloquent speakers and were launched into national prominence because of the debates.
The Presidential Election of 1860 and an Early Death
By the presidential election of 1860, the Democratic Party had split into northern and southern factions. Douglas received the nomination of the Northern Democratic Party and was one of four presidential candidates. Douglas campaigned vigorously and appealed for unity in the country. He came in second in the popular vote—only about five hundred thousand votes behind Lincoln. Lincoln was inaugurated on March 4, 1861. Douglas supported Lincoln in the early days of his presidency but died three months after Lincoln’s inauguration, from typhoid fever.
Three themes that ran through Douglas’s political career were fairness, popular sovereignty, and unity of the country. Although he worked hard to realize these goals, his political maneuverings were not always successful, particularly with the passage of the Kansas-Nebraska Act. Nonetheless, his work on the Compromise of 1850 did much to help stave off the Civil War and southern secession for about a decade.
Born as a slave in Maryland, Harriet Tubman (1820–1913) escaped from servitude just before the Civil War era and became one of the most prominent figures in the Underground Railroad, the network of people who helped slaves escape to the northern United States, Canada, and other safe destinations. During the Civil War Tubman became even more active in assisting slaves to freedom and was a spy for the Union forces. Because she was so successful at and committed to leading slaves to freedom, Tubman was known as “Moses.”
Tubman was born Araminta Ross in Dorchester County, Maryland; as a young adult she adopted the name Harriet to honor her mother, also named Harriet. Tubman grew up on a plantation with no formal education and an upbringing marked by frequent beatings. As an adolescent, she was hit in the head with an iron weight by an overseer trying to punish another slave. The severe injury left her with permanent blackouts. During childhood Tubman worked as a domestic servant and in her teens as a field hand. When she was twenty-three, she married John Tubman, a free black who lived on a nearby plantation. His free status did not transfer to her, and Tubman lived in continual fear that she would be sold into the Deep South. Her fear nearly became reality when her owner died and arrangements were made for the sale of all his slaves. However, Tubman escaped in 1849 and fled to Philadelphia. There she found work as a maid. Two years later she returned to Maryland to find her husband—he had refused to accompany her previously—but found he had remarried.
The Underground Railroad and the Civil War
In 1850 Congress passed the Fugitive Slave Act, which made it illegal to help runaway slaves. Moreover, the law required the return of fugitive slaves to their masters. It was then that Tubman decided to join the Underground Railroad. Her first experience with this network of safe houses, tunnels, abolitionists, and escape routes was in 1851, when she managed to free her sister and her sister’s children by bringing them North. Over the next decade, until the Civil War broke out, Tubman helped more than three hundred slaves escape to freedom in the northern United States and Canada. Tubman prided herself on never getting caught and never “losing” a slave. In 1857 she helped her parents escape to freedom and settled with them in Auburn, New York.
When Civil War erupted in 1861, Tubman became a nurse, scout, and spy for the Union army, mainly in South Carolina. It was during the war that she earned another nickname, “General Tubman,” for her leadership in a remarkable mission that she originated and conducted under the command of the Union colonel James Montgomery (1814–1871). As part of the Combahee River expedition, Tubman helped to disrupt southern supply lines by destroying bridges and railroads and freeing more than 750 slaves. Most of the freed slaves joined the Union forces.
An Icon Dies
After the war, Tubman returned to Auburn to care for her parents and became involved in the women’s rights movement, forming close relationships with Susan B. Anthony (1820–1906) and other suffragists. Five years before her death in 1913, while in her eighties, she helped establish a home in Auburn for elderly and indigent blacks. Tubman died on March 10, 1913, at the age of ninety-three.
Tubman has endured as a Civil War–era icon of courage and resistance to slavery. She endangered her life not only to pursue freedom for slaves but also to defend freedom and democracy for her country and its people.
John C. Breckinridge
Vice president of the United States from 1857 to 1861, John C. Breckinridge (1821–1875) served in office just before the start of the Civil War. A grandson of the U.S. senator and attorney general John Breckinridge, John C. Breckinridge was the fourteenth vice president of the United States and the youngest man ever to serve in that post, in the administration of President James Buchanan (1791–1868). A native Kentuckian, Breckinridge was loyal to the Confederacy.
Born near Lexington, Kentucky, Breckinridge studied law as a young man. He moved to Burlington, Iowa, after completing his studies, but in 1845 he moved back to Lexington and started a law practice there. Not long after, however, Mexico declared war on the United States in a dispute over the territory of Texas, and Breckinridge served in the Third Kentucky Volunteers in 1847 and 1848. After serving in the war, Breckinridge was elected to the Kentucky House of Representatives as a Democrat in 1849.
A National Presence
Breckinridge’s political career moved forward; in 1851 and 1853 he was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives. Democrats at the national level noticed Breckinridge and looked on his record in Congress favorably. At the Democratic National Convention for the 1856 election, Breckinridge received the nod as the vice presidential running mate for presidential candidate James Buchanan. The Democrats won the presidential election, and at the age of thirty-five Breckinridge was elected vice president of the United States.
As the next presidential election approached, the issue of slavery caused a major rift within the Democratic Party. The southern Democrats were in favor of allowing slavery in the new territories, whereas the northern Democrats were in favor of each territory answering the slavery question for itself. The party split in 1860; Breckinridge became the presidential candidate of the Southern Democratic Party, and Stephen A. Douglas (1813–1861) became the presidential candidate for the Northern Democratic Party. Abraham Lincoln (1809–1865) was the presidential candidate for the Republican Party.
Confederate Leader and Union Traitor
Breckinridge opposed emancipation of the slaves yet favored the preservation of the Union. However, he believed that a state had the right to secede from the Union and held that the U.S. Constitution did not give the federal government the power to coerce states to remain part of the Union. Nevertheless, he was opposed to secession at the time of the 1860 election.
Representing Kentucky, Breckinridge was elected to the U.S. Senate in 1860 and worked to preserve the Union. Nonetheless, seven southern states seceded from the Union after Lincoln’s election. Fighting began at Fort Sumter in April 1861, which started a second wave of southern secession. Kentucky chose to remain neutral.
The Kentucky legislature abandoned neutrality after Confederate forces invaded the state in early September 1861, voting to back the Union troops. Not all Kentuckians agreed, though. When Bowling Green, Kentucky, was captured by Confederate forces later that month, the self-proclaimed Kentucky Confederates established a Confederate government even though Kentucky was still a part of the Union. Breckinridge held that the Union no longer existed, and he helped organize the Confederate government of Kentucky. He also served as a general in the Confederate army. As a result, Breckinridge was declared a traitor to the Union on December 2, 1861, and was formally expelled from the Senate on December 4. On December 10, Kentucky was admitted into the Confederacy, with Bowling Green as its capital.
The war raged on, and by early 1865 Breckinridge was made secretary of war for the Confederate States of America. During his tenure he realized that the Confederacy could not win the war, so he laid the groundwork for an honorable surrender. On April 9, 1865, the Confederate general Robert E. Lee (1807–1870) met with the Union general Ulysses S. Grant (1822–1885) at the home of a grocer named Wilmer McLean (1814–1882) in Appomattox Courthouse, Virginia. There the Confederacy surrendered and the Civil War ended.
After the War
After the Confederacy surrender, Breckinridge went to Cuba and from there made his way to Europe. He lived in Europe until 1868 and then moved to Toronto, Canada. In March 1869 he was given permission by the U.S. federal government to return to Lexington, where he was received warmly. Ineligible to run for office again, Breckinridge resumed his law practice. He died six years later.
Breckinridge’s unfortunate legacy is that he is remembered primarily as a traitor to the Union, despite his vocal opposition to southern white supremacist organizations such as the Ku Klux Klan in his later years. As vice president and a U.S. senator, he worked to keep the Union intact, but he quickly turned his allegiance to the South when Lincoln was elected, helping to organize the Confederate government of Kentucky and serving in the Confederate army as a general.
Ulysses S. Grant
Ulysses S. Grant (1822–1885) was a commander of the Union forces during the Civil War and the eighteenth president of the United States. He served two terms, from 1869 to 1877. Although he performed brilliantly militarily and made important contributions to the country during his presidency, his administrations were marred by serious instances of corruption and fraud.
Early Life and Education
Hiram Ulysses Grant was born on April 27, 1822, in Point Pleasant, Ohio, to Jesse R. Grant and Hanna Simpson Grant. Young Grant’s father owned a tanning business and provided a comfortable life with good schooling for his son. Hiram was not interested in joining his father’s business, so when the young man turned seventeen, Jesse Grant sent his son to the U.S. Military Academy in West Point, New York. When he arrived as a new academy cadet, Hiram could not find his name on the roster but did find the name “U. S. Grant.” From that point on, Hiram Ulysses Grant became known as Ulysses S. Grant.
After studying little and graduating only in the middle of his class, Grant was sent to a post in St. Louis, Missouri, which happened to be the home of a West Point roommate. Grant met and fell in love with Julia Dent (1826–1902), his roommate’s sister, and he proposed to her in 1844.
The Mexican-American War
Before the two married, Grant received orders that sent him to fight in the Mexican-American War. He took the opportunity to study the Generals Winfield Scott (1786–1866) and Zachary Taylor (1784–1850), under whom he served, observing their military decision making and the outcomes. Grant served with distinction during the war and was promoted to first lieutenant.
After returning from the war, Grant married Julia on August 22, 1848. In May 1850 she gave birth to a son, Fred, named after Julia’s brother. In the spring of 1852 Grant was ordered to California and his second son, Ulysses S. Grant Jr. (called “Buck”), was born that summer. Spending time apart from his family was extremely difficult for Grant, and he resigned from the military in 1854 to be with his family full time.
A Military Leader: The Civil War and Its Aftermath
Grant was neither a farmer nor a businessman, and he and his family endured many years of financial strain. In desperation, Grant took a clerkship in a leather-goods store his father owned, which was run by his brothers. The store was in Galena, Illinois, and in November 1860 the Republicans of Galena held a victory celebration for the election of the Republican president Abraham Lincoln (1809–1865) in the Grant store. Grant helped host the party with his Republican brother Orvil. A local congressman was in attendance and was favorably impressed by Grant. In April 1861 the congressman arranged for Grant to preside over a recruitment meeting in Galena to respond to Lincoln’s call for troops after the Fort Sumter skirmish that triggered civil war. Grant helped with recruitment and traveled to Springfield, Missouri, as the new recruits began their training. Thus, the beginning of the Civil War brought Grant back into the military.
Grant accepted an appointment by the governor of Illinois as the commanding colonel of the Twenty-first Volunteer Infantry Regiment. When Lincoln expanded the army, Grant received a promotion to brigadier general, commander of the southeast Missouri district. Throughout the first year of the war, Grant proved to be an effective leader. In February 1862 Lincoln promoted Grant to the rank of major general. By July 4, 1863, Grant and his forces won control of the entire length of the Mississippi River, one of the key victories for the Union during the war. In March 1864 Lincoln appointed Grant the overall commander of the Union forces. Under Grant’s direction, Union forces won many significant battles and eventually captured the capital of the Confederacy. On April 9, 1865, Grant accepted the Confederate general Robert E. Lee’s (1807–1870) unconditional surrender in the parlor of the McLean House in Appomattox Courthouse, Virginia, ending the war.
Six days after the Confederate surrender, Lincoln died, having been shot the previous night at Ford’s Theater by the white supremacist and Confederate activist John Wilkes Booth (1838–1865). The Grants had been invited to join Lincoln and his wife that evening at the theater, but the Grants had declined, because they wanted to visit their children. Thus, Grant was not killed that night along with Lincoln, as the assassin had planned. Vice President Andrew Johnson (1808–1875), a Democrat, assumed the presidency, and he and Grant would disagree on many political matters. (Lincoln, a Republican, had chosen a Democratic vice presidential running mate, thinking that it would help broaden the ticket’s appeal and promote national unity.)
In the fall of 1865 the highly praised Grant moved his family to Washington, D.C., where on July 25, 1866, Congress appointed him to the new post of General of the Army of the United States, who was to approve all military orders of the president. Soon, the working relationship between Grant and Johnson was made difficult by their political differences. Johnson opposed the Republican policies put forth in Congress for Reconstruction—the plan to rebuild the South and reintegrate it into the United States. Republican policies were tough against the South and secessionists. Being a Democrat and a southerner, however, Johnson was naturally lenient toward the South. Grant was a Republican and agreed with his party’s approach to Reconstruction.
When the next presidential election was at hand, the Republican National Convention did not nominate the Democrat Johnson again. Instead, in May 1868 Grant was nominated as the Republican presidential candidate. Grant was elected in November and inaugurated on March 4, 1869. He won a second term in 1872, serving as president from 1869 to 1877.
One achievement of Grant’s presidency was the return to a sound currency. Greenbacks had been issued during the Civil War—paper money that was not backed by gold or silver. After the war was over, greenbacks declined in value, causing severe inflation (a sudden and dramatic rise in prices). Grant vetoed a bill calling for more paper currency and instead signed the Specie Resumption Act. This law made greenbacks redeemable in gold or silver and stabilized the currency of the country.
Another of Grant’s achievements was the settlement of the Alabama claims dispute with Britain in 1871. The Alabama was one of several Confederate warships built in England during the Civil War. The United States wanted compensation from Great Britain for damages done to the Union by these British-made ships. The situation was volatile, but Grant was able to keep international peace while garnering an award of $15.5 million.
Although Grant experienced some success as president, such as vigorously supporting the rights of freed slaves and developing better relations with Native Americans, his administrations were severely blemished by scandal after scandal. During Grant’s first administration, corruption occurred in some of the federally backed governments of the Reconstruction. The problems became so serious that part of the Republican Party broke away in 1872. Moreover, in 1873 some congressmen were found to have accepted bribes in return for voting in ways that benefited the Union Pacific Railroad. Then in 1874 the Whiskey Ring scandal was exposed. Distillers and tax officers together had defrauded the treasury of the revenue tax on whiskey. Nonetheless, Grant did nothing to rid his administration of corrupt individuals, and he did little to make Reconstruction a success. Grant’s popularity declined as a result.
In spite of the corruption that was seemingly rampant in Grant’s administrations, many Republicans wanted Grant to run for a third term. He declined and spent the next few years traveling with his family. Retirement was financially difficult, however. This militarily brilliant man was not equally astute with finances and had not planned for his and his wife’s later years. To assist his parents, Grant’s son Ulysses Jr. became involved in helping his father become the president of the Mexican Southern Railroad. The Grants moved to a home in New York City that friends bought for them, but because of bad investments Grant went deeply into debt. Grant began to write about his Civil War experiences for magazines to help pay the bills, and before he died of cancer of the throat (he was said to have smoked twenty cigars a day), Grant published his memoirs, which ensured his wife an income after his death.
Although Grant’s presidential years were marred by corruption, Grant himself was not involved and much (but not all) of the corruption was thought to be beyond his control. Many historians believe that Grant contributed enormously to his country—both militarily and as president—during crucial years in U.S. history.
Famous for political corruption in the 1860s and 1870s, William Marcy Tweed (1823–1878) was the leader of the Tammany Society, a political organization founded in the 1780s in New York City. In 1830 the Tammany Society headquarters were established in a building called Tammany Hall, and the society itself came to be known by that name. The society grew into a powerful political machine that manipulated election outcomes by buying votes and acquired funds through fraudulent activities. William “Boss” Tweed was perhaps the most famous leader of Tammany Hall.
Tweed was born in New York City in 1823. As a young boy, his leadership tendencies were apparent, although he was not a remarkable student. At age eleven, Tweed left school to apprentice in his father’s chair making company. Several years later he began another apprenticeship, this time with a saddler (a person who makes, sells, and repairs equipment for horses). After two years Tweed returned to school to study bookkeeping, and by age seventeen he became the bookkeeper for a small brush company in which his father had partial ownership. Tweed was subsequently made a member of the firm and later married the daughter of the primary owner. Nonetheless, Tweed lost interest in the business, and in 1848 he joined a volunteer fire department.
Tweed’s Rise to Power
In the mid-1800s volunteer fire departments often provided a means to political power. Tweed helped organize a new engine company, the Americus No. 6 (nicknamed “Big 6”), and was quickly elected its foreman. He decided to become involved in local politics and ran for assistant alderman, a local ward (electoral district) representative. He lost the election by a narrow margin, but in the next election he persuaded a friend to run as a third-party candidate so that the vote would be split three ways. Tweed won, having manipulated his first election. During his term in office, he learned how to conduct other fraudulent activities.
In 1852 Tweed was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives, but he served only two years, preferring local politics at that time. In 1856 Tweed was elected to serve on a committee created to monitor corruption at elections. However, with Tweed and other dishonest politicians running it, the committee quickly became a means to manipulate elections. In 1857 Tweed managed to have three of his allies nominated and elected to fill other local posts. By the end of the decade, Tweed was considered to be the most powerful man in Tammany Hall.
During the 1860s Tweed was able to help one society member become a judge for the Supreme Court of New York and another a district attorney. Although he knew little about the law, Tweed opened a law office in 1860 out of which he conducted his illegal affairs, such as buying a partial interest in a printing company and using his powerful position to force the city and others into using the company’s services. He provided additional goods to the city at exorbitant prices and became a millionaire quite quickly.
In 1867 Tweed was elected to the New York Senate, and in 1868 he manipulated the election of a Tammany member into the office of governor of New York. At the same time, Tweed was also New York County Democratic chairman and New York City school commissioner, assistant street commissioner, and president of the board of supervisors. Tweed was said to “own” New York at that time. Riding high on the power they wielded, the “Tweed Ring” in Tammany Hall decided that all bills to the city and county must be inflated by one-half—later raised to 85 percent—with the profits to be split among Tweed and the four other members of the ring.
Tweed’s Fall from Power
The graft of the Tweed Ring was so outrageous that suspicions were aroused, and eventually two officials not in the Tweed Ring turned over evidence of it to the New York Times, which published the evidence. As a result, Tweed was arrested at the end of 1871. Other members of the Tweed Ring had already fled the country. In 1873 Tweed was convicted of criminal action, sentenced to twelve years in prison, and fined $12,750, but his sentence was reduced dramatically. After being released from prison, Tweed was arrested again in a civil suit to recover $6 million he had stolen from the state of New York. Again, Tweed was convicted and sent to prison. He escaped but was caught and held under harsher conditions. Before his death in prison in 1878 he confessed to his many fraudulent transactions, bilking New York City out of an estimated $30 million to $200 million.
Tweed left a legacy of graft and corruption so shocking that many called for business and political reform. Attempts were made, but Tammany Hall and various levels of political corruption survived through the mid-1960s.
Blanche Bruce (1841–1898), the son of a black slave and a white plantation owner, was the first black man to serve a full term in the U.S. Senate, beginning during the Reconstruction period following the Civil War.
Born in Farmville, Virginia, Bruce was a slave who was educated by a tutor he shared with his master’s son; the man who owned him, Pettis Perkinson, was also his father. During his childhood Bruce moved several times between Virginia, Missouri, and Mississippi, and at the start of the Civil War he escaped to Kansas. He was young—about twenty years old—yet well educated for a former slave. In Kansas he founded and taught at a school for blacks, and then he moved to Missouri in 1864 to start a school there for blacks as well. In 1866 Bruce traveled to Ohio to study at Oberlin College, the first college in the United States to regularly admit black students.
In 1869, during the Reconstruction era, Bruce settled in Mississippi and became active in the Republican Party. He was appointed to various offices, including voter registrar and tax assessor, and developed a reputation for honesty and competence. He enjoyed the support of both blacks and whites.
The U.S. Senate
In 1874 Bruce was elected to the U.S. Senate at the age of thirty-two and took his seat on March 5, 1875, two years before the collapse of Reconstruction. He served on a variety of committees, including Pensions, Manufactures, and Education and Labor, and chaired the committee that investigated the bankrupt Freedman’s Savings and Trust Company. This company was created to assist freed slaves and black soldiers after the Civil War. Nearly $57 million of deposits had been mishandled, and Bruce conducted an impressive inquiry.
A Proponent of Minority Rights
Although Bruce was a moderate Republican, he often did speak in defense of the rights of blacks and other minority groups, such as the Chinese and Native Americans. He advocated education and self-help as a means for minorities to advance. When Reconstruction collapsed in 1877, Bruce was still in the Senate. By the end of his term Democrats dominated Mississippi, so Bruce stayed in Washington and served nationally in various capacities under Presidents James A. Garfield (1831–1881), Chester A. Arthur (1829–1886), William McKinley (1843–1901), and Benjamin Harrison (1833–1901). Under Garfield, Bruce was register of the treasury and became the first black person to have his signature represented on U.S. currency. He was also a member of the board of the Washington, D.C., public schools and of Howard University, a traditionally black university in the District of Columbia.
Bruce remained active in politics until dying of poor health at the age of fifty-seven. He died a wealthy man who had risen from the poverty of slavery to hold a history-making seat in the U.S. Senate.
Political Parties, Platforms, and Key Issues
Political parties in the United States underwent great change during the Civil War era (1850–1877), including the birth of the modern Republican Party. Before 1854 there had been two party systems: the First Party System and the Second Party System. During the Civil War era the Third Party System emerged. In each of these systems two political parties were dominant, with minor parties coming into and going out of existence.
From roughly 1792 to 1824, the First Party System was dominated by the Federalist Party and the Republican Party, whose name changed later to the Democratic-Republican Party. (This Republican Party was different from the Republican Party that developed during the Civil War era.) In about 1828 the Second Party System emerged, existing until about 1854. In the Second Party System the Democratic-Republican Party split into two factions: the Jacksonian faction (which was the beginning of the modern Democratic Party in the 1830s) and the National Republican Party, which became the Whig Party.
As 1854 approached, the issues surrounding slavery reached a boiling point and included bitter debates about the expansion of slavery into new territories and states’ rights. These serious concerns were pulling the country apart and motivated many people to search for new political alliances. A variety of opinions and political views within the populace resulted in the development of a variety of political parties. Some were short lived because they represented narrow interests. The Republican Party developed out of this turmoil and evolved into the initial version of the modern Republican Party, replacing the Whig Party.
The Formation of the Republican Party
The modern Republican Party had its beginnings in Wisconsin in 1854 at a meeting of abolitionists and those opposed to the expansion of slavery into the territories. They were outraged at the passage of the Kansas-Nebraska Act of 1854, which allowed residents of the new territory to decide by popular vote whether slavery would be allowed. In addition, they felt betrayed by the act’s repeal of the section of the Missouri Compromise of 1820 prohibiting slavery north of 36°30′ latitude. Northerners thought that southerners could not be trusted to abide by any compromise and that the South was controlled by a slave-power conspiracy determined to make slavery legal not only in the South but also in the North.
To halt this conspiracy, antislavery advocates came together to found yet another party. The “new” Republican Party represented the interests of the North and the West. It included not only people opposed to slavery but also those who believed that government should give parcels of western land to settlers free of charge. Members of this fledgling party came from the Whigs, the Democrats, and the Free-Soilers. The Whig Party existed from about 1832 to 1856 and was concerned primarily with promoting improvement in the country’s infrastructure—such as roads, canals, and railroads. Many westerners were Whigs at this time. The Whigs were in favor of a dominant legislative (congressional) rather than executive (presidential) branch of government. They formed in opposition to the Democratic Party during the era of President Andrew Jackson (1767–1845).
The Democratic Party developed in 1828 from a split in the Democratic-Republican Party and quickly became the “working man’s” party. It included farmers from both the North and the South and working men’s groups in the cities. The Democrats strongly favored expansion to new farm lands, but the issue of slavery divided them. Northern antislavery Democrats joined the Republican Party. The Free-Soilers were a short-lived breakaway party from the Democrats. Active only in the 1848 and 1852 elections, the Free Soil Party opposed the expansion of slavery into the territories.
The first official Republican meeting—the Anti-Nebraska Convention—took place on July 6, 1854, in Jackson, Michigan. The party chose the name Republican because it referred to equality and reminded people of the former Republican Party of Thomas Jefferson (1743–1826). The party agreed to concentrate its efforts on stopping slavery from entering the new territories and stated: “Resolved … in view of the necessity of battling against the schemes of an aristocracy, the most revolting and oppressive with which the Earth was ever cursed or man debased, we will cooperate and be known as Republicans.” The new party adopted its platform and nominated candidates for state offices.
The Beating of the Republican Senator Charles Sumner
Even though the Republicans formed their new political party in outrage over slavery and the passage of the Kansas-Nebraska Act, thousands of settlers were pouring into the Kansas Territory from both the North and the South. Within a year of the passage of the act, these settlers began to wage war against each other over slavery. Each side hoped to influence the vote on the slavery issue, becoming more and more deeply involved in a confrontation known as Bleeding Kansas.
In May 1856, as the U.S. Senate discussed the crisis in Kansas, Senator Charles Sumner (1811–1874) of Massachusetts, a Free-Soiler turned Republican, delivered the passionate speech “Crime against Kansas,” in which he made critical remarks about several proslavery senators, including the Democratic senator Andrew Butler of South Carolina (1796–1857). Butler had helped Senator Stephen A. Douglas (1813–1861) write the Kansas-Nebraska Act. Sumner’s remarks infuriated Representative Preston Brooks (1819–1857), the son of one of Butler’s cousins, who felt his family honor had been insulted. A few days after Sumner delivered his speech, Brooks entered the Senate chamber and beat Sumner severely with his metal-tipped cane. Overnight, both men became heroes in their respective regions of the country.
The House of Representatives censured Brooks, and he resigned. Although he was immediately reelected, he died soon thereafter. Sumner recovered over a three-year period and returned to the Senate for eighteen more years. This incident electrified the nation and added more fuel to the fire between the North and the South. With fighting in Kansas and violence even in the Senate chamber, it seemed as though the time for reasoned discussion and compromise over slavery might be nearing an end.
Republicans Lose in 1856 but Win in 1860
For the 1856 presidential election, the Republicans nominated John C. Fremont (1813–1890). Fremont was an explorer, surveyor, and one of California’s first senators, all of which earned him the nickname “Trail Blazer.” Born in Savannah, Georgia, but an open opponent of slavery, Fremont ran for president under the slogan: “Free soil, free labor, free speech, free men, Fremont.” Although he did not win the election, he did capture one-third of the popular vote.
In March 1857 the Dred Scott v. Sanford decision was handed down by the U.S. Supreme Court, unifying and strengthening the Republican Party. The High Court ruled that a slave named Dred Scott (c. 1795–1858) who had moved to a territory that had been declared free by the Missouri Compromise of 1820 had no rights and was not free because the Missouri Compromise was unconstitutional. Republicans believed that the High Court had negated the democratic process that had struck the Missouri Compromise when it ruled—for the first time in more than a half century—that an act of Congress was invalid.
In 1858 Abraham Lincoln (1809–1865) was nominated by the Illinois Republican Party to run for the U.S. Senate against the incumbent Democrat Stephen A. Douglas (1813–1861), the father of the Kansas-Nebraska Act. Incensed about the act, Republicans were anxious to unseat Douglas. Although Lincoln did not win the election, he had earned national recognition during a famous series of debates with Douglas in Illinois.
The Republican Party nominated Lincoln as its presidential candidate in 1860. The Democratic Party was split on the slavery issue between northern and southern factions, and each faction nominated presidential candidates. Douglas was nominated by the Northern Democratic Party, and Vice President John Breckinridge (1821–1875) was nominated by the Southern Democratic Party. A fourth political party, the Constitutional Union Party, formed from the last remnants of the Whig Party. It nominated former U.S. senator John Bell (1797–1869) from Tennessee. Lincoln won the election and became the first Republican to serve as U.S. president. Lincoln’s election began an era of Republican dominance through 1877, when Reconstruction came to an abrupt halt and Democrats took over the South.
Secession and the Start of the Civil War
In response to Lincoln winning the presidential election in November 1860, South Carolina seceded from the Union, followed by six other states: Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, and Texas. In April 1861, when federal forces approached Fort Sumter in Charleston, South Carolina, to resupply it, Confederate troops opened fire and forced the fort to surrender. In response, President Lincoln called for seventy-five thousand Union troops to be sent to the South to stop the rebellion. These events marked the beginning of the Civil War. Four more states immediately seceded from the Union and joined the Confederacy: Arkansas, North Carolina, Tennessee, and Virginia.
Factions of the Republican Party
By the outbreak of the Civil War, the Whig, Democratic, and Free Soil political party fragments that had originally formed the Republican Party formed into three factions: conservatives, moderates, and radicals. The most aggressive and powerful of the three were the Radical Republicans. The term radical referred to their stance on slavery in comparison to the other factions; the Radical Republicans were the most extreme and activist in their opposition. They wanted an immediate end to slavery and rights for freed slaves equal to those of whites. Moderates favored emancipation of the slaves with reservations, whereas conservatives favored gradual emancipation. Although the Radical Republicans never held a majority within the Republican Party, they dominated it because of their zeal for the cause and their members’ leadership in key congressional committees.
The Radical Republican agenda was in favor of a merciless and relentless war against the Southern rebellion. They were also advocates of legislation to emancipate slaves and provide them with equal rights. At the beginning of the war in 1861, Radical Republicans helped push the Confiscation Act through Congress. This act was a prelude to the Emancipation Proclamation, freeing slaves owned by Confederates who did not surrender within sixty days of the act’s passage. It also freed slaves who took refuge behind Union lines. Although he was a moderate, Lincoln had come to agree with the Radicals’ position on emancipation, and on January 1, 1863, he issued the Emancipation Proclamation, declaring that all slaves were freed in Union-dominated Confederate areas. Lincoln and the Radicals then backed the passage of the Thirteenth Amendment, which formally abolished slavery in the United States. The amendment was ratified on December 6, 1865, after Lincoln’s death.
Although they agreed on emancipation of the slaves, Lincoln and the Radical Republicans differed on the process of Reconstruction. Lincoln advocated a swift and merciful approach to reuniting the country and dealing with the former Confederates after the Civil War. The Radicals wanted to punish the South. Thus, many Radicals opposed Lincoln’s nomination in 1864. Nonetheless, Lincoln was elected to a second term in 1864.
The Democrat Johnson Becomes President in a Republican Administration
President Lincoln was shot by John Wilkes Booth (1838–1865) on April 14, 1865, and died the next morning. Vice President Andrew Johnson (1808–1875) took over after Lincoln’s death and struggled with Reconstruction and the Congress—most specifically with the Radical Republicans—because he was a southern Democrat lenient toward the South. (Lincoln had chosen a Democratic running mate to broaden the appeal of the ticket.) To avoid as much confrontation as possible, Johnson began to put his Reconstruction plan in place before Congress reconvened in December 1865. By that time Johnson had appointed provisional governors in many formerly Confederate states and had approved new state governments and elected representatives to Congress.
When Congress reconvened, congressional Radical Republicans were angry with Johnson and gained the support of others who did not want former Confederate leaders to return to positions of influence. The Black Codes of many southern states also inflamed the Radical Republicans and many other northerners because they returned blacks to a working situation similar to that of slavery. In retaliation, the Radical Republicans convinced Congress to refuse to seat any senator or representative from the old Confederacy. In 1865 Congress established the Bureau of Refugees, Freedmen, and Abandoned Lands (the Freedmen’s Bureau), which provided emergency food and shelter to people dislocated by the war and aided and protected former slaves. Congress also responded to the Black Codes by passing the Civil Rights Act of 1866, giving citizenship to blacks and placing limits on the Black Codes.
Republican (Radical) Reconstruction
The November 1866 congressional elections gave the Republican Party a two-thirds majority in both the House and the Senate. Congress took over Reconstruction from the president and congressional (Radical) Reconstruction began, emphasizing civil and voting rights for freed slaves. Congress passed a series of Reconstruction laws, which required former Confederate states to allow blacks to vote and to ratify the Fourteenth Amendment, which granted blacks citizenship. The Republican Congress also provided military rule to support the new Republican governments in the former Confederate states.
President Johnson vetoed the congressional Reconstruction laws, but Congress overrode his vetoes. As a result of this and other strong disagreements between President Johnson and Congress, the legislative body used Johnson’s decision not to abide by the Tenure of Office Act of 1867 as a means to begin impeachment proceedings against him. This act required the consent of the Senate for dismissal of any federal official whose initial appointment had required Senate confirmation. Johnson ignored the act when he dismissed Edwin Stanton (1814–1869), his Radical Republican secretary of war. In 1868 the Senate acquitted (found not guilty) Johnson by one vote, so he was not removed from office.
Johnson completed the remainder of Lincoln’s term through 1868. The Republican Party then chose the popular war hero Ulysses S. Grant (1822–1885) to run for president in 1868. Grant won the election, but dissatisfaction quickly grew among Radical Republicans as they saw corruption in his administration in some of the federally backed reconstructed governments of the South. A branch of the Republican Party broke away in 1872 for this reason, and scandal after scandal blemished Grant’s administration. Nonetheless, Grant did nothing to rid his administration of corruption and did little to make Reconstruction a success. In spite of this, he won the Republican nomination for president again in 1872 and was elected to a second term.
In 1870 the Fifteenth Amendment was ratified, giving black men the right to vote. Most of these new black voters cast their ballots for the Republican Party, which had freed them from slavery. White supremacist organizations—most notably the Ku Klux Klan—caused violence at the polls in the South until federal troops were brought in. Although the violence declined, intimidation tactics kept many blacks from voting.
Republican Dominance Ends
Beginning in 1873 conservative white southerners had had enough of Republican rule in the South and began to take control of the southern states. Northerners by this time were becoming apathetic to Reconstruction because of the continual violence at southern polling places, the corruption of the Grant administration, and a national economic downturn. By 1874 the Democrats gained control of the House for the first time since the war began, and by 1876 Republican governments existed in only three states. The era of Republican control, particularly in the South, was over.
In 1876 the Republicans nominated the Ohio governor Rutherford B. Hayes (1822–1893) to run against the Democratic New York governor Samuel J. Tilden (1814–1886). The outcome of the election was one of the most contentious in U.S. history: Tilden won the popular vote, but the electoral votes of Florida, Louisiana, and South Carolina were claimed by both parties. The election was finally decided by the unofficial and unwritten Compromise of 1877. Democratic leaders accepted Hayes’s election in exchange for Republican promises to withdraw federal troops from the South, provide federal funding for internal improvements in the South, and name a prominent southerner to the president’s cabinet. When the federal troops were withdrawn, the Republican governments in Florida, Louisiana, and South Carolina collapsed. Democrats controlled every southern state. Reconstruction and the Civil War era were over.
A Lasting Impact
Although the Republican Party would not enter a new era of dominance until 1896, it accomplished a great deal from its inception in 1854 through the end of the Civil War era. Lincoln, considered by some historians to be the greatest U.S. president, guided the country through a difficult and bloody war. Diligently working for the abolition of slavery and civil rights for freed slaves, Lincoln and the Republican Party accomplished much toward these goals. The Emancipation Proclamation freed the slaves, the Thirteenth Amendment outlawed slavery, the Fourteenth Amendment guaranteed equal protection under the law, and the Fifteenth Amendment gave the vote to black men.
The Republican Party, and in particular the Radical Republicans, focused on civil rights during the Reconstruction period. Besides the Emancipation Proclamation and the Thirteenth, Fourteenth, and Fifteenth amendments, the Republican Party was instrumental in passing the Civil Rights Acts of 1866 and 1875. The Civil Rights Act of 1866 gave citizenship to blacks and placed limits on the Black Codes. The Civil Rights Act of 1875 guaranteed that everyone, regardless of race, color, or previous condition of servitude, was entitled to the same treatment in public accommodations, such as inns, schools, and churches. This law was ruled unconstitutional by the Supreme Court in 1883 on the basis that Congress had no power to regulate the conduct of individuals, and the issue was not addressed again legislatively for more than eighty years—until the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
Republicans in the Twentieth Century
The Republican Party underwent a slight shift with the election of 1896. The Republican nominee, William McKinley (1843–1901), relied on the popular support of the middle class and on the financial support of big business. With this strategy, McKinley was able to vastly outspend his Democratic rival, William Jennings Bryan (1860–1925), winning the presidency and cementing the party’s pro-business platform. McKinley was assassinated in 1901, and Theodore Roosevelt (1858–1919) took over the presidency. Roosevelt was a dynamic figure whose policies tended to be more liberal and critical of big business; Roosevelt was known for his “trust busting”—initiating legislation designed to break up business monopolies. Roosevelt’s policies produced a split among Republicans between the progressives and the conservatives that continued, to one degree or another, through the twentieth century. Roosevelt himself left the party to run for president on the short-lived Progressive ticket in 1912.
Republican dominance was briefly interrupted by the election of the Democrat Woodrow Wilson (1856–1924) in 1912, thanks in part to Roosevelt’s Progressive run, which split the Republican-voting public. However, it was not until the election of the Democrat Franklin Delano Roosevelt (1882–1945) in 1932 that the Republican lock on the presidency was broken again. A series of strongly pro-business Republicans had held the office after World War I (1914–1918), until the administration of Herbert Hoover (1874–1964), who was in office when the U.S. stock market crashed in 1929 and the Great Depression began. Roosevelt died in office in 1945, but his New Deal policies—social welfare programs designed to offer relief to Americans who had lost everything in the depression and to stimulate the U.S. economy—became a touchstone for future Democrats and Republicans. New Deal adherents blamed the depression on the Republican administrations of the 1920s, who had, according to the Democrats, artificially overinflated the economy with their pro-business policies. New Deal programs advanced the interests of working people, empowered labor unions, and introduced high business taxes, all of which angered business and Republican leaders.
After World War II (1939–1945), a conservative wing of the Republican Party developed that advocated a policy of isolationism (avoidance of intervening in international affairs) and objected to the United Nations’ political power. This was opposed to the party’s liberal branch, which feared that isolationism would aid the spread of communism. This focus on communism—known as the cold war, primarily involving the United States and the former Soviet Union—dominated U.S. politics and Republican Party policies until the 1980s, when Ronald Reagan (1911–2004) was elected president and ushered in a period of pro-business initiatives and economic conservatism that would define the party for more than a decade, as well as forging a relationship with the Soviet president Mikhail Gorbachev (1931–) that opened the Soviet republics to the West and ultimately ended communism. Reagan also ended the last of the New Deal policies, leaving Social Security as the last functioning program of Roosevelt’s administration.
The Democrat William Jefferson Clinton (1946–) came to office in 1992 and was reelected in 1996. However, in 1994 the Republicans took Congress in a dramatic victory known as the Republican Revolution; Republicans had not controlled both houses of Congress since 1952. The presidential election of 2000, between the Democrat Al Gore 1948–) and the Republican George W. Bush (1946–) was perhaps the most hotly contested in U.S. history and was ultimately decided by a U.S. Supreme Court vote that declared a Bush victory. The Bush era began a phase of neoconservatism that focused on aggressive foreign policy and an unprecedentedly powerful executive branch. In the congressional election of 2006, Democrats took control of both houses, largely because of voter frustration with the war in Iraq (2003–), and Republicans faced an uncertain future as public disillusionment grew stronger.
Current Events and Social Movements
The Underground Railroad was a network of people, escape routes, and safe houses that supported slaves fleeing from the South to the North and to destinations outside the country. The system appears to have had its beginnings in the late 1700s, but its peak operational period was from about 1831 (when it was dubbed “the Underground Railroad”) until 1865, when the Civil War ended and the Thirteenth Amendment to the Constitution became law. The Emancipation Proclamation, issued by President Abraham Lincoln (1809–1865) in 1863, had freed slaves only in Confederate states occupied by Union forces. As a result, there were many slaves living in servitude in states not covered by this decree. So the Underground Railroad operated until the Thirteenth Amendment, which abolished slavery everywhere in the United States, was passed by Congress and ratified by three-quarters of the states in 1865.
How the Underground Railroad Worked
Neither underground (except for a few tunnels) nor a railroad, the Underground Railroad borrowed its terminology from the emerging steam railroads of the time. Safe houses were called “stations,” with “stationmasters” there to help feed and hide the slaves while they rested for the next part of their journey. Those accompanying slaves along the escape routes and showing them the way were called “conductors.” People who contributed money were called “stockholders.” Slaves would initially escape on their own, or a black conductor would pose as a slave and help with initial escape. The conductor would guide the fugitive slaves northward, usually at night. Slaves would travel between ten and twenty miles at a time. They would move from station to station, eating, hiding, and resting at each one. Messages would be sent from one station to another, alerting stationmasters to be ready for the next group. Underground Railroad destinations were not only in the northern states but also in Canada, the Caribbean, Mexico, and Africa.
A Risky Struggle
The Fugitive Slave Bill of 1850 made permanent escape difficult and risky for both slaves and those operating the Underground Railroad because people were now bound by law to return fleeing slaves. Those found harboring slaves or assisting their escape were subject to jail terms and fines as well as paying restitution to slave owners. The bill also gave southern slave owners the right to form posses to find and capture escaped slaves. Encounters between southern posses and northern abolitionists who were helping free slaves were violent and potentially deadly.
Routes of the Underground Railroad were many and varied, as were the stations, stationmasters, and conductors. A few of the conductors of the Underground Railroad became famous, including Harriet Tubman (1820–1913), an escaped slave who rescued more than three hundred others, and Levi Coffin (1798–1877), a Quaker who helped more than three thousand slaves to freedom.
The blacks and whites who worked the Underground Railroad together are a powerful symbol of the American struggle to abolish slavery and obtain freedom for all. Many consider the Underground Railroad to have been the most dramatic protest against human bondage and one of the most important social and humanitarian movements in U.S. history.
The Civil War
The U.S. Civil War was fought between the federal government and eleven southern states that attempted to secede from the Union and form their own government, the Confederate States of America. The war, which was precipitated by the 1860 election of Abraham Lincoln (1809–1865) to the presidency, lasted for four years, from 1861 to 1865. During the course of the war, more than six hundred thousand Americans on both sides of the conflict died, making it to this day the bloodiest armed conflict in U.S. history. The final Union victory in the conflict resulted in the abolition of slavery throughout the United States.
Prelude to Conflict
From the nation’s founding, the issue of slavery threatened to tear the United States apart. In 1789 the formation of the national government and ratification of the Constitution depended on a “Great Compromise” to maintain a balance of power between southern slave-owning states and the northern states, where slavery was rare or illegal. This compromise allowed southern states to count a slave as a fraction of a free man to determine their representation in Congress and votes in the Electoral College, thereby increasing their population count as a counterbalance to the larger population of the northern states.
Further compromise was required as the country expanded westward throughout the nineteenth century. As the nation’s new territories vied for statehood, the overwhelming question was where each would fall in the balance between free and slave states. Representatives of the North and South argued the issue, constantly under the threat that some or all of the slave states would secede from the Union.
As the century proceeded, however, the tide of popular opinion was turning against the institution of slavery. By 1860 most of the European powers had outlawed the slave trade. In the United States, the abolition movement had grown from a fringe of religious extremists in the Northeast into a more popular movement that included white Midwestern laborers, who felt economic competition from southern slave labor.
The new Republican Party (a descendant of the old Whig Party) established a presidential platform for the 1860 election centered on the containment of slavery—that is, the rights of slave owners from those states where slavery was legal would be respected, but slavery would not be permitted in any new state or territory admitted to the Union. The slave-owning states violently opposed this platform, but the opposition to the Republicans was split among three different candidates: Stephen Douglas (1813–1861) of the Democratic Party, which favored popular sovereignty–the concept that each new territory should be allowed to decide whether slavery would be legal within its boundaries; John Breckenridge (1821–1875) of the Southern Democratic Party, which took a more militant proslavery stand; and John Bell (1797–1869) of the Constitutional Union Party, which was a descendant of the Know-Nothing Party and the conservative Whigs that favored the status quo. Lincoln, the Republican candidate, carried only 39 percent of the popular vote—in much of the South his name was not even listed on the ballot—but won a decisive Electoral College victory.
Within little more than a month of the election, South Carolina became the first state to pass legislation to secede from the United States. By the time of Lincoln’s inauguration on March 4, 1861, six more states—Florida, Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana, and Texas—had joined South Carolina in passing secession ordinances, and the Confederate States of America had been formed.
Taking power in Washington, Lincoln immediately found himself in a state of crisis. The seceding states had already seized several federal forts in their territory, raiding their armories in preparation for hostilities with the North. A few forts, however, had not been taken, but were effectively besieged, cut off from support deep within hostile territory. Neither the secessionists nor the president wanted to be seen as the aggressor in an armed conflict, and moderates on both sides hoped the conflict could be resolved peaceably. However, in April, with supplies running out at Fort Sumter, the most important of the federal forts still standing in the seceded territories, Lincoln broke the stalemate. He informed the Confederate government that he was sending a fleet to Fort Sumter to bring the besieged federal soldiers supplies—but not weapons—and that the fleet was ordered not to fire unless fired on. Jefferson Davis (1808–1889), the leader of the Confederacy, considered this an act of aggression against the Confederacy’s sovereignty, and on April 12, 1861, ordered his forces to bombard Fort Sumter. The soldiers inside the fort had no hope of holding off the Confederate attack and rapidly surrendered. On April 17, three days after the formal surrender of Sumter, Virginia voted to secede from the Union and was quickly followed by Arkansas, Tennessee, and North Carolina. The Civil War had begun.
The Exercise of Wartime Powers
On hearing of Sumter’s fate, Lincoln immediately declared that an armed insurrection was underway in the South. On April 15, 1861, Lincoln called for a militia of seventy-five thousand men to be raised by the states and ordered Congress to return to a special session on July 4. Before Congress held its session on Independence Day, Lincoln ordered a naval blockade of the Confederacy’s ports, called for increases in the size of the army and navy, and authorized appropriations to buy weapons.
These actions, and others that would follow, represented an unprecedented use of the president’s powers as commander in chief. Congress, when it returned to session, would pass legislation retroactively authorizing Lincoln’s actions, but a precedent had already been established that the Union’s ongoing domestic emergency would justify expanded wartime powers for the executive branch.
The most controversial of the wartime powers exercised by Lincoln was the suspension of the writ of habeas corpus, a legal process by which unlawfully detained people can challenge their imprisonment in federal and state courts. On April 27, 1861, fearful that the Confederacy would find a way to cut off the capital from the northern states, Lincoln declared the writ suspended in the corridor between Philadelphia and the District of Columbia. Later, he extended the suspension to New York City, and late in the war the writ was suspended throughout the Union. By suspending the writ of habeas corpus, Lincoln authorized the detention for military tribunal of people suspected of treasonous activity or of fomenting insurrection. These people would not get a civilian trial or have recourse to the civilian court system. Even though most people detained in this manner were held for only a few days, they were held without due process, and the authorities who detained them were not called on to justify their actions.
Critics of Lincoln’s suspension of the writ charged that the president used this power to suppress political dissent from the Democratic Party and to arbitrarily arrest people solely because they were expressing their constitutionally protected opinions about the war. The administration responded that the arrests were needed to thwart the efforts of Confederate agents and to maintain order in border states such as Missouri, where Confederate sympathy ran high. At least sixteen thousand people were detained during the course of the war, most of them for trading with the Confederacy or for war profiteering.
Another controversial use of wartime powers was the first federal military draft, which was instituted by Congress in March 1863. Even though various states had used conscription to raise militias in the Revolutionary War, the Civil War was the first time that the federal government initiated its own plan for conscription of troops. The Confederacy also instituted a draft during the war, which was immensely unpopular.
The Union’s draft plan brought out class resentments, primarily because a conscripted soldier could buy his way out of the draft for $300 or find a substitute to serve in his stead. These resentments, along with the general antiwar sentiment, bubbled over in the form of draft riots in many major cities, the largest and best known of which was the New York City draft riot of July 13 to 15, 1863.
Despite the fierce opposition to the draft in some places, volunteers made up the great majority of the Union army. Of the 2.1 million soldiers who fought for the Union, only about 50,000 of them, or 2 percent, were draftees. By comparison, about 60 percent of the Americans who served in World War I (1914–1918) were conscripts, and 62 percent of the soldiers who served in World War II (1939–1945) had been drafted.
The Critical Border States and the Case for Emancipation
An early key to the Union’s chances in the Civil War was the status of the so-called border states—Maryland, Delaware, Kentucky, and Missouri—which were joined by the newly created state of West Virginia in 1863. Even though slavery was legal in the border states, they did not secede from the Union to join the Confederacy. Given the importance of the border states—had they all seceded, the Confederacy might have been too large for the Union army to subdue—the Lincoln administration pursued a policy that the purpose of the war was the restoration of the Union, not the end of slavery or emancipation of slaves in the South. For much of the war, the Lincoln administration continued to enforce the Fugitive Slave Acts as they applied to slaves from the border states.
However, four factors increasingly argued in favor of making the abolition of slavery a goal of the war. First, as stated by the Confederate vice president Alexander Stephens (1812–1883), “African slavery…was the immediate cause of the late rupture and the current revolution” against the Union, and the cornerstone of the Confederacy rested “on the great truth that the Negro is not equal to the white man, that slavery—subordination to the superior race—is his natural and normal condition.” If the Confederate states were to return to the Union and resume the previous status quo as slave states, nothing would actually have been resolved by the war.
Second, much of the political support for the Union cause was tied to the enthusiasm and energy of the abolition movement. Many abolitionists were ecstatic in August 1861, when General John C. Frémont (1813–1890)—then the commander of the Union’s western forces—instituted a military order that allowed him to confiscate and emancipate the slaves of any Missourians found to support the secessionist cause. Frémont had overstepped his authority, and Lincoln was forced to countermand his order—a choice that was unpopular among abolitionists. Lincoln was forced to balance between the needs of slave-holding Unionists in the border states with the morale of the Union’s staunchest supporters.
Third, the emancipation of Confederate slaves would give the Union a large strategic advantage in the war. Each slave they emancipated would weaken the Confederacy’s production abilities, and if the slaves then enlisted to fight their former masters, they would give the Union a vital edge in manpower, or as Lincoln called it, a “lever” the Union could use to turn the fortunes of the war.
Fourth, a declaration of emancipation would reduce the chances of foreign interference in favor of the Confederacy. Britain and France, foreign powers whose citizens had rejected slavery, nonetheless claimed neutrality in the conflict between the Union and the Confederacy. The promise of emancipation would ensure that public sentiment in Europe favored the Union and would prevent foreign intervention in the Confederacy’s favor.
The Lincoln administration attempted to convince the border states to wean themselves from their addiction to slavery. Lincoln lobbied states with very few slaves, such as Delaware, to outlaw the practice without being forced to. He then proposed and passed through Congress legislation to provide federal compensation to any state that willingly emancipated its slaves. In the one area where the federal government had unquestionable authority, the District of Columbia, a compensated emancipation law was enacted on April 16, 1862. Besides emancipating all the slaves in Washington, D.C., and providing their masters $300 in compensation per slave, the emancipation law also provided federal subsidies for the voluntary emigration of former slaves outside of the United States. Outside the nation’s capital, however, efforts to get the border states to adopt voluntary emancipation were fruitless.
On September 22, 1862—with his political standing bolstered by the Union’s victory at Antietam a week before—President Lincoln issued an executive order declaring all slaves in the rebel states emancipated, effective January 1, 1863, and authorized the enlistment of former slaves into military service. This preliminary Emancipation Proclamation, as it came to be called, was extremely controversial—abolition advocates were disappointed that Lincoln did not force the issue of emancipation in the border states, whereas the racial hostility of others in the Union was brought to the surface by the announcement.
However, despite the contentiousness, the Union’s hold over the border states held. Former slaves flocked to the Union army, and even though the army resisted using these troops in combat at first, by May 1863 Congress authorized the formation of the Bureau of Colored Troops to form African-American regiments to fight the Confederacy. More than 180,000 African-Americans served in these segregated army units, many earning commendations for bravery and ferocity in battle. Of that number, it is estimated that half were emancipated slaves from rebel states. The manpower advantage these Confederate defections provided the Union proved vital to the attrition tactics the Union used at the end of the war.
Confederate commanders belatedly came to the same conclusion Lincoln reached in 1862. In early 1865 Robert E. Lee (1807–1870), the Confederate general in chief, pressed for the right to induct slaves into the army, with the promise of emancipation for any men who served, as well as their families. However, by that time it was too late, the plan was never put into action, and on April 9, 1865, Lee’s army surrendered at Appomattox Court House, Virginia, signaling the beginning of the end of the war.
The Conduct of the War
Winfield Scott (1786–1866) was the Union’s first general in chief, serving from April through October 1861. Scott’s plan to defeat the Confederacy was known as the Anaconda Plan because it relied on encircling and containing the Confederacy, with a naval blockade and control of the Mississippi River, to force the Confederacy into submission with minimal loss of life. The Anaconda Plan was derided as too slow and conservative by the press and by Scott’s ranking subordinate, George McClellan (1826–1885). McClellan, who after helping to secure West Virginia was put in charge of fortifying Washington, D.C., and training the Army of the Potomac, favored a massive invasion of Virginia, with the goal of seizing control of Richmond. Scott, who was in his mid-seventies, could not personally command the Union’s troops in the field, and eventually resigned under pressure for more active leadership.
McClellan, then thirty-four years old, took over as general in chief on November 1, 1861. He was a charismatic leader and famous for his abilities in troop training and logistics. However, for all his talk of bold maneuvers while Scott was in charge, during his own time in command he was notably passive. By the end of 1861, the Army of the Potomac had nearly doubled in size under McClellan’s command and training—however, McClellan presented no plan to the administration for deploying his army to Virginia. Near the end of January 1862, Lincoln brought matters to a head, issuing an order that the army be deployed by February 22 to attack Confederate troops at Manassas, Virginia. McClellan then revealed his own plan, to move the Army of the Potomac by boat to a position from which they could attack Richmond from the east. Even though the administration deferred to his plan, before the deployment McClellan was relieved of his overall command of the Union military so he could concentrate on the invasion of Virginia in what was called the Peninsula Campaign.
This campaign proved a grand failure: not only was the Union army outmaneuvered but also it failed to capture Richmond. McClellan blamed his setbacks on a lack of support from the Lincoln administration. Meanwhile, Confederate diversionary tactics kept McClellan under the false impression that his massive army was constantly outnumbered. In battle after battle, McClellan held the bulk of his army in reserve, waiting for Confederate troop surges that never materialized. Lee’s much smaller Army of North Virginia forced McClellan into retreat. In November 1862, with the Virginia campaign becoming a quagmire, McClellan was reassigned to New Jersey to await further orders, which never came.
A Challenge to Lincoln and Union Victory
As the Union war effort foundered for much of 1863, and the political backlash to Lincoln’s emancipation order became evident, McClellan prepared to oppose Lincoln in the 1864 election. The Union’s greatest victory of 1863 was the capture of Vicksburg, Mississippi, by Ulysses S. Grant (1822–1885). This victory gave the Union control of the Mississippi River and effectively put Scott’s long-abandoned Anaconda Plan in action. Early in 1864 the Union turned to Grant to assume command as general in chief.
Grant’s plan for winning the war called for a coordinated offensive on two fronts: in the north, he would lead the Army of the Potomac into Virginia, with the goal of destroying Lee’s army and capturing Richmond, while General William Tecumseh Sherman (1820–1891) would advance upon Atlanta, cutting the Confederacy in half. Grant’s tactics were as important as his strategy. In Virginia, he practiced attrition warfare—aggressive, all-out assaults on Confederate forces, with high casualty rates sustained on both sides—relying on the Union’s superior numbers to wear down Lee’s army. In Georgia, Sherman employed what he called “hard war”—destructive tactics targeted not only at Confederate soldiers but also at the Confederacy’s overall ability to wage war—burning crops and causing, in Sherman’s own estimation, more than $100 million in property damage during the campaign.
At first, McClellan’s prospects in the 1864 election looked bright. Both Grant and Sherman’s advances were slow, and the high casualties suffered by Grant’s army convinced many in the Union that he was reckless. To make matters worse, the Confederates launched an offensive that threatened Washington, D.C., during the summer of 1864, which furthered doubts about the Union leadership. However, Sherman’s capture of Atlanta in September 1864 turned the tide of public opinion, and with Sherman’s forces marching toward the sea through the heart of the Confederacy, and Grant tying down Lee’s forces in Virginia, Lincoln won the 1864 election handily.
Lincoln did not live to see the Union restored or the ratification of the Thirteenth Amendment in December 1865, which abolished slavery throughout the United States. He was assassinated less than a week after Lee’s surrender to Grant at Appomattox. Andrew Johnson (1808–1875), Lincoln’s vice president, was left to oversee the end of hostilities and to commence the enormous task of reconstruction.
Approximately two years after the Civil War began, the Union government started drafting men into the military to cover shortages in the fighting forces. The government hoped that conscription would also motivate men to volunteer for service, but it had the opposite effect. Whites became so resentful of fighting a war whose purpose they thought was to free slaves that racial violence erupted in the form of riots, most notably in New York City.
The First Conscription in U.S. History
The March 1863 Conscription and Enrollment acts were the first conscription acts in U.S. history, although the Confederacy instituted a draft one year earlier than the Union. The 1863 acts required every male U.S. citizen, and male immigrants who had filed for citizenship, between the ages of twenty and forty-five to sign up, and the federal government entered all these eligible men into a lottery. There were many exceptions, however. Married men between the ages of thirty-five and forty-five were exempt, as were draftees who could buy their way out of conscription for $300 or arrange for a substitute to take their place. Thus, the draft discriminated against older men who were single and men who were poor and working class. Resentment already existed between the working class and the wealthy, and the draft exemptions only increased the animosity.
Working-Class Unrest in New York City
In New York City a huge proportion of the white working class were poor Irish immigrants who had come to the United States in the 1840s and 1850s, particularly after the Irish famine in 1846. This urban immigrant population felt threatened not only by the conscription laws but also by free blacks. White working-class men worried that the slaves recently freed by the Emancipation Proclamation would flee north and offer cheap labor, taking their jobs. Slaves were not citizens, so they were exempt from the draft and could easily take immigrant jobs while the Irish were fighting the war. In addition, the immigrants felt that slaves were valued more than they were, for slaves had generally commanded a fee of about $1,000 each when they were sold, whereas white working-class men saw themselves valued at the service exemption of $300. Consequently, poor working-class whites—in particular the population of Irish immigrants in New York City—felt as though they were losing both political leverage and economic status as blacks gained both. Anger grew as the Irish and other working-class men began to believe that the Civil War was a war to free the slaves—the same people who would take their jobs while they fought and died for emancipation.
Aftermath of the Draft Riots
The anger and resentment of working-class men in the North surfaced in the form of draft riots, most notably in New York City from July 13–16, 1863. The riots were precipitated by the first lottery of the conscription on July 11. A day went by without major incident, but by the early morning of July 13, the riots began. First, the workers paraded down the streets, forcibly closing businesses and destroying telegraph lines. Then rioters targeted military and governmental buildings, attacking some Republican officials. By the afternoon the rioters began attacking the police and blacks. Black institutions and apartment tenements were burned, and blacks were beaten, tortured, and murdered. Whites who were considered friendly to blacks—including two white women married to black men—were also beaten and killed. President Lincoln deployed Union troops to surround New York City to discourage further unrest. After four days of violence and bloodshed, the riots ended. Estimates vary, but it is generally believed that as many as a hundred people were killed in the riots.
In the aftermath landlords evicted blacks from their residences, fearing they would be targeted for violence or their buildings burned. The black population in New York City plummeted. In August 1863 the draft was resumed, but it was fairly unsuccessful. To avoid further rioting, New York’s city council established a $3 million fund to pay for exemptions for the city’s public servants (mostly police officers and firefighters), as well as working-class men with children. Of the thousand or so men from New York City who were drafted by September 1863, only two ended up serving in the Union army, although many others served in local militias.
Completed after the Civil War during the Reconstruction period, the United States’ transcontinental railroads were the first of their kind. Spanning about two-thirds of the width of the North American continent, the transcontinental railroads ran from the Missouri River to the West Coast. The first of these railroads was the Union Pacific–Central Pacific line, which was completed in May 1869. It ran from Omaha, Nebraska, in the East to Sacramento, California, in the West. By 1893 there were many transcontinental railroad lines across the United States, including routes from the East Coast to the Mississippi River.
Prelude to the Transcontinental Railroad
The mechanical engineers James Watt (1736–1819), George Stephenson (1781–1848), and Peter Cooper (1791–1883) all played critical roles in paving the way for the first transcontinental railway. Watt invented the first practical steam engine and patented his idea in 1769. It took nearly sixty more years for the first steam locomotive to be developed. In 1825 Stephenson finished building that engine, called Locomotion, which pulled coal cars on a nine-mile track. The first U.S. steam engine was completed in 1830 by Cooper and was called the Tom Thumb. It carried passengers and products on a thirteen-mile route within Maryland.
The antebellum period—the years building up to the Civil War—was a time of westward expansion in the United States. Gold was discovered in California in 1848, and by 1850 the state was admitted to the Union. In 1859 gold and silver were discovered in Nevada. The western territories were being organized for settlement and eventual statehood, and many people were going west to find their fortunes. There was a great need in the country for efficient transportation from the East to the West. By wagon the trip from coast to coast took six to eight months. Other modes of transportation were mule teams, steamboat, and stagecoach. The Pony Express—a cross-country mail service using small-statured riders and horses—was introduced in 1860, cutting the journey down to as few as ten days. However, a railroad was needed to ease western settlement, transport goods, and shorten journeys. Although a railroad had been discussed by Congress in 1845, the idea never developed into legislation because the country was fighting about other issues that divided the North and the South, and most were based in the issue of slavery: whether it should be allowed in the territories and how the slave or free status of states and territories would tip the balance of power in Congress.
In 1850 President Millard Fillmore (1800–1874) signed the first Railroad Land Grant Act. However, these grants of land for railroads were too small to accommodate a transcontinental railroad, which would require millions of acres. In 1853 it appeared progress was being made toward the transcontinental goal: U.S. Army topographical engineers surveyed five principal cross-country routes. However, they were not given sufficient time to prepare reports detailed enough to be useful, so none of these five proposed routes was followed. Along with determining which route was the most practical, Congress had to consider tensions between the North and the South: A route through one or the other region would bolster one economy to the detriment of the other.
The Pacific Railway Act of 1862
The Civil War began in 1861 and, with the South no longer represented in Congress—having seceded and begun its own government—the legislative body quickly authorized the construction of a transcontinental railroad under the first Pacific Railway Act in 1862. The official title of the act describes its purpose: “An Act to aid in the construction of a railroad and telegraph line from the Missouri River to the Pacific Ocean, and to secure to the government the use of the same for postal, military, and other purposes.” The act specified a central route that was north of the border states (slave states between the North and the South that had not seceded from the Union) and the southern states that had seceded from the Union.
The Union Pacific and Central Pacific railroads were granted four-hundred-foot right-of-ways plus ten square miles of land (later revised to twenty square miles) for every mile of track built. The sale of the land was expected to help pay for construction of the railroad line, but no one wanted to buy most of the land. Only the land near already established cities and land with rich soil for farming was considered valuable. Thus, the companies were also loaned money by the government in the form of thirty-year bonds that they would repay with interest. The railroad companies were later allowed to sell bonds to investors in amounts equal to the government loans to raise more funds.
The Union Pacific line advanced from Omaha and the Central Pacific from Sacramento. About ten thousand workers laid approximately one thousand miles of track across the Great Plains and desert, over mountains, and through mountain passes. This feat took six years, and it happened in spite of sometimes fierce fighting on the railroad line. About 90 percent of the labor force hired by the Central Pacific Railroad was Chinese American. The Chinese were experienced, having helped build the California Central Railroad, but they experienced severe discrimination in California. The remaining 10 percent of Central Pacific Railroad workers were Irish immigrants. Although the Irish had been discriminated against and ridiculed in the East, they did the same to the Chinese immigrants with whom they worked and, in most cases, supervised. The workers on the Union Pacific had problems as well. Some of the land on which the railroad was being built had been taken from land previously promised to Native Americans. Thus, Union Pacific crews often encountered groups of angry Native Americans who attacked them.
Completion of the Pacific Railroad
The Union Pacific and Central Pacific railroad lines met and joined at Promontory, Utah, on May 10, 1869. The driving of a ceremonial golden spike celebrated the connection. The news was telegraphed to the nation: “The last rail is laid, the last spike driven. The Pacific Railroad is completed.” A transcontinental connection opened in 1881 when the Atchison, Topeka, and Santa Fe met the Southern Pacific at Deming, New Mexico. Other connections followed, providing alternate transcontinental routes.
Travel and Trade Are Transformed
The building of the transcontinental railroad cost more than money and land, however. Many lives were lost building the railway, American bison herds were slaughtered to open up land, and the relationship between Native Americans and the U.S. government was deeply damaged. Nonetheless, the transcontinental railroad changed the manner and speed by which people and products could be transported across the United States. In 1830 the arduous journey took months. By 1880 the journey took days and was comparatively comfortable. Commercial trade boomed because products could be moved quickly. Settlers began to populate the western territories that were connected to city centers by rail. The North and the South, so divided during the Civil War, developed a physical connection as more track was laid and a railroad web began to permeate the country.
Legislation, Court Cases, and Trials
Fugitive Slave Acts
The Fugitive Slave Acts of 1793 and 1850 were both laws that required the return of runaway slaves to their masters. The 1793 law was rarely enforced, however, and an 1842 U.S. Supreme Court decision ruled that states did not have to help recapture slaves, thereby weakening the law. So when the Compromise of 1850 was written in an effort to calm the arguing and discord between the North and the South, a new, harsher Fugitive Slave Act was included to appease southerners. However, it angered abolitionists and increased their commitment to free the slaves. The law also motivated those involved in the Underground Railroad—the web of people, trails, and safe houses that helped slaves escape from bondage in the South—to continue their work with fervor.
The Fugitive Slave Act of 1793
As the United States evolved, its northern and southern regions developed in different ways. The North was primarily urban and industrial, whereas most of the South was rural and agricultural and depended heavily on slaves to maintain its economy and social structure. Even before the U.S. Constitution was signed, North-South differences over slavery were manifesting themselves. As part of a compromise to ensure the ratification of the Constitution, Article 4, section 2 was included in the document, stating: “No person held to service or labor in one state, under the laws thereof, escaping into another, shall, in consequence of any laws or regulation therein, be discharged from such service or labor, but shall be delivered up, on claim of the party to whom such service or labor may be due.” This article required that runaway slaves be returned to their masters, and Congress subsequently enacted the Fugitive Slave Act of 1793, which was the law that backed up the constitutional mandate. However, antislavery sentiment ran high in the North, and northerners were usually unwilling to return runaway slaves. In addition, some northern states retaliated by passing personal liberty laws aimed at making the federal requirements difficult to enforce. These laws not only guaranteed slaves the right to a jury trial but also provided procedures that made proving a runaway case in court difficult and costly for slave owners.
The Fugitive Slave Act of 1850
After the Supreme Court’s 1842 Prigg v. Pennsylvania decision, which ruled that states did not have to aid in the return of runaway slaves, the Fugitive Slave Act of 1793 was rendered virtually useless. As 1850 approached and the continual discord between the North and the South began to reach a crisis stage, one of the items fueling the fire was southern dissatisfaction over the Fugitive Slave Act of 1793. The South was calling for stronger federal support for the return of runaway slaves, which once again provoked northern hostility to slavery. This issue was addressed in a new fugitive slave act incorporated into the Compromise of 1850.
The Compromise of 1850 was a collection of laws developed in an attempt to cool North-South tensions over the extension of slavery into new territories in the West in the hopes of appeasing both sides. The Fugitive Slave Act was possibly the most controversial part of the compromise. The act carried provisions that favored slaveholders in their pursuit of runaways: Federal commissioners could issue warrants against fugitive slaves and assemble posses to catch them; furthermore, suspected runaways were denied trials and could be sent to the South simply on the word of plantation owners. Black men and women, some of whom had lived in the North freely for decades, were arrested and remanded to slavery.
Effects of the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850
The passage of the Fugitive Slave Act in 1850 as part of a compromise measure was not helpful in stopping the bitter battles between anti- and proslavery advocates. On the contrary, it inflamed tensions. Northerners had obstructed the recovery of runaways for decades and would continue to do so. Southerners were so angry with northern obstructionism that they believed the fate of the Union rested on northern compliance with the new fugitive slave law. Northerners retaliated with the passage of stronger personal liberty laws, but the Supreme Court upheld the Fugitive Slave Act in Abelman v. Booth (1859). By this time the nation was coming closer and closer to civil war. After the Republican antislavery presidential candidate Abraham Lincoln (1809–1865) won the election of 1860, South Carolina and other southern states seceded from the Union, forming the Confederate States of America in early 1861. The Civil War started shortly thereafter, on April 12, 1861, with a skirmish at Fort Sumter, South Carolina.
The Fugitive Slave Acts ceased to be an issue when slaves were freed from Confederate states by the Confiscation Act of 1862 and the Emancipation Proclamation of 1863. Eventually, all slaves were freed from bondage in 1865 by the passage and ratification of the Thirteenth Amendment to the Constitution.
Compromise of 1850
The Compromise of 1850 was a collection of laws that soothed flaring tempers between the North and the South as the United States faced its greatest crisis since the Missouri Compromise of 1820. The two geographical regions of the country were embroiled in disagreements that had roots in the issues of slavery and political power. As they had in 1820, these contentious issues had resulted in a nation that had reached a boiling point. The Mexican-American War (1846–1848) had led to the acquisition of new territories in the West—territories that eventually became the states of California, Nevada, Arizona, New Mexico, and Utah. The addition of land raised questions about the status of slavery in those territories. Another issue related to this national crisis was southern dissatisfaction over the Fugitive Slave Act of 1793. The South called for stronger federal support for the return of runaway slaves, which provoked northern hostility to slavery. In addition, gold had been discovered in California and the population boom that came as a result of the gold rush of 1849 led to a push to quickly grant California statehood—as a free state. The balance of power in Congress was at stake in this war of differing ideologies. The Compromise of 1850 created what would prove to be an uneasy and temporary peace.
The Wilmot Proviso
In 1846, before the end of the Mexican-American War, Congressman David Wilmot (1814–1868) of Pennsylvania introduced an amendment to the appropriations bill that would be used by President James Polk (1795–1849) to negotiate a territorial settlement with Mexico. The amendment was called the Wilmot Proviso, and it stipulated that none of the territory acquired in the Mexican-American War would be open to slavery. Supported in the North and opposed in the South, the Wilmot Proviso created great bitterness between these two sections of the country. The amended bill was passed in the U.S. House of Representatives, where the North held a majority, but it did not pass in the U.S. Senate, where North-South representation was equal. The Senate developed its own bill, which excluded the proviso, and passed the appropriations bill.
The Compromise Debated
Although the Wilmot Proviso was defeated in Congress, neither the issue of slavery in the territories nor the request of California to join the Union as a free state had been settled. Senator Henry Clay (1777–1852) of Kentucky made the first specific proposal for a compromise on these issues on January 29, 1850. In the Senate, he introduced a series of five resolutions that he hoped would allow an “amicable arrangement of all questions in controversy, between the free and slave states, growing out of the subject of slavery.”
Clay’s resolutions provided for the immediate admission of California as a free state; the organization of territorial governments in Utah and New Mexico without mention of slavery (consistent with the Missouri Compromise of 1820); a new and more stringent fugitive slave law; abolition of the domestic slave trade in Washington, D.C.; and the alteration of the boundary of Texas—a slave state—to make it smaller, with monetary compensation given to the state in exchange for the withdrawal of its claims to portions of New Mexico. Each piece of the compromise, Clay thought, would appeal to either the North or the South, and as a package it might be a compromise that both sides could accept. The resolutions were proposed as an omnibus bill—a bill that combines several measures into a single unit. Clay introduced the bill in the Senate with a two-day speech.
The issue was hotly debated. John C. Calhoun (1782–1850) of South Carolina, one of the South’s leading statesmen, protested the compromise in the last speech of his life, which was delivered by a colleague because he was too sick to do so. In the speech Calhoun emphasized that no compromise could effectively protect the interests of the South because there was no longer equality between the North and the South in population or geographic area. He challenged the North to respect the South’s institutions and protect it economically against efforts to limit slavery and promote industrial (northern) over agricultural (southern) interests. Finally, he believed that if the two regions of the country could not settle their differences, they should separate peacefully.
Senator Daniel Webster (1782–1852) of Massachusetts answered Calhoun by supporting the compromise in his famous Seventh of March Address, which is considered to be an outstanding example of American persuasive oratory. In his address Webster described his position on slavery in the context of history rather than morality. He argued that the question of slavery in the Union had been decided by historical precedents—Congress prohibited slavery in the Northwest Ordinance of 1787 and divided regions into slave-holding and free in the Missouri Compromise of 1820. Webster believed that slavery could not be abolished where it currently existed, but that it could not be allowed in the newly acquired, nonagricultural territories of the Southwest. Webster supported the new and more stringent fugitive slave law, urging northerners to respect slavery in the South and to assist in the return of runaways to their owners. He agreed with Clay that the Union could never be separated peacefully. Clay, Calhoun, and Webster are known as the Great Triumvirate of the debate on the Compromise of 1850.
Daniel Webster: A Master of Persuasion
Daniel Webster is said to have delivered his three-and-a-half-hour speech, the Constitution and the Union, also known as the Seventh of March Address, in a rather laborious manner, but the speech is nonetheless considered a masterpiece of persuasiveness. Here, in the last paragraph, Webster argues in favor of maintaining the unity of the United States of America, ending with poetic lines from Homer’s Iliad:
And now, Mr. President, instead of speaking of the possibility or utility of secession, instead of dwelling in these caverns of darkness, instead of groping with those ideas so full of all that is horrid and horrible, let us come out into the light of day; let us enjoy the fresh air of liberty and Union; let us cherish those hopes which belong to us; let us devote ourselves to those great objects that are fit for our consideration and our action; let us raise our conceptions to the magnitude and the importance of the duties that devolve upon us; let our comprehension be as broad as the country for which we act, our aspirations as high as its certain destiny; let us not be pigmies in a case that calls for men. Never did there devolve, on any generation of men, higher trusts than now devolve upon us for the preservation of this Constitution, and the harmony and peace of all who are destined to live under it. Let us make our generation one of the strongest, and the brightest link, in that golden chain which is destined, I fully believe, to grapple the people of all the states to this Constitution for ages to come. It is a great popular constitutional government, guarded by legislation, by law, and by judicature, and defended by the whole affections of the people. No monarchical throne presses these states together; no iron chain of despotic power encircles them; they live and stand upon a government popular in its form, representative in its character, founded upon principles of equality, and calculated, we hope, as to last forever. In all its history, it has been beneficent; it has trodden down no man’s liberty; it has crushed no state. Its daily respiration is liberty and patriotism; its yet youthful veins are full of enterprise, courage, and honorable love of glory and renown. Large before, the country has now, by recent events, become vastly larger. This Republic now extends, with a vast breadth, across the whole continent. The two great seas of the world wash the one and the other shore. We realize on a might scale, the beautiful description of the ornamental edging of the buckler of Achilles—
Now, the broad shield complete the artist crowned,With his last hand, and poured the ocean round;In living silver seemed the waves to roll,And beat the buckler’s verge, and bound the whole.
“The Constitution and the Union” (March 7, 1850), Congressional Globe, 31st Cong., 1st sess., Appendix, pp. 269–76, http://memory.loc.gov/ll/llcg/024/0200/02960276.tif (accessed March 6, 2007).
The Compromise of 1850 Becomes Law
Webster’s speech was well accepted by moderates throughout the country and helped southerners feel inclined to compromise, but it was scorned by northern abolitionists and many other northerners, especially those in Webster’s home state of Massachusetts. A significant opponent to the compromise was President Zachary Taylor (1784–1850). Although a Virginian and a slave owner, he had a moderate stance on the territorial expansion of slavery, which angered fellow southerners. Taylor saw no need for compromise and demanded the admission of California as a free state while rejecting southern demands for slavery in the new territories. However, both he and John Calhoun died shortly after the compromise debates—Calhoun at the end of March and Taylor in July. Two major opponents of the omnibus bill were gone and the new president, Millard Fillmore (1800–1874), was favorable to the compromise measures outlined by Clay.
The Illinois senator Stephen A. Douglas (1813–1861) supported the compromise as well, and as chairman of the Committee on Territories, Douglas dominated the Senate at the time. The compromise remained a single bill after Taylor died, and the measure failed to pass. Most northerners would not vote for the fugitive slave bill or for legislation that allowed slavery in the territories, whereas most southerners opposed the admission of California as a free state and the reduction in the size of Texas.
In September Douglas decided to change the comprise legislation from a single omnibus bill to a series of bills. With this strategy, he hoped to piece together different groups of supporters for each part of the compromise and pass each part separately. The strategy worked, and by mid-September the Compromise of 1850 became law.
The Aftermath of the Compromise
Although the compromise did not please everyone, it did allow both the North and the South sufficient concessions to preserve the Union for another tense decade. In 1852 Franklin Pierce (1804–1869), who had been a supporter of the compromise, easily won the presidential election. By 1854, however, problems with the compromise began to surface. Ambiguous language had skirted, rather than settled, the major issue over slavery in the territories. Northerners believed that slavery was prohibited in the territories, whereas southerners believed that slavery was legal in any territory before it became a state. Thus, in 1854, when territorial organization for Kansas and Nebraska was considered, bitter disputes broke out anew. The Kansas-Nebraska Act was passed by Congress in May 1854, repealing the portion of the Missouri Compromise of 1820 that prohibited slavery north of latitude 36°30′, giving the residents of Kansas and Nebraska the power to decide on slavery in their territories by popular vote. However, both proslavery and antislavery advocates rushed to settle in Kansas to affect the outcome of the election. The result was violent conflict and embitterment between the North and the South.
Problems also arose with the fugitive slave law. Northerners were angered by harsh new mechanisms for retrieving runaway slaves, and many resisted complying with the law. In addition, blacks who were alleged to be escaped slaves had no opportunity to legally challenge that claim. Black men and women, some of whom had lived in the North freely for decades, were arrested and remanded to slavery.
The Compromise of 1850 was effective in postponing war; however, the country continued to slide in that direction. The Civil War finally erupted in April 1861, a little more than ten years after the Compromise of 1850 was signed into law.
See also Kansas-Nebraska Act
The Kansas-Nebraska Act was legislation enacted in 1854 that allowed for a popular vote to decide the slavery question in the Kansas and Nebraska territories. The reoccurring issue of slavery in the territories stirred conflicts that had been somewhat quelled by the Missouri Compromise of 1820 and the Compromise of 1850. The Kansas-Nebraska Act was meant to appease both the North and the South once again, but it aroused anger and resentment instead.
The Kansas and Nebraska Territories
The Nebraska Territory was originally part of the Louisiana Purchase, which was bought from France in 1803 and comprised of what are today the states of Kansas, Nebraska, South Dakota, and North Dakota. This midwestern land was initially thought to be largely desert, but by 1854, with some settlement west of the Mississippi River, it became clear that the region was useful for agriculture. Large territories were divided and subdivided as populations increased, and eventually they were organized, which meant that a government was established reflecting geographic, economic, and political considerations. When the population reached about sixty thousand or so, statehood was considered. In 1854 the Nebraska Territory needed to be organized for further settlement and passage of an East-West transcontinental railroad. During this process the Nebraska Territory was divided into the Kansas Territory (south of the fortieth parallel of latitude) and the Nebraska Territory (north of the fortieth parallel).
An Act to Organize the Territory
The Illinois senator Stephen A. Douglas (1813–1861) was particularly interested in the organization of the Nebraska Territory because he wanted the transcontinental railroad to run from his hometown of Chicago to San Francisco, through the Nebraska Territory. At that time, the other option being discussed for the railroad was to have its eastern hub in St. Louis. To get the votes he needed for federal support of the Chicago route, Douglas had to please southerners as the territory was organized. He therefore proposed a bill, the Kansas-Nebraska Act, that provided for the slavery question to be decided by the territories themselves by popular vote, or what was called popular sovereignty. An Act to Organize the Territories of Nebraska and Kansas (the Kansas-Nebraska Act) stated: “It being the true intent and meaning of this act not to legislate slavery into any Territory or State, nor to exclude it therefrom, but to leave the people thereof perfectly free to form and regulate their domestic institutions in their own way, subject only to the Constitution of the United States.”
Complications and Outrage
The Missouri Compromise of 1820, however, decreed that slavery could not extend above the 36°30′ line. If Douglas’s plan was passed, and when and if a vote showed the majority favored slavery in the territory, then that portion of the Missouri Compromise would have to be repealed. As he formulated his plan, Douglas assumed that settlers in these territories would not vote for slavery because they were so far north. Douglas was right about Nebraska—its future as a free state was never in question. However, Kansas was next to the slave state of Missouri and a “yes” vote would be likely.
Northerners were outraged at Douglas’s plan and southerners were overjoyed with it. Matters became even more contentious when the proslavery leadership forced Douglas to amend the final bill even further. Senator Archibald Dixon (1802–1876) of Kentucky pointed out that under the current formulation of the bill, the restriction of slavery north of 36°30′ would remain in effect until the territorial settlers voted for slavery. Until a “yes” vote happened, the immigration of slaveholders into the territory would be prohibited. Such a prohibition would be unfair and would favor the immigration of antislavery settlers over proslavery settlers—and consequently affect the outcome of the vote. Douglas, therefore, had to add into the Kansas-Nebraska Act an explicit repeal of that section of the Missouri Compromise prohibiting slavery north of 36°30′ latitude. Most northerners considered the Missouri Compromise to be a sacred pledge, and repealing the heart of it would destroy the relative political calm so carefully engineered by the Missouri Compromise and the Compromise of 1850.
Passage of the Kansas-Nebraska Act
In spite of likely negative consequences to the uneasy peace of the country, and in spite of the anger of his political party, Douglas sought the approval of President Franklin Pierce (1804–1869), who supported the transcontinental railroad, northwest migration, and national unity. Pierce believed that approving the Kansas-Nebraska Act would further these causes and appease both sides on the slavery issue. With Pierce’s approval, Douglas pushed his bill through both houses of Congress, and the bill became law in May 1854.
Instead of appeasing both the North and the South on slavery, the passage of the Kansas-Nebraska Act enraged the country. Within a year of its passage, antislavery settlers and proslavery advocates were at war in Kansas, a confrontation that became known as Bleeding Kansas. President Pierce was unable to settle the resultant problems, and in the next presidential race he was not nominated to run.
Consequences of the Kansas-Nebraska Act
Fallout from the Kansas-Nebraska Act was significant. The act reopened issues that divided the country and embittered North-South relations. It increased southern unity and influence in the Democratic Party, which split into the Northern Democratic Party and the Southern Democratic Party by the election of 1860. It also led to the formation in 1854 of the Republican Party, which focused its efforts on stopping the expansion of slavery to new territories. More important, the Kansas-Nebraska Act is thought to be the one piece of legislation most directly responsible for driving the nation into civil war in 1861.
Dred Scott v. Sanford
One of the most politically significant U.S. Supreme Court decisions during the Civil War era (1850–1877) was made on March 6, 1857, in Dred Scott v. Sanford. This decision ruled that the Missouri Compromise of 1820 was unconstitutional (that Congress had overstepped its authority in banning slavery in the territories) and that blacks of African descent had no rights and could not be U.S. citizens. This decision deepened the divide between the North and the South, helping pave the road to civil war.
Who Was Dred Scott?
Dred Scott (c. 1795–1858) was a slave born on a Virginia plantation owned by Captain Peter Blow. Scott grew up with the six Blow children, and after the death of Peter Blow, Scott’s ownership passed to Blow’s daughter Elizabeth. In 1833 John Emerson, a U.S. Army surgeon, purchased Scott from Elizabeth.
Emerson traveled to various military posts for his work, including the free state of Illinois and the free territory of Wisconsin, and brought Scott with him. While in the Wisconsin Territory, Scott met and married Harriet Robinson. When Emerson returned to Missouri for duty, and then later traveled to a post in Louisiana, he left the Scotts in the Wisconsin Territory. Less than a year later, shortly after his marriage to Irene Sanford in 1838, Emerson asked Dred and Harriet Scott to come to the slave state of Louisiana, which the Scotts did voluntarily. In 1840 Emerson moved his wife and slaves to St. Louis, Missouri. Emerson died in 1843, and ownership of Scott passed to Emerson’s wife.
Historians suggest that friends of the Scotts informed them that black slaves in Missouri could sue for their freedom. If they resided in a free state, they were told, they became free, and Missouri had a long-standing “once free, always free” judicial standard used when passing judgment in such cases.
A Lawsuit for Freedom on the State Level: Dred Scott v. Irene Emerson
In 1846, about three years after Emerson’s death, Dred and Harriet Scott filed separate lawsuits against Irene Sanford Emerson in the St. Louis Circuit Court to obtain their freedom from slavery. Francis B. Murdock, a Missouri attorney with antislavery sentiments, filed the original lawsuits: Dred Scott v. Irene Emerson and Harriet Scott v. Irene Emerson. Murdock also accepted initial financial responsibility for the Scotts’ costs of the case, but when Murdock moved to California in 1847, he could no longer continue to pay. Further financial aid was afforded the Scotts by the Blow family.
A Victory for Freedom Overturned
The case was finally heard, but technicalities in the legal proceedings meant that a new trial was needed. More legal technicalities and holdups, along with a cholera outbreak in St. Louis, resulted in the case not being heard until January 12, 1850. The Scotts won their freedom, but Emerson appealed to the Missouri Supreme Court, which granted a hearing. For this hearing it was agreed that only the case of Dred Scott v. Irene Emerson would be heard but that the decision would apply to Harriet as well.
Unfortunately for the Scotts, in 1852 the Missouri Supreme Court overturned their victory, declaring that “the Court here being now sufficiently advised of and concerning the premises, do consider and adjudge that the Judgment aforesaid … by the said Circuit Court rendered, be reversed, annulled, and for nought held and esteemed, and that said appellant [Emerson] be restored to all things which he has lost by reason of said judgment.”
This 1852 verdict was interesting in that this court had, in previous verdicts, freed many slaves who had traveled to and lived in free states with their masters. Nonetheless, in the fourteen years since the Missouri Supreme Court had last ruled in favor of freedom for a slave, the conflict between the North and the South had worsened. Many Missourians no longer favored emancipation for slaves. In addition, the composition of the high court had changed: two of the three justices who made the ruling in Scott’s case were proslavery. The politics of slavery was entering the courtroom. Moreover, recent rulings set legal precedents that were unfavorable to Scott’s case.
A Lawsuit for Freedom on the Federal Level: Dred Scott v. Sanford
The legal proceedings were not yet over, however. In 1853 Scott’s friends helped him file a lawsuit for his and his wife’s freedom on the federal level in the Circuit Court of the United States for the District of Missouri. Attorney Roswell M. Field (1807–1869), a friend of those sympathetic to the Scotts’ cause, agreed to work on the case pro bono (free of charge). Field was extremely interested in the legal questions of slavery, such as whether residence in a free state or territory permanently freed a slave, and whether blacks had the right to be U.S. citizens.
By the time the federal lawsuit was filed in November 1853, Emerson had remarried, and the administration of her former husband’s estate passed to her brother, John F. A. Sanford. Thus, the case went to the federal courts as Dred Scott v. Sanford. The lawsuit was similar to the original Dred Scott v. Irene Emerson case, with one significant difference: Scott’s freedom no longer depended on proving he had resided in a free state, because both sides agreed he had. Instead, his freedom depended on whether a slave who had resided in a free state retained freedom when he moved back to a slave state. The circuit court ruled that a slave did not retain freedom in a slave state, which meant that Scott, his wife, and their daughters, Eliza and Lizzie, were still slaves.
Appealing the Loss to the U.S. Supreme Court
Field appealed the federal circuit court decision to the U.S. Supreme Court and arranged for Montgomery Blair (1813–1883), a high-profile St. Louis attorney living in Washington, D.C., to argue the case. In his brief filed on February 7, 1856, Blair argued that freedom based on residence in a free state was permanent. Upon return to a slave state, a freed slave remained free. Blair also argued that a black person of African descent could be a U.S. citizen. The U.S. senator Henry S. Geyer (17910–1859) and Reverdy Johnson (1796–1876), the attorneys for Sanford, took a different approach to the case. They challenged the authority of Congress to have enacted the Northwest Ordinance of 1787 and the Missouri Compromise of 1820. These legislative acts prohibited slavery in certain areas of the country, including where Dred Scott had lived and claimed to be free. In doing this they questioned Scott’s claim to freedom and not whether he could retain his freedom.
A Loss for Freedom, Citizenship, and the Authority of Congress
The Supreme Court delivered its decision on March 6, 1857. Seven of the nine justices wrote separate pro-southern opinions, sharing the opinion that Scott was still legally a slave. Chief Justice Roger B. Taney (1777–1864) wrote what is considered to be the majority opinion. Taney stated that blacks of African descent were not U.S. citizens and therefore did not have the right to sue in court: “The question before us is, whether the class of persons described in the plea in abatement [blacks who were brought into the United States and sold as slaves] compose a portion of this people [the citizenry of the United States], and are constituent members of this sovereignty? We think they are not, and that they are not included, and were not intended to be included, under the word ‘citizens’ in the constitution, and can therefore claim none of the rights and privileges which that instrument provides for and secures to citizens of the United States.” Taney also spoke of Dred Scott in particular: “Upon a full and careful consideration of the subject, the court is of opinion, that, upon the facts stated … Dred Scott was not a citizen of Missouri within the meaning of the constitution of the United States, and not entitled as such to sue in its courts; and, consequently, that the circuit court had no jurisdiction of the case, and that the judgment on the plea in abatement is erroneous.”
The Court also ruled that the Missouri Compromise was unconstitutional in that Congress had no authority to prohibit slavery in the federal territories. Thus, Dred Scott had not become free while in Wisconsin Territory because Congress had no power to declare Wisconsin Territory free. (This was the first time in more than a half century that the Supreme Court declared an act of Congress unconstitutional.) In addition, the Court asserted, Scott had not become free in Illinois, because his status, upon return to Missouri, depended on Missouri law as determined in Scott v. Emerson.
Affect of the Decision on the Country
These decisions outraged northerners and deepened the divide between the North and the South. The Supreme Court thought that its ruling might settle some of the issues surrounding slavery, but instead it caused the anger to reach a fever pitch. Aside from moral disagreements over slavery, northerners protested the decision because it threatened the job opportunities of free white laborers by allowing the spread of slavery into territories and states.
In addition, the decision of the Court to declare the Missouri Compromise and its ban on slavery in the territories invalid further united the newly created, antislavery Republican Party. This party argued that the ban should be restored and that the slavery issue should be decided by the democratic process, not by the court system. Many historians consider the Dred Scott decision to be one of the Supreme Court’s most harmful decisions for the country.
Free at Last
Ironically, Dred Scott and his family were finally freed by the intervention of Irene Sanford Emerson’s second husband, Calvin Chaffee (1811–1896), who was an abolitionist. Chaffee found out about the connection of Scott to his wife just before the Supreme Court decision was rendered, but he was unable to intervene at that point. After the decision, Chaffee was seen as a hypocrite because he was publicly opposed to slavery while privately owning slaves. However, Chaffee made a deal with his wife to transfer ownership of the Scott family to one of the Blow children, Taylor Blow, in St. Louis. Under Missouri law, a slave owner of that state could free his or her slaves held in that state. Taylor Blow did just that for the Scott family. For her part of the deal, Irene Sanford Emerson Chaffee received the wages the Scott family earned over the previous seven years, which amounted to about $750.
The Confiscation Acts of 1861 and 1862
Confiscation means seizure by the government, and the Confiscation Acts of 1861 and 1862 were enacted so that the Union government could seize property, including slaves, from the Confederacy during the Civil War (1861–1865). The Union thought that confiscating Southern property would help pay for the war effort and punish Southerners. In addition, it was a way to free slaves who were forced by the Confederacy to participate in the war. The Republican Lyman Trumbull (1813–1896) introduced the first confiscation bill in the Senate, and a modified version became law in August 1861. He also introduced the second confiscation bill, which became law in July 1862.
Provisions of the First Confiscation Act
The Confiscation Act of 1861 was not extensive in its provisions. It only gave the president authority to seize property used “in aiding, abetting, or promoting” the Confederate cause and limited freeing slaves to those whose masters were actively involved in the Confederate war effort. Even then, the federal government had to pursue confiscation through the courts but could do so without having the property owner present at the court proceedings. President Abraham Lincoln (1809–1865) did not want to sign the bill into law, thinking that the South would see it as a desperate Union move. He also believed that it would not really make any difference in the war effort and that it might be unconstitutional. Lincoln decided to sign the bill but gave the attorney general no instructions on its enforcement. Consequently, Confederate property was rarely seized.
Provisions of the Second Confiscation Act
The Confiscation Act of 1862 broadened the scope of the 1861 act. Senator Trumbull introduced this bill as well, and after much discussion the bill garnered votes along party lines: Republicans voted for its passage and Democrats were against it. Because Republicans held the majority in Congress at the time, the bill was passed and went to Lincoln, who once again signed with reservations.
The second confiscation act had significant antislavery components. It empowered the military to free slaves who were captured by Union forces, who had run away from their masters, or who had been abandoned by their masters. In addition, the act negated the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850, which had compelled the return of slaves to their masters. The only slaves to be returned were those held by people within the border states, which had not seceded from the Union and were loyal to it.
Besides its antislavery provisions, the Confiscation Act of 1862 was severe in its treatment of those active in the Confederacy. It gave the courts the power to punish traitors (those who fought in the Confederate forces) with death or fine and imprisonment. Those who aided the Confederacy but did not fight in the war could be fined and imprisoned. Neither traitors nor those aiding the rebellion could hold public office again. Furthermore, the president had the power to immediately confiscate the property of Confederate government officials and military officers, former officials of the United States now loyal to the Confederacy, and individuals loyal to the Confederacy who owned property in Union territory.
Effects of the Confiscation Acts
From the inception of the confiscation acts, President Lincoln and his attorney general, Edward Bates (1793–1869), a Missouri Republican, both lacked enthusiasm for seizing property of those loyal to the Confederacy. Lincoln and then Andrew Johnson (1808–1875) (who took over the presidency after Lincoln’s assassination) used their presidential power to pardon many individuals who would have been subjected to the provisions of the confiscation acts. In 1865 Johnson pardoned all southern citizens, except military officers and government officials, who would take an oath of allegiance to the Union. This presidential pardon restored property rights, excluding slaves, to all those owning property worth less than $20,000. As a result, little Confederate property in the North or the South was confiscated. Nevertheless, the confiscation acts had served to signal the serious and aggressive tenor of Union thinking against the South and against the institution of slavery as the Civil War got under way. These acts, the Emancipation Proclamation, and other wartime antislavery measures helped slaves desert their masters and find freedom. The U.S. Supreme Court eventually upheld the constitutionality of both confiscation acts in Miller v. United States (1870).
Morrill Land-Grant College Acts
The Morrill Act of 1862 (also known as the Land-Grant Act of 1862) was “an act donating public lands to the several states and territories which may provide colleges for the benefit of agriculture and mechanic arts.” The term mechanic arts is no longer used but today would refer to some fields of engineering. These colleges were to be designated by the state legislatures or by Congress and were called land-grant colleges. The Morrill Act of 1890 provided additional funding for all land-grant colleges except those that were racially discriminatory, unless they provided separate land-grant institutions for blacks. Additional legislation in more recent history supported land-grant colleges as well. One hundred five land-grant institutions exist today, with at least one in every state and territory of the United States, including the District of Columbia. Few still include the word college in their title; most are universities.
Higher Education for the “Working Man”
Sponsored by Senator Justin Smith Morrill (1810–1898) from Vermont, the Morrill Acts developed out of public demands for colleges for the “working man”—people in agriculture and industry. The curricula would focus not only on farming and technical education—areas of expertise that were essential to the future of the United States—but also on general sciences and classical studies so that students could obtain a broad yet practical education. Congress added military programs to the curricula of land-grant colleges to help train officers to fight in the Civil War (1861–1865), which was ongoing at the time. The promise of training future military leaders to help fight the war helped push this bill through Congress, as did the absence of Southern congressmen who previously did not support the bill.
The House and the Senate voted to grant more than eleven million acres of land to the states and territories—thirty thousand acres per state for each representative and senator in Congress in 1860. This land, or the proceeds from its sale, was to be used as an endowment toward establishing and funding the land-grant institutions: “That the monies so invested or loaned shall constitute a perpetual fund, the capital of which shall remain forever undiminished.” Most states used the funds to set up new colleges, whereas other states gave the funds to already existing colleges to set up new programs meeting Morrill Act guidelines.
The Status of Higher Education at the Time
At the time Senator Morrill introduced his land-grant bill to Congress, colleges in the United States focused on the classics and had been established to prepare students for the professions of religion, medicine, and law. They served primarily upper-class men who would likely become government leaders and professionals. However, most of the population during the mid-nineteenth century lived in rural areas and worked on farms. Illiteracy was common, and the economic situation of most people was discouraging. Land-grant colleges changed the face of higher education in the United States, bringing it within reach of poorer, working-class people and helping to lift them to higher levels of learning and economic productivity.
The Legacy of Land-Grant Institutions
The Morrill Act of 1862 and subsequent related legislation had a profound effect on U.S. higher education: land-grant institutions have played an important role in developing agriculture, veterinary medicine, home economics, engineering, and military training as fields of study. In addition, land-grant colleges fostered the development of state university systems and public institutions of higher learning. These institutions made education accessible and affordable. Today, land-grant colleges are still funded primarily by the federal and state governments, with only 10 percent of institutional funding coming from tuition and other fees paid by students.
National Banking Act of 1864
The National Banking Act of 1864, which replaced the legally defective National Currency Act of 1863, established a system of national banks, encouraged the development of a national currency, and established the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency (OCC) as part of the U.S. Department of the Treasury. The comptroller was the overseer of the new banking system. Through the National Banking Act the federal government raised money to fund the Union army during the Civil War (1861–1865).
Early Events Leading to the National Banking Act
After the Revolutionary War (1775–1783), banks were authorized by the states rather than by the federal government. These banks were neither well regulated nor well supervised. State banks issued their own currency, which was supposed to be backed by gold or silver held by the bank, but those holdings were often not sufficient to cover the currency in circulation.
Alexander Hamilton (1755–1804), one of the Founding Fathers who signed the U.S. Constitution, suggested that a national bank was needed to stabilize currency across the country and help pay the national debt incurred fighting the Revolutionary War. As a result, the First Bank of the United States came into existence in 1791, its twenty-year charter (documents of incorporation) drafted by Congress and signed by George Washington (1732–1799). The national bank performed well and helped stabilize the currency issued by state banks by demanding that bank notes be backed by gold and silver. Thus, the state banks were forced to issue only the amount of currency they could back. The bank raised money to pay the national debt by issuing loans and charging interest on those loans.
In 1811 the charter of the First Bank had to be renewed by Congress for the bank to continue operating. States’ rights advocates urged Congress not to do so, and the charter was not renewed. Consequently, the number of state-chartered banks nearly tripled within the next five years. However, with no national bank to demand gold and silver to back their currencies, state banks became lax once again with their practices and issued more currency than their gold and silver holdings could back.
To fix the problems of unstable and unreliable state bank currency, and the currency fraud that was rampant, Congress established the Second Bank of the United States in 1816. The twenty-year charter of the Second Bank allowed it to issue a national currency, which quickly became the preferred currency in the country. As did the First Bank, the Second Bank pressed the state banks to back their currency sufficiently with gold and silver. Southern and western banks resisted. In response, the Second Bank instructed northern banks to reject currency from southern and western banks that could not back up their money. Animosity toward the Second Bank grew within the southern and western state banking system.
This animosity was a key in the demise of the Second Bank, although the bank was successful in stabilizing currency. The Second Bank became an issue in the presidential election of 1832. Andrew Jackson (1767–1845), a southerner and opponent of central banking, promised to put an end to the Second Bank if reelected. After winning the presidential race, Jackson vetoed the charter renewal of the Second Bank, which operated until its charter expired in 1836. The bank then became a private institution, surviving through 1841.
The Civil War Creates a Near Financial Disaster
Left in the hands of state banks, currency became unstable and unreliable once again. The country limped along in this situation until the Civil War (1861–1865). The first year of the Civil War cost the federal government (the Union) a great deal of money, which it had to pay out in gold and silver, not in paper currency and coins that individuals used. The federal gold and silver reserves became depleted quickly. The reserves in state banks became depleted as well because individuals began hoarding the precious metals due to the war and the increasingly unreliable nature of paper currency and coins. Eventually, banks could no longer back their currency with gold and silver, and the Union was on the verge of a financial disaster. This grave situation seriously threatened the ability of the Union to continue the war.
The New York representative Elbridge G. Spaulding (1808–1897) suggested one remedy to help the situation: the government would issue its own paper currency. The paper currency would be considered fiat money—money that has legal tender status by order of the government. Legal tender is currency that, by law, cannot be refused in settlement of a debt denominated in the same currency. However, the Constitution empowered Congress only “to coin money,” so Congress debated the constitutionality of printing paper money and declaring it legal tender. Congress was also concerned that the issuance of national legal tender not backed by gold or silver would result in uncontrolled inflation (persistently rising prices). In response, Spaulding noted that extraordinary times called for extraordinary measures, convincing Congress to move forward with the plan.
The Establishment of a National Currency and Banking System
The Legal Tender Act of 1862 authorized the printing of U.S. notes, the first national currency. The notes were issued by the Department of the Treasury. Congress established a limitation of $300 million on the amount of U.S. notes outstanding and in circulation at that time. The notes were printed with green ink and on one side only, so they came to be known as greenbacks.
Congress also wanted to provide the government with the financial resources it needed to carry on the war and ensure the stability of the greenback. Once again, it turned to developing a national banking system, but this time there would be many banks, not just one. The National Banking Act of 1863 established a system of national charters for banks and created a new Office of the Comptroller of the Currency, which was housed in the Treasury and chartered, examined, and regulated the national banks. The government was able to raise money for the war by selling federal bonds to the national banks. The National Banking Act also established the greenback (the dollar) as the national currency. A later act imposed a 10 percent tax on the notes of state banks, which forced all nonfederal currency from circulation. State-chartered banks coexisted with national banks, creating a highly successful dual banking system that still exists today.
Freedmen’s Bureau Acts
The Freedmen’s Bureau Act (1865) created the Freedmen’s Bureau, a federal agency with the primary goal of assisting slaves in their transition from bondage to freedom after their emancipation during and after the Civil War (1861–1865). The first Freedmen’s Bureau Act established the Bureau of Refugees, Freedmen, and Abandoned Lands (the Freedmen’s Bureau) when the Civil War was drawing to a close in March 1865. Congress passed a second Freedmen’s Bureau Act in 1866, but President Andrew Johnson (1808–1875) vetoed the bill. Congress did not, however, garner enough votes to override the veto. This act would have provided many additional rights to the freed slaves (called freedmen), including the right to land, schools, and military courts. Most of these provisions were provided nonetheless, and renewal bills kept the Freedmen’s Bureau running for many years.
The Situation of Freedmen
More than four million slaves had been freed from Confederate states by the Confiscation Act of 1862 and the Emancipation Proclamation of 1863. As they fled the South during the Civil War, many sought out the Union forces for protection. Although the Confiscation Act of 1862 had declared that all slaves taking refuge behind Union lines were to be set free, there was nothing in place to care for these homeless, jobless, and penniless people. Union field commanders had a difficult time feeding, sheltering, and clothing them. Conditions were deplorable in the facilities they set up, and many former slaves died. Thus, in 1863 the War Department created an inquiry commission to suggest ways of caring for the former slaves. The result was the congressional establishment of the Freedmen’s Bureau.
The Work of the Bureau
Originally intended to exist for one year, the Freedmen’s Bureau was fully operational from June 1865 through December 1868 and continued some of its work through 1872. In July 1866 the bureau was reorganized under the War Department, which gave it military backing and allowed military courts to try civil rights violations against former slaves. General Oliver O. Howard (1830–1909) headed up the bureau and organized the former slave states into manageable districts.
The bureau distributed food and clothing and provided medical care to freed slaves and Southern white refugees. The bureau also built and staffed more than one thousand schools. The Freedmen’s Bureau also helped former slaves find jobs, negotiated terms of labor contracts, and investigated claims of unfair treatment. Nevertheless, the standardized labor contracts of the bureau generally provided conditions similar to slavery: former slaves worked in plantation fields in gangs with tight supervision, women and children worked along with the men, and the mobility and behavior of the freedmen were restricted.
The Power of the Bureau
As a result of its military ties, the Freedmen’s Bureau became one of the most powerful Reconstruction tools of the federal government. Although General Howard and the bureau were relatively successful in helping former slaves and war-devastated southerners find employment, health care, and education, they had less luck in setting up former slaves as landowners, which the bureau had hoped to do. President Johnson had restored most property taken in the war to its former owners, so there was little land available for distribution.
The bureau also wielded great political power. It gave favors to freedmen in exchange for their Republican votes and helped former slaves get elected to political office on the Republican ticket. The result was Republican dominance during the bureau years. However, the advancement of former slaves into positions of political power because of the bureau’s machinations also resulted in political rivalries that lasted well into the twentieth century.
Most of the work of the Freedmen’s Bureau was discontinued on July 1, 1869, because of funding problems, and its record of accomplishments is mixed. One area in which the bureau inarguably excelled was education. Its educational programs continued through 1872, and it helped establish many of the major black colleges in the United States. The agency is seen to have done a good job in promoting black rights but, ironically, it returned freedmen to plantation agriculture with slavelike conditions, ensuring the survival of the southern plantation economy and way of life. Land distribution to former slaves was a failure for the bureau, though it is generally considered to have been out of its control.
The Thirteenth, Fourteenth, and Fifteenth amendments to the U.S. Constitution, collectively called the Reconstruction Amendments, were all ratified between 1865 and 1870, during the Reconstruction era following the Civil War (1861–1865), and all three dealt with the rights of former slaves and blacks in the United States during that time. The Fourteenth and Fifteenth amendments have also been applied to race-based issues in more recent times.
What Each Amendment Did
The Thirteenth Amendment abolished slavery everywhere in the United States. It was passed by Congress on January 31, 1865, and was ratified (approved) by three-fourths of states on December 6, 1865. The southern states had not yet been restored to the Union, and President Abraham Lincoln (1809–1865) took an active role in ensuring the amendment’s passage. This amendment to the Constitution followed the Emancipation Proclamation, which in 1863 declared all slaves in Confederate areas overtaken by Union forces freed. As commander in chief of the Union forces, Lincoln was able to decree the freeing of slaves in the Confederacy and did not go beyond that. He did not want to provoke the ire of the border states, which he believed were crucial to the war effort. Freeing all slaves occurred after the war ended; it took a congressional act and state ratification. The Thirteenth Amendment was the constitutional solution to the issue of slavery.
The Fourteenth Amendment granted citizenship to freed slaves. It was passed by Congress on June 13, 1866, and ratified on July 9, 1868. This amendment proclaimed that all people born in the United States were U.S. citizens, overturning a central tenet of the Dred Scott v. Sanford case. In 1857 the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in the Dred Scott case that blacks of African descent were not U.S. citizens. The Fourteenth Amendment overturned this ruling and proclaimed that people not born in the United States, regardless of race, could become citizens (referred to as naturalized citizens). In addition, this amendment required state governments to provide equal protection under the law and to provide due process of the law (including, for example, a fair trial) to all people, not just to citizens, within their jurisdictions before a person could be deprived of “life, liberty, or property.” (The federal government is required to provide due process under the Fifth Amendment.)
The Fifteenth Amendment banned race-based voting qualifications, thereby granting freed male slaves the right to vote. It was passed by Congress on February 26, 1869, and ratified on February 3, 1870.
With this trio of constitutional amendments, slaves were freed, made citizens, and given civil rights. Black males were given the right to vote. However, the Fourteenth and Fifteenth amendments were the beginning, not the end, of the black struggle for civil rights in the United States.
Although blacks held political offices in many southern states through the 1880s, white supremacist organizations incited violence at the polls to prevent blacks from voting. As a result, Congress passed acts in 1870 and 1871 that gave the president the power to use federal troops to prevent the denial of voting rights. Violence declined, but intimidation tactics were successful in keeping many blacks from voting. In the early 1890s former Confederate states added voting conditions to their state constitutions, such as poll taxes and literacy tests, which deprived many blacks of their ability to vote. Moreover, as recently as the 1960s, discriminatory voting practices took place in many southern states. The Voting Rights Act of 1965, which was extended in 1970, 1975, and 1982, abolished all remaining voting practices that discriminated against blacks and authorized federal supervision of voter registration and voting where necessary.
In the 1950s the Fourteenth Amendment was shown, once again, to be an important piece of civil rights constitutional law when it was interpreted by the Supreme Court to prohibit racial segregation in public schools and other facilities.
Excerpts from the Reconstruction Amendments
Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction.
Section 1. All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they reside. No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.
Section 2. Representatives shall be apportioned among the several States according to their respective numbers, counting the whole number of persons in each State, excluding Indians not taxed. But when the right to vote at any election for the choice of electors for President and Vice-President of the United States, Representatives in Congress, the Executive and Judicial officers of a State, or the members of the Legislature thereof, is denied to any of the male inhabitants of such State, being twenty-one years of age, and citizens of the United States, or in any way abridged, except for participation in rebellion, or other crime, the basis of representation therein shall be reduced in the proportion which the number of such male citizens shall bear to the whole number of male citizens twenty-one years of age in such State.
Section 3. No person shall be a Senator or Representative in Congress, or elector of President and Vice-President, or hold any office, civil or military, under the United States, or under any State, who, having previously taken an oath, as a member of Congress, or as an officer of the United States, or as a member of any State legislature, or as an executive or judicial officer of any State, to support the Constitution of the United States, shall have engaged in insurrection or rebellion against the same, or given aid or comfort to the enemies thereof. But Congress may by a vote of two-thirds of each House, remove such disability.
Section 4. The validity of the public debt of the United States, authorized by law, including debts incurred for payment of pensions and bounties for services in suppressing insurrection or rebellion, shall not be questioned. But neither the United States nor any State shall assume or pay any debt or obligation incurred in aid of insurrection or rebellion against the United States, or any claim for the loss or emancipation of any slave; but all such debts, obligations and claims shall be held illegal and void.
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.
U.S. Const. amend. XIII, (1865), http://www.ourdocuments.gov/doc.php?doc=40&page=transcript; U.S. Const. amend. XIV, (1868), http://www.ourdocuments.gov/doc.php?doc=43&page=transcript; U.S. Const. amend. XV, (1870), http://www.ourdocuments.gov/doc.php?doc=44&page=transcript (accessed March 12, 2007).
Ex Parte Milligan
Ex parte Milligan (1866) was a U.S. Supreme Court case during post–Civil War Reconstruction in which the Court ruled on the question of whether civilians could be tried by a military court when civilian courts were still open and functioning. (Ex parte means “by or for one party.”) During the Civil War (1861–1865) the courts did not keep watch over the wartime policies of the administration of Abraham Lincoln (1809–1865), even if those policies interfered with civil liberties, because, as the Supreme Court noted in its decision, “the temper of the times did not allow that calmness in deliberation and discussion so necessary to a correct conclusion of a purely judicial question.” When the war ended, the Court was able to reflect “without passion” on the limits of governmental power and restrictions on civil liberties during a time of war. In Ex parte Milligan, the Court handed down a decision in 1866 that upheld the liberty of trial by jury. The Court ruled that military courts could not be used to try civilians when civil courts were operational. This ruling was significant in protecting the civil rights of nonmilitary people.
Background of the Case
The case of Lambdin P. Milligan (1812–1899) began with one of the liberties that Lincoln suspended during the war: the writ of habeas corpus (literally “you have the body”). This legal principle is an essential safeguard to individual liberty, guarding against wrongful imprisonment. It means that a person who is arrested or confined can ask the court to require the person holding him to justify why he is being held. The court decides whether the reason is sufficient to hold the person, and if not, frees the person. The writ of habeas corpus cannot be suspended except in time of war, rebellion, or when public safety necessitates it.
In the summer of 1864, near the end of the Civil War, the Indiana resident and civilian Lambdin P. Milligan was arrested by the military in his home and charged with conspiring against the United States, giving aid and comfort to the enemy, inciting insurrection, taking part in disloyal practices, and violating laws of war. Milligan was thought to be the state commander of the Sons of Liberty, an anti-Union organization that had plans to assassinate the governor of Indiana, free Confederate prisoners held in the North, and conduct other subversive activities. Weapons and incriminating documents were found in his home at the time of his arrest. Under these circumstances, Secretary of War Edwin Stanton (1814–1869) decided Milligan and other suspects in this conspiracy should be held and then tried in a court martial (military court) rather than in a civilian court. In doing so, Stanton went a good deal further than Lincoln had authorized when he suspended the writ of habeas corpus during wartime.
Milligan, who was never a part of the military, was tried before the military court, found guilty, and sentenced to be hanged. When the war was over and before the sentence was carried out, however, Milligan’s attorney appealed to the federal circuit court in Indiana for his release under a writ of habeas corpus. Milligan’s attorney wanted his client to be brought before the civilian court to determine whether he was serving a lawful sentence or should be released from custody. The federal circuit court was split on the question of whether civilian courts had jurisdiction over appeals from military courts, so the case went to the Supreme Court.
The Supreme Court Ruling
The Supreme Court heard the case and handed down its ruling in 1866. By a vote of five to four the Court said that civilians could not be tried by a military court so long as the civilian courts were operational. Lincoln’s suspension of the writ of habeas corpus during the Civil War meant that the military could arrest and indefinitely imprison civilians conducting activities against the Union as they had done with Milligan and his conspirators. The Court affirmed, however, the right of a civilian to be tried in a civilian court of law. The Court noted that “if this right is conceded, the dangers to human liberty are frightful to contemplate.” Milligan was released.
How Important Is the Ruling in Ex Parte Milligan?
The following is an excerpt from the Court opinion in Ex parte Milligan:
The importance of the main question presented by this record cannot be overstated, for it involves the very framework of the government and the fundamental principles of American liberty.… The controlling question in the case is this: upon the facts stated in Milligan’s petition and the exhibits filed, had the military commission mentioned in its jurisdiction legally to try and sentence him? … No graver question was ever considered by this court, nor one which more nearly concerns the rights of the whole people, for it is the birthright of every American citizen when charged with crime to be tried and punished according to law. The power of punishment is alone through the means which the laws have provided for that purpose, and, if they are ineffectual, there is an immunity from punishment, no matter how great an offender the individual may be or how much his crimes may have shocked the sense of justice of the country or endangered its safety. By the protection of the law, human rights are secured; withdraw that protection and they are at the mercy of wicked rulers or the clamor of an excited people. If there was law to justify this military trial, it is not our province to interfere; if there was not, it is our duty to declare the nullity of the whole proceedings. The decision of this question does not depend on argument or judicial precedents, numerous and highly illustrative as they are. These precedents inform us of the extent of the struggle to preserve liberty and to relieve those in civil life from military trials. The founders of our government were familiar with the history of that struggle, and secured in a written constitution every right which the people had wrested from power during a contest of ages. By that Constitution and the laws authorized by it, this question must be determined. The provisions of that instrument on the administration of criminal justice are too plain and direct to leave room for misconstruction or doubt of their true meaning. Those applicable to this case are found in that clause of the original Constitution which says “That the trial of all crimes, except in case of impeachment, shall be by jury,” and in the fourth, fifth, and sixth articles of the amendments.… These securities for personal liberty thus embodied were such as wisdom and experience had demonstrated to be necessary for the protection of those accused of crime. And so strong was the sense of the country of their importance, and so jealous were the people that these rights, highly prized, might be denied them by implication, that, when the original Constitution was proposed for adoption, it encountered severe opposition, and, but for the belief that it would be so amended as to embrace them, it would never have been ratified.
Ex Parte Milligan, 71 U.S. 2 (1866).
Named after its chief proponent and morals crusader, Anthony Comstock (1844–1915), the Comstock Act (1873) declared it illegal for “obscene, lewd, or lascivious” material to be sent through the U.S. mail. These “obscene” materials included not only pornographic and erotic literature and art but also contraceptive (birth control) devices or materials and abortion materials. Although the ban on contraceptives and contraceptive materials was declared unconstitutional in 1965, other aspects of the law were still in force in 2007 because the Comstock Act never had been repealed.
The Man behind the Act
Born and raised in New Canaan, Connecticut, Comstock was a devout Christian who fought for the Union forces during the Civil War (1861–1865). After the war Comstock moved to New York City and was influenced by his observations of city life, which he considered without morals. By the early 1870s Comstock began his crusade against obscenity by targeting booksellers who sold erotica. These activities and his lawsuit to suppress a book he deemed obscene brought him to the attention of the Young Men’s Christian Association (YMCA). The next year Comstock and his YMCA supporters founded the New York Society for the Suppression of Vice (SSV). The organization’s 1873 Act of Incorporation stated its objective as “[t]he enforcement of the laws for the suppression of the trade in and circulation of obscene literature and illustration, advertisements, and articles of indecent and immoral use as it is or may be forbidden by the laws of the State of New York or of the United States.” As founder and secretary of the SSV, Comstock could now more easily advance his antiobscenity agenda.
Provisions of the Comstock Act
Along with working to enforce the anti-abortion laws that were passed in the 1850s and 1860s, Comstock continued to target booksellers and publishers of books having erotic titles. He lobbied Congress for stronger obscenity laws and was the driving force behind the 1873 Act for the Suppression of Trade in, and Circulation of, Obscene Literature and Articles of Immoral Use, which came to be known as the Comstock Act. The law made it illegal to deliver or transport not only “obscene, lewd, or lascivious” material but also any “article of an immoral nature, or any drug or medicine, or any article whatever, for the prevention of conception, or for causing unlawful abortion” through the U.S. mail or across state lines. Comstock believed that marital sex was reserved for procreation and that the use of birth control devices would foster lewd acts. This belief was reflected in the Comstock legislation, which also reflected the beliefs of other morality crusaders.
The Comstock Act caused informational birth control pamphlets to be considered obscene and barred from the mail. Physicians also had difficulty publishing papers on the scientific aspects of contraception and were expected to refrain from providing contraceptive advice or products to their patients. The act was also used to prohibit sex education; to censor art and books; to prevent medical students from receiving certain medical textbooks through the mail; and to prevent people from receiving publications with sexual content, either entertaining or educational, in the mail. Violating the Comstock Act could result in six months to five years of imprisonment “at hard labor in the penitentiary” or a fine of $100 to $2,000. Married couples who used contraception could be arrested and imprisoned for one year.
Comstock Is Amended but Still Exists
The Comstock Act had a lasting negative effect on the medical profession and on personal rights. In 1912 Margaret Sanger (1879–1966), an activist who founded the organization that eventually became Planned Parenthood, challenged the Comstock Act by publishing informational pamphlets on contraception and opening a birth control clinic in New York City. In 1916 she was arrested, but the court’s decision at the end of her trial—that women were allowed to use birth control when medically necessary—amended the reach of the Comstock Act. Twenty years later another lawsuit amended Comstock in allowing doctors to distribute contraceptives across state lines. In 1965 the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that banning contraception was unconstitutional. However, in spite of the legislation amending the Comstock Act, it had not been repealed as of 2007, remaining on the books and still forbidding the use of the mail to distribute obscene material or information about abortion. The act’s constitutionality has been upheld many times on the grounds that the First Amendment (freedom of speech) does not protect “obscene” speech. The courts had not ruled on Comstock’s provisions regarding the distribution of abortion-related information as of 2007, but the act is no longer enforced in this regard.
Compromise of 1877
The Compromise of 1877 was an informal oral agreement between the Republican and Democratic political parties that settled the disputed presidential election of 1876. The agreement gave the election to the Republican Rutherford B. Hayes (1822–1893) in exchange for considerations that included the removal of federal troops from the former Confederate states. Troop removal allowed the final Republican-held state governments to fall and the Democratic Party to have a firm hold on all southern states.
Events Leading up to the Compromise of 1877
At the end of the Civil War in 1865, a program of Reconstruction was undertaken with the goals of bringing the country back together, readmitting Confederate states to the Union, restoring property, and helping the South shift from an economy based on slave labor to one without slaves. The Reconstruction process did not go smoothly; it was rife with political infighting between Congress and the president, and with more bitterness between the North and the South.
During the first years of Reconstruction (1863–1866), Congress felt that Presidents Abraham Lincoln’s (1809–1865) and Andrew Johnson’s (1808–1875) Reconstruction policies were too lenient toward the states that had seceded from the Union. Congress was angered at seeing many Confederate leaders returning to positions of influence and the passage of new southern laws called Black Codes that effectively returned many of the economic and social aspects of slavery to the South. The antislavery faction of the Republican Party (called Radical Republicans) held the power in Congress at this time and took over Reconstruction from the president in 1866. The Republican Congress passed a series of stringent laws that specified steps the former Confederate states had to take to reenter the Union and regain their representation in Congress. Republican governments were developed in the former Confederate states and were supported by the military.
The Radical Republicans controlled southern state governments from approximately 1866 to 1870. In 1868, however, the Republican Ulysses S. Grant (1822–1885) won the presidential election but did little to help the Reconstruction process. On the contrary, his administration was marked by corruption, and discontent began to simmer in the Republican Party. Grant was reelected in 1872, but by 1873 the Republicans no longer held the power they had once wielded in the South. A Democratic political movement known as Redemption had begun. The goal of the Redeemers was to place conservative (antiradical) authority back into the legal system and local government in the South.
By 1876 Republican governments existed in only three southern states: Louisiana, South Carolina, and Florida. In the presidential election of 1876 the Republican Rutherford B. Hayes, the governor of Ohio, ran against the Democrat Samuel J. Tilden (1814–1886), the governor of New York. Tilden won a majority of the popular vote, but the Electoral College vote was in dispute in the three Republican-held states. If the Republicans carried those states, Hayes would win the presidency. If Democrats carried the states, Tilden would win.
A Deal Is Struck
To solve the problem, the Republican Party struck a deal with the southern states’ election boards. If the election boards declared Hayes the winner in their states, the federal government would remove its troops and ignore southern infringements on the civil rights of former slaves that had been granted them by the Fifteenth Amendment. In addition, Hayes would name a prominent southerner to his cabinet.
The state election boards did their part, and a federal electoral commission affirmed their decision. Talks between leaders of both political parties resulted in the unwritten Compromise of 1877: Democratic leaders accepted Hayes’s election in exchange for the Republican promises. When the federal troops were withdrawn, the Republican governments in Florida, Louisiana, and South Carolina collapsed. Democrats controlled every southern state, and Reconstruction formally ended. The Republican Party abandoned the southern blacks and would not interfere in southern affairs as it had in the past, allowing institutional racism to continue in the South.
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