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Big takeaways from the Civil War

KC‑5.3 (KC)
KC‑5.3.I (KC)
Unit 5: Learning Objective M
Why does the Civil War matter? Kim discusses the importance of the Civil War and its effects on American society.

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Video transcript

- [Voiceover] We've been discussing the American Civil War, which lasted from 1861 until 1865. It was the deadliest conflict in all of American history, in which 620,000 Americans lost their lives. We briefly went over the very end of the war, as Grant caught up to Lee at Appomattox. And Lee surrendered, and then confederate sympathizer and sometimes spy, John Wilkes Booth assassinated American President Abraham Lincoln. Lincoln was followed in office by Andrew Johnson, who will preside over reconstruction. But now that we've talked about the progress of war, from the first fighting at Fort Sumter in April of 1861, to the last surrenders in November of 1865, I'd like to take just a few minutes to contemplate what some of the bigger issues that the Civil War raises are in American History. And what impact will it have on the future of American life? Well certainly one of the most important things, if not the most important thing to come out of the Civil War is the end of slavery. You know, before the Civil War, before the 1850s, your average White American, who lived in say Pennsylvania or Kentucky, probably wasn't very fond of slavery, but probably wouldn't have gone out of his or her way to take a stand against it. I think Lincoln himself was very representative of this view, in that, he hated slavery, but he thought that he had no right to interfere with it and he mostly just wanted to make sure that slave owners couldn't bring enslaved people out west to take lands from, what he saw as hardworking, deserving, poorer Whites. By the end of the Civil War, no one could argue that African Americans, especially in the north did not deserve citizenship. Throughout the Civil War, African Americans proved their important to the nation, time and time again. Especially through their military service in units like the 54th Massachusetts for example. And so, for the approximately four and a half million enslaved people who lived in the south, they now had their freedom. And the story of what happens to these people who have been freed from bondage, is perhaps the most interesting, and important story of American history. Does all men are created equal mean all men and women are created equal? That is the question that will occupy the nation in one way or another, up until the present, really. Another major important takeaway from the Civil War is that that Civil War represented a movement in the United States, from a union of states to a nation. And you can even see how Abraham Lincoln's thinking on this changes over the course of the war. He starts to even use the word nation more and more. Throughout the early part of the history of the United States, you see this balance of power between states and between the Federal Government really shifting all of the time. You see things like the nullification crisis in the 1830s when South Carolina said we don't like this tariff. We think that as a state, the union is composed out of the consent of the individual states, and therefore the state has the right to nullify a law it doesn't agree with. The same sort of situation happened in 1860 over slavery. The southern states believed that Lincoln would outlaw slavery, and thought that it would be more important to secede as a group of states protecting in their words, their states rights, then to be subject to the laws of the nation. Well the Civil War ends that kind of thinking. In fact you even see it from how people write the name of this country. Frequently it might have been said before the Civil War these United States. It's a group of states that are united. After the Civil War, it becomes the United States. One nation, indivisible. And so this is the moment when the Federal Government really begins to grow. You know during war time, the north had to really organize as a nation to provide resources for their populace and for the soldiers and so the President gained powers that he had never had before, and the Federal bureaucracy itself grew a great deal. And you're going to see this throughout the 20th century, really up until the 1970s that the Federal Government in the United States is going to have more and more power. A third important takeaway from the Civil War is that during the Civil War the north industrialized to produce all of the goods and material that the north needed to succeed. They built factories, and railroads and those factories and railroads, and all the rest of the impressive engineering that went into winning the war is then going to be turned toward making an industrial behemoth in the post war era. So, a lot of things that started during the Civil War in terms of national industrialization really carry on in the post war era, known as the Gilded Age. That help the United States become the worlds premiere industrial power, and later, based on that industrial power, one of the worlds premiere political powers. Another thing that is not often talked about with the Civil War is the growing role of women in the United States polity. Ya know in the American Civil War, at first it was very taboo for a woman of good birth to go and become a nurse. But as the war progressed, that kind of Victorian thinking, believing that a woman belonged only to a very feminine and domestic sphere of life, really had to fade away in the face of the reality that women needed to play a role in the war. In the north women became nurses. They helped to chair the American Sanitary Commission, which was one of the key hospital groups of the time period. And in the south, many women also really took over the running of family farms as White men went away, White women, poorer White women for example would be in charge of a farm themselves. A White woman who belonged to a slave owning family herself, would then have charge of enslaved people. So women took a much more leading role during the Civil War. After the Civil War, some of that falls away. In fact, there's a really difficult moment in the movement for women's rights when in 1870, the 15th amendment granted African American men the right to vote, but not women. And so the women's movement will take some time to regroup in the late 19th century. But the Civil War, like many later wars, brought women outside the home. And after the war they were not anxious to go back there. They became involved in many charitable organizations, often known as social housekeeping. As women do more and more things outside the home. Which will eventually grow into the women's movement of the early 20th century, and lead to women getting the right to vote. This is just a small sampling of some of the major impacts that the Civil War had on the United States. Often when we think about United States history, we think about it cutting off at the Civil War. Most college courses or high school courses are organized the US before the Civil War, and the US after the Civil War, because it's a really defining moment in our nations history for these reasons, and for many others. The United States entered the Civil War a loose union of states divided by territory and beliefs, and exited the Civil War a single nation. Modern, industrial, peopled by an incredibly diverse range of citizens from all over the world. In other words, after the Civil War, the United States will really come into its own. And that's because the Civil War was the moment when the United States grew up. The United States in 1870, looked a lot more like the year 1900, then it did the year 1860. The 13th amendment, and later the 14th and 15th amendments ruled that people of African descent were citizens of the United States. Remember, beforehand, enslaved people in the south counted for only 3/5ths of a person, and that person couldn't vote, move freely, or own his or her own labor, not to mention their own life. The Civil War decided once and for all that everyone born in the United States was a United States citizen. But what citizenship really meant for African Americans, for women, for Native Americans and immigrants, even for Whites. Was still something that would be hammered out through the rest of the 19th century and the 20th. After the Civil War, the old problems of sectional tension and states rights, were put to rest, but they were replaced by new problems. Problems of modern America. Industrialization, poverty, immigration, and so is the guns of the Civil War fell quiet, the United States embarked into a new era, The Gilded Age.