Reconstruction Period and America’s Fundamental Developments after the Civil War


American history before the turn of the 19th century depicts a struggling nation, which after attaining independence still lacked a lot in comparison to other nations of the world. Prior to the 1870s, America experienced many turbulent times culminating in the civil war (1860-1865) which necessitated rebuilding of the country, finally ending with the signing of the compromise after the disputed elections of 1876 The period between 1850 and 1877 is of particular significance to the country’s latter progress. These challenges in unison, served to keep the nation out of track in regard to socio-economic and political development, and further amplified divergent perspectives between the country’s differing states and their leaders. The United States of America could not progress as a nation without unity within its borders. In the build up to the year 1877, the country underwent critical changes that later defined the course of the country’s future progress. The reconstruction period following the American civil war, is a significant time of America’s history that served to introduce vital changes in the country’s social, political and economic developments.

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Background (1800-1860)

Social Conditions Prior To the American Civil War

From the period of 1850 to 1860, majority of debates in the country’s congress were centered on the issue of slavery. With the Southern states almost entirely dependent on human labor provide by slaves unlike the Northern states, the issue was bound to cause great disparity between the two sides. Southern states viewed slavery as an institution that afforded the region economic power through provision of manpower in agriculture. Abolition of slavery would consequently curtail agriculture, the south’s main source of income and choke the region’s cotton, sugarcane and tobacco production. Election of a vocal supporter of abolition Abraham Lincoln as the country’s president and union leader, subsequently led to secession of southern states; a move that gradually led to the civil war. Advent of the war brought huge changes, which benefited the low social class in spite of the war’s devastating effects on the country’s economic development and internal relationship. Abolition was to have great implication on the country’s social development and further ensure integration of its diverse cultural and ethnic groups.

Politics before the Civil War

Political differences within the country caused divisions which negated all efforts of attaining unity. Many of the political debates before the civil war, centered on agriculture and slavery, with support termination of slave labor being advanced by a growing number of abolitionists. This was a sector which had cross-cutting effect on all political issues arising within the states, as well as matters at the national level. Congressmen were divided on whether to abolish or further perpetuate the practice of slave labor which facilitated agriculture in the south.  Moreover, the underlying political issue prior to the civil war concerned the balance of power between the federal government and the independent states. Established under the country’s constitution, the federal government faced huge opposition especially by the southern states culminating in secession.

State of the National Economy before 1860

The American economy prior to the war had experienced immense growth. This has been attributed to “population growth, the development of export markets and technological advances according to Klose and Jones. Human population in 1790 was estimated at a total of 4 million, which later arose to 9 million in 1815. United States had a population of about 23 million by 1850. This enhanced economic growth particularly through agriculture, the country’s chief income earner. Rises in population were as a result of natural causes, which were however augmented by huge numbers of immigrants from Europe. These added to the nation’s human resource, a factor that supported the rapid developments witnessed as a result of industrial revolution. The north was more mechanized and relied on relatively advanced technologies in their production contrary to their southern counterparts who heavily relied on man power from slaves.

Before the civil war, the country’s economic influence and development were unevenly spread, with disparities between the southern and northern states. The American civil war and the resulting period of reconstruction changed this aspect of the country’s economy. In the south cotton brought huge profits to the producers and dominated the region’s economy, especially after the “war of 1812 came to its conclusion.”Sugar cane plantations in southern Louisiana served to supply a huge section of the national demand, further adding to stability of the southern economy. However, these agricultural productions together with rice and corn plantations relied on slave labor. The northern economy in similar fashion depended on agriculture as its driving factor with reliance on livestock and production of grain. However, the northerners relied on mechanized production rather than slave labor.

American Civil War (1860-1865)

Perceived by historians as the most violent era of American history, the American civil war left great devastation on the young nation. Effects from the war left a large section of the country in dire economic situation unperceivable before the war. A large population of young men was decimated and all economic developments in the country’s economic hubs abandoned for a significant duration of time. With much of the attention focused on the war, the country’s development was put on hold, for much of the time between 1860 and 1865. On the contrary, it can be seen that the war allowed nation’s leader to solve much of the festering differences between the north and southern states. Simmering differences brought by divergent views on many national issues threatened to tear the union apart. This would have not only happened between the north and south states but would have also set a precedent for other regional states that felt dissatisfied by the federal government’s actions. In view of the magnitude of challenges that faced the country due to the unsolved issues on the social, economic and political fronts, the civil war led to social, political and economic reforms that saw the nation progress as a united country. American civil war does not only depict the country’s triumph over slavery and internal strives, but also the beginning of the country’s chapter on reconstruction and future development in all aspects. After the war came reconstruction period whose intended aim of rebuilding the nation, led to growth in the United States’ social, economics and political landscape. Greater attention was given to rebuilding the south which was majorly affected in all aspects of development, and the life of its people.

Reconstruction Period (1865-1877)

With the end of the civil war, came the necessary period of reconstruction. This period covered the rebuilding of the ravaged southern states beginning from 1863’s emancipation proclamation by President Abraham Lincoln. Reconstruction of the nation followed the end of the civil war in 1865. Focus was given to bridging the gaps in ideologies between the south and northern states as well as forging a unity within the country for social, economic and political progress.The year 1877 is significant in the American history as it marked the end of the reconstruction period following the American civil war. Reconstruction came to a close with the compromise of 1877 signed between the differing republican and democratic parties.

Social reforms

Emancipation of the American slaves, mostly African Americans, resulted during this period under the thirteenth amendment following President Abraham Lincoln’s “Proclamation of Amnesty and Reconstruction on December 1863.”This was further bolstered by the introduction of the fourteenth amendment assuring equal rights to all Americans citizen irrespective of color and class. From these laws, the black slaves experienced increased freedom, which was further reinforced by the fifteenth amendment on the right to vote. In spite of the continued frustration of these rights in the southern states, these liberating laws fortified social integrating of country’s ethnic and cultural groups; a factor that played a great role in socio-economic development of the United States. Introduction and enforcement of principle of equality in the rights afforded all Americans guaranteed all social, cultural and ethnic groups, in addition to the black slaves, the right to be involved in the running of the nation. Guaranteeing rights to marginalized groups by the federal government was a key effect from this period whose influence, however gradual, led to enhanced social stability with the inclusion of individuals from diverse social backgrounds as American citizens.According to Ford, “in the 1870s African Americans held elective offices at almost every level of government.”

Political reforms

With the evident political differences between the differing sides of the war, there was great need to bridge these gaps among political leaders from these states. Furthermore, a change in the political ideologies was of essence, serving to bring together the divergent views of both the south and northern states. Political interference of the federal government in the running of the southern states gradually came to halt under the administration of Ulysses Grant. This move served to dissipate political differences between the regions and further facilitate reforms towards unification of the nation.It was however noted southern political leaders harbored dislike to the black Americans’ right to vote for leaders and hold political offices. At the termination of the reconstruction effort, the federal government and southern states had made tremendous advances in forging unity in most areas excluding a few issues including slave labor and political rights afforded to black Americans.

Economic reforms

As pointed out by Ford the economy of the country during and after the civil war was n ruins, and more so in the American south. In spite of the little changes to the economy made in the early years of reconstruction, economic growth indicated in the later years of the century are perceived as having their origins in the period. Furthermore, the rebuilding programs facilitated stronger economic links between the states despite differences with the national government’s policies. Economic developments of the latter years after this period shown by the improvements in the conditions of the southern states, was facilitated by the rebuilding reforms made by the federal administration. These included fostering the economic lives of the African American beginning the country’s journey towards equality in socio-economic conditions.


Following the civil war, the reconstruction period focused on providing solutions to the challenges facing the nation. These included reconstructing the south after the war and ensuring these states were integrated into the union’s rather than allowing for their secession. Other historians have pointed out the reconstruction period as being retrogressive and a failure in its attempt to forge unity and assure liberty to the slaves. In spite of some of the inadequacies that were not met by its programs, this period brought beneficial changes to the United States of America as seen in the effects the period had on the social, economic and political scene.

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