The Civil War’s end in 1865 concluded America’s deadliest conflict and commenced a period of Reconstruction in America. However, the war also incensed sectionalism and resentment between Americans. As a result of the war’s fundamental social, economic, and political effects, reunion and reconciliation in the country was strenuously difficult for both spectrums of the nation.
Foremost, the war emancipated almost four million African American slaves—a phenomenon marking a new era in American civil liberties. Southern states who contributed thousands of men to the cause were disillusioned at the lost of what they considered their “property.” To them, the north had stripped the Confederacy of its rights to ownership—the central factor that propelled them to fight in the war. Their vehement rejection of African Americans’ freedom and denouncement of the north’s actions to ensure natural rights made reunion especially onerous.
Southerners viewed Reconstruction as an attack on their distinct political and economic patterns. The south, the epitome of states’ rights, became virtually powerless to the federal government who enacted martial government until the states pledged allegiance to the Union and abolished slavery in their constitutions. Former Confederates were also barred from voting and public office. This political process of reuniting the nation was viewed as punitive and humiliating by the south. The war also devastated the south’s economic system through its savage battles and elimination of slave labor. Thousands of plantation owners lost their wealth and “property” and faced the destruction of their lands. The south’s extreme casualties, desolation of agricultural prosperity, and lack of representation in government struck at the fragile threads that united the nation.
Nevertheless, the Civil War was a pivotal event—out of it emerged a burst of liberty and generations of Americans would be imparted with civil guarantees. Thus, it is instrumental for all Americans to preserve and study the roots of their civil rights. Without the establishment of national monuments such as Fort Sumter and Manassas Battlefield, the efforts of soldiers who fought to uphold freedom might be forgotten. Without the preservation of war documents, the written stories of our American ancestors’ victory over slavery and hatred would have vanished. As President Lincoln stated, the preservation of history “can never forget what they did (Gettsyburg).” History enables “us, the living, to be dedicated to the unfinished work (Lincoln, Gettysburg Address)” our ancestors have labored so gruelingly to preserve: liberty and justice for all.
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