Monday, September 6, 2010

8: Obama Accounting: "A House Divided"--Reconstruction Then

The Civil War raged on. In the South, north through Virginia, to the Washington, DC capital, and beyond to Maryland, above the Mason-Dixon line to Pennsylvania, west to Louisiana, the energies, monies and lives of Americans were lost. The Union lost 360,222 men (110,000 in battle). The Confederacy lost 258,000 (94,000 in battle). At least 471,427 were wounded on both sides.

Despite the war, Lincoln won re-election in 1864. The Confederacy, army and money, was weakened. General Robert E. Lee surrendered the Confederate Army to Union General Ulysses S. Grant at Appomattox, VA on April 7, 1865. The Civil War was over.

Seven (7) days later on Good Friday, actor John Wilkes Booth assassinated President Lincoln at Ford's Theater with a single bullet wound to the head. Lincoln never regained consciousness and died the next morning on April 15, 1865.

Booth's shout "sic semper tyrannis!" ("So always to tyrants!") summarizes the irony of Lincoln's Administrations. The "Great Emancipator" freed the slaves in the rebellious Confederate states. But in his war to end slavery, Lincoln became a tyrant, violating the Constitution of the US which he fought the war to preserve. Lincoln expanded the Union Army wth the first military draft in US history, the Conscription Act of 1862. Lincoln declared martial law and suspended the Writ of Habeaus Corpus, the right of the accused to face the accuser and to know the offense of which he(/she) is accused.

Lincoln's goal was to block expansion of slavery to the North and new Western territories, and gradually, even with conpensation to the southern states, to extinguish slavery in the South by 1900.

Lincoln, Black Hawk War militia captain, postmaster, and lawyer, had re-entered politics to protest repeal of the 1820 Missouri Compromise forbiding slavery and to protest passage of the more limited 1854 Kansas-Nebraska Act prohibiting slavery north of the 36 degree 31 minute latitude. Other earlier local laws also prohibited slavery.

The nation was new. The War of Independence from Great Britain had been won less than 100 years before in 1776. The Constitution of the United States was debated and ratified by the states between 1787 and 1791.

The North was building factories, becoming industrialized and monetarized. The South remained agrarian, land rich, cash poor. The Southern economy depended on the barter of labor to continue farming the land. Congress recognized the south depended on laborers in various conditions of "servitude". Congress prohibited slavery by 1808, penalizing slaveholders prior to 1808 in Section 9(1)...a "tax or duty may be imposed on such importation, not exceeding ten dollars for each person." Congress limited "the migration or importation of such persons", to limit immigration and the entry of "illegals" into the US.

But there were conflicting goals: prohibiting slavery yet permitting expansion of the economy, particularly the labor-intensive southern farm economy. This occurred in the aftermath of the destruction of land and loss of money during the Revolutionary War, only fifty years earlier.

In the first US Census of 1790, the term "slave" was not well-defined, appearing to refer to non-family farm workers, indentured servants, and slaves. Local laws and local opinion prohibited slavery in the North. Congress banned slavery in 1808.

17.2% of American families were "Slaveholder" families. 90% of slaves resided in 3 Southern states, Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, and in Maryland. 603,540 of 697,624 people classified as "slaves" in the 1790 Census resided in these 4 states.

Interestingly enough, there were black as well as white slaveholders. Thomas Day was a mixed race black cabinet maker who owned 14 slaves who worked in his antebellum North Carolina furniture shop.

The Era of Reconstruction followed the Civil War, led by Lincoln's party of Republicans and Radical Republicans. The latter coalition of newly emancipated and other blacks, northern "Carpetbaggers", and their southern collaborators the "Scalawags", molded the re-admitted Southern States to the will of the federal government in Washington, DC.

Emancipated coloreds and poor whites in various conditions of "servitude" were freed. The new "Freedmen" were provided schools and education, citizenship, voting rights, and protection from angry former Confederates under various military and other Reconstruction Acts through the 1860s.

In another irony of the Civil War and Reconstruction, on January 23, 1864 President Lincoln recgnized the concept of "free" labor in contract relations between "ex-slaves" and plantation owners and ordered the Army to encourage and supervise such contracts. This of course makes it dfficult to count the numbers of "freedmen" and slaves at the close of the Civil War.

Other significant Reconstruction era acts include the 3 related Amendments to the US Constitution:
1865: The 13th Amendment, Abolition of slavery.
1866: The 14th Amendment, The Civil Rights Act, US citizenship for all former slaves.
1870: The 15th Amendment, Black Suffrage.

Despite timely legal remedies 145 years ago, the issues of Reconstruction, including education for citizenship, voting rights, and equal rights under the law, repeatedly have been raised and remedied by the federal government. The Reconstruction Era policies of the Radical Republicans continue to this day, now under the Democratic Party and the Obama Administration Cabinet level Advocacy programs, to be discussed in the next blog in this series at (or if indexing problems have not been resolved).

Photograph: 3 cent Lincoln's Gettysburg Address (Nov. 19, 1863) Stamp, 1948:
That government, of the people, by the people, for the people,
shall not perish from the earth. (Nov. 19, 1863).
from Research Guide to American Historical Biography, R. Mussigrosso, Ed., Beacham Publishing, W,DC: 2008.

Other references include: NPR, The World Book Encyclopedia, 20003; Encyclopedia of American biography, JA Gararaty; Encyclopedia of the American Civil War, DS & JT Heidler; Historical Dictionary of the Civil War and Reconstruction, WL Richter.

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