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Essay/Term paper: The civil war

Essay, term paper, research paper:  American Civil War

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The Civil War


During both the civil war and civil war reconstruction time periods,
there were many changes going on in the Union.  The Emancipation Proclamation,
as well as legislation such as the thirteenth, fourteenth and fifteenth
amendments, was causing a new awakening of democracy; while the renouncing of
secession by the South marked a definite triumph for Nationalism.  As well, the
government was involved in altercations of its own.  During reconstruction, the
legislative and executive branches eventually came to blows over the use of
power.  The nation was being altered by forces which caused, and later repaired,
a broken Union.

The first of these "forces", was the expansion of democracy.  As early
as 1862, Lincoln was taking a major step in that direction.  On September 22,
Lincoln announced the freeing of all slaves in areas not in Union control. 
Although the proclamation did not free all slaves everywhere, it was the action
that would push Congress to pass the thirteenth amendment in 1865.  The
amendment, ratified later in 1865, stated that "Neither slavery nor involuntary
servitude . . . shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to
their jurisdiction."  It seemed democracy had triumphed by giving freedom to
slaves, but the amendment was not complete.  It only stopped slavery, and made
no provisions for citizenship; therefore, blacks were still not considered
United States citizens.  The fourteenth amendment was the democratic expansion
that fixed that problem.  Originally passed to "put a number of matters beyond
the control or discretion of the president," the amendment also made "All
persons born or naturalized in the United States . . . citizens of the United
States."  It also provided that, "No State shall abridge the privileges or
immunities of citizens of the United States."  This not only gave new meaning to
black men's freedom, but it also gave a new and broader meaning to citizenship. 
Those drafting the amendment hoped that the broadness of would cover
"unanticipated abuses", yet, the general phrasing was only an advantage to
abusers.  There is no listing of the "privileges or immunities" offered to U.S.
citizens.  In fact, there is not even a clarification of what rights a "citizen"
has.  These generalities, and the abuses that went with them, prompted the
adoption of the fifteenth amendment in 1870.  The final major step towards
democratic expansion during reconstruction, the fifteenth amendment granted " 
The right of citizens of the United States to vote," and that right, "shall not
be denied on account of race, color, or previous condition of servitude."  This
amendment finally took out loopholes existent in the thirteenth and fourteenth
amendments.  The government of the United States was coming closer to being a
government by all of the people, and not just whites.  Civil war reconstruction
offered more than just extended democracy, however.  It was also a time of
national unification.

One of the major boosts to United States nationalism, began with the
simple Union victory over the confederacy.  Secession was unconstitutional
according to those who supported the Union.  By defeating the confederacy, the
Union had only confirmed that fact.  As well, the radical Republican
reconstruction plan called for an official renunciation of secession, before
states could be readmitted  to the Union.  If secession from the Union was now
illegal, then Daniel Webster's theory of the Constitution being a people's
government, and not a compact of states had to be true.  "The Constitution . . .
[begins] with the words 'We the people,' and it was the people, not the states,
who . . . created it," Webster claimed in his nationalist theory of the
Constitution.  The Union became more united than ever before, because now it
truly was a Union, ". . . now and forever, one and inseparable."  There were
changes, though, that were occurring in the reconstruction time period that were
not as helpful to the Union as democracy and nationalism.   While the nation was
reveling in these more encouraging developments, the Union government was having
internal conflicts.

Congress and the president began dueling over power distribution
starting at about the time of Andrew Johnson's presidency.  Johnson became
president after Lincoln's death and immediately set the tone for the rest of his
dealings with Congress.  His plan for reconstruction was much to relaxed for
radical Republicans in Congress, and Johnson lacked the diplomatic abilities of
Lincoln.  Johnson did prescribe loyalty oaths for southern whites if they were
to receive pardon and amnesty, he did exclude high confederate officials from
that allowance, and he did require a state convention of state leaders loyal to
the Union to elect new congressional delegates. Johnson did not, however include
some provisions being called for by Congress.  His plan recommended, but did not
require, the repeal of secession ordinances and repudiation of secession,
repudiation of the Confederate debt, and the ratification of the thirteenth
amendment.  These points absent from the Johnson program were the instigation
congress needed to take charge of reconstruction.    The first step by Congress,
against Johnson, was taken in December 1865.  Under Johnson's program, southern
representatives had been elected to Congress.  A majority of congress voted to
refuse accepting the delegates, and appointed a committee to begin work on
reconstruction.  In 1866, Congress overrode a presidential veto for the first
time in history, when Johnson vetoed a civil rights bill.  The bill would have
given blacks a considerable new amount of freedom from discriminatory southern
actions.  Johnson took his stand against the radical Republicans in congress
when the fourteenth amendment was first passed.  While Congress required
ratification of the amendment as part of reconstruction, Johnson denounced the
amendment and advised states not to ratify it.  "the battle between the
executive and legislative branches settled into a predictable rhythm:  Congress
would pass a bill, the president would veto it, Congress would override it." 
This "rhythm" continued until Johnson violated the Tenure of office act, which
required senate approval to remove presidential cabinet members.  Johnson
violated the act by removing Secretary of War Edwin Stanton.  The House of
Representatives approved articles of impeachment and in May 1868, Johnson was
impeached by the House.  The senate, by one vote, did not remove him from the
office of president.  Neither side had won that battle for power; Johnson had
lost his ability to be an effective president, yet it had been established that
impeachment could not be used as a congressional political weapon.

The Civil war time period, as well as that of reconstruction, was filled
with political changes in the United States.  The war had aroused the democratic
spirit of the nation, and had so aroused a good deal of legislation to improve
the equality of all people.  Post-war times brought forth the nationalistic
spirit of the nation, proving once and for all that this Union was indeed,
"indivisible under God."  The lust for power and justice during reconstruction
caused the fight between the executive and legislative branches, a fight that
was not completely resolved.  These changes, both good and bad, made the Union
the United States once again.  "a . . . nation, conceived in Liberty, and
dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal."  It has been the
United States ever since.

 

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