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In what ways and to what extent did constitutional and social developments between 1860 and 1877 amount to a revolution?

By sammyluv Apr 29, 2004 801 Words
In 1861 the bloodiest and one of the most important revolutions in American History

began, The Civil War. Socially this war had been brewing since the beginning of slavery.

This controversial subject had been the object of debate mainly because it required a

balance between free and slave states. Slavery was also a big issue between the

Democrats in the 1860 election because they could not agree on the issue of popular

sovereignty. This eventually led to their splitting which opened up the doors for Lincoln

to take office. After Lincoln was inaugurated in 1860 seven states ceded and later four

more. The south believed they were within their constitutional right to cede. In South

Carolina's Declaration of Causes for Session the state says, "Powers not delegated to the

United States by the constitution...are reserved to the states (Doc A)." This leaves

Lincoln at a quandary over the age old constitutional issue of Nullification and session

debated back in the day of the Virginia Kentucky resolutions and Hartford Convention.

He resolves that it is not within the states power to cede and brings the nation to war. The

eventual victory for the North would bring about one of the greatest changes in history;

the Emancipation Proclamation that forever ended slavery and changed the southern way

of life.

With Slavery no more and a Southern society in ruins more changes had to be made in the

Reconstruction revolution. After Lincoln's and Johnson's plans for reconstruction failed,

the Republicans who now controlled congress took the reigns. Socially there was the

large issue of all these freedmen with nowhere to go, who are now demanding equality. In

a petition written just after the war in 1865 from African Americans to the Tennessee

Convention the blacks say, "If we are called to military duty...should we be denied the

right to vote (Doc C)." That same year a letter to the Freedmen's Bureau (a group

dedicated to helping protect blacks and their rights), from a group of blacks was asking

for homesteads so they may have the same rights as white land owners (Doc E). With the

need to help these newly freed blacks and protect them from those endorsing things like

the Black Codes, states had to develop a constitution with special specifications to

black's rights. The constitutional changes that occurred not only to the state governments

but to the national governments as well were the thirteenth amendment that ended

slavery, the fourteenth that made blacks citizens, and the fifteenth that gave blacks the

right to vote as illustrated in The First Vote (Doc G). The latter developments changed

the south and America forever. The entire southern way of life was flipped upside down

economically and socially. Sharecropping and the crop-lien system emerged to solve the

labor shortages, blacks status increased, and education expanded; these are some of the

main results of the Reconstruction Revolution.

The Final revolution of this time unfortunately was that of the Redeemers. Since the

beginning the conservatives had been fighting reconstruction in the South. The South had

always had people (the democrats) opposed to black suffrage. Gideon Wells said, "The

Federal government has no dictate the matter of suffrage (Doc D)." To resolve

these conservatives would require literacy tests to vote, and reinstate property

requirements. These methods were ways around the vague constitutional developments of

the 15th amendment. Violence was also used as a means to control the black population

in the South. The Klu Klux Klan and White League would use terrorist acts on blacks and

lynch many innocent blacks to discourage them from voting as illustrated in (Doc I).

Blacks were also segregated from whites, which after the Supreme Court case of Plessy v.

Ferguson was deemed legal as long as they had equal opportunities; however, the blacks

did not have equal opportunities but it still allowed the whites to avoid the 14th

amendment. Finally, in the Compromise of 1877 Rutherford B. Hayes was elected

president and withdrew the troops from the south. The north believed that with the vote

the blacks could take care of themselves and they also had their eyes focused on the West.

However, with the soldiers gone the blacks became once again subject to the will of the

whites. This is where history is debated on whether reconstruction was a success because

the Redeemer revolution reverted the south back to a segregated area of tension once


The façade that was America changed significantly from 1860 to 1877. The constitution

had been written a century prior leaving out many key issues. To address these issues

revolutions took place and in the end change was made. The debate over slavery and

cession led to finally freeing those who never deserved oppression. The end of the Civil

War brought about the need for black rights and new ways of life. Opposition to these

revolutions led to the reverting revolution that turned back the clock taking away once

again what so many died for. The social and constitutional developments that helped fuel

these revolutions are responsible for some of the nation's greatest achievements like the

13th, 14th, and 15th amendments, and some of the worst like segregation.

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