History Podcasts

Sectional Controversy, Civil War and Reconstruction

Sectional Controversy, Civil War and Reconstruction

Sectional ControversyFor a few years following the Compromise of 1850 it appeared that the issue of the expansion of slavery had been effectively addressed. Slowly, however, the question began to creep back into the national consciousness.Slavery was effectively ignored by the major parties in the Election of 1852, but the joint issues of California, the railroads, and the Gadsden Purchase ended the short-lived serenity. The Kansas-Nebraska Act ignited tensions resulting in “Bleeding Kansas.”The Election of 1856 brought James Buchanan to the presidency. He wrongly interpreted the Dred Scott case as a solution to the expansion of the slavery issue. Sectional issues were also aired in the Lincoln-Douglas debates in Illinois. The degree to which the nation had fractured was evident in the reactions to the events at Harper`s Ferry in 1859; the slavery issue was interpreted vastly differently in the North and South.The Election of 1860 ushered in the presidency of Abraham Lincoln, but also touched off a secession crisis and the formation of the Confederacy. Efforts to compromise failed. The first shots of the Civil War were exchanged at Fort Sumter in April 1861.At the outbreak of war the opposing sides possessed starkly differing aims, strategies and prospects.The Civil WarThe Union plan for victory included three components:1. A blockade of the South – an effort to deny supplies from and trade with outside sources; it appeared for a while that Britain was receptive to Confederate aims in the construction of the Alabama, which preyed upon Union shipping; France toyed with recognition of the South, but contented itself with an invasion of Mexico.2. A move to split the Confederacy in two – beginning with U.S. Grant’s victories at Forts Henry and Donelson in February 1862. The Civil War in the West continued with New Orleans, guardian of the mouth of the Mississippi, falling to Union forces in April. Both sides suffered heavy casualties at Shiloh. The West was sealed off from the remainder of the Confederacy following the Union victory at Vicksburg in July 1863. Northern forces began a thrust into enemy territory in the Chattanooga Campaign and later in the Atlanta Campaign. William T. Sherman’s “March to the Sea” ended with the occupation of Savannah in late 1864.3. A campaign to capture Richmond, the Confederate capital, required nearly the entire course of the war to accomplish, due in large part to Robert E. Lee`s skillful maneuvers. The First Battle of Bull Run showed that the conflict would not be won easily. In the spring of 1862, Union General George B. McClellan opened a lackluster Peninsular Campaign, which was intended to take Richmond. A Confederate victory at the Second Battle of Bull Run opened the door to an invasion into Maryland. A long-awaited Union victory occurred at Antietam, providing a morale boost for the North and an opportunity for Lincoln to announce his Emancipation Proclamation. Fortunes again turned in favor of the South in a stunning victory at Fredericksburg. In 1863 the Confederates won a costly victory at Chancellorsville, but their northward push ended at Gettysburg in July. A war of attrition took place in the Wilderness Campaign. The Siege of Petersburg and the fall of Richmond occurred in early April 1865. Lee surrendered on April 9. Less than a week later President Lincoln was assassinated.ReconstructionReconstruction was the period in American history immediately following the Civil War during which the South was, at least in theory, put back together. Reconstruction also had a social context which lasted much longer and mixed the contending forces of blacks and whites, and federal and local governments.Not surprisingly the war had created two different nations; the social and economic conditions of North and South were vastly different in 1865.Even before the war had ended, various Reconstruction Plans were advanced. As soon as peace was achieved, the Radical Republicans in Congress imposed Republican governments on the seceded states; these unpopular state and local regimes depended upon black votes to survive. Political tensions were intense on the national level and eventually resulted in the Impeachment of Andrew Johnson. The Election of 1868 brought U.S. Grant, the Union war hero, to the presidency; his terms in office marked the beginning of a Republican ascendancy in American politics.

The African American Odyssey: A Quest for Full Citizenship The Civil War

Abraham Lincoln's election led to secession and secession to war. When the Union soldiers entered the South, thousands of African Americans fled from their owners to Union camps. The Union officers did not immediately receive an official order on how to manage this addition to their numbers. Some sought to return the slaves to their owners, but others kept the blacks within their lines and dubbed them &ldquocontraband of war.&rdquo Many &ldquocontrabands&rdquo greatly aided the war effort with their labor.

After Lincoln's Emancipation Proclamation, which was effective on January 1, 1863, black soldiers were officially allowed to participate in the war. The Library of Congress holds histories and pictures of most of the regiments of the United States Colored Troops as well as manuscript and published accounts by African American soldiers and their white officers, documenting their participation in the successful Union effort. Both blacks and whites were outspoken about questions of race, civil rights, and full equality for the newly-freed population during the Civil War era.

Emancipated blacks were forced to begin their trek to full equality without the aid of &ldquoforty acres and a mule,&rdquo which many believed had been promised to them. The Library's collection records the new steps towards freedom on the part of the African American community, especially in the areas of employment, education, and politics. There is also an abundance of books, photographs, diaries, and manuscripts about many aspects of slave life and culture, such as the development of the &ldquoNegro Spiritual&rdquo and the role played by the United States Colored Troops in the South and the West.

Sectional Controversy, Civil War and Reconstruction - History


Reconstruction, one of the most turbulent and controversial eras in American history, began during the Civil War and ended in 1877. It witnessed America's first experiment in interracial democracy. Just as the fate of slavery was central to the meaning of the Civil War, so the divisive politics of Reconstruction turned on the status the former slaves would assume in the reunited nation. Reconstruction remains relevant today because the issues central to it -- the role of the federal government in protecting citizens' rights, and the possibility of economic and racial justice -- are still unresolved.

Northern victory in the Civil War decided the fate of the Union and of slavery, but posed numerous problems. How should the nation be reunited? What system of labor should replace slavery? What would be the status of the former slaves?

Central to Reconstruction was the effort of former slaves to breathe full meaning into their newly acquired freedom, and to claim their rights as citizens. Rather than passive victims of the actions of others, African Americans were active agents in shaping Reconstruction.

After rejecting the Reconstruction plan of President Andrew Johnson, the Republican Congress enacted laws and Constitutional amendments that empowered the federal government to enforce the principle of equal rights, and gave black Southerners the right to vote and hold office. The new Southern governments confronted violent opposition from the Ku Klux Klan and similar groups. In time, the North abandoned its commitment to protect the rights of the former slaves, Reconstruction came to an end, and white supremacy was restored throughout the South.

For much of this century, Reconstruction was widely viewed as an era of corruption and misgovernment, supposedly caused by allowing blacks to take part in politics. This interpretation helped to justify the South's system of racial segregation and denying the vote to blacks, which survived into the 1960s. Today, as a result of extensive new research and profound changes in American race relations, historians view Reconstruction far more favorably, as a time of genuine progress for former slaves and the South as a whole.

For all Americans, Reconstruction was a time of fundamental social, economic, and political change. The overthrow of Reconstruction left to future generations the troublesome problem of racial justice.

The Growing Crisis of Sectionalism in Antebellum America: A House Dividing

"The New Cabinetmaker" was printed on February 2, 1861.

"Our political problem now is 'Can we, as a nation, continue together permanently—forever—half slave, and half free?' The problem is too mighty for me. May God, in his mercy, superintend the solution."

—Abraham Lincoln to George Robertson, August 15, 1855

In this unit, students will trace the development of sectionalism in the United States as it was driven by the growing dependence upon, and defense of, black slavery in the southern states. Initially seen as contrary to freedom but tolerated in order to produce the U.S. Constitution, by the 1830s the "peculiar institution" found advocates who saw it as a "positive good." Its expansion into Missouri, southern outrage over federal tariffs, and westward expansion into new territory produced a volatile and persistent debate over slavery that increasingly threatened to divide the American union. By 1860, the nation found an old Democratic Party split over the right to extend slavery into federal territory, and a new Republican Party nominating an anti-slavery, though not abolitionist, president. When Abraham Lincoln's election produced no national consensus to settle the matter of slavery's future, a southern "secession" sealed the fate of the Union.

What characterized the debates over American slavery and the power of the federal government for the first half of the 19th century? How did regional economies and political events produce a widening split between free and slaveholding states in antebellum America? Who were the key figures and what were their arguments regarding the legitimacy of slavery and the proper role of the national government in resolving its future in the American republic? This unit of study will equip students to answer these questions through the use of interactive maps, primary texts, and comparative biographies.

Guiding Questions

How did the Missouri Compromise of 1820 and the Nullification Crisis a decade later illustrate the widening divide between northern and southern states?

What were the leading arguments against slavery in the antebellum era and why did slaveholders defend the "peculiar institution"?

Were Abraham Lincoln's political views unique by comparison with defenders of immediate abolition, popular sovereignty, and national slavery?

What did the Election of 1860 mean for sectionalism and national politics

Learning Objectives

Use maps of the 1820 Missouri Compromise and the 1854 Kansas-Nebraska Act to understand political and economic changes in the U.S. and why those changes provoked a debate over the expansion of slavery in America.

Examine the arguments forwarded by opponents and defenders of slavery.

Analyze the economic arguments used within the debate regarding slavery.

Examine Lincoln's moral beliefs led him to the conclusion that Congress should use its authority to restrict slavery from the territories.

Analyze the reasons given for and against the morality and legitimacy of slavery under the U.S. Constitution.

Analyze the platforms of the political parties during the 1860 election.

Evaluate the solutions proposed by Abraham Lincoln, William Lloyd Garrison, Frederick Douglass, Stephen Douglas, Jefferson Davis, and William Lowndes Yancey.

Analyze Lincoln's argument regarding the Constitutional and Congressional authority to prohibit slavery in the territories.

Predict the short and long term consequences of the election of 1860 in relation to slavery and the preservation of the nation.

The Civil War and Reconstruction Era, 1845-1877

This course explores the causes, course, and consequences of the American Civil War, from the 1840s to 1877. The primary goal of the course is to understand the multiple meanings of a transforming event in American history. Those meanings may be defined in many ways: national, sectional, racial, constitutional, individual, social, intellectual, or moral. Four broad themes are closely examined: the crisis of union and disunion in an expanding republic slavery, race, and emancipation as national problem, personal experience, and social process the experience of modern, total war for individuals and society and the political and social challenges of Reconstruction.

This Yale College course, taught on campus twice per week for 50 minutes, was recorded for Open Yale Courses in Spring 2008.


This course explores the causes, course, and consequences of the American Civil War, from the 1840s to 1877. The primary goal of the course is to understand the multiple meanings of a transforming event in American history. Those meanings may be defined in many ways: national, sectional, racial, constitutional, individual, social, intellectual, or moral. Four broad themes are closely examined: the crisis of union and disunion in an expanding republic slavery, race, and emancipation as national problem, personal experience, and social process the experience of modern, total war for individuals and society and the political and social challenges of Reconstruction.

Bruce Levine, Half Slave and Half Free: The Roots of the Civil War. Hill and Wang.

David Blight, Why the Civil War Came. New York: Oxford University.

Charles R. Dew, Apostles of Disunion: Southern Secession Commissioners and the Causes of the Civil War. University of Virginia Press.

Drew G. Faust, Mothers of Invention: Women of the Slaveholding South in the American Civil War. University of North Carolina Press.

E. L. Doctorow, The March. Random House.

Eric Foner, A Short History of Reconstruction, 1863-1877. Harper & Row.

Frederick Douglass, Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, An American Slave, ed. by David W. Blight. Bedford Books.

Gary Gallagher, The Confederate War: How Popular Will, Nationalism, and Military Strategy Could Not Stave Off Defeat.Harvard University Press.

James M. McPherson, Battle Cry of Freedom. Oxford University Press.

Louisa May Alcott, Hospital Sketches, ed. by Alice Fahs. Bedford Books.

Michael P. Johnson, ed., Abraham Lincoln, Slavery, and the Civil War. Bedford Books.

Nicholas Lemann, Redemption: The Last Battle of the Civil War. Farrar Strauss Giroux.

William Gienapp, ed., Civil War and Reconstruction: A Documentary Collection. Norton.

We are using two anthologies of documents (Gienapp and Johnson). Teaching Assistants will have discretion in assigning particular documents for each week’s sections, and many such documents will be especially important for use in paper assignments. James McPherson’s Battle Cry of Freedom: The Civil War Era is provided largely as background reading. For further background reading on the post-war period you may want to consult David W. Blight, Race and Reunion: The Civil War In American Memory.


Films will be scheduled during the course: especially several episodes of the PBS series, “The Civil War.” The film, “Reconstruction: America’s Unfinished Civil War,” will also be assigned. Selections of Civil War era poetry may also be provided at times during the course.

There will be two required papers of 5-6 pages each. Choices of topics and readings will be provided in each of two broad categories or sections of the course: 1) antebellum society and Civil War causation and, 2) the military, political, and social meanings of the Civil War itself. The challenges, accomplishments, and failures of the Reconstruction era will be a significant part of a scheduled, final examination during finals week.

Paper 1: 30%
Paper 2: 30%
Final exam: 30%
Discussion section attendance and participation: 10%

Unit Outline

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If you click on the "Open in Google Docs" button below and can view the document, then you already have access.

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You will need to provide your official school email address AND a Google email address. In some cases, these will be the same email account. You will only need to fill the form out once to gain access to all of the assessments and teacher materials in the curriculum.

After you fill out the form, you will receive notification that you have been added to a Google Group called "New Visions Social Studies Assessments Access." Once you receive that notification, you can access all of the assessments through the New Visions Social Studies Curriculum website, but you must be logged into the Google account you provided in the form to view the assessments.

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Options include: Cause / Effect, Turning Point, Similarity / Difference, Audience, Purpose, Bias

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You will need to provide your official school email address AND a Google email address. In some cases, these will be the same email account. You will only need to fill the form out once to gain access to all of the assessments and teacher materials in the curriculum.

After you fill out the form, you will receive notification that you have been added to a Google Group called "New Visions Social Studies Assessments Access." Once you receive that notification, you can access all of the assessments through the New Visions Social Studies Curriculum website, but you must be logged into the Google account you provided in the form to view the assessments.

We will try to respond to all access requests within 72 hours. We are sorry if this delay causes any inconvenience.

Please comment below with questions, feedback, suggestions, or descriptions of your experience using this resource with students.

If you found an error in the resource, please let us know so we can correct it by filling out this form.

We have restricted access to assessments to EDUCATORS ONLY.

If you click on the "Open in Google Docs" button below and can view the document, then you already have access.

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You will need to provide your official school email address AND a Google email address. In some cases, these will be the same email account. You will only need to fill the form out once to gain access to all of the assessments and teacher materials in the curriculum.

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End of Unit Assessments See 4 items Hide 4 items

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Student multiple choice exam for unit 11.3B and teacher answer key.

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Sectional Controversy, Civil War and Reconstruction - History

Reconstruction was a significant chapter in the history of civil rights in the United States, but most historians consider it a failure.

Learning Objectives

Evaluate the successes and failures of Reconstruction

Key Takeaways

Key Points

  • Reconstruction was a failure according to most historians, but many disagree as to the reasons for that failure.
  • On the one hand, black Americans earned many political and civil freedoms, including suffrage and equal protection under the law, during Reconstruction from constitutional amendments.
  • On the other hand, white-supremacy groups, Jim Crow laws, and state constitutions effectively negated these political gains and subjected black Americans to second-class citizenry.

Key Terms

  • Reconstruction Amendments: The Thirteenth, Fourteenth, and Fifteenth Amendments to the U.S. Constitution, adopted between 1865 and 1870, the five years immediately following the Civil War.
  • Jim Crow laws: State and local laws enforcing racial segregation in the Southern United States.

Reconstruction was a significant chapter in the history of civil rights in the United States, but most historians consider it a failure because the South became a poverty-stricken backwater attached to agriculture. White Southerners attempted to reestablish dominance through violence, intimidation, and discrimination, forcing freedmen into second-class citizenship with limited rights, and excluding them from the political process.


The interpretation of Reconstruction has been a topic of controversy. Nearly all historians hold that Reconstruction ended in failure but for different reasons. The following list describes some schools of thought regarding Reconstruction:

  • The Dunning School considered failure inevitable and felt that taking the right to vote or hold office away from Southern whites was a violation of republicanism.
  • A second school sees the reason for failure as Northern Republicans ‘ lack of effectiveness in guaranteeing political rights to blacks.
  • A third school blames the failure on the freedmen not receiving land so they could have their own economic base of power.
  • A fourth school sees the major reason for failure of Reconstruction as the states’ inability to suppress the violence of Southern whites when they sought reversal for blacks’ gains.
  • Other historians emphasize the failure to fully incorporate Southern Unionists into the Republican coalition.

Regardless of the reasons for failure, Reconstruction, although aimed at improving the lives and civil liberties of freedmen, put many black Americans in conditions that were hardly an improvement from slavery. Although legally equal, black Americans were subject to segregation laws in the South, violence at the hands of white-supremacy groups such as the Ku Klux Klan, and political disfranchisement by state constitutions from 1890 to 1908 that effectively barred most blacks and many poor whites from voting. As W.E.B. Du Bois wrote in 1935, “The slave went free stood a brief moment in the sun then moved back again toward slavery.” The conditions of black Americans would not improve until the civil rights era of the 1950s and 60s.


Despite these failures, important landmarks in civil rights for black Americans were reached at that time. The “Reconstruction Amendments” passed by Congress between 1865 and 1870 abolished slavery, gave black Americans equal protection under the law, and granted suffrage to black men. Although these constitutional rights were eroded by racist violence and Jim Crow laws, blacks still began participating in politics, and these amendments established the legal groundwork for more substantive equality during the civil rights era of the 1950s and 60s. Historian Donald R. Shaffer argued that the gains during Reconstruction for African Americans were not entirely extinguished. The legalization of African-American marriage and family and the independence of black churches from white denominations were a source of strength during the Jim Crow era. Reconstruction was never forgotten among the black community and remained a source of inspiration. The system of sharecropping allowed blacks a considerable amount of freedom as compared to slavery.

Sectional Controversy, Civil War and Reconstruction - History

Andrew C. Skinner, “Civil War’s Aftermath: Reconstruction, Abolition, and Polygamy,” in Civil War Saints, ed. Kenneth L. Alford (Provo, UT: Religious Studies Center Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 2012), 295–315.

Andrew C. Skinner is a professor of ancient scripture at Brigham Young University.

By late 1864, the physical fighting of the American Civil War was moving toward a final resolution. In December, General William T. Sherman (of “war is hell” fame) completed his infamous and devastating march to the sea in Georgia. In early April, the Confederate capital of Richmond, Virginia, fell to Union forces. On April 9, 1865, General Robert E. Lee, commander of the army of Northern Virginia, surrendered his forces to Union general Ulysses S. Grant at Appomattox Court House, Virginia—the rebellion more “worn out rather than suppressed,” as Union artillery colonel Charles Wainwright put it.[1] Though skirmishes would continue for some weeks, the war was essentially over.

The period following the Civil War (1861–65) is known in U.S. history as Reconstruction. It lasted from 1865 to 1877 and has been called “one long referendum on the meaning and memory of the verdict reached at Appomattox.”[2] That is to say, the Union had won the war on the battlefield. But what would be the long-term meaning of victory in the face of the abolition of slavery and the nature of future government in the Southern states? Reconstruction was marked by efforts to rebuild the war-torn nation, to readmit the Confederate states into the Union, to help those states in particular to rebuild in the face of the war’s near-total destruction of certain areas, to facilitate the re-enfranchisement of white voters in the eleven secessionist states, to determine and guarantee the rights of the approximately four million freed slaves in the South, and to somehow try to help ease human suffering.

These were challenges of which President Abraham Lincoln was well aware. On April 11, just two days after Lee’s surrender at Appomattox Court House, Lincoln gave a speech from a second-story window of the White House to the assembled crowds below, who were in a celebratory mood. But the president “was not interested in gloating or cheering about the victory, as perhaps many in the crowd would have wanted.” Rather, “he wanted to caution people to think carefully about how the Union would be rebuilt—reconstructed—peacefully, how North and South could come back together again, and be one friendly nation. He knew people disagreed about how to proceed and talked about how difficult it would be to rebuild the nation. Lincoln also put forth the idea of giving African-Americans the right to vote.”[3]

But such noble and important goals as Lincoln and other reconstructionists contemplated were easier said than done. The shooting may have ended by late spring of 1865, but the suffering and destruction were just beginning to be realized. Six months after the surrender at Appomattox, Confederate Vice President Alexander H. Stephens was released from prison in Boston. As he rode a slow train southward toward his home in Georgia, he witnessed a landscape everywhere in ruin. Of northern Virginia he said the “desolation of the country . . . was horrible to behold.” And in northern Georgia he lamented the “desolation [to be] . . . heart-sickening. Fences gone, fields all a waste, houses burnt.”[4] In many regions of the South, ex-Confederates faced not just crushing material poverty but “spiritual hopelessness.”[5]

The most costly aspect of the Civil War, by far, was the human life taken and the suffering inflicted—the greatest, in fact, that the United States has ever seen. This was also the most tragic dimension of this massive and wrenching conflict. The estimated number of soldiers alone who died between 1861 and 1865, both North and South, is over 620,000. This is “approximately equal to the total American fatalities in the Revolution, the War of 1812, the Mexican War, the Spanish-American War, World War I, World War II, and the Korean War combined.”[6] Furthermore, the percentage of the U.S. population killed during the Civil War is the equivalent of six million lives in our day.

In one sense, it is impossible to comprehend the suffering that this human destruction generated and therefore monotonous to continue describing it yet, in another sense, it is impossible to speak too much about it because of the way it has shaped the United States. Professor Drew Faust has written:

In the Civil War the United States, North and South, reaped what many participants described as a “harvest of death.” By the midpoint of the conflict, it seemed that in the South, “nearly every household mourns some loved one lost.” Loss became commonplace death was no longer encountered individually death’s threat, its proximity, and its actuality became the most widely shared of the war’s experiences. As a Confederate soldier observed, death “reigned with universal sway,” ruling homes and lives, demanding attention and response. The Civil War matters to us today because it ended slavery and helped to define the meanings of freedom, citizenship, and equality. It established a newly centralized nation-state and launched it on a trajectory of economic expansion and world influence. But for those Americans who lived in and through the Civil War, the texture of the experience, its warp and woof, was the presence of death. At war’s end this shared suffering would override persisting differences about the meanings of race, citizenship, and nationhood to establish sacrifice and its memorialization as the ground on which North and South would ultimately reunite.[7]

Indeed, “death transformed the American nation as well as the hundreds of thousands of individuals directly affected by loss.”[8] The effect of death resulting directly from the Civil War on the psyche of individuals and the whole nation was monumental. Death, as well as the maiming that resulted from the horrendous fighting that occurred in gargantuan battles of the war, “created a veritable ‘republic of suffering,’ in the words that Frederick Law Olmsted chose to describe the wounded and dying arriving at Union hospital ships on the Virginia Peninsula.”[9] As if to emphasize this point, only days after the Confederate surrender at Appomattox, Abraham Lincoln was assassinated by John Wilkes Booth the evening of April 14, 1865, and the Union was plunged into a grief more profound than could have been imagined beforehand. “On April 19, 1865, an estimated twenty-five million people attended memorial services around the country for the slain leader.”[10] Southern reaction to Lincoln’s death varied according to geographical region as well as the social and political position of individuals. Though some were genuinely saddened, many hated Lincoln and were glad for his death.[11] Of course, the irony was that with the assassination of President Lincoln, the South lost one of its best, most thoughtful allies in the arduous tasks of Reconstruction—rebuilding life in the South.

When word of the president’s murder reached Utah, citizens of the territory felt a genuine sense of loss and joined the nation in mourning the death of the great man. The Union Vedette, a newspaper started by soldiers at Camp Douglas, Utah, in order to provide an opposing voice to the Mormon-controlled Deseret News, announced the tragedy on April 17, 1865: “The wing of the Death angel broods over the Capitol and his shadow has fallen upon all the land. There is consternation in the public places and the hearts of the people are appalled with a sadness that is something more than sorrow. Our banners droop low and the cities are clothed in the habiliments of woe. Nature herself is hushed to silence as though in sympathy with the National bereavement.”[12] By the events of April 14, 1865, Utah became part of the republic of suffering, even though the territory’s involvement in the war was minimal by design. As Brigham Young once indicated, one of the very reasons the Church had moved west was to enjoy insulation against the growing storms of war: “The whispering of the Spirit to us have [sic] invariably been . . . to depart, to go hence, to flee into the mountains . . . that we may be secure in the visitation of the Judgments that must pass upon this land . . . while the guilty land of our fathers is purifying by the overwhelming scourge.”[13]

On April 18, the Vedette reported that the theater as well as businesses in Salt Lake City had been closed, flags flown at half-mast, and many houses outfitted with emblems of mourning. It then paid a sincere compliment aimed at the Latter-day Saints: “The citizens have done themselves lasting honor on this sad occasion, and we acknowledge the display of deep feeling on their part with the gratitude it deserves.”[14] On April 21, the same newspaper described the ceremonies held at the old Salt Lake Tabernacle, whose pulpit had been draped in black, where a large congregation had gathered, and where “religious differences for the time were ignored and soldiers and civilians all united as fellow citizens in common observance of the solemn occasion.”[15]

This significant turn of events, which saw Abraham Lincoln elevated to a place of respect and then veneration among the Latter-day Saints, came about during the war itself. The majority of Utahns (Latter-day Saints) started out being both suspicious and critical of Lincoln during the earliest days of his presidency. In fact, one historian notes that “it is possible that they held him in even greater disfavor than remaining written documents indicate.”[16] However, a change in attitude seems to have occurred and accelerated after a reported favorable comment made by Lincoln gained circulation in the Utah Territory. Apparently, when asked by T. B. H. Stenhouse about the policy he intended to pursue in regard to the Mormons, Lincoln replied, “I propose to let them alone.” He further illustrated what he meant: “Stenhouse, when I was a boy on the farm in Illinois there was a great deal of timber on the farms which we had to clear away. Occasionally we would come to a log which had fallen down. It was too hard to split, too wet to burn and too heavy to move, so we ploughed around it. That’s what I intend to do with the Mormons. You go back and tell Brigham Young that if he will let me alone I will let him alone.”[17]

It is also probable that as time went on, the noble character of Lincoln, his genuine selfless concern over preserving the United States, his act of ultimately freeing millions of human beings from the bondage of slavery, and his helping the country heal from the wounds of war through a program of Reconstruction began to distil upon the Latter-day Saints. That is, through his speeches and actions, they saw the righteous intent of the president’s desires. After all, had the Lord not said through his inspired servant that “it is not right that any man should be in bondage one to another” (D&C 101:79), and was it not the case that the Civil War was fought, at least in part, to prevent the institution of slavery from continuing unabated on this chosen land which had been redeemed by the shedding of blood (D&C 101:80)?

President Lincoln’s personal views on slavery were a matter of public record. In April 1864, he came out with his clearest articulation: “If slavery is not wrong, nothing is wrong. I can not remember when I did not so think, and feel.”[18] One of Lincoln’s leading biographers called him “colorblind.” Personally, he “thought of the black man first of all as a man.”[19] But as the president, he knew that he could not govern simply by personal preference or fiat he could not free the slaves and expect their immediate and unimpeded assimilation into the fabric of society. Declarations of freedom alone would not solve their problems. He was president not just of “antislavery forces but of a disunited and divided people,” and he had to “serve the general welfare.”[20] Therefore, “he approached the difficult problems of reconstruction with an open mind and an absence of commitment”[21] as his own views changed and different pressures influenced him.

The first comprehensive effort at reconstruction is generally regarded as Lincoln’s Proclamation of Amnesty and Reconstruction, issued on December 8, 1863. It was a carefully crafted plan that would begin to ease the nation into repair, unification, and healing. He had worked on it during a period of recuperation from smallpox after returning in November from Gettysburg, where he had delivered one of the most powerful addresses in American history using only 272 words! Though the proclamation was issued only halfway through the war, it is clear the president wanted the conflict to be over. Indeed, the “republic of suffering” was taking its toll on Lincoln and making him more sensitive, not less, to the increasing carnage. For example, as the war entered its final phase under the Union command of General Grant and the losses became ever more devastating, “Lincoln was horrified. He remembered his childhood days of hating even to see an animal killed.” At one point he exclaimed, “Could we have avoided this terrible, bloody war! . . . Is it ever to end!”[22]

The Proclamation of Amnesty and Reconstruction required residents of the South, rebels and Confederates, to take an oath to faithfully support, protect, and defend the Constitution and the Union. In addition, they had to accept the abolition of slavery. They could resume rights of property, except as pertaining to slaves. The proclamation provided for Southern state governments to be reconstituted and established by only one-tenth of the number of voters that had participated in the 1860 presidential election. The states’ constitutions had to abolish slavery, but not all states were required to give free blacks the right to vote (Louisiana, Arkansas, and Tennessee were exempted for a time).[23]

Lincoln’s plan stirred up controversy. Some wanted him to drop emancipation in exchange for immediate peace with the Confederacy. Others—the Radical Reconstructionists—considered the plan to be too lenient on the rebels. In 1864, Congress proposed that Reconstruction not be inaugurated until 50 percent of a state’s voters had sworn the oath of loyalty. A national debate ensued over who should establish Reconstruction policies.[24] In the meantime, the Senate approved the Thirteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, abolishing slavery throughout the Union: “Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime . . . shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction.”[25] Sometimes the Civil War is referred to as the Second American Revolution because, with the abolition of slavery formalized in the Thirteenth Amendment, America began to fulfill the promise of the Declaration of Independence that “all men are created equal.”[26] On January 30, 1865, the amendment was approved by the House of Representatives and forwarded to the states for ratification. Antislavery Congressman Cornelius Cole subsequently declared, “The one question of the age is settled.”[27] But, like so much else about the Civil War, new questions arose—among them was the question of what a new president might do.

However, on March 4, 1865, once more under heavy guard, the newly reelected Abraham Lincoln walked out onto the inaugural platform at the east face of the Capitol. He delivered the address which, more than any other, both captured the essence of his feeling toward all citizens, North and South, and expressed his earnest desire to repair the nation. The last paragraph stands as Lincoln’s watchwords of Reconstruction: “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.”[28]

Unfortunately, John Wilkes Booth was among the onlookers to Lincoln’s Second Inaugural Address that day. But so was Frederick Douglass, black abolitionist. That evening, Douglass came to the White House reception to offer his congratulations to the president. Ironically, he was first refused admittance but subsequently let in upon Lincoln’s order. When asked by the president what he thought of the speech earlier that day, “Douglass described it as a ‘sacred effort.’”[29] Indeed!

For Lincoln, there should be no more slaves, no subhumans, no more North versus South, no unbound wounds, no more second-class citizens, no united states in the plural. Rather, his vision, as God gave him “to see the right,” contemplated a United States—a single entity succoring those in need of help and guaranteeing inalienable rights to all. In parallel fashion, another president—of a different kind—two years earlier had summarized his view of those engaged in the great national conflict. In October 1863, Brigham Young said,

I care for the North and the South and if I had sufficient power with the Lord, I would save every innocent man, woman and child from being slaughtered in this unnatural and almost universal destruction of life and property. . . . I care for the North and South more than I do for gold, and I would do a great deal, if I had the power, to ameliorate the condition of suffering thousands. I care enough for them to pray that righteous men may hold the reins of the government, and that wicked, tyrannical despotism may be wiped away from the land.[30]

In March 1865, Congress created the Bureau of Refugees, Freedmen, and Abandoned Lands (simply called the Freedmen’s Bureau), “an unprecedented agency of social uplift”[31] to look out for the interests of Southern blacks. With the abolition of slavery, most of them had no homes, no money, and no education. The Bureau sought to obtain jobs, set up schools, and create hospitals for blacks. It also helped to protect white interests by providing services to blacks in a structured way and thus curtailing the outright clash of white landowners and black farmers, many of whom were eager to test the parameters of their newly bestowed freedom.

The following provides an example:

In Appomattox County itself, Freedmen’s Bureau agents, as well as Union officers, confronted problems of social disorder in the immediate wake of the surrender. A horseman passing through the country on April 29, 1865, described ‘one eternal scene of desolation & destruction’ along a 13-mile route. The armies had left hundreds of dead horses and mules and burned every fence rail for miles. A Freedmen’s Bureau post was established in Lynchburg to try to settle disputes over remaining livestock, to stop plundering and marauding in the countryside, and especially to try to establish new labor arrangements for the freedmen.[32]

How blacks could acquire land remained one of the great unanswered questions of the Reconstruction period.

In May 1865, Lincoln’s successor, President Andrew Johnson, announced his Reconstruction plan. Being a Southerner and a “thorough-going white supremacist,”[33] he attempted to institute policies that would help the South recover as quickly as possible and not punish it for its stance on slavery or its secession. Reaction among very conservative or radical elements of the Republicans in Congress was outrage toward Johnson’s perceived lenient approach to Reconstruction. Even before he was killed, Lincoln himself had to deal with these “Radicals” in his own party. Led in the Senate by Charles Sumner of Massachusetts, and in the House of Representatives by Thaddeus Stevens of Pennsylvania, the Radical Reconstructionists saw an opportunity in the post–Civil War era “to convert black freedom into genuine citizenship, economic self-reliance, and political liberty. They viewed the former Confederate states as ‘conquered provinces,’ which had to be re-invented as states and readmitted to the Union by Congress.”[34] They also possessed a conception of greatly expanded federal power—which Andrew Johnson did not! And they wanted to wield that power.

Johnson’s plan of Reconstruction offered amnesty to all but the main Confederate leaders. Southern states had to abolish slavery and take a loyalty oath to the United States (much like Lincoln’s earlier plan) in order to be readmitted to the Union. The plan offered no legislative role to blacks to work out Reconstruction policy. The Southern states themselves, under white leadership, were to determine what role blacks would play in Reconstruction. Thus, toward the end of 1865, Southern states, Mississippi and South Carolina being the first, began to enact a series of laws called the Black Codes. In some cases, blacks were treated little differently than when slavery was in full operation:

Mississippi required all blacks to possess, each January, written evidence of employment for the coming year. Laborers leaving their jobs before the contract expired would forfeit wages already earned, and, as under slavery, be subject to arrest by any white citizen. A person offering work to a laborer already under contract risked imprisonment or a fine of $500. To limit the freedmen’s economic opportunities, they were forbidden to rent land in urban areas. Vagrancy—a crime whose definition included the idle, disorderly, and those who “misspend what they earn”—could be punished by fines or involuntary plantation labor other criminal offenses included “insulting” gestures or language, “malicious mischief,” and preaching the Gospel without a license. . . . Florida’s code, drawn up by a commission whose report praised slavery as a “benign” institution deficient only in its inadequate regulation of black sexual behavior, made disobedience, impudence, and even “disrespect” to the employer a crime. Blacks who broke labor contracts could be whipped, placed in the pillory, and sold for up to one year’s labor, while whites who violated contracts faced only the threat of civil suits.[35]

Again, reaction by Radical Reconstructionists to these measures was outrage. In December 1865, the Republican leadership of Congress refused to readmit Southern states to the Union. For two years, the executive and legislative branches of the U.S. government engaged in an epic struggle over Reconstruction policy. The Radicals won but in the process fueled a backlash of Southern white resentment that took a toll on blacks. In 1865 and 1866, whites murdered about five thousand blacks in the South. In 1866, the Ku Klux Klan was founded in Tennessee, motivated by opposition toward Radical Reconstruction. Ostensibly organized as a “social club,” it spread rapidly in nearly every Southern state, launching a “reign of terror” against blacks as well as white sympathizers and supporters of Republican policies. By 1870, the Klan and kindred organizations such as the White Brotherhood and the Knights of the White Camelia had become deeply entrenched in every Southern state.[36]

Congressional response to violence against blacks and their supporters did not really appear until 1870. It came in the form of a series of Enforcement Acts, which forbade discrimination toward voters and outlawed fraud, bribery, intimidation, or conspiracies that prevented citizens from exercising their constitutional rights. When violence persisted, the Ku Klux Klan Act of April 1871 was enacted, which designated crimes that deprived citizens of the right to vote, hold office, or enjoy the equal protection of the law as punishable by federal law. States failing to act effectively against perpetrators could be subject to military intervention and the suspension of the writ of habeas corpus.[37]

By 1866, the Republican-dominated Congress was certain President Johnson’s plan was a failure. Led by the Radicals, they took the extraordinary step of passing the nation’s first Civil Rights Act and then overriding the president’s veto to make it the law of the land. This gave certain legal rights to former slaves. In June of that year, they proposed the Fourteenth Amendment to the Constitution, which conferred citizenship upon “all persons born or naturalized in the United States.” [38] This included black Americans. Since none of the defeated Southern states had yet been readmitted into the Union, Congress declared that no state could be readmitted until it ratified the amendment. President Johnson actually encouraged the states to reject it. All did so at first, except for Tennessee, which became the first of the former Confederate states to ratify the amendment and be readmitted to the Union. The Fourteenth Amendment officially became law in 1868.[39]

This was monumental. In 1857, the U.S. Supreme Court had ruled in Dred Scott v. Sanford that “African Americans, free or slave, could never be citizens of the United States. The Fourteenth Amendment overturned this decision by defining citizenship in the Constitution for the first time.”[40]

In 1867, Congress increasingly challenged President Johnson’s authority. First, they enacted a series of laws called the Reconstruction Acts, which abolished Southern state governments formed or proposed under Johnson’s plan, divided the South into five military districts, and outlined the “approved” steps by which former Confederate states could be joined to the Union. Next, Congress passed laws forbidding the president from firing certain government officials or dismissing any commander of one of the Southern military districts without the approval of the Senate. When the president defied Congress and the recently passed Tenure of Office Act by dismissing Secretary of War Edwin Stanton, a supporter of Radical Reconstruction, the Radical Republicans began to demand Johnson’s removal from office.[41] On February 24, 1868, the House of Representatives voted to impeach him (126 to 47)—a first in American history. He was tried in the Senate, but their vote fell one short (35 to 19) of removing him from office, and Andrew Johnson remained president until 1869 when Ulysses S. Grant succeeded him.

In 1869, other significant developments affected the course of Reconstruction. In February, Congress approved the Fifteenth Amendment to the Constitution, which prohibited federal and state governments from depriving any citizen of voting because of their race: “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.”[42] It became part of the Constitution a little over a year later.[43] However, the practical implementation of the terms of this amendment, as well as those of the Fourteenth, was a long time in coming. One Southern newspaper declared in 1875 that these amendments “may stand forever but we intend . . . to make them dead letters on the statute-book.”[44] Such sentiments could openly bubble to the surface at that time because Southern Democrats began to regain control of the South beginning in 1869.

New state governments had begun to form under the provisions of the Reconstruction Acts of 1867. Southern whites protested the terms of the acts by refusing to vote in new elections. This allowed Republicans to take control of these state governments. But economic problems, coupled with corruption among legislators in the South, plagued these governments. Agriculture, the economic backbone of the South, was slow to recover after the devastation of the Civil War. In addition, Reconstruction governments immediately opened the political process to former slaves. Therefore, most Southern whites refused to support the Reconstruction governments. Republicans were eventually defeated in the South: first in Tennessee and Virginia in 1869 then in North Carolina in 1870 in Georgia in 1871 in Alabama, Arkansas, and Texas in 1874 and in Mississippi in 1876.

Latter-day Saints were not unaffected by these developments. Indeed, the end of the Civil War and the era of Reconstruction elevated the visibility of the Mormons on the stage of American religion and politics.

A significant consequence of the Civil War and Reconstruction was that the government of the United States became more centralized, and more intrusive, affecting the lives of individual Americans as never before. “The expanded role of the federal government to fight a total war brought similar expansion in its control over . . . a centralized monetary system, agricultural policy, the creation of land-grant colleges, homesteading on federal lands, immigration laws, and the building of the transcontinental railroad.”[45] The authority of the government to affect so many aspects of life was solidified under, but not limited to, the era of the Radical Reconstructionists.

While the nation worked to rebuild the Southern states and restructure and expand the federal government, the Latter-day Saints, by contrast, sought to retrench and strengthen themselves without federal interference. They sought ways to insulate themselves against expanding government in general. For example, Church leaders were initially very interested to see how the railroad could aid in building up the kingdom of God and bringing more Saints to Utah. But they seem to have become increasingly worried that the expanding railroad system would bring more “gentiles” into their territory and eventually undermine their way of life. The completion of the transcontinental railroad system was not a deliberate, calculated assault on LDS culture, but rather a natural consequence of the ending of the Civil War and subsequent Reconstruction. The nation could, and really had to, turn its energies to other endeavors after four years of total war—the transcontinental railroad being one. Among its main workers were army veterans. Many of its engineers were ex-army men who had learned their trade keeping the trains operating during the Civil War. The first transcontinental railroad system was officially connected on May 10, 1869, with the ceremonial driving of the last rail spike at Promontory Summit, Utah.

But well before the event, the anticipated completion of the transcontinental rail system constituted a significant rationale for the organization or reestablishment of the School of the Prophets by Church leaders in 1867. This was “a confidential forum of leading high priests” who met to discuss religious ideas, economic policies, and political problems impacting the Church.[46] The expanding rail system was an important and vital issue for discussion because of its expected effect. Then, in the October 1868 general conference, President Brigham Young delivered a forceful address committing the Saints who met in the new Tabernacle to ameliorate the potential threat of outsiders by a renewed movement of cooperation and self-sufficiency. Among other things, President Young said, “If this is the Kingdom of God and if we are the Saints of God . . . are we not required to sustain ourselves and to manufacture that which we consume, to cease our bartering, trading, mingling, drinking, smoking, chewing and joining with all the filth of Babylon? . . . We want you henceforth to be a self-sustaining people. . . . What do you say brethren and sisters? All of you who say that we will be a self-sustaining people signify it by the show of your right hands.” Everyone in the new Tabernacle raised his or her hand. “Let us govern our wants by our necessities, and we shall find that we are not compelled to spend our money for nought. Let us save our money to enter and pay for our land, to buy flocks of sheep and improve them, and to buy machinery and start more woolen factories. We have a good many now, and the people will sustain them.”[47] President George Q. Cannon also warned the Saints of the outside threat to their institutions.[48]

The ultimate purpose of this new movement, largely directed by the School of the Prophets, was to curtail, as much as possible, contact with worldly elements to avoid trade with outsiders and even to boycott non-Mormon establishments—which Church leaders encouraged the Saints to do from 1868 until 1882. As James Allen and Glen Leonard explained,

The most controversial part of the plan was the proposition that Latter-day Saints should not trade with outsiders. If they were to keep the kingdom from being too strongly influenced or controlled by non-Mormon merchants, they must support their own cooperative institutions, and from 1868 until 1882 Church leaders encouraged the Saints to boycott “gentile” merchants and trade only with Mormon-owned establishments. In retrospect this may seem harsh and unfriendly, but most Latter-day Saints genuinely felt that incoming non-Mormons posed a threat to their economic well-being, and there was evidence that some outside merchants actually were trying to undermine the Church.[49]

Such plans and behavior on the part of Church leaders and members caused non-Latter-day Saints to become even more suspicious of and antagonistic toward the Mormons. These circumstances, combined with the expanding and controlling role of central government in the United States, impacted the Latter-day Saints in even more direct and severe ways than just the influx of “gentiles” resulting from the construction of the transcontinental railroad.

Early in the Church’s history, polygamy became a contentious issue with non-Latter-day Saints. It intensified after the Civil War. In 1856 the first platform of the new Republican party adopted at the National Convention declared that it was the duty of Congress to “prohibit in the Territories those twin relics of barbarism, polygamy and slavery.”[50] During the Civil War, the Latter-day Saints were not treasonous or rebellious or proslavery, but they were polygamous and remained so. This was a major reason they were not only harassed but also denied statehood. As one historian put it, had the Church disavowed the institution of plural marriage when federal antipolygamy legislation was passed in 1862, “Utah would have become a state during the war with polygamy intact statehood was impossible.”[51] Perhaps. Certainly after the war, individuals both in and out of the federal government, from the North and the South, again turned their attention to Utah, the Latter-day Saints, and polygamy.

The renewed campaign to eradicate polygamy from society after the Civil War seems to have been part of the general reform plan inaugurated by the Radical Republicans who were working so hard to establish civil and political rights for blacks. These Radical Republicans and Reconstructionists sought to reform not only the South but also the social structure of Utah. In the late 1860s, these reformers introduced into Congress three bills that show both the level of hostility the federal government possessed toward plural marriage and the Church as well as the power they believed it had acquired under Radical Republican leadership. These three legislative measures have been summarized: “In 1866 Senator Wade introduced a bill designed to destroy not only plural marriage but, in fact, the very strength of the Church in Utah. It was unsuccessful, but was soon followed by the Cragin Bill, which would have eliminated trial by jury in Utah in cases involving polygamy. In 1869 a different approach was tried in the House of Representatives through the Ashley Bill, which proposed completely dismembering the Territory of Utah and dividing the area among surrounding states and territories.”[52]

Antipolygamy sentiment intensified in 1870 owing to several developments. First was the publication of J. H. Beadle’s book Polygamy or, the Mysteries and Crimes of Mormonism.[53] The title says it all. In addition, that same year new legislation was proposed: the Cullom Bill, which would have required all cases involving plural marriage to be prosecuted exclusively by federal judges with juries selected by federally appointed marshals and attorneys. A huge protest by three thousand women in Salt Lake City caused legislators in Washington, DC, to think twice about this proposed law. It seems that such protest, plus the fear of another civil war now involving the Mormons, caused the bill to be defeated.

Sadly, the newly elected president of the United States who succeeded Andrew Johnson, Ulysses S. Grant, was no friend to the Latter-day Saints. He, along with his vice president, Schuyler Colfax, denounced Mormon practices and then appointed General John Wilson Shaffer as governor of the Utah Territory in 1870. Shaffer, an ally of the Radical Republicans in Congress, helped establish harsh federal rule in the Southern states as Radical Reconstruction unfolded. Known as an ardent foe of rebellion against the U.S. federal government, his appointment increased anxiety among Utah residents and antagonism against the administration in Washington.[54] He died unexpectedly before the year was out, but his home had become “virtual headquarters for the anti-Mormon group that conspired to destroy the Church’s power.”[55]

Shaffer helped to get the Utah territorial chief justice, Charles C. Wilson, removed from office so that President Grant could appoint James B. McKean in Wilson’s place. He became chief justice of the Superior Court of the Utah Territory in 1870 and served until 1875. McKean, a Republican, had worked as a teacher and a judge, served in Congress, and fought in the Civil War as a colonel in the 77th Regiment of the New York Volunteers. President Grant sent McKean to Utah with instructions to root out polygamy. Both men believed this practice to be wrong. By contrast, the Latter-day Saints believed antipolygamy legislation to be wrong since it violated freedom of religion and was, therefore, unconstitutional.[56] When a showdown came, it centered on the person of Brigham Young.

Once in Utah, Judge McKean began denying citizenship to immigrants who practiced polygamy. He granted it only if applicants agreed to heed strictly the Anti-Bigamy Law of 1862. He even denied citizenship to those who expressed verbal support for the correctness of the right to practice polygamy though they themselves did not actually practice it. He then went after Mormonism’s greatest symbol of polygamy, Brigham Young, by indicting him on charges of adultery. He was arraigned in court on January 2, 1872, but released on bail to await trial. The trial was never held because ultimately the United States Supreme Court intervened and dismissed this indictment as well as other charges against President Young.[57] However, this episode did not diminish the federal government’s efforts to eliminate polygamy among the Latter-day Saints. Subsequent legislation against the Church and its members was enacted, and more immediate anti-Mormon activity in other parts of the country intensified.

As Radical Republicans began to lose power in the South, and Southern Democrats gained control of their states in the mid-1870s, many Northerners began to lose interest in Reconstruction. Federal troops that were placed in Southern states to facilitate Reconstruction on Republican terms were eventually withdrawn, and in 1875 the LDS Church organized the Southern States Mission.[58] Ironically, this led to a new wave of anti-Mormon violence. Not surprisingly, its ultimate cause was rooted in a fear of and revulsion over polygamy.

It has been argued persuasively that virtually all Southerners during the post–Civil War era, including blacks, believed “that polygamy was a menace to Christian civilization and that Mormonism was a heretical and sensual imposter that required a united Christian response.”[59] Southern violence that had been leveled against blacks in the Reconstruction -era South was redirected against Church members, particularly missionaries.

Proselytizing efforts throughout the region by representatives of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints stoked the fears of white southerners, who widely regarded Mormon missionaries as transient outsiders who imported heterodox religious beliefs and disrupted family ties and communities. Furthermore, southerners commonly saw missionaries as recruiting agents for Mormonism’s most infamous practice: polygamy. The most common portrayal of the Latter-day Saint (LDS) missionary in the postbellum South was as a scheming sexual predator who seduced young women and lured them away to his polygamous harem in the West. Although of a different type than the so-called black beast rapist who forced himself on unwilling white women, the image of the Mormon seducer tapped into many of the same fears that captivated southern white men in the late nineteenth century and provided their rationale for lynching.[60]

Vigilante violence was the most dramatic expression of Southern anti-Mormon sentiment. However, newspaper articles, pamphlets, sermons, and legislation also revealed how deep the bias against Mormons ran, and it almost always came back to the issue of polygamy. The St. Louis Christian Advocate of September 17, 1879, spoke of the “Mormon Question” as “one and the same thing” with polygamy.[61] Perhaps it is difficult for modern readers to comprehend the pervasive nature of anti-Mormon sentiment, but when Elder Joseph Standing was seized in rural Georgia in 1879, along with his companion, Elder Rudger Clawson, one of their captors stated, “There is no law in Georgia for Mormons, and the Government is against you.”[62] Sadly, this was profoundly true of the U.S. government as well.

By 1876 only three Southern states were still operating under Reconstruction governments. The presidential election that year resulted in the victory of Republican candidate Rutherford B. Hayes, but only after a compromise was reached whereby the federal government promised to withdraw all remaining federal troops from the South. For all intents and purposes, Reconstruction ended after Hayes took office in 1877 and carried out the terms of the compromise. Unfortunately, anti-Mormon/ antipolygamy activity did not end. In fact, the end of Reconstruction led directly to even greater anti-Mormon sentiment, and the Latter-day Saints had many rough years ahead of them.

The failure of Judge McKean’s crusade against polygamy in the Utah Territory was followed by the passage of federal legislation in 1874 that strengthened the Morrill Anti-Bigamy Act of 1862 and led to the prosecution of polygamy cases in federal courts. Named the Poland Bill for its sponsor, Luke P. Poland of Vermont, the new legislation emboldened the federal judiciary to reengage proceedings against polygamists. Church leaders believed antipolygamy legislation was unconstitutional—that it deprived them of their First Amendment right to practice their religion freely—and that a higher law, God’s will, compelled them to violate federal law. It seems they designated George Reynolds, secretary to Brigham Young, to stand as a test case in order to confirm the unconstitutionality of antipolygamy legislation as they saw it. Reynolds generally cooperated with the government prosecution, but he lost his case. He was convicted of bigamy, sentenced to two years of hard labor, and fined five hundred dollars. Through the appeals process, his case finally came before the U.S. Supreme Court. In the landmark decision of Reynolds v. United States in January 1879, the court ruled to uphold the lower court’s decision. Antipolygamy law, specifically the Morrill Anti-Bigamy Act of 1862, was affirmed as the constitutional law of the land.[63]

The Church and its leaders were stunned. “Mormons could no longer claim shelter for their alternative marriage system as a form of religious expression protected under the First Amendment.”[64] But more than that, just when Radical Republicans, Reconstructionists, and moral reformers had grown weary of their efforts to reform and rebuild the American South, the decision of the U.S. Supreme Court breathed new life into the underlying impulse to restructure and rebuild society. This new antipolygamy crusade sparked what legal historian Sarah Barringer Gordon has called “a second ‘Reconstruction’ in the West.”[65]

Antipolygamy sentiments specifically, and anti-Mormonism sentiments generally, took on “a decidedly bipartisan and national character from the 1870s” onward. Significantly, “it was precisely because of the end of Reconstruction in the South that the federal government could turn its gaze—and direct its increased regulatory powers—toward problems in the West, including Indians and Mormons.”[66] But Americans from every economic strata and political persuasion joined the campaign against Mormon polygamy. The “anti-polygamy movement cut across political, religious, and sectional lines” after Reconstruction in the South wound down.[67]

Ironically, Southern white participation in the national antipolygamy movement of the 1870s and 1880s served to soften somewhat the strained, even antagonistic, relationship between Southerners and Northern Republicans “by giving them common cause as moral and legislative reformers.”[68] African Americans felt similar distaste toward polygamy, but their own problems, namely civil rights, kept them from participation in organized antipolygamy activities. Furthermore, many blacks “were quick to point out the hypocrisy of those who called for moral reform [among Mormons] while countenancing Jim Crow,”[69] a reference to laws enacted in the South to discriminate against African Americans.

Reconstruction proved to be a mixed “blessing.” It produced the Thirteenth, Fourteenth, and Fifteenth Amendments to the U.S. Constitution—landmark legislation to be sure. But on many counts, Reconstruction was a failure. It failed to solve the economic disasters engulfing the South after the Civil War. It failed to ease suffering, as President Lincoln seemed to envision. And it failed to bring racial harmony to the South and real equality to black Americans. Many blacks continued to work the land owned by whites. Most blacks in the South were prohibited from going to schools, attending churches, or entering hospitals where whites participated. Indeed, after Reconstruction ended, black Americans gradually lost all the rights they had gained during Reconstruction. This regression laid the foundation for the modern Civil Rights Movement one hundred years later, in the 1960s. Truly, Reconstruction was, in the words of Eric Foner, “America’s unfinished revolution.”[70]

Neither did Latter-day Saints fare so well after the Civil War as a result of what historians have called the “Second Reconstruction.” They struggled to find what they regarded as fair treatment under an originally inspired Constitution. For a long time it seemed as though even friendly association beyond their Rocky Mountain home was out of the question. The “Second Reconstruction”—the national antipolygamy campaign of the 1870s and 1880s—treated them worse than they thought probable or possible. President Hayes did all he could to strengthen antipolygamy legislation, to recommend “more comprehensive and more searching methods for preventing as well as punishing” polygamy, as well as stripping its Mormon practitioners of their civil rights and privileges under U.S. citizenship.[71]

President Hayes’s immediate successor, James A. Garfield, was no more conciliatory toward the Latter-day Saints than Hayes had been, nor any more realistic about the achievements of Reconstruction. As Garfield congratulated the government in his inaugural address for elevating “the negro race from slavery to the full rights of citizenship,” he also declared that “the Mormon Church not only offends the moral sense of manhood by sanctioning polygamy, but prevents the administration of justice through ordinary instrumentalities of law.”[72] Thus, the national consciousness was led to embrace the notion that the Latter-day Saints were less than those possessing real manhood and that they obstructed justice to boot. They were, ironically, regarded as “that class which destroy the family relations and endanger social order.”[73] In other words, now that blacks could no longer be held culpable by constitutional amendment of endangering the social order, the Latter-day Saints filled that role.

The agendas of Presidents Hayes and Garfield laid the foundation for the Edmunds Acts of 1882, which declared the practice of polygamy a felony and disenfranchised convicted polygamists. Five years later, the Edmunds-Tucker Act enacted even harsher measures to eliminate polygamy. While the legal maneuvering was occurring, individual Latter-day Saints, especially in the South, were enduring the physical indignities, insults, trauma, and violence perpetrated against them by an American public caught up in a national crusade against their religious beliefs.

Blessed with hindsight, the parallels between two groups of people targeted by two eras of Reconstruction are not lost on us. Though their trials were not nearly as profound, pervasive, or longlasting as the injustices and the travesties experienced by black Americans, the Latter-day Saints have endured experiences that make them more appreciative of the trials and tribulations of blacks living in the South after the Civil War. Such histories of mistreatment ought to make all of us more vigilant to injustice in our day and more willing to combat it. To an extent, there are some Americans who have never gotten over the “barbarism” of Mormonism. It remains one of the last great biases existing in this country.

[1] Gary W. Gallagher, “An End and a New Beginning,” in Appomattox Court House: Appomattox Court House National Historical Park. Handbook 160 (Washington, DC: National Park Service, Government Printing Office, n.d.), 76–77.

[2] David W. Blight, “An America Transformed,” in Appomattox Court House, 89.

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18 Sectional Crisis

John Brown wrote these words just before he dropped from the gallows, sentenced to death by the U.S. government after a failed attempt to raid the federal arsenal at Harpers Ferry, Virginia to ship weapons to southern slaves and incite an abolitionist insurrection. What is most surprising isn’t the famous prediction about the inevitability of an upcoming war between the states — many people anticipated that by 1859 — but rather his assertion that he’d hoped the sectional crisis could be resolved without bloodshed. After all, prior to Harpers Ferry, Brown and his sons were most famous for hacking apart a southern family at Pottawatomie Creek in the Kansas territory three years earlier. Inspired by the 1837 murder of abolitionist Elijah Parish Lovejoy in Illinois (Chapter 15), John Brown could be described as an early proponent of the “irrepressible conflict” school of thought historians later used to describe the idea that slavery presented a “logjam” in American history that could only be dislodged through force (war). Other historians countered that war wouldn’t have been necessary if not for a “blundering generation” of politicians on both sides overreacting and bringing it about unnecessarily. Either way, the earlier conflict in Kansas between pro-slavery Border Ruffians and free soil Jayhawkers had roots deep in American history, dating back to colonial times. In this chapter, we’ll examine why those tensions reached a boiling point in the 1850s that led to Civil War.

Western expansion and the Mexican War, in particular, disrupted the truce between North and South regarding slavery. The ensuing debate over slavery’s extension raged for fifteen years and was the primary cause of the Civil War. The Wilmot Proviso (bill), introduced in the Lower House in 1846 at the beginning of the Mexican War, signaled the fracturing of the Democrats. It called for banning slavery in the Mexican Cession but never passed the Senate. Its sponsor, Pennsylvanian David Wilmot, was a Democrat, the party that formed a strong north-south axis in American politics from the 1820s-1840s and had heretofore been united in their support of slavery. If the Wilmot bill was only a hairline fracture, the Democratic Party’s formal split into regional factions in 1860 signaled the onset of the Civil War, destroying the country’s last pillar of political stability.

Free & Slave States Animated Map

John C. Calhoun, by Mathew Brady

After Mexico, the leader of the Democrat’s Southern faction, South Carolinian John C. Calhoun, argued that any restriction on slavery in western territories compromised Whites’ Fifth Amendment right to life, liberty, and property, with enslaved workers serving as their property. Echoing Aristotle, he argued that democracy was impossible without slavery because slavery is what bound free people together. In 1850, Calhoun said, “With us, the two great divisions of society are not rich and poor, but black and white and all the former, the poor as well as the rich, belong to the upper class, and are respected and treated as equals.” Along similar lines, he also thought that slavery was indispensable to capitalism because without it there was too much tension between wage workers and bosses.

Calhoun, you may remember from the end of the previous chapter, prophesied that the Mexican War constituted America’s “forbidden fruit.” It was a war pushed mainly by southern politicians because cotton exhausted soil at a prodigious rate and planters thought that slavery had to expand to survive. Shortly after the Mexican War, radical southern leaders called Fire Eaters began agitating for secession and re-opening the Atlantic slave trade. In the North, the idea of free soil – that the West should be preserved for white farmers and wage-workers, not slaves – worked its way into mainstream politics through a third party called the Free Soilers, then the new Republican Party. A series of compromises, clashes, misunderstandings, and controversies ensued that, collectively, explain why war broke out in 1861.

“Old Rough-n-Ready” Zachary Taylor, ca. 1850

Through 2016, it was customary for new presidents-elect to escort the incumbent from the White House down Pennsylvania Avenue to the Capitol steps for the inaugural ceremony (first in carriages, then limousines). The civility of the occasion underscored America’s proud tradition of peaceful power transitions. When Mexican War hero Zachary Taylor picked up his old boss James Polk in March of 1849, though, President Polk was in for a shock. Zach Taylor was a Louisiana slaveholder who presumably shared the Tennessean Polk’s pro-slavery views. Abolitionist Senator Charles Sumner condemned Taylor’s nomination as “an alliance between lords of the lash and lords of the loom (the southern plantations and northern textile mills who supported ‘Cotton Whigs’).” “Old Rough-n-Ready” had enjoyed such a commanding lead in the race that he chose to keep his foot out of his mouth, so to speak, and didn’t really campaign. It thus came as a surprise to many, not least Polk, to learn that Taylor had converted to the new Free Soil movement. The 1848 election had also included a Free Soil third party running former Democratic president Martin Van Buren. Founded in Buffalo, the Free Soil Party formed out of anti-slavery “Barnburner” Democrats and “Conscience Whigs” who broke away from fellow northern, pro-slavery “Hunker Democrats” and “Cotton Whigs.”

Zachary Taylor, though, hadn’t indicated anything one way or another, which was part of his appeal. Polk never guessed he’d become a Free-Soiler. Hadn’t they fought for slavery in Mexico, even as they denied it publicly? Now because of Taylor’s apostasy, Polk’s major accomplishment seemed to unravel right before his eyes, literally in the last minutes of his presidency.

Americans were divided either way, regardless of what Polk or Taylor thought. The nation almost went to war in the late 1840s as California raced toward free statehood during the Gold Rush. The incoming President Taylor and Senate majority leader Calhoun locked horns on slavery’s extension and Congress gridlocked until their deaths in 1850 — Taylor of food poisoning (milk or cherries) on the 4th of July and Calhoun of a heart attack after a fiery speech. The new president, Millard Fillmore, was more open to a settlement.

With the two uncompromising actors off the stage, Capitol Hill worked its magic and cobbled together a series of separate bills known collectively as the Omnibus Bill, or the Great Compromise of 1850. It was the latest (and last) in a long string of compromises over slavery dating back to the Declaration of Independence, Northwest Ordinance, and Constitution itself.

Missouri Compromise Line in Green

Sectional rumblings began amidst controversy over Missouri’s admission in 1819-20 because it was the first state west of the Mississippi River. Before that, the Mason-Dixon Line separating Maryland and Pennsylvania and the Ohio River served as the traditional borders between freedom and slavery. However, the Ohio River flowed into the Mississippi so the agreed-upon line ran out. With the Missouri Compromise, politicians came up with a new solution. They extended the southern border of Missouri, the 36°30′ Line, west to the Pacific Ocean, even though Missouri itself, north of the line, had slavery (right). That line could have sufficed in perpetuity but, in truth, both North and South wanted it all and, within a generation, neither showed much enthusiasm for 36°30′. The line just bought time before Americans started to move west in serious numbers, but didn’t quell foreboding. Thomas Jefferson wrote of Missouri “that this momentous question, like a fire bell in the night, awakened and filled me with terror. I considered it at once as the knell of the Union. It is hushed indeed for the moment. But this is a reprieve only, not a final sentence.” Earlier, in 1797, Jefferson prophesied that “if something is not done, and soon done” about slavery, “we shall be the murderers of our own children.”

Congressional Proposals for Redrawing Texas Border, 1850

The same senator who patched together the Missouri Compromise in 1820, Kentuckian Henry Clay, helped broker this latest in 1850 — thus his nickname, the Great Compromiser. California would come in as a free state and Texas would remain a slave state but shrink down to its current size, with New Mexico carved out of its western Rio Grande Valley. The New Mexico Territory (originally including Arizona) and Utah would be subject to free sovereignty, whereby the settlers who moved there would decide the slave issue on their own as they drew up their territorial and state constitutions. Lewis Cass of Michigan originally suggested this idea in the 1848 election. Free sovereignty, or popular sovereignty (or if you’ll pardon a third term, squatter sovereignty), became a sort of fallback compromise position helping to stave off war for a decade or so. Free-popular-squatter sovereignty had the advantage of being more democratic and, perhaps more to the point, the national government could shove a sticky issue off onto the people. It would be like settling our most contentious national debates of today in town hall meetings.

The 1850 Compromise dealt with other festering issues besides western expansion. Abolitionists and Europeans would now be spared the indignity of witnessing slave auctions near the Capitol steps as the slave trade, but not the practice, was abolished in the District of Columbia. And the deal promised Southerners ramped up enforcement of the 1793 Fugitive Slave Act in the North, per their constitutional rights. It legitimized bounty hunting and anyone could be deputized to capture escaped slaves. The country had stepped back from the brink of war and abolitionists were marginalized as having nearly caused the war.

The Compromise of 1850 is a good demonstration, though, of how different reality can appear as it’s unfolding into the future versus what historians see looking back with perspective. Fourth of July-like celebrations rang out across America as it seemed the promising young country had now solved its most vexing issue by compromising on western slavery. Civil War had seemed a real possibility, but that worst-case scenario was averted once and for all through legislative compromise. Alas, sleeping dogs did not lie and the settlement didn’t last. There were unforeseen flies in the ointment. If anything, the Compromise of 1850 bought time for the Union as they gained in material resources, immigrants (potential workers, farmers, and soldiers), and moral arguments in the decade leading up to war. The stepped-up enforcement on runaway slaves seemed at the time to favor the South, but the new Fugitive Slave Act (1850) wound up awakening otherwise apathetic Northerners to bounty hunting, one of slavery’s seedier aspects. Free sovereignty worked well in New Mexico-Arizona because there weren’t many settlers there. That gave politicians the false impression it could work well anywhere, including the new Kansas Territory.

Stephen Douglas, ca. 1855-61, Brady-Handy Photograph Collection, Library of Congress

John Brown Daguerreotype, Before 1860, John Bowles, Boston Athenaeum

Bleeding Kansas
In retrospect, you could say the fiasco surrounding Kansas’ admission to the U.S. four years later was an opening salvo of the Civil War. Proportionally, the level of violence in Bleeding Kansas and neighboring western Missouri rivaled that of the upcoming war. The story starts with the ambitions of Illinois Senator Stephen Douglas, the “Little Giant,” whose main goal was to connect his home state to the mushrooming California population via a transcontinental railroad. Given how disruptive Indians could be toward railroad construction, Douglas thought the best prospect for getting tracks built across the Plains was to territorialize the region stretching from present-day Kansas north to present-day Montana, then known as Kansas & Nebraska. Instead of thinking through the slave debate implications of the acquisition, Douglas dreamed only about the sleepy village on the southwestern corner of Lake Michigan called Chicago and how it would soon grow into a bustling railroad hub. Remember the 36°30′ Line? At the behest of Secretary of War Jefferson Davis (future president of the Confederacy), President Franklin Pierce repealed the old Missouri Compromise and Douglas supported repeal as a way to win Southern votes. Free sovereignty had worked in the New Mexico Territory had it not? And it was undeniably democratic to have settlers hammer out their own issues no one could argue with that. Consequently, they tacked free sovereignty onto the Kansas-Nebraska Act of 1854 that territorialized the final piece of the Lower 48 U.S. jigsaw puzzle. Pierce signed the bill.

But Kansas was four years later than New Mexico and closer to eastern populations. Instead of settlers who might have incidentally differed assembling to have a constructive civic debate, partisans from both sides flooded in to fight out the slavery issue. Southern Border Ruffians, mainly from nearby Missouri, burnt Free Soil Jayhawker towns like Lawrence and “Right-to-Riser” colonies. In the tellingly-named Squatter Sovereign, one Ruffian op-ed writer proclaimed that slaveholders would not be deterred, “though our rivers should be covered with the blood of their victims and the carcasses of abolitionists should be so numerous in the territory as to breed sickness and death.” Missouri Senator David Atchinson (left) encouraged bayonet-wielding Border Ruffians to stuff ballot boxes across the Kansas border, promising that “If we win, we can carry slavery to the Pacific Ocean.”

One passionate Jayhawker, the forenamed John Brown (upper right and top of the chapter), was motivated by an apocalyptic vision to end slavery by any means necessary and sought retribution for the Sacking of Lawrence. At Pottawatomie Creek in 1856, the maniacal Brown and his sons chopped up a pro-slavery family with their broadswords to avenge the burning of Lawrence. Retribution and counter-retribution followed. Bleeding Kansas is an instructive case study to show that shifting power from higher up — “distant elites” in the national government, if you will — to local authorities doesn’t magically solve problems just because it’s more democratic.

Sacking of Lawrence, Artist Unknown

Instead of writing a state constitution together, each side met in their respective camps, Lawrence and Lecompton, and wrote up their own laws. More people voted for the slave camp’s version, the Lecompton Constitution, than even lived in the entire territory. It not only legalized slavery, it also made aiding and abetting escaped slaves subject to capital punishment. In other words, if white Free Soilers were caught helping slaves escape on the Underground Railroad, they’d be lynched.

Sam Houston, c. 1850, George Eastman House

Having committed to the free sovereignty model, Washington politicians had to choose one or the other version of the constitution. Congress and President James Buchanan sided with the pro-slavery Lecompton Constitution at first, but Kansas later became a free state in 1861. Violence continued there throughout the Civil War and afterward in Missouri. Bleeding Kansas led to a breakdown in the compromising spirit that had worked up through 1850, for better or for worse (worse from the enslaved perspective). Texas Senator Sam Houston cast the lone dissenting Southern vote against the Kansas-Nebraska Act, thinking that planters were getting too greedy in hoping to spread slavery to the Great Plains. Houston prophetically justified his opposition: “…what fields of blood, what scenes of horror, what mighty cities in smoke and ruins—it is brother murdering brother… I see my beloved South go down in the unequal contest, in a sea of blood and smoking ruin.”

Bleeding Kansas also represented a breakdown in law, as neither Brown nor any of the murderous arsons among the Border Ruffians went to jail. Lawlessness and vigilantism characterized Kansas and Missouri throughout the Civil War era, spawning outlaws like Jesse James.

Civility broke down in Washington politics, as well, as shown by the “Caning of Charles Sumner” on the Senate floor after his anti-slavery speech “The Crime Against Kansas.” During an uncomplimentary speech about the “drunken spew and vomit of civilization” spilling across the Missouri-Kansas border to promote slavery, the Massachusetts statesman rudely poked fun at a senior senator from Tennessee, Andrew Butler, pointing out how he drooled down his chin. He didn’t realize that Butler was the uncle of South Carolinian Preston “Bully” Brooks, who sauntered over to Sumner after the speech and proceeded to beat the daylights out of him with a gold-tipped cane. Massachusetts continued to vote Sumner into office while he convalesced so that his empty, bloodstained desk would serve as a reminder of southern barbarity. Massachusetts congressman Anson Burlingame goaded Brooks into challenging him to a duel that Brooks backed out of after Burlingame, a crack shot, accepted the offer. Meanwhile, in the South, souvenir canes inscribed with “Hit ‘em again Bully” sold like hotcakes.

Caning of Charles Sumner, Lithograph by John L. Magee, 1856

Sumner’s caning was the tip of the iceberg. Historian Joanne Freeman has chronicled 70 Incidents of congressional violence in the 30 years before the Civil War, mainly Southerners bullying Northerners physically until Northern voters caught on and started electing men specifically to fight. With statesmen wearing their holsters to work by the late 1850s, partisan Congress was obviously a long way from the compromising of 1820 and 1850. Imagine what such hostility would do to C-SPAN ratings today. News of Sumner’s caning is what sent John Brown off the rails, occurring just after the Sacking of Lawrence and days before his Pottawatomie Creek Massacre.

Verdict of the People, George Caleb Bingham, 1855, St. Louis Art Museum. This painting generated controversy in 2017 when used as the backdrop for Donald Trump’s inauguration luncheon because it depicts the victory of (likely) pro-slavery Democrat by a Whig painter.

Birth of the GOP
Bleeding Kansas reshaped the political landscape, leading to the current two-party alignment. It gave rise to the Republicans, aka GOP for “Grand Old Party.” America’s party history is complicated because Thomas Jefferson’s old faction, that later became the Democrats, was first known as the Republicans in the 1790s. But the party of Abraham Lincoln, Teddy Roosevelt, Ronald Reagan and both George Bushes emerged out of Bleeding Kansas – opposing Lecompton and, more generally, the western expansion of slavery. They were not a single-issue party. They added the pro-business, strong national government brew of the Whigs and their forebears, the Federalists. The GOP didn’t start favoring a weaker central government than the Democrats until the 1920s-󈧢s. Newspaperman Horace Greeley — most famous for his phrase “Go West, young man, and grow up with the country” — underscored the new Republicans ties to the Federalist and Whigs’ American System, noting that “An anti-slavery man, per se, cannot be elected, but a tariff, river-and-harbor, Pacific Railroad, free homestead man may succeed though he is anti-slavery.”

In the 1850s, the Republicans’ Free Soil stance dovetailed with northern evangelicals and abolitionists naturally fell into the party’s ranks. While the Republicans weren’t as blatantly anti-immigration as the Order of the Star-Spangled Banner, also known as the American Party or Know-Nothings, they looked out for the interests of WASPs, or White Anglo-Saxon Protestants. They were at least similar enough to the Know-Nothings to soak up that narrower party. The Whigs could not agree on slavery, so they split regionally, and they and the Know-Nothings gradually gave way to a regional showdown between the purely northern Republicans and mostly southern Democrats. Some northern “anti-Nebraska” Democrats defected to Republican ranks while others continued to support slavery. The Free Soil Party evaporated and melted into the Republicans along with the northern Whigs, abolitionists, and Know-Nothings, having served its purpose by seeding the Republicans. Its original organizer, Salmon Chase, led the Free Soilers’ transition into the new Republican Party. The regionalization of political parties didn’t bode well for the country’s near-term future.

Ripon, Wisconsin — Birthplace of the Modern Republican Party

It’s confusing, but the upshot is that a new two-party system emerged in the 1850s that is still with us today, Republicans and Democrats. No one knows for sure where exactly the Republican Party originated — Ripon, Wisconsin and Jackson, Michigan are two claimants — or when exactly they emerged as the most powerful northern party, but they ran a presidential candidate in 1856, trailblazer John Frémont. Then, in 1860, they landed Abraham Lincoln in the White House.

Seismic shifts in politics such as the rise of the Republicans and demise of Whigs and Know-Nothings don’t happen overnight and indicate deeper cultural and economic cleavages. The North and South had always been co-dependent and grew more so in the 19th century as steamboats plied the river highways between the regions and trade picked up. They shared European ancestry, a common religion and language, and a short but proud national history. Northern clothing mills manufactured much of the South’s slave-grown cotton. New York, especially, was home to many of the textile mills and was generally pro-slavery. It was second-last of the Northern states to abolish it in 1827, followed by neighboring New Jersey in the 1840s. But by the 1850s, New York’s economic orientation was swiveling west toward the booming northern economy of family farming, industry, and railroads already connected to its deep-water port via the Erie Canal. Its financial markets supported corporations popping up mainly in the urban North and Midwest. It’s no coincidence that Abraham Lincoln was, by trade, a western railroad lawyer. Those connections helped him curry favor among East Coast politicians who quickly came to dominate the Republicans.

Sectional Divide
Northerners were proud of how dynamic their economy was, with opportunities aplenty for white men who kept their noses to the grindstone. It was possible to rise up through the system by virtue of talent, ambition, sobriety, hard work, or ruthlessness. It wasn’t common of course — everyone can’t be rich, after all — but, among Americans who did strike it rich, it was common to have started from scratch and that really was unusual in world history. The Market Revolution (Chapter 14) saw the emergence of the American Dream, later captured in the formulaic rags-to-riches plots of youth novelist Horatio Alger. Keep this in mind in the next chapter when we ask ourselves why Union soldiers thought America was worth fighting for. They weren’t fighting to free Blacks and it would’ve been much easier to just let the South go. The North wasn’t fair in the modern sense of the word since the vast majority was shut out (all women, Blacks, Indians, white men from the wrong parts of Europe), but it provided more opportunity than Europe or the South, where wealthy landowners handed down their inheritance to their sons.

Northerners pitied poor, white Southerners, some of whom either owned a few slaves themselves or found work guarding slaves on plantations. The stable South was more economically stratified and proud of it. They had history and tradition on their side and, like the Greek philosopher Aristotle, they recognized slavery as the foundation of democracy because it bound the free citizens together. Rich southerners lived with class on their beautiful plantations the way only “old money” can and chortled that northern businessmen seemed like crass, aggressive money-grubbers. But with most money wrapped up in land and slaves, poor whites had no real prospects of moving up the ladder, especially with the rich unwilling to fund public education. Why would they fork over their own money to upset the apple cart? The poor coaxed what living they could out of the soil, raised some livestock and made extra money on the side serving in militias that policed the enslaved population. They weren’t rich, but at least they were white. Some held out hope of becoming big slaveholders themselves, similar to the way working classes today hope to win the lottery. One foreign newspaper correspondent saw the tenuous relations between regular Southerners and planters threatened by geography:

Only by the acquisition and prospect of acquisition of new territories, as well as filibustering expeditions (i.e. Central America) is it possible to square the interests of these “poor whites” with those of slaveholders, to give their restless thirst for action a harmless direction and to tame them with the prospect of one day becoming slaveholders themselves. A strict confinement of slavery within its old terrain, therefore, was bound according to economic law to lead to its gradual extinction, in the political sphere to annihilate the hegemony that the slave states exercised through the Senate, and finally to expose the slaveholding oligarchy within its own states to the peril from the “poor whites.”

If the picture doesn’t suffice, talk of hegemony and oligarchy is a clue to this journalist’s identity: Karl Marx. Despite living in London at the time, the communist revolutionary survived on $10/week from Horace Greeley’s New-York Daily Tribune and took an intense interest in the “great republic.” Marx was rooting for the (northern) bourgeoisie capitalists to win out over the (southern) landed aristocracy as a necessary historical step on the way to wage workers toppling the capitalists. Whatever you may think of the feasibility or desirability of that pipe dream, you could do worse than Marx’s analysis of the Civil War’s root cause. For instance, you could read Jefferson Davis’ Rise & Fall of the Confederate Government (1881), the delusional prattle the former Confederate president wrote after the war to explain away the relevance of slavery (we’ll flog that horse in more detail in Chapter 22). What Marx was saying here, conversely, aligns with what southern expansionists wrote before the war. They didn’t just need expansion to appease regular Whites, but also to maintain their own standard of living in an age of soil exhaustion, before fertilizers and crop rotation. The ideal of bequeathing wealth to one’s heirs was easier said than done. Marx and his sidekick Frederich Engels corresponded throughout the coming war, with Engels focused mainly on military strategy and Marx on its political and economic ramifications.

The North and South were growing apart religiously, as well, mostly for these same reasons. It says a lot about the importance of faith in American life that the sectional breakup of the Whigs, Know-Nothings, and Democrats came after two of the main Protestant denominations split in the mid-1840s. Methodists (1844) and Baptists (1845) split into northern and southern factions prior to the political parties and Presbyterians followed suit in 1861. It became impossible to work in southern ministries unless one could not only overlook slavery’s downside but also promote it as Christian and a positive good. Most churches don’t hire ministers to teach them something new they hire them to teach what the congregation wants to hear. There’s no scriptural evidence that Jesus opposed slavery and the Bible sanctions slavery in several passages (e.g. Leviticus 25:44, Colossians 3:22, Ephesians 6:5, Peter 2:18) . A popular, if badly misconstrued, take on the Curse of Ham in Genesis (9:20-27) seemed to explain God’s take on race and slavery for those predisposed to such views.

Northern churches, in turn, taught that the Second Coming of Christ required mankind ending his most egregious sins, including slavery. This is where bolstering the Fugitive Slave Clause as part of the 1850 Compromise came into play. That rule made otherwise non-committal northern Christians complicit in slavery and they resisted. This was especially true of the Quakers and evangelicals that, as we saw in Chapters 14-15, spearheaded the white abolition movement. While not racially progressive by modern standards, neither were many Northerners enthusiastic about helping bounty hunters track down humans like animals. In that way, the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850 backfired on Southerners, popularizing northern abolition.

Northerners liked slavery even less after publication of the century’s second best-selling novel in 1852, Uncle Tom’s Cabin by Harriet Beecher Stowe (best-selling was Ben-Hur: A Tale of the Christ). Fittingly enough, Stowe’s father was a well-known evangelical minister, Lyman Beecher. The book tapped into Northerners’ dislike of the Fugitive Slave Clause and helped abolitionism gain more mainstream traction, though it was never widely popular in the North prior to the war or even during it. Uncle Tom’s Cabin showed how slavery undermined white character and morality while depicting the anti-Christian way that slavery tore apart black families. Stowe wasn’t alone in her observation that slavery messed up Whites: Thomas Jefferson complained that planters’ sons were difficult to educate because they were so conditioned to defy authority and abuse people under them instead of accepting instruction. Midway through the Civil War, Abraham Lincoln welcomed Stowe to a gathering at the White House by saying, “so you’re the little woman who wrote this great book that started this big war.” It was an exaggeration, of course, since no one person started the war. Still, Stowe reinforced the connection between Christianity and abolitionism among a broad audience, including Europeans. The British called abolitionism “Uncle Tomism.” Meanwhile, anti-slavery advocates distributed photos like this one of a Baton Rouge slave named Gordon during the Civil War. Native and African-American stevedore Crispus Attucks went from being absent in 18th-century paintings of the Boston Massacre to being featured front-and-center as the first man to die in the American Revolution, which he was:

Boston Massacre, March 5th 1770, William Champney-J.H. Bufford, 1855

James Buchanan, ca. 1850-68, Cropped From Matthew Brady Daguerreotype, LC

Dred Scott Case
With Stowe’s book and stage play making waves in the North, Kansas-Missouri in turmoil, and a new political party dedicated to stopping slavery’s expansion, President-elect James Buchanan was desperate to stave off war and diffuse the sectional standoff. Buchanan was a pro-slavery northern Democrat. As we saw in Chapter 16, he tried to unite the sections in a common war out west against Mormons, but that fizzled out. First, though, as president-elect he encouraged the Supreme Court, dominated by southern Democrats after years of pro-slavery presidents, to resolve the controversy over western slavery once and for all.

Roger Taney, Brady-Handy Photograph Collection, LC

In the months between Buchanan’s election and when he took office, Chief Justice Roger Taney presided over the case of Dred Scott, a slave originally from Missouri who sued for freedom because he lived with his army doctor owner in the free territories of Illinois and Minnesota (then part of Wisconsin). There was a gentleman’s agreement that southern planters could spend summers cooling off at Cape Cod or Martha’s Vineyard, Massachusetts with some slaves in tow, as long as their vacations didn’t last more than a few months. Scott, though, had spent over a decade in free territories, held as a slave. Taney knew Buchanan wanted clarity and he delivered. He ruled that Scott could not even use the court system and that those of African descent (free or enslaved) had “no legal rights whatsoever” that Whites were bound to respect. He concurred with John C. Calhoun’s view of the Fifth Amendment that Whites had the right to black property and argued that no western territory had any right to restrict slavery in any way.

Dred Scott, Painting by Louis Schultze Based on Earlier Photo, Missouri History Museum

The Dred Scott interpretation of the Fifth Amendment showed just how hollow and self-serving the concept of freedom could be — in this case one person’s freedom literally being defined as another’s bondage. For that matter, most laws both restrict and secure freedom. Restrictions on murder, rape, and robbery, for instance, protect one’s freedom to not be killed, raped, or robbed but deny freedom to murderers, rapists, and burglars.

Taney’s ruling in Dred Scott v. Sandford (1856) played into northern fears of what Salmon Chase called the “Slave Power Conspiracy,” a cabal of politicians, businessmen, and justices Hell-bent on promoting slavery not just out west, but ultimately coercing northern states into re-legalizing it. King Cotton, it was said, “owned the press, pulpit, politicians and people” of the South. Indeed, Southern planters were looking to expand slavery into Latin America and the Caribbean, especially Nicaragua and Cuba. Historian Walter Johnson argues that the future ambitions of slaveholders of the southern Mississippi Valley were more focused on Latin America than Bleeding Kansas or the West. Dred Scott also swung southern politicians firmly in favor of national power over states’ rights. Rather than letting new western states decide slavery on their own, they wanted the national government to impose its interpretation of the Fifth Amendment everywhere.

Wreck of the Central America, 1857, National Maritime Museum, London

Panic of 1857
Southerners thought the North was reeling anyway with a downturn caused by the Panic of 1857 that hurt the North more than the South. On the other hand, the northern population was growing faster, despite pro-slavery Democrats’ control of the Court, Presidency, and Congress. In fact, the Panic of 1857 was caused mainly by overly rapid growth in the northern economy and, in that way, was symptomatic of emerging northern strength. The downturn had multiple causes. Northern railroads used land the government granted them adjacent to tracks to finance mortgages they re-packaged and sold as bonds in Europe, that European investors dumped suddenly when it appeared that southern politicians would be able to disrupt the land grants. Abraham Lincoln, un-coincidentally, was actively involved as a lawyer and politician in helping the railroads maintain access to these grants in the mid-1850s. In addition, the side-wheel steamer SS Central America carrying a massive stockpile of gold from California sank in an Atlantic hurricane, disrupting the banking system.

Fallout from the 1857 Panic impacted the re-shuffling of parties that was going on already in the wake of Bleeding Kansas. Each party wanted a stimulus package to revive the economy, to borrow a modern phrase. Southern Democrats wanted to annex Cuba, to increase slave territory and import Cuban slaves to Louisiana and Mississippi. Republicans wanted to give western settlers land and build them universities to go along with the railroad grants. Many northern Democrats and Whigs favored the GOP approach and defected, bolstering Republican numbers and hastening the regionalization of the new two-party system. Republicans were still a third party prior to the economic downturn and debate over what to do about it. The new two-party system of Democrats and Republicans emerged after Bleeding Kansas and crystallized in the wake of the Panic of 1857.

Lincoln-Douglas Debates
Taney’s ruling in Dred Scott was a direct challenge to this rapidly growing Republican Party, whose platform focused on blocking western slavery — similar to what Jefferson had tried but failed (by one vote) to do in western territories in 1784. The Court had just ruled that any restriction on slavery in western territories was unconstitutional, delegitimizing the Republican party’s main objective. Something had to give. That was the context of Abraham Lincoln’s un-retirement back into politics. Lincoln, a former Whig politician, returned to Illinois politics after Bleeding Kansas, reborn as a Republican.

Lincoln challenged Stephen Douglas, the incumbent Democratic Senator who authored the Kansas-Nebraska Act. Douglas didn’t see much advantage in debating, but Lincoln goaded him into a series of long exchanges that made the 1858 Illinois senatorial race the most famous in history, and more famous historically than the presidential elections of 1852 and 1856. Each year, C-SPAN re-enacts the Lincoln-Douglas Debates. There were no microphones or megaphones so each candidate had to belt out their long half-hour turns followed by rebuttals, Lincoln in his native Kentucky accent. He challenged Douglas to reconcile free sovereignty with Dred Scott, that denied settlers’ right to restrict slavery. Douglas countered with his Freeport Doctrine that settlers should just ignore the Court, but that hardly sufficed as a permanent solution. Lincoln understood that, since state constitutions are drawn up during the territorial phase, the Dred Scott case was, in effect, denying states’ rights when it came to establishing free soil, despite Southern Democrats’ much-ballyhooed commitment to states’ rights.

Douglas also countered that Lincoln liked Blacks. Lincoln recoiled from that charge, reiterating that Blacks should never be able to vote or hold office and that, as much as any man, “he was in favor of having the superior position assigned to the white race.” But Lincoln also steadfastly supported Blacks’ right to work as free laborers and not be owned, saying “As I would not be a slave, so I would not be a master. This expresses my idea of democracy.” He was sensitive about that partly because of his own father sourcing him out for labor. He often called slavery the “theft of labor.” But Lincoln also said in the September 18th debate that differences “would forever forbid the two races living together on terms of social and political equality.” Whether or not Lincoln endorsed that policy or was just offering a sobering appraisal is hard to say. He’d even defended slave owners early in his law career, but his views evolved over his lifetime. We don’t know if Lincoln was saying what he actually thought in the Douglas Debates politicians often don’t. In any event, he seemed then to think the prospects of a functional, integrated society were bleak, which explains his stance on colonization. Lincoln credited Henry Clay in an 1852 eulogy with promoting colonization to help relieve planters of the potential “troublesome presence of free negroes.”

Meanwhile, though, Lincoln wanted to block the spread of slavery in the short term and seemed to hope for its ultimate extinction. In the Douglas debates’ most famous words, drawn from Mark 3:25, Lincoln said a “House divided against itself cannot stand. I believe that this government cannot endure permanently, half slave and half free. It will become all one thing or all the other.” The words echoed those of another Republican, William Seward, who talked of an “irrepressible conflict.” Seward later served as Lincoln’s Secretary of State. Both Lincoln and Seward thought an actual war could be avoided as historical forces would eventually eclipse slavery peacefully. Lincoln lost the 1858 senatorial race to Douglas — as it turns out, voters in southern Illinois did see him as too pro-black — but the campaign garnered the attention of Republicans looking for someone with frontier credibility to run for president in 1860. Lincoln’s 1858 senatorial campaign was one of the most fruitful losses of all time.

Free Soil, Free Labor, Free Men
Lincoln’s formal stance, that he stuck with through the 1860 election until midway through the Civil War, was to support slavery where it already existed in the Southeast but not allow any further expansion. Lincoln opined, “If you had a barn full of rats, it wouldn’t be worth burning down the barn just to get rid of the rats but if you built a new barn you wouldn’t go toss rats in it.” The rat analogy was meant to symbolize slavery, but for many northern voters, it could have just as well symbolized Blacks. After all, Free Soil states didn’t just outlaw slavery they outlawed free Blacks.

Illinois, Indiana, Ohio, Michigan, Wisconsin, Iowa, Minnesota, California, Colorado, and New Mexico all excluded Blacks at one point. Oregon’s exclusion of “all free negroes and mulattos” passed their legislature by an 8:1 margin in 1857. That same year, as the leader of Iowa’s colonization society, J.C. Hall said, “As long as they remain, they must be outcasts and inferiors. They can have no aspirations except as the objects of an unwelcome, hesitating and noisy charity.” It wasn’t just the warped, exploitive form of the South’s biracial society that alienated Northerners they were grossed out by the fact that it was biracial to start with. If anything, it was even truer in New England than in the Midwest or West. New England had been mainly an Anglo society for a couple of centuries, similar to what the Klan always wanted things to be like elsewhere after the Civil War. When they looked to the South, New Englanders saw not just Blacks, but also an unseemly amalgamation of French, Spanish, Indians, and Whites who slept with Blacks. Tapping into this long-standing racial hostility, the Republican Party broadened its appeal by de-emphasizing abolition for morality’s sake, instead stressing the need to keep the West open for Whites. The same phenomenon played out when Indiana and Illinois debated their new state constitutions in 1816 and 󈧖, with anti-slavery factions appealing to racism. The problem with slavery for most Northerners was that it brought in Blacks who displaced white wage workers and plantation owners who displaced yeoman farmers. Salmon Chase’s Republican mantra of Free Soil, Free Labor, Free Men really meant Free [White] Men.

John Magee’s 1856 cartoon depicts a giant Free Soiler being held down by James Buchanan and Lewis Cass standing on the Democratic platform marked “Kansas”, “Cuba” and “Central America”. Franklin Pierce also holds down the giant’s beard as Douglas shoves a black man down his throat.

The 1856 Republican platform clarified that “all unoccupied territories of the United States, and such as they may hereafter acquire, shall be reserved for the white Caucasian race — a thing that cannot be except by exclusion of slavery.” The Civil War could be re-cast not as abolitionists vs. slaveholders, but as a collision of two incompatible types of racism. White Southerners saw Blacks as property or unpaid servants at best, bestowed upon them by God. Presaging the 20th-century KKK, most Northerners wanted to keep the country bleached to preserve wage jobs for Whites. Integrationists they were not. One kind of racism had to give. To be sure, there were genuine white abolitionists who did care for slaves (even they usually supported colonization rather than integration), and they could join the Republican coalition too because it offered them the best chance of upending slavery. Either way, the overriding goal of the Free Soil movement was expressed most succinctly, fittingly enough, by a literature professor from Harvard, Charles Eliot Norton: “to confine the Negro within the South.” There was also a southern critique of slavery voiced by otherwise racist Hinton Rowan Helper, whose Impending Crisis in the South (1857) echoed northerners in pointing out that southern aristocracy blunted upward mobility for poor Whites — a line of criticism planters started calling “Helperism.”

Raid on Harpers Ferry
John Brown, he of the broadsword in Kansas, wanted to stop slavery altogether, not just its expansion. It was time for him and a mere 22 of his followers to “take the fight into Africa,” their code word for the South (an illuminating term when one considers the preceding paragraph). To that end, Brown raised funds from fellow abolitionists to arm a slave insurrection in the upper South. The plan was to seize the Federal Armory at Harpers Ferry, Virginia on the Potomac River then distribute 100k rifles to area slaves for use against their masters.

Brown may have been a visionary, but planning wasn’t his forte. They didn’t even pack lunch. The first fatality, ironically, was a black porter named Hayward Shepherd who overheard their plan on the train and may have attacked them. Brown had no real notion as to how he was going to steal weapons from the U.S. military. Frederick Douglass, who otherwise advocated armed slave insurrections, expressed reservations and refused to participate. Even with a couple hundred pikes and Beecher’s Bibles (breech-loading Sharps rifles), Brown didn’t stand a chance. For one, he didn’t realize that there were few slaves to speak of in northern Virginia, the reason 39 counties broke off to form Union-held West Virginia in the ensuing war. Most slaves in northern Virginia were in coffles heading to the Ohio River on their way to the Deep South.

Marines led by Col. Robert E. Lee surrounded Brown’s men and some hostages they’d taken, including George Washington’s great grand-nephew, Lewis. J.E.B. Stuart approached them with a white flag offering to spare their lives if they surrendered, but Brown said he’d rather die inside. The Marines obliged and rammed open the door, eventually killing ten, including Brown’s sons Oliver and Watson. Another son, Owen, escaped. They captured the others, including John Brown. If Stuart and Lee’s names sound familiar, it’s because they went on to become famous Confederate generals in the Civil War. Confederates, in turn, also raided and took over Harpers Ferry during the war.

The Last Moments of John Brown, Thomas Hovenden, 1882-84, Metropolitan Museum of Art

The morning they took Brown to the gallows, he wrote his final words: “I, John Brown, am now quite certain that the crimes of this guilty land will never be purged away but with blood.” Brown may have been crazy, arguably even a terrorist, certainly something of a lunatic, but he was right that slavery wouldn’t be done away with without war, and he stood for a cause most Americans would agree with today. Does that excuse his murders in Kansas? Does it exonerate him from being labeled a terrorist or fanatic based on the failed Harpers Ferry Raid? Historians and students have argued over the latter ever since, but it’s not the type of question that lends itself to a definitive answer. If one believes that war was the only viable solution to the slavery issue, then a case could be made that Brown helped speed along that process. Or, maybe he was just symptomatic of larger issues that were unfolding anyway, with or without him.

At the time, church bells rang for Brown in select parts of the North, especially New England, where he was seen as a martyr to the abolitionist cause. The Battle Hymn of the Republic, later the Union’s anthem during the war, used music originally penned as “John’s Brown’s Body.” In the South, Brown seemed like a realization of their worst fears, evoking memories of Nat Turner’s Revolt in 1831. No amount of assurance from the Republicans distancing themselves from Brown assuaged those fears. The GOP even avoided nominating an abolitionist in 1860 because of Brown’s raid, though there was good reason for Southerners to suspect that Lincoln was a closet abolitionist. Lincoln, for his part, instructed abolitionist William Lloyd Garrison to not endorse him for that very reason. But all hope of congressional compromise evaporated after Harpers Ferry. Militias formed and trained across southern states in reaction to Brown’s Raid on Harpers Ferry. These same militias morphed into the Confederate Army two years later. Brown drove the wedge deeper between the North and South.

Was John Brown right that slavery presented a sort of “logjam” in American history that could only be jarred loose by violence? This is what Lincoln’s future Secretary of State William Seward implied with his 1858 “Irrepressible Conflict” speech. Or, as some historians have charged, did a “blundering generation” of politicians plunge the nation unnecessarily into a war that could’ve been avoided? White House Chief of Staff John Kelly got himself into hot water in 2017 by saying that the Civil War resulted from lack of compromise — partly because there had already been so many compromises preceding the war, but mainly because the blundering generation theory seems premised on slavery continuing in some form as part of a compromise. That’s likely why the theory is increasingly outdated in favor of the logjam idea, despite White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee’s defense that there is “pretty strong consensus…from the Left, the Right, the North, the South” that a lack of compromise caused the war. We can only say for certain that by the time the GOP nominated Lincoln for the 1860 election, all of America’s major institutions – mainline Protestant churches, courts, political parties, and the people themselves — were divided over slavery. Southerners also rejected compensation for freeing slaves. One thing Northerners and Southerners of the 1850s would’ve agreed on if they’d hopped in a time machine to visit us would be their surprise at our reluctance to see slavery as the issue dividing them.

As the Mexican War was being fought, and Kansas was being settled, as Dred Scott was asking for freedom, as John Brown was trying to take over the Federal Arsenal, not a soul in sight was arguing over tariffs, economics, honor, or states’ rights, except insofar as they connected to slavery, though the latter three no doubt overlapped. Harriet Beecher Stowe didn’t stoke arguments because she favored the national government over state governments in fact, she thought the reverse because she favored the right of states to defy the national fugitive slave law. Southern militias didn’t form to crusade against tariffs. All the major arguments of the 1850s had in common the “peculiar institution” at their core. As war was breaking out, all discussions about potential compromises concerned slavery. After the war started, negotiators from neither camp mentioned anything other than slavery.

However, as we’ll see in the next chapter, the respective sides didn’t go to war for the same reason. The South seceded because they thought Lincoln’s election threatened slavery while the North fought initially just to keep the Union together, not to end slavery. For the North, the primary concern with slavery wasn’t moral, but rather that slavery displaced white wage labor and led to racial integration.

The End of Reconstruction

Gradually Southern states began electing members of the Democratic Party into office, ousting so-called carpetbagger governments and intimidating blacks from voting or attempting to hold public office. By 1876 the Republicans remained in power in only three Southern states. As part of the bargaining that resolved the disputed presidential elections that year in favor of Rutherford B. Hayes, the Republicans promised to end Radical Reconstruction, thereby leaving most of the South in the hands of the Democratic Party. In 1877 Hayes withdrew the remaining government troops, tacitly abandoning federal responsibility for enforcing blacks' civil rights.

The South was still a region devastated by war, burdened by debt caused by misgovernment, and demoralized by a decade of racial warfare. Unfortunately, the pendulum of national racial policy swung from one extreme to the other. Whereas formerly it had supported harsh penalties against Southern white leaders, it now tolerated new and humiliating kinds of discrimination against blacks. The last quarter of the 19th century saw a profusion of "Jim Crow" laws in Southern states that segregated public schools, forbade or limited black access to many public facilities, such as parks, restaurants and hotels, and denied most blacks the right to vote by imposing poll taxes and arbitrary literacy tests.

In contrast with the moral clarity and high drama of the Civil War, historians have tended to judge Reconstruction harshly, as a murky period of political conflict, corruption and regression. Slaves were granted their freedom, but not equality. The North completely failed to address the economic needs of the freedmen. Efforts such as the Freedmen's Bureau proved inadequate to the desperate needs of former slaves for institutions that could provide them with political and economic opportunity, or simply protect them from violence and intimidation. Indeed, federal Army officers and agents of the Freedmen's Bureau were often racists themselves. Blacks were dependent on these Northern whites to protect them from white Southerners, who, united into organizations such as the Ku Klux Klan, intimidated blacks and prevented them from exercising their rights. Without economic resources of their own, many Southern blacks were forced to become tenant farmers on land owned by their former masters, caught in a cycle of poverty that would continue well into the 20th century.

Reconstruction-era governments did make genuine gains in rebuilding Southern states devastated by the war, and in expanding public services, notably in establishing tax-supported, free public schools for blacks and whites. However, recalcitrant Southerners seized upon instances of corruption (hardly unique to the South in this era) and exploited them to bring down radical regimes. The failure of Reconstruction meant that the struggle of African Americans for equality and freedom was deferred until the 20th century -- when it would become a national, and not a Southern issue.

Watch the video: 1946-49 εμφυλιος πολεμος στη Κινα (November 2021).