The End of the War

The End of the War

Lincoln and moderate Republicans favored a quick, straightforward reintegration into the Union for the Southern states.

Learning Objectives

Evaluate Republican Reconstruction policies after the Civil War

Key Takeaways

Key Points

  • After Lincoln was assassinated, Vice President Andrew Johnson took office and sided with Democrats, arguing for better treatment of the South.
  • Congress debated the voting rights of those who had served in the Confederate Army, and of the recently freed slaves.
  • The Republicans believed that the best way for men to get political experience was to be able to vote and to participate in the political system. They passed laws allowing all male freedmen to vote. In 1867, black men voted for the first time.
  • Radical Republicans favored a very strict policy for allowing Southern states to reenter the Union, a position that was vetoed and rejected by President Lincoln and Johnson.

Key Terms

  • Radical Republicans: A loose faction of American politicians within the Republican Party from about 1854 (before the American Civil War) until the end of Reconstruction in 1877. Radicals strongly opposed slavery during the war, and after the war, distrusted ex-Confederates, demanding harsh policies for the former rebels, and emphasizing civil rights and voting rights for freedmen (recently freed slaves).
  • Reconstruction: A period of U.S. history, from 1865 to 1877, during which the nation tried to resolve the status of the ex-Confederate states, the ex-Confederate leaders, and freedmen (ex-slaves) after the American Civil War.
  • suffrage: The right or chance to vote, express an opinion, or participate in a decision.

With the Civil War approaching its end, leaders of the Union discussed how to best reincorporate the Southern states. During the Civil War, the Radical Republican leaders argued that slavery had to be permanently destroyed, and that all forms of Confederate nationalism had to be suppressed. Moderates said this easily could be accomplished as soon as Confederate armies surrendered and the Southern states repealed secession and accepted the Thirteenth Amendment —most of which happened by December 1865.

President Lincoln was the leader of the moderate Republicans and wanted to speed up Reconstruction and reunite the nation painlessly and quickly. Lincoln formally began Reconstruction in late 1863 with his Ten Percent Plan, which decreed that a state could be reintegrated into the Union when 10 percent of the 1860 vote count from that state had taken an oath of allegiance to the United States and pledged to abide by Emancipation. Radical Republicans opposed Lincoln's plan, thinking it too lenient toward the Southern states. Lincoln vetoed the Radical Republicans' alternate plan, the Wade-Davis Bill of 1864, which was much more strict than the Ten Percent Plan, calling for the majority of a state's population to take a loyalty oath.

Lincoln's Final Public Speech

Three days before he was killed, President Lincoln gave a public address in which he defended his vision of Reconstruction against his detractors, argued in favor of giving freed black men full suffrage, and supported the new state constitution of Louisiana. Louisiana was to be a model for how to reintroduce Southern states to the Union. He said in this speech, "Can Louisiana be brought into proper practical relation with the Union sooner by sustaining, or by discarding her new State government?" Lincoln was arguing that instead of holding the Southern states to a stringent and unrealistic standard for reintroduction to the Union, the process of Reconstruction should involve working with each state where it was, encouraging its efforts to align itself with the Union, and moving forward as a unified nation. Lincoln was worried that if the efforts of Louisiana's government were rejected, not only would the rejection stymie Reconstruction, but it also would hurt the newly freed black men by saying to them, in Lincoln's words, "This cup of liberty which these, your old masters, hold to your lips, we will dash from you, and leave you to the chances of gathering the spilled and scattered contents in some vague and undefined when, where, and how." The speech infuriated Confederate sympathizer John Wilkes Booth, who declared that it would be the last speech Lincoln would ever make. Booth killed Lincoln three days later.

Andrew Johnson Takes Over for Lincoln

Upon Lincoln's assassination in April 1865, Andrew Johnson of Tennessee, who had been elected as Lincoln's vice president in 1864, became president. Like Lincoln, Johnson rejected the Radical Republicans' program of harsh, lengthy Reconstruction and instead appointed his own governors in the Southern states in an effort to finish Reconstruction by the end of 1865.

The Republican Congress established military districts in the South and used army personnel to administer the region until new governments loyal to the Union could be established. While Congress temporarily suspended the ability to vote of approximately 10,000 to 15,000 white men who had been Confederate officials or senior officers, new constitutional amendments gave full citizenship and suffrage to former black slaves.


Congress had to consider how to restore to full status and representation within the Union to those Southern states that had declared their independence from the United States and had withdrawn their representation. Suffrage for former Confederates was one of two main concerns. A decision needed to be made whether to allow just some or all former Confederates to vote (and to hold office). The moderates wanted virtually all of them to vote, but the Radicals resisted. They repeatedly tried to impose the "ironclad oath," which effectively would have prevented all former Confederates from voting. Radical Republican leader Thaddeus Stevens of Pennsylvania proposed, unsuccessfully, that all former Confederates lose the right to vote for five years. The compromise that was reached disfranchised many former Confederate civil and military leaders. No one knows how many temporarily lost the vote, but one estimate was 10,000 to 15,000.

Second, and closely related, was the issue of whether freedmen should be allowed to vote. The issue was how to receive the four million former slaves as citizens. If they were to be counted fully as citizens, some sort of representation for apportionment of seats in Congress had to be determined. Before the war, the population of slaves had been counted as three-fifths of a comparable number of free whites. By having four million freedmen counted as full citizens, the South would gain additional seats in Congress. If blacks were denied the vote and the right to hold office, then only whites would represent them. Many conservatives, including most white Southerners, Northern Democrats, and some Northern Republicans, opposed black voting. Some Northern states that had referendums on the subject limited the ability of their own small populations of blacks to vote. Lincoln had supported a middle position to allow some black men to vote, especially army veterans. Johnson also believed that such service should be rewarded with citizenship.

Senators Charles Sumner of Massachusetts and Thaddeus Stevens, leaders of the Radical Republicans, were initially hesitant to enfranchise the largely illiterate former slave population. Sumner preferred at first impartial requirements that would have imposed literacy restrictions on blacks and whites. He believed that he would not succeed in passing legislation to disfranchise illiterate whites who already had the vote.

Enfranchisement of All Freedmen

The Republicans believed that the best way for men to get political experience was to be able to vote and to participate in the political system. They passed laws allowing all male freedmen to vote. In 1867, black men voted for the first time. Over the course of Reconstruction, more than 1,500 African Americans held public office in the South; some of them were men who had escaped to the North and gained educations, and then returned to the South. They did not hold office in numbers representative of their proportion in the population, but often elected whites to represent them. The question of women's suffrage was also debated but was rejected.

From 1890 to 1908, Southern states passed new constitutions and laws that disfranchised most blacks and tens of thousands of poor whites with new voter registration and electoral rules. When establishing new requirements such as subjectively administered literacy tests, some states used "grandfather clauses" to enable illiterate whites to vote.

Cartoon print shows Vice President Andrew Johnson sitting atop a globe, attempting to stitch together the map of the United States with needle and thread. Abraham Lincoln stands, right, using a split rail to position the globe.

Johnson and Lincoln restoring the Union: A political cartoon of Andrew Johnson and Abraham Lincoln, 1865, entitled "The 'Rail Splitter' At Work Repairing the Union." The caption reads (Johnson): "Take it quietly Uncle Abe and I will draw it closer than ever!!" (Lincoln): "A few more stitches Andy and the good old Union will be mended!"

Economic Development in the North

The North had a more highly developed industrial economy that led to military success during the Civil War and sustained economic growth after the war.

Learning Objectives

Differentiate between the economies of the North and South during the Civil War

Key Takeaways

Key Points

  • In 1861, the Union population was 22 million while the South had a population of just 9 million ( more than 3.5 million slaves and about 5.5 million whites).
  • The extensive railroad network in the North allowed for movement of troops and supplies that were essential to the war effort.
  • The South believed that its cotton was so important to the world that other countries would come to its aid in the war with the North.
  • The North strengthened its economy during the war and continued to grow after the war, while the Southern economy was destroyed and stymied for years after losing the war.

Key Terms

  • King Cotton: A slogan used by Southerners (1860–1861) to support secession from the United States by arguing that cotton exports would make an independent Confederacy economically prosperous and—more importantly—would force Great Britain and France to support the Confederacy in the Civil War because their industrial economies depended on textiles derived from cotton.
  • Second Industrial Revolution: A phase of rapid industrialization in the final third of the nineteenth century and the beginning of the twentieth century in the United States. Also known as the "Technological Revolution." Many of the technological advances and systems developed during this phase in the American economy were built upon infrastructural and legal changes brought about by the Union during the Civil War.

The more industrialized economy of the North aided in the production of arms, munitions, and supplies, as well as in creating financial stability and increasing ease of transportation. These advantages widened rapidly during the war, as the Northern economy grew, and the Confederate territory shrank and its economy weakened. In 1861, the Union population was 22 million while the South had a population of just 9 million. The Southern population included more than 3.5 million slaves and about 5.5 million whites, thus leaving the South's white population outnumbered by a ratio of more than four to one when compared to the North's overall population.

The Union controlled more than 80 percent of the shipyards, steamships, riverboats, and the navy. The disparity between the North and South only grew as the Union controlled an increasing amount of Southern territory with garrisons, and cut off the trans-Mississippi part of the Confederacy. This enabled the Union to control the river systems and to blockade the entire Southern coastline.

Excellent railroad links between Union cities allowed for the quick and cheap movement of troops and supplies. Transportation was much slower and more difficult in the South, which was unable to augment its much smaller rail system, repair damage, or even perform routine maintenance. The failure of Jefferson Davis to maintain positive and productive relationships with state governors damaged his ability to draw on regional resources.

"King Cotton"

During the Civil War, the leaders of the Confederacy used the slogan "King Cotton" to convince Southerners that succession from the North was feasible and desirable. The idea was that control over cotton exports would make an independent Confederacy economically prosperous, ruin the textile industry of New England, and—most importantly—force Great Britain and perhaps France to support the Confederacy militarily because their industrial economies depended on Southern cotton. The slogan was widely believed in the South, but in the end, represented a misperception of the world economy and led to bad diplomacy, such as the refusal to ship cotton before the blockade started. The British never believed in "King Cotton," and they never intervened. Consequently, the strategy proved a failure for the Confederacy—"King Cotton" did not help the new nation, but the spontaneous blockade caused the loss of desperately needed gold. The Confederacy's gamble on cotton was not only disastrous for its war efforts, but also for its economic stability.

Economic Devastation and Growth from the War

The Union grew rich fighting the war, as the Confederate economy was destroyed. The Republicans in control in Washington had a vision of an industrial nation, with great cities, efficient factories, productive farms, strong national banks, and high-speed rail links. The South had resisted policies such as tariffs to promote industry and homestead laws to promote farming because slavery would not benefit; with the South gone, and Northern Democrats very weak in Congress, the Republicans enacted their legislation. At the same time, they passed new taxes to pay for part of the war, and issued large amounts of bonds to pay for the most of the rest. They wrote an elaborate program of economic modernization that had the dual purpose of winning the war and permanently transforming the economy.

Portrait of Cornelius Vanderbuilt

Cornelius Vanderbilt, 1794–1877: Vanderbilt, a transportation tycoon, contributed greatly to the industrial development of the North in the years immediately following the Civil War.

The more industrialized economy of the North continued to prosper in the years following the war, with men such as Cornelius Vanderbilt building their fortunes on transportation systems needed to sustain Northern trade.

The greatly expanded railroad network, using inexpensive steel rails produced by new steelmaking processes, dramatically lowered transportation costs to areas without access to navigable waterways. Low freight rates allowed large manufacturing facilities to grow large and prosperous with relative ease. Machinery became a major industry, and many types of machines were developed. Businesses began to operate over wide areas, and chain stores and mail-order companies developed.

In addition, an explosion of new discoveries and inventions took place, a process called the "Second Industrial Revolution," which started in 1870, just five years after the end of Civil War. The electric light, telephone, steam turbine, internal-combustion engine, automobile, phonograph, typewriter, and tabulating machine were some of the many inventions of the period. All of these inventions contributed to the rapid expansion of the economy, especially in the North.

Devastation in the South

Many of the South's largest cities, and much of its human and material resources, were destroyed during the Civil War by the Union armies.

Learning Objectives

Describe the devastation wreaked on the South by the Civil War

Key Takeaways

Key Points

  • Much of the livestock and farming supplies of the South were destroyed.
  • The South transformed from a prosperous minority of landholders to a tenant agriculture system.
  • Many of the recently freed slaves only could find jobs in unskilled and service industries.
  • One in four white Southern men of military age was killed during the war.
  • After emancipation, the entire economy of the South had to be rebuilt on a different basis.

Key Terms

  • freedmen: Former slaves who have been released from slavery, usually by legal means.
  • sharecropping: The act of being a tenant farmer, especially in the Southern United States, who farms the land in exchange for a portion of the crops.
  • livestock: Farm animals; animals domesticated for cultivation.

Reconstruction played out against a backdrop of a once prosperous economy in ruins. Most of the Civil War was fought in Virginia and Tennessee, but every Confederate state was affected, as were Maryland, West Virginia, Kentucky, Missouri, and Indian Territory; Pennsylvania was the only Northern state to be the scene of major action, during the Gettysburg Campaign.

Aftermath of the War

One historian, William Hesseltine, wrote in 1936 the following about the devastation:

Throughout the South, fences were down, weeds had overrun the fields, windows were broken, live stock had disappeared. The assessed valuation of property declined from 30 to 60 percent in the decade after 1860. In Mobile, business was stagnant; Chattanooga and Nashville were ruined; and Atlanta's industrial sections were in ashes.
Farms were in disrepair, and the prewar stock of horses, mules, and cattle was much depleted, with two-fifths of the South's livestock killed. The South's farms were not highly mechanized, but the value of farm implements and machinery in the 1860 Census was $81 million and was reduced by 40 percent by 1870. The transportation infrastructure lay in ruins, with little railroad or riverboat service available to move crops and animals to market. Railroad mileage was located mostly in rural areas, and more than two-thirds of the South's rails, bridges, rail yards, repair shops, and rolling stock were in areas reached by Union armies, who systematically destroyed what they could. Even in untouched areas, the lack of maintenance and repair, the absence of new equipment, the heavy overuse, and the deliberate relocation of equipment by the Confederates from remote areas to the war zone ensured the system would be ruined at war's end. Restoring the infrastructure—especially the railroad system—became a high priority for Reconstruction state governments.

A Devastated Economy

The enormous cost of the Confederate war effort took a high toll on the South's economic infrastructure. The direct costs to the Confederacy in human capital, government expenditures, and physical destruction from the war totaled $3.3 billion. By 1865, the Confederate dollar was worthless due to massive inflation, and people in the South had to resort to bartering services for goods, or else use scarce Union dollars. With the emancipation of Southern slaves, the entire economy of the South had to be rebuilt. Having used most of their capital to purchase slaves, white planters had minimal cash to pay freedmen workers to bring in crops. As a result, a system of sharecropping was developed in which landowners broke up large plantations and rented small lots to the freedmen and their families.


Sharecropping was a way for very poor farmers, both white and black, to earn a living from land owned by someone else. The landowner provided land, housing, tools, and seed (and perhaps a mule), and a local merchant provided food and supplies on credit. At harvest time, the sharecropper received a share of the crop (from one-third to one-half, with the landowner taking the rest and used his share to pay off his debt to the merchant.

The South was thus transformed from a prosperous minority of landed gentry slaveholders into a tenant farming agriculture system.

Migration of Freedmen

The end of the Civil War also was accompanied by a large migration of new freedmen from the countryside to the cities. In the cities, African Americans were relegated to the lowest paying jobs, such as unskilled and service labor. Men worked as rail workers, rolling and lumber mills workers, and hotels workers. The large population of slave artisans during the antebellum period had not translated into a large number of freedmen artisans during the Reconstruction. Black women were largely confined to domestic work and were employed as cooks, maids, and child nurses. Others worked in hotels. A large number became laundresses.

More than a fourth of Southern white men of military age—meaning the backbone of the South's white workforce—died during the war, leaving countless families destitute. Per capita income for white Southerners declined from $125 in 1857 to a low of $80 in 1879. By the end of the nineteenth century and well into the twentieth century, the South was locked into a system of poverty. How much of this failure was caused by the war and by previous reliance on agriculture remains the subject of debate among economists and historians.


Broad Street, Charleston, South Carolina: This 1865 photograph of Broad Street, in Charleston, South Carolina, shows the devastation of the South following the Civil War.

Licenses and Attributions

More Study Resources for You

Show More