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The American Civil War's Impact on the Economy, Society, Politics & Government

The American Civil War's Impact on the Economy, Society, Politics & Government
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  • 0:05 Economic Impacts of…
  • 1:19 Political Effects of…
  • 3:40 Societal Effects of…
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Instructor: Cirrelia Thaxton

Cirrelia is an educator who has taught K-12 and has a doctorate in education.

By studying this lesson on the Civil War era, you'll learn about the economic, political, and social changes that took place during this impactful period in American history.

Economic Impacts of the Civil War

The Civil War era was a period of great economic, political, and social upheaval in American history. Due to the war, the whole of the South's economic structure was literally destroyed. The land in Virginia, Tennessee, Mississippi, Georgia, and South Carolina was devastated, causing the South to lag even further in the agricultural sector which had made it great. The North, on the other hand, which had mighty manufacturing capabilities, produced 17 times more cotton and 32 times more weaponry than the South.

During the war, the Northern states witnessed rapid industrialization. So, sadly for them, the South suffered tremendously because they were unable to withstand the North's oppressive tactics. Along with their decreasing industrial base, Southerners found it hard to mobilize their resources in an economy where slave labor was outlawed. For instance, when the slaves were freed, $1.5 billion of the South's capital was ruined. Northerners, who had efficient railways that carried supplies and Union troops, were able to maintain an economy that supported them on land and sea. Due to their blockade of Southern ports, the Union hastened an end to the Civil War.

Political Effects of the Civil War

The country was a nation divided, due to the differences between the North and the South's political statuses. The North was a financial and industrial mecca, whereas the South had an agricultural economy based on the institution of slavery. Because Southern plantation owners feared that the powerful North would put an end to slavery, political leaders did what they could to ease the sectional conflict. For instance, they passed laws like the Missouri Compromise of 1820, which allowed the acceptance of Missouri as a slave state and Maine as a free territory. Nevertheless, the politicians' attempts to maintain a balance between slave and free states became futile as a result of other cases, such as the Fugitive Slave Act, in which the North was forced to return captured slaves back to the South.

Following the Election of 1860, the fate of the government fell into the hands of Abraham Lincoln, the newly elected 16th President of the United States, who warned his countrymen, 'A house divided cannot stand.' Hence, he admonished the South against secession, an act of leaving the Union that was deemed illegal according to the Constitution. Lincoln's words did not bind the crumbling Union, and by April 1861, the Civil War had begun. In order to keep the South down, Lincoln suspended the writ of habeas corpus, an act that helped Northerners arrest the Southern sympathizers among them.

As the South continued to struggle, Lincoln helped to shape America's future economy with legislation, such as the Pacific Railroad Acts and the National Bank Act of 1863. The former law funded three transcontinental railroads, while the latter law shaped the standards for the country's banking system.

By 1864, the Union was tired of fighting, and the South was clinging to their last vestige of hope. George McClellan, a popular general and Democrat, challenged Lincoln for the presidency but failed in the general election. In March, Lincoln delivered a stirring Second Inaugural Address declaring, 'Let us strive on to finish the work we are in, to bind up the nation's wounds. . .' In one month's time, on April 9, 1864, the military leader of the South, General Robert E. Lee, surrendered to the Union's General Ulysses S. Grant, and the war was over.

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