The second Epistle of Peter 2:19 contains a comment that can be applied to the United States situation in the early 1860’s, “While they promise them liberty, they themselves are the servants of corruption: for of whom a man is overcome, of the same is he brought in bondage”. The American Civil War altered the way people understood warfare, manifested a rubric for a nation-state, and created background for abolishing slave labor. Each of these outcomes carried some difficult to manage the war consequences. According to Abraham Lincoln’s idea, the nation was able to survive only as a unified state; therefore, separation of some southern territories could have had serious consequences. Ulysses S. Grant was glorified all over the world as an icon of the war, one who empowered the great experiment of self-government in a democratic society; a person who was instrumental in saving the Union. The “Empire of Liberty,” how Thomas Jefferson has referred to post-Civil War America, is a refrain that still echoes worldwide. The expansion of America meant the same as an expansion of freedom, but willingness become aggressive, as well. The reunited nation embarked on a quest of literal geographic expansion after the war, acquiring Alaska, annexing Hawaii, the Philippines, and Puerto Rico.
The Effects of the Civil War
In the article “Post Racial America,” Eric Foner suggests that American imperialism following the Civil War can be, and has been, violent and oppressive (1). The effects of the Civil War on other countries, as well as the USA itself, cannot be ignored. American imperialism has impacted many nations’ geopolitics and the world economy in general, for many years. The ideal of America is seen in many places, in the politics of imposing the U.S. will on others. It is extremely ironic that the Civil War’s intent was to unify, but not oppress, people. Of the noted political events leading to the Civil War, like the Kansas Nebraska Act, the Virginia Harpers Ferry insurrection, Lincoln’s elections to the President, the last one probably have been the final political push toward the war.
The history of the Civil War appears to be told largely from the Northern States’ perspective. In theory, the war was about putting an end to slavery, and was used as the last resort, to avoid secession of Southern states. On the other hand, if the union had been “torn apart,” as Lincoln feared, the cost could have been even more severe, including the ongoing war, possible economic downturn, unstable currency and banking system, troubles with labor wages and laws. If economic conditions had continued, with the north’s reliance on manufacturing and the south’s dependence on agriculture and free labor, the American society would have ended up with two distinct systems of currency and economy, and possibly two countries. The war itself cost a staggering amount of money; a final official estimate in 1879 amounted to 6,190,000,000 USD. This would be considered a financial strain on national treasury in modern times. The loss of lives during the war amounted to more than a devastating one million people (Faust 12). On the other hand, the war had some benefits, which can be measured in terms of post war economic activity.
The Influence of the Civil War on Agriculture
The war was something of a mixed blessing to industry. It is considered true that the Civil War ruined the southern and gave rise to the northern industrial economy. The rate of commodity growth slackened during this period. On the other hand, agriculture in the North enjoyed a boon following the war. Mechanical seeders and steel plows were in use during the conflict and in the four decades after 1865; at a certain stage, 250,000 of McCormick reapers were being utilized. Wheat, oats, wool, and potatoes saw a 35% increase in production during the period, and exports of pork, corn, and wheat rose by as much as 60%. If one encaged in the right business, such as textiles, food, and shipping, these would be good times for them. Larger profits were seen in the latter part of the 1800’s for the mixed economy of the north.
In the South, some large cities, like Mobile, Richmond, and Atlanta, had been devastated by fire, random theft, and violence. For the business people, the high value of slaves and free labor was lost overnight; much of their money became worthless, and their investments wiped out. The Civil War Journal notes that, in one community in South Carolina, lived a man whose income was rated at $150,000.00 per year, and whose property valued at millions. All but the floorboards were burned when the Yankees came through, and he earned a living peddling molasses and tea to his former slaves. In the South, cotton and tobacco were still big businesses, with share prices that had been climbing for a decade after the conflict. The difference was that farms were smaller; the plantations were demolished, and Blacks and Whites owned farms side by side, producing, and selling goods.
At that date, the need for rail transportation was great and unprecedented. By the time the Civil War ended, the Midwest had become the beneficiary of a large number of railway projects, joining the Midwest, Southern regions, and the West Coast. Chicago became a hub of rail networking and the crossing place of many railways. Food, durable goods, lumber, coal, and grain were shipped, and the number of interstate railways reached a total of 1,422 miles of rail facilities. After 1900, many projects involved adding new track to the existing lines, and this was largely undertaken by Chinese and Black laborers. Nevertheless, the Midwestern lines placed Illinois in a strategic position to ship and receive goods; therefore, employment increased by 82%, in the state. By the end of Reconstruction in 1875, railways connected Arkansas and Tennessee, Memphis and Little Rock, Little Rock and St. Louis. Till the late 1800’s, other railroads, such as St. Louis and Southwestern ones, connected towns in the South and Midwest and joined agricultural regions to the national network. By 1895, railroad companies managed to construct 2,373 miles of railroads. A broad national market was now accessible; small and large agriculture businesses began to construct the railway routes and utilize the nearby farmland.
Among the new farmers, there were many Germans, Poles, Slovaks, and immigrants from Bohemia, who also influenced many town and city names in Arkansas and Mississippi. The Original “Germantown” is said to become Arkansas. It is a well-known fact that Chinese laborers built rails that stretched from the Midwest to the Pacific Ocean.
Whatever the effects of war on industrial growth in the South were, the region seemed to be disproportionately affected by the Civil War. The abolition of slavery meant that the entire economy had to be restructured. The war costs had burdened the nation for many decades. There is a discussion about whether the rebuilding was a success or failure. On the first hand, the great wealth of the plantation owner having cornered the market on tobacco and cotton was dispersed. On the other hand, the means of production were “spread around” to use a popular phrase and many smaller and minority owned businesses were given room to grow.
Faust, Patricia, ed. Historical Time encyclopedia of the Civil War. New York: W.W. Norton, 2001.
Grant, R. Twilight Rails: The Final Era of Railroad Building. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press (2010).
Guelzo, A. “A War Lost and Found.” American Interest (2011): 1-8.
Pryor, David, ed. “Post Reconstruction Through the Gilded Age.” Encyclopedia of Illinois History and Culture (1963): 12-56.
Ransom, Robert. “The Economics of the Civil War.” University of California Riverside blog posting (2011): 1-5.