AP US HISTORY EXAM REVIEW

The Civil War and Reconstruction


*Westward expansion has always been a mixed blessing for America.  The Frontier offered free land, opportunity, and a chance to experience the creation of democracy, but it also brought conflict with American Indians and increasingly controversy over the spread of slavery.

*Starting with the Northwest Ordinance of 1787 which forbade slavery in new states created in the Northwest, the creation of new states had included questions about slavery.  However, there was enough land south of the Ohio River that the balance between slave and free states in the Union (and specifically in the Senate) could be maintained until 1820.

*In that year, the residents of Missouri sought statehood with a constitution that permitted slavery.  A growing anti-slavery movement in the North, which had gradually abolished slavery in the decades after the Revolution, led many Congressmen to oppose Missouri statehood unless it banned slavery.  The South was outraged and sectional divisions emerged, which Thomas Jefferson described as a ‘firebell in the night.’

*Eventually, Henry Clay helped craft a compromise that allowed Missouri to become a slave state, balanced by the free state of Maine.  To make all future settlement clear and uncontroversial, it was determined that all new states south of Missouri’s southern border would allow slavery and those north of it would not permit it.  This compromise lasted, under increasing strain, for thirty years.

*The Anti-Slavery movement in America was largely inspired by a Christian belief in its immorality, starting with the Quakers in the colonial period.  During the Second Great Awakening, more and more Christians (mostly in the North, but also the Grimke sisters in the South) began to question how, if all Christians were brothers and sisters in Christ, they could enslave their brothers and sisters.  Indeed, one of the great slogans of the Anti-Slavery movement was ‘Ain’t I a Man and a Brother’ (and ‘Ain’t I a Woman and a Sister’).  Besides, the story of Moses was one of liberation from slavery.

*Southern ministers countered that the Bible did permit slavery and even told slaves to obey their masters.  They even said the Black race had been cursed to be servants to other races by the sins of their ancestor Ham. 

*In the South, Black ministers came to be carefully regulated, out of concern they would preach less about slaves obeying their masters that and too much about Moses.  This was particularly the case after the slave preacher Nat Turner organised a rebellion in Virginia in 1831.

*In Turner’s Rebellion, 70 slaves attacked white families and killed over 50 white men, women, and children.  Eventually the local militia captured and hanged Turner and about 20 of his followers.  Other angry whites rioted, and killed about an hundred more Blacks, none of whom had (probably) had anything to do with the rebellion.

*Soon Southern states began to make slave codes harsher, limit the already limited rights of slaves and free Blacks, and even prohibited the US Post Office from delivering mail from the North that had anti-slavery literature in it.

*Over time, Southerners even came to argue that their Peculiar Institution was not merely a necessary evil, but a positive good, protecting African-Americans, giving them useful employment, and converting them to Christianity.  Particularly radical Southerners came to be called Fire-Eaters by the 1850s and they came to feel that the North was trying to destroy their entire way of life.

*In the North, the most radical members of the Anti-Slavery movement were Abolitionists, whereas others wanted voluntary manumission (and perhaps the colonisation of freedmen to Africa or Latin American), but most simply wanted Free Soil, to keep slavery out of new territories (since the Constitution seemed to protect slavery where it existed).

*The Free Soil movement—and eventually the Free Soil Party formed in 1848--made Westward expansion more controversial in the 1840s.  The final straw was California’s request to become a state in 1850.  Despite being partly above the Missouri Compromise Line and partly below it, California wanted to be one entirely free state.

*This led to conflict in Congress as it would throw out the Missouri Compromise and unbalance the Senate to the advantage of the North.  Following a pro-slavery speech by an ailing John C. Calhoun and a passionate pro-Union speech by Daniel Webster, Henry Clay managed to create the Compromise of 1850.

*This allowed California to become a free state, Washington, D.C. to outlaw the slave trade (but not slavery), and created a stronger Fugitive Slave Law, requiring northern government officials to help return escaped slaves. 

*The North deeply resented being turned into slave-catchers and refused to enforce the law in many cases, which the South saw as a betrayal of their acceptance of California as a Free State.

*In the 1850s, compromise began to fail and the Second Two-Party System of broad, national parties fell apart.  The Whigs, split over slavery, fell apart, with anti-Slavery Northern Whigs eventually forming the Republican Party in 1854.  The Democrats tried to hold together, with pro-slavery Northern Democrats (nicknamed ‘Doughfaces’) trying to accommodate the South.

*Still, there were attempts at compromise.  When politicians supportive of Western expansion wanted to make Kansas and Nebraska into states (to promote the construction of a transcontinental railroad through the region), Southerners wanted to allow slavery there.  Stephen Douglass then create the Kansas-Nebraska Act allowing popular sovereignty (the vote of the people) to determine if slavery would be allowed in those territories north of the Missouri Compromise line.

*Pro- and Anti-Slavery groups rushed to Kansas and fought each other for years in Bleeding Kansas.  Eventually a constitution making Kansas a free state was approved by Congress, but not without years of bloodshed by both sides that was supported by many people outside of Kansas who sent money and weapons there.  This was seen as another assault on the South by Fire-Eaters, but the mere offer of Popular Sovereignty was seen as a concession to the South by Free Soilers and Abolitionists.

*During Bleeding Kansas, there was even fighting in Congress.  Representative Preston Brooks nearly beat Senator Charles Sumner to death with his cane for criticising Brooks’s uncle, a Senator from South Carolina, in an Anti-Slavery speech in the Senate.

*In 1857, the Supreme Court made the Dred Scott decision, determining that a slave taken to free states did not automatically become free, essentially abolishing the concept of a Free State.  This infuriated Northerners, who felt that the Court was pro-slavery, just like the Doughface presidents of the time (Pierce and Buchanan). 

*In 1858, Douglass and Abraham Lincoln had a series of debates over the expansion of slavery (among other topics) while both were campaigning for the Senate and Illinois.  Although Douglass won the seat, Lincoln became nationally prominent as an opponent of slavery.

*In 1859, John Brown, who had murdered pro-slavery men in Kansas, took over the Federal arsenal in Harper’s Ferry, [West] Virginia.  He hoped to use the weapons there to support a slave insurrection in the South.  He was captured and executed, but many Northerners agreed with his motives, if not his methods, which in turn angered Southerners, increasing the distrust of each region for the other.

*In 1860, the traditional political factions were split.  The Democrats split into Northern and Southern factions, who nominated both Stephen Douglass and John C. Breckinridge for president.  Old Southern Whigs formed the Constitutional Union Party, and nominated John Bell.  The Republicans (Northern Whigs, Know-Nothings, Free Soil men, and some Democrats) nominated Abraham Lincoln, who won with only 40% of the popular vote and no votes at all in most Southern states.

*Although Lincoln insisted he would not interfere with slavery where it existed, Southerners did not believe him, and in any case worried that if a Republican could win without any Southern votes, the South would have no protection from future attacks on their Peculiar Institution. 

*On 20 December, 1860, South Carolina seceded from the Union.  Over the next two months, 6 other Southern states followed, forming the Confederate States of America under the presidency of Jefferson Davis. 

*The first battle of the war was at Fort Sumter in Charleston, South Carolina, on 12-13 April, 1861.  The United States surrendered the fort after 34 hours.  Afterwards, Lincoln called for 75,000 volunteer soldiers to suppress the rebellion, and four more Southern states, who had not really wanted to leave the Union but were unwilling to use force to keep others in, seceded, too.  The other four slave states considered secession, but did not do it (although there was violence in them, too).  Soon, West Virginia seceded from Virginia in order to remain in the Union.

*The North won the war due to its larger population, much greater industrial and food production, its blockade of the South in the Anaconda Plan, and the inability of the South to attract significant foreign support due to British opposition to slavery.

*The War began over the issue of States Rights versus the power of the Federal government to preserve the Union.  Following the battle of Antietam in 1862 and the Emancipation Proclamation of 1 January, 1863, the war became openly about slavery, and this inspired many Northerners (although it also angered some) and kept Britain (and thus other European powers) out of the war.

*Also in 1863, Ulysses S. Grant’s capture of Vicksburg gave the Union control of the Mississippi River and the battle of Gettysburg kept the South from invading the North.  In 1864 and early 1865, Sherman burned much of Georgia and South Carolina to terrorise the South while Grant wore down Lee’s army in Virginia with his superior numbers and refusal to quit in the face of terrible casualties.  Most Confederate forces surrendered in 1865, most famously Lee’s army at Appomattox Courthouse.

*Just a few days after Lee’s surrender, Lincoln was assassinated, and the Reconstruction of the South that followed would be much less lenient than he had probably planned for it to be.

*Although Vice-President Andrew Johnson (of Tennessee), also planned to be pretty lenient with the South, allowing Southerners to govern themselves as soon as they swore loyalty to the Union and wrote constitutions outlawing slavery.  All of them did, wrote ‘black codes’ much like the old slave codes, and elected former Confederate leaders to Congress.

*However, Radical Republicans in Congress wanted much harsher treatment of the South and a true Reconstruction of Southern Society to protect the former slaves newly freed by the XIII Amendment in 1865. 

*Conflict over Reconstruction led to Andrew Johnson’s impeachment (but not removal from office) in 1868.  For the rest of the century, Congress would be more influential than the president in many ways.

*Under Congressional (or Radical) Reconstruction, the US Army occupied the South, prevented former Confederates (most white men) from voting, and helped Freedmen to exercise the rights of citizenship (guaranteed to everyone born in the US by the XIV Amendment ratified in 1868) and the vote, first put into Southern state constitutions by carpetbagger governments and then required nationwide in 1870 by the XV Amendment.

*In response some Southerners opposed Reconstruction with violence, forming resistance groups such as the Ku Klux Klan to attack freedmen and whites supportive of Reconstruction.  In 1870-71, President Grant used the army to crush the Klan.

*Over time, though, the North grew tired of enforcing Reconstruction and white Southerners slowly regained the vote as the army was withdrawn from the South one state at a time.  When the election of 1876 was disputed, the Compromise of 1877 accepted the Republican Hayes as president and he shortly afterwards removed the last Federal troops from the South.

*Black codes were re-created once more, segregating public places, limiting the right of African-American to meet in large groups or after dark, outlawing vagrancy (unemployment), making it hard to purchase land at all, especially in town, forcing many to stay on the farm and forcing many to sign labour contracts in which they were paid once a year.  Many African-Americans convicted of crimes (real or imagined) were then leased out to local farmers and businessmen as convict labourers.  Voting restrictions such as the poll tax and literacy tests became common to essentially nullify the XV Amendment.

*In 1896, the case of Plessy v. Fergusson declared separate but equal segregation to be legal, as the North fully turned a blind eye towards discrimination in the South, leading many to deem Reconstruction a failure.



This page last updated 15 April, 2016.
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