Documents: Civil War / Reconstruction
After the Southern states seceded from the Union, they formed the Confederate States of America and elected Jefferson Davis as President. In his Inaugural Address (statement to the country) in 1861, Davis argued that separation from the Union was a “necessity, not a choice.” He also referred to the U.S. Declaration of Independence of 1776 and the South’s belief that the states should reclaim their sovereignty.
After Abraham Lincoln was elected President, in 1861, he delivered his First Inaugural Address (statement to the country). In this speech Lincoln addressed the looming Civil War and the secession of some Southern states. He called for preservation of the Union and emphasized his commitment to that goal. In an attempt to avoid war, he also stated, "I have no purpose, directly or indirectly, to interfere with the institution of slavery in the States where it exists.”
Passed in 1862 during the Civil War, the Homestead Act allowed any person who was head of a family or was 21 years of age and a citizen of the U.S. and had not taken up arms against the U.S. to claim 160 acres of public land in the West for a small fee after residing on the land for five years. Eventually, 285 million acres of western land were claimed and settled under the Homestead Act.
Under the Morrill Land Grant Act of 1862, the U.S. government donated public land to the states for their use in establishing colleges to educate the nation’s farmers and workers in “agriculture and the mechanic arts.” The Morrill Act was very important for the development of public education in the U.S. It resulted in the establishment of more than 100 land-grant colleges and universities such as Texas A&M University.
President Abraham Lincoln delivered the Gettysburg Address on November 19, 1863, to dedicate a cemetery in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania where many were buried after dying in the Battle of Gettysburg. In his two-minute speech, Lincoln spoke to the fact that our nation was “conceived in liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.” He suggested that the Civil War was a test of whether the nation and democracy would survive.
Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation in 1863 after the victory by the Union forces at the Battle of Antietam. This executive order declared all slaves in rebelling states to be free. This event expanded the goals of the war from saving the Union to freeing the slaves. As a result of the Proclamation, many escaped slaves, former slaves, and freemen joined the Union army. It is also widely believed that this proclamation may have kept Britain, where slavery was illegal, from entering the war on the side of the Confederates.
After Abraham Lincoln’s reelection as President in 1864, he delivered his Second Inaugural Address (statement to the country) in 1865. At the time of this speech, the Civil War was nearing an end, and Lincoln addressed the future of the country. Lincoln called for healing and peace, saying, “With malice toward none; with charity for all… let us strive on to finish the work we are in; to bind up the nation's wounds…”
As part of the Reconstruction effort, this act established the Freedmen’s Bureau in the War Department to provide assistance to former slaves and poor whites in the South and the District of Columbia following the Civil War. The Bureau was to issue food and clothing, operate hospitals, and construct temporary camps for the newly freed slaves. They attempted to settle the slaves on abandoned or confiscated land. This part of the act had varying degrees of success depending on the state. The most successful part of the act established colleges and training schools for the newly freed slaves. The best known of these institutions is Howard University founded in Washington in 1867 and still operating today.
After the Thirteenth Amendment was adopted, some southern states passed so-called “Black Codes” which were designed to keep former slaves in a subordinate position. For example, these “codes” prohibited former slaves from pursuing certain occupations. They also defined race by blood, and that the presence of any amount of “black blood” made one black. In addition, they provided that freed slaves could not assemble without the presence of a white person or be taught to read or write. Finally, the codes established that public facilities were segregated.
In the spring of 1866 the U. S. Congress adopted the Civil Rights Act of 1866, the first of a series of laws designed to assert and protect basic legal and civil rights for former slaves. Even though the Thirteenth Amendment had abolished slavery it did nothing to assure the freedom of those slaves. That would be left up to Congressional action and the result was the Civil Rights Act of 1866. The act went on to authorize federal officials to arrest and prosecute those who were violating the rights guaranteed to all citizens. It did not extend the right to vote, hold office, or sit on juries to the former slaves. President Johnson vetoed the bill, but Congress overrode the veto by a two-thirds vote in both houses.
This act divided the secessionist states into five military districts. Each district was to be governed by a Union general. That general declared martial law and stationed troops in the region to keep the peace and protect the former slaves. Before any state could be readmitted to the Union, they had to redraft their Constitution to outlaw slavery, ratify the 14th Amendment, and provide suffrage (the right to vote) to former slaves that was guaranteed in the 15th Amendment.
Congress passed the Enforcement Acts of 1870-1871 also known as the Ku Klux Klan Acts to counter the violence against African Americans being carried out by the Klan. The Klan was present in nearly every southern state and was a means for resisting Reconstruction era policies designed to achieve equality for former slaves. The organization attempted through violent actions to intimidate not only former slaves but also whites who supported former slaves’ efforts to achieve their rights. Among other techniques which Klan members utilized were burning crosses, rallies, parades and marches, and, most seriously, lynching. In response to the violence perpetrated by the Ku Klux Klan, Congress intended to protect former slaves’ rights to vote, hold office, serve on juries, and be guaranteed the equal protection of the laws. If states did not act, these laws allowed the U. S. government to intervene. Using these laws, President Ulysses Grant sent U. S. troops to restore law and order where Klan related violence was most prevalent.
The Dawes (Severalty) Act of 1887 was designed to eliminate Native American tribal life and assimilate Native Americans into white society. In the law, Congress provided for the gradual elimination of most tribal ownership of the land. The tribal land was divided up, giving 160 acres to the head of a family, 80 acres to a single adult, and 40 acres to each dependent child. Adult owners were also given U.S. citizenship. However, owners could not gain full title to their property for 25 years. Native Americans who were to be given the land had to agree to live separately from the tribe.