Life in the North After the Civil War

Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Elizabeth Foster

Elizabeth has been involved with tutoring since high school and has a B.A. in Classics.

The Civil War didn't just change life in the Southern states. The North also changed after the war, thanks to wartime advances in industry and technology and the movement for racial equality in the postwar years.

Reconstruction - A Time of Change

When the Civil War ended in 1865, America entered a period called Reconstruction. Reconstruction was the national effort to reintegrate the North and the South so they could function as one nation without slavery. The war left the Southern economy devastated, and since it had been based on slavery in the first place, the entire economic structure had to be rebuilt. Millions of newly emancipated slaves also had to be integrated into society as free people.

During Reconstruction, the South saw a temporary period of military government and tremendous social upheaval. But as we will see, the period after the Civil War also brought significant changes to the North. Wartime economic growth changed the way people lived after the war, and with the end of slavery came the beginnings of the Civil Rights Movement that would come to life a whole century later.

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  • 0:02 Reconstruction - A…
  • 0:59 From Agriculture to Industry
  • 1:28 Education,…
  • 2:44 The Fight For Civil Rights
  • 4:17 The 15th Amendment & Migration
  • 5:24 Lesson Summary
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From Agriculture to Industry

The North had already been more industrialized than the South at the start of the war, and the demands of wartime accelerated the transition in the North from an economy based on farming to one based on manufacturing. While the agricultural, slave-based Southern economy was devastated by the war, the Northern economy benefited from development in many of its industries, including textile and iron production. The war also stimulated the growth of railroads, improving transportation infrastructure.

Education, Communication, & Economic Ramifications

The increasing importance of industry also provided an indirect benefit to education. After the war, Northerners benefited from wartime legislation, like the Morrill Act, which granted land to the states for technical colleges that would teach important skills for the new economy. Other improvements to the new industrial society included the wider spread of telegraph lines, initially justified by the need for swift military communications. After the war, these telegraph lines made for easier civilian communication across the growing country, and the quicker spread of news all around the nation. The mass media as we know it was gathering steam.

Admittedly, the war also demanded some economic sacrifice in the North. The Northern government had funded its military by raising taxes and borrowing money. People living in the North emerged from the war paying income tax for the first time. Like the South, the North had also printed additional paper money. The value of this money fluctuated during the war, causing some economic instability. But despite the stress of wartime, the enormous industrial and economic expansion allowed the North, and eventually the whole country, to grow into the industrial power that it is today.

The Fight for Civil Rights

The economy wasn't the only thing that changed for people in the North after the Civil War. The fight for racial equality during Reconstruction changed Northern society as well as the South. These social movements were less disruptive to the basic structure of society in the North than they were in the South, and they did not provoke the same level of widespread violence, partly because there were fewer Black people as a percentage of the population. But Northerners did have to grapple with many of the same issues.

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