Unit 5- The American Civil War & Reconstruction

Yawp Chapters 13, 14 & 15

Chapter 13: Sectional Crisis

Conflicts stemming from slavery’s western expansion created problems for the United States from the very start. Battles emerged over the westward expansion of slavery and over the role of the federal government in protecting the interests of slaveholders. Northern workers felt that slavery suppressed wages and stole land that could have been used by poor white Americans to achieve economic independence. Southerners feared that without slavery’s expansion, the abolitionist faction would come to dominate national politics and an increasingly dense population of slaves would lead to bloody insurrection and race war. Constant resistance from enslaved men and women required a strong proslavery government to maintain order. As the North gradually abolished human bondage, enslaved men and women headed North on an underground railroad of hideaways and safe houses. Northerners and Southerners came to disagree sharply on the role of the federal government in capturing and returning these freedom seekers. While Northerners appealed to their states’ rights to refuse capturing runaway slaves, Southerners demanded a national commitment to slavery. Enslaved laborers meanwhile remained vitally important to the nation’s economy, fueling not only the southern plantation economy but also providing raw materials for the industrial North. Differences over the fate of slavery remained at the heart of American politics, especially as the United States expanded. After decades of conflict, Americans north and south began to fear that the opposite section of the country had seized control of the government. By November 1860, an opponent of slavery’s expansion arose from within the Republican Party. During the secession crisis that followed in 1860-1861, fears, nearly a century in the making, at last devolved into bloody war. Read more about Sectionalism.

Questions to be thinking about as you move through the content of this chapter

  1. Why did so many people come to question the existence of slavery in the late early nineteenth century?  Think in particular about the role played by the American, French, and Haitian Revolutions.
  2. Why was the balance between the number of slave states and free states so important in the pre-Civil War period?
  3. How did the ambiguity/internal contradictions of the US Constitution contribute to the debate over slavery in the early 19th century?
  4. Where did the Democrats draw most of their support and why?  Where did the Whigs draw most of their support and why?
  5. How did African Americans contribute to the anti-slavery cause?  (Be sure that you can discuss the specific contributions of people like Frederick Douglass, Sojourner Truth, and Harriet Tubman, among others)?
  6. How did the Mexican-American War contribute to increasing sectionalism in the US?
  7. What factors led to the collapse of the Whig Party in the early 1850s?
  8. How did the Kansas-Nebraska Act split the Democratic Party?
  9. What precedents were set by the Scott v. Sandford decisionand what role did those precedents play in furthering the path to the Civil War?
  10. What factors allowed Abraham Lincoln to win the election of 1860 with only 40% of the popular vote?

Chapter 14: The Civil War

The American Civil War, the bloodiest in the nation’s history, resulted in approximately 750,000 deaths.1 The war touched the life of nearly every American as military mobilization reached levels never seen before or since. The vast majority of northerners went to war to preserve the Union, but the war ultimately transformed into a struggle to eradicate slavery. African Americans, both enslaved and free pressed the issue of emancipation and nurtured this transformation. Simultaneously, women thrust themselves into critical wartime roles while navigating a world without many men of military age. The Civil War was a defining event in the history of the United States and, for the Americans thrust into it, a wrenching one. Read more of Chapter 14 from the American Yawp.

Questions to be thinking about as you move through the content of this chapter

  1. Why did some southern states decide to secede from the Union?  In what ways was that decision tied to the issue of slavery?
  2. Why is the American Civil war considered the first modern war?
  3. Compare and contrast the military (meta-) strategies of the North and South.
  4. What is meant by the phrase “confederate nationalism?”  What role did it play in the war and why did it ultimately fail? 
  5. How did the Civil War change the South?  What factors led to the erosion of support for the Confederacy within the South?
  6. What were the effects of the war in the North?  How did the Civil War expand the role and power of the federal government?
  7. What factors led to the anti-war sentiment in the North and the South?
  8. In what ways did the Civil War change the soldiers’ experience of war?
  9. In what ways was the Civil War "a rich man's war and a poor man's fight" in both the North and the South?
  10. What was the significance of the Emancipation Proclamation? What effect did it have on the North and on the South? 
  11. In what ways could 1863 be considered a “turning point” in the Civil War?
  12. Describe the Union’s ultimate path to victory, between 1864 and 1865.

Chapter 15: Reconstruction

After the Civil War, much of the South lay in ruins. “It passes my comprehension to tell what became of our railroads,” one South Carolinian told a Northern reporter. “We had passably good roads, on which we could reach almost any part of the State, and the next week they were all gone – not simply broken up, but gone. Some of the material was burned, I know, but miles and miles of iron have actually disappeared, gone out of existence.”1 He might as well have been talking about the entire antebellum way of life. The future of the South was uncertain. How would these states be brought back into the Union? Would they be conquered territories or equal states? How would they rebuild their governments, economies, and social systems? What rights did freedom confer upon formerly enslaved people?

The answers to many of Reconstruction’s questions hinged upon the concepts of citizenship and equality. The era witnessed perhaps the most open and widespread discussions of citizenship since the nation’s founding. It was a moment of revolutionary possibility and violent backlash. African Americans and Radical Republicans pushed the nation to finally realize the Declaration of Independence’s promises that “all men were created equal” and had “certain, unalienable rights.” Conservative white Democrats granted African Americans legal freedom but little more. When black Americans and their radical allies succeeded in securing citizenship for freedpeople, a new fight commenced to determine the legal, political, and social implications of American citizenship. Resistance continued, and Reconstruction eventually collapsed. In the South, limits on human freedom endured and would stand for nearly a century more. Read more from Chapter 15 of the American Yawp.


Questions to be thinking about as you move through the content of this chapter

  1. What questions did Reconstruction seek to answer for the nation?
  2. What course did Presidential Reconstruction take?
  3. In what ways did Reconstruction recreate “slavery by another name?”
  4. What did freedom mean to African Americans?  How did they express their newfound freedom?
  5. Discuss the limits of Reconstruction with regard to the following issues:
    • Land Distribution
    • Political Rights for African-Americans
    • Family reconstruction
    • Education
    • Economic opportunities for African Americans
  6. What made Radical Republicans “radical”?
  7. Describe the connection between the emergence of women’s rights movements and the Constitutional Revolution in the 1860s and 1870s.
  8. What was the role of Andrew Johnson in Reconstruction?  What were the circumstances under which he was impeached as president?
  9. What was the “Reign of Terror” during Reconstruction?
  10. Discuss the economic effects of the Civil War and Reconstruction on the north and the south.
  11. Why did Americans lose interest in Reconstruction in the 1870s and what impact did that have?  Be sure you can discuss the role played by the Depression of 1873 in this shift.
  12. How and why did Reconstruction end in 1877?