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Reconstruction Policy and the South after the Civil War

After the civil war, the fundamental task of the Central Government was to adopt a proper policy of reconstruction and re-union with a view to strengthening the American Federation. But due to various reasons, the task was a complex one.

The sad assassination of President Lincoln made it amply clear that the fanatics were strongly opposed to a progressive policy. He, indeed, had hated slavery and desired its abolition. But he actually fought for Union and not for the emancipation of the slaves as such. His primary purpose was to protect and preserve the unity of the Federation by thwarting the disintegrating attitude of the South.

So, after the end of the civil war, the Primary Task of the new President, Andrew Johnson, was to carry out a generous conciliation as advocated by his predecessor. But the victorious North, mindful of its own loss due to the war, was by no means conciliatory in its attitude towards the South. At least initially, the states of the North were in favor of adopting a policy of retaliation (L. Mukherjee). So, bitter quarrels broke out between the President and Congress which was dominated by the Republicans. As a matter of fact, the party-system of America was, during this time, almost localized and the Republican Party had no strong base in the south. This is also a reason for which it did not, initially, take much care for the interests of the South.

The Reconstruction Act of 1867-68 provided that the Southern states should be treated as the conquered provinces to be administered by the military Governors and were to be readmitted to the Federation after they ratified the fourteenth amendment of the constitution. As some of the states withheld such ratification, the Congress proceeded to subject the South to Negro-rule under military protection. Naturally, the Negroes took the advantage of this provision and the reign of ‘Black Terror’ came into being.

But gradually, a basic change ushered in primarily due to political and constitutional measures.

Politically, the Southern states came to realize that the Federation was indestructible and any such attempt to break it would surely end in vain. The Federation was protected and it was taught to all that the units of and nobody, however mighty and powerful, had the right to break it up. The civil war also established the fact that the Center, though dominated by the Northern states, was, for ensuring Federal unity entitled to adopt strict military measures. Such realization slowly infused in the South the idea of national unity and solidarity. Similarly, the Northern states rectified their earlier stand and accepted the Southern states as the integral part of the Federation. In this way the South were brought back into the Union and the rebels were taught to be loyal citizens.

Of course, the party-system also helped much in the growth of such unity. Gradually the Republican Party expanded its organizations in the South and the, eventually, it too acted as a unifying force.

Constitutionally, too, the process was towards unification. As O.P Goyal observes, “The 13th (1865), 14th (1868) and 15th (1870) amendments grew out of the civil war” (Goyal). The 13th amendment abolished slavery which so long appeared as a bone of content between the South and the North. The 14th amendment defined citizenship and forbade states to deprive persons of life, liberty and property “without due process of law”. The abolishment of the institution of slavery has brought about the emancipation of billions of people who had so long forced to remain as the casualties of modern civilization. The Negroes, who had suffered much due to racial hatred, were now placed in power and position. In this way the people of the North and South were brought in a state of equality. The 15th amendment forbade the Governments, both central and provincial, from abridging the right to vote because of race, color, residence or other previous conditions of servitude. Thus the concept of equality and liberty was upheld through the constitution and, naturally, the vast majority of the Southern people who so long nurtured a grudge against the center, became loyal and submissive.

The republic was, however, strengthened by the civil war. America emerged out of it with a new spirit, hope and vigor. It now adopted a bold policy – France was forced to withdraw its army from Mexico and Britain was persuaded to compensate for the American loss in the Alabama issue.

This political factor had its influence on the economic side too. The Center, still dominated by the North, showed a practical sense in this matter. The Government adopted a policy which encouraged rapid industrialization and this scheme largely helped the South to proceed towards prosperity. As stated earlier, the slave-dependent society of the South now became much more rational in their approach and concentrated on the system of rational industrialization. Due to the abolition of the slave-system, and the new spirit of industrialization, they broke up the big estates and invested in the industrialization process. Thus an economy of cotton-cultivation gave way to the industrial revolution. They now manufactured their own goods and the spread of railways expanded their markets and also united them with the North. In the place of localism, a new feeling of solidarity and community of interests grew up. In this way the North and the South united together and formed a strong Federation. Rapid industrialization not only improved the living standard of the South, but also ensured a regional balance in the economy.

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