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History of the United States by Charles A. Beard and Mary R. Beard
» PART V. SECTIONAL CONFLICT AND RECONSTRUCTION
» CHAPTER XV

«·The War Measures of the Federal Government · Reconstruction in the South·»


The Results of the Civil War

There is a strong and natural tendency on the part of writers to stress the dramatic and heroic aspects of war; but the long judgment of history requires us to include all other significant phases as well. Like every great armed conflict, the Civil War outran the purposes of those who took part in it. Waged over the nature of the union, it made a revolution in the union, changing public policies and constitutional principles and giving a new direction to agriculture and industry.

The Supremacy of the Union.—First and foremost, the war settled for all time the long dispute as to the nature of the federal system. The doctrine of state sovereignty was laid to rest. Men might still speak of the rights of states and think of their commonwealths with affection, but nullification and secession were destroyed. The nation was supreme.

The Destruction of the Slave Power.—Next to the vindication of national supremacy was the destruction of the planting aristocracy of the South—that great power which had furnished leadership of undoubted ability and had so long contested with the industrial and commercial interests of the North. The first paralyzing blow at the planters was struck by the abolition of slavery. The second and third came with the fourteenth (1868) and fifteenth (1870) amendments, giving the ballot to freedmen and excluding from public office the Confederate leaders—driving from the work of reconstruction the finest talents of the South. As if to add bitterness to gall and wormwood, the fourteenth amendment forbade the United States or any state to pay any debts incurred in aid of the Confederacy or in the emancipation of the slaves—plunging into utter bankruptcy the Southern financiers who had stripped their section of capital to support their cause. So the Southern planters found themselves excluded from public office and ruled over by their former bondmen under the tutelage of Republican leaders. Their labor system was wrecked and their money and bonds were as worthless as waste paper. The South was subject to the North. That which neither the Federalists nor the Whigs had been able to accomplish in the realm of statecraft was accomplished on the field of battle.

The Triumph of Industry.—The wreck of the planting system was accompanied by a mighty upswing of Northern industry which made the old Whigs of Massachusetts and Pennsylvania stare in wonderment. The demands of the federal government for manufactured goods at unrestricted prices gave a stimulus to business which more than replaced the lost markets of the South. Between 1860 and 1870 the number of manufacturing establishments increased 79.6 per cent as against 14.2 for the previous decade; while the number of persons employed almost doubled. There was no doubt about the future of American industry.

The Victory for the Protective Tariff.—Moreover, it was henceforth to be well protected. For many years before the war the friends of protection had been on the defensive. The tariff act of 1857 imposed duties so low as to presage a tariff for revenue only. The war changed all that. The extraordinary military expenditures, requiring heavy taxes on all sources, justified tariffs so high that a follower of Clay or Webster might well have gasped with astonishment. After the war was over the debt remained and both interest and principal had to be paid. Protective arguments based on economic reasoning were supported by a plain necessity for revenue which admitted no dispute.

A Liberal Immigration Policy.—Linked with industry was the labor supply. The problem of manning industries became a pressing matter, and Republican leaders grappled with it. In the platform of the Union party adopted in 1864 it was declared “that foreign immigration, which in the past has added so much to the wealth, the development of resources, and the increase of power to this nation—the asylum of the oppressed of all nations—should be fostered and encouraged by a liberal and just policy.” In that very year Congress, recognizing the importance of the problem, passed a measure of high significance, creating a bureau of immigration, and authorizing a modified form of indentured labor, by making it legal for immigrants to pledge their wages in advance to pay their passage over. Though the bill was soon repealed, the practice authorized by it was long continued. The cheapness of the passage shortened the term of service; but the principle was older than the days of William Penn.

The Homestead Act of 1862.—In the immigration measure guaranteeing a continuous and adequate labor supply, the manufacturers saw an offset to the Homestead Act of 1862 granting free lands to settlers. The Homestead law they had resisted in a long and bitter congressional battle. Naturally, they had not taken kindly to a scheme which lured men away from the factories or enabled them to make unlimited demands for higher wages as the price of remaining. Southern planters likewise had feared free homesteads for the very good reason that they only promised to add to the overbalancing power of the North.

In spite of the opposition, supporters of a liberal land policy made steady gains. Free-soil Democrats,—Jacksonian farmers and mechanics,—labor reformers, and political leaders, like Stephen A. Douglas of Illinois and Andrew Johnson of Tennessee, kept up the agitation in season and out. More than once were they able to force a homestead bill through the House of Representatives only to have it blocked in the Senate where Southern interests were intrenched. Then, after the Senate was won over, a Democratic President, James Buchanan, vetoed the bill. Still the issue lived. The Republicans, strong among the farmers of the Northwest, favored it from the beginning and pressed it upon the attention of the country. Finally the manufacturers yielded; they received their compensation in the contract labor law. In 1862 Congress provided for the free distribution of land in 160-acre lots among men and women of strong arms and willing hearts ready to build their serried lines of homesteads to the Rockies and beyond.

Internal Improvements.—If farmers and manufacturers were early divided on the matter of free homesteads, the same could hardly be said of internal improvements. The Western tiller of the soil was as eager for some easy way of sending his produce to market as the manufacturer was for the same means to transport his goods to the consumer on the farm. While the Confederate leaders were writing into their constitution a clause forbidding all appropriations for internal improvements, the Republican leaders at Washington were planning such expenditures from the treasury in the form of public land grants to railways as would have dazed the authors of the national road bill half a century earlier.

Sound Finance—National Banking.—From Hamilton’s day to Lincoln’s, business men in the East had contended for a sound system of national currency. The experience of the states with paper money, painfully impressive in the years before the framing of the Constitution, had been convincing to those who understood the economy of business. The Constitution, as we have seen, bore the signs of this experience. States were forbidden to emit bills of credit: paper money, in short. This provision stood clear in the document; but judicial ingenuity had circumvented it in the age of Jacksonian Democracy. The states had enacted and the Supreme Court, after the death of John Marshall, had sustained laws chartering banking companies and authorizing them to issue paper money. So the country was beset by the old curse, the banks of Western and Southern states issuing reams of paper notes to help borrowers pay their debts.

In dealing with war finances, the Republicans attacked this ancient evil. By act of Congress in 1864, they authorized a series of national banks founded on the credit of government bonds and empowered to issue notes. The next year they stopped all bank paper sent forth under the authority of the states by means of a prohibitive tax. In this way, by two measures Congress restored federal control over the monetary system although it did not reëstablish the United States Bank so hated by Jacksonian Democracy.

Destruction of States’ Rights by Fourteenth Amendment.—These acts and others not cited here were measures of centralization and consolidation at the expense of the powers and dignity of the states. They were all of high import, but the crowning act of nationalism was the fourteenth amendment which, among other things, forbade states to “deprive any person of life, liberty or property without due process of law.” The immediate occasion, though not the actual cause of this provision, was the need for protecting the rights of freedmen against hostile legislatures in the South. The result of the amendment, as was prophesied in protests loud and long from every quarter of the Democratic party, was the subjection of every act of state, municipal, and county authorities to possible annulment by the Supreme Court at Washington. The expected happened.

Few negroes ever brought cases under the fourteenth amendment to the attention of the courts; but thousands of state laws, municipal ordinances, and acts of local authorities were set aside as null and void under it. Laws of states regulating railway rates, fixing hours of labor in bakeshops, and taxing corporations were in due time to be annulled as conflicting with an amendment erroneously supposed to be designed solely for the protection of negroes. As centralized power over tariffs, railways, public lands, and other national concerns went to Congress, so centralized power over the acts of state and local authorities involving an infringement of personal and property rights was conferred on the federal judiciary, the apex of which was the Supreme Court at Washington. Thus the old federation of “independent states,” all equal in rights and dignity, each wearing the “jewel of sovereignty” so celebrated in Southern oratory, had gone the way of all flesh under the withering blasts of Civil War.


«·The War Measures of the Federal Government · Reconstruction in the South·»