1841-1877: Deconstruction and Reconstruction


For the time being, there weren't too many problems between the United States and Europe. Unfortunately, there were lots of problems at home. The economy was good, and there was a lot of unsettled land to the west. But the unsettled land to the west didn't necessarily belong to the States. The country was growing fast. There were still some issues to be resolved, though. The North and the South couldn't seem to work out their differences over slavery. The United States finally had to figure out what kind of a country they were and whether or not they were truly united.


There were a lot of Americans living in Texas, but Texas belonged to Mexico. Sharing was okay with Mexico until there were too many Americans there. Then they said no more Americans could cross the borders into Mexican territory. Kind of ironic, huh?

In 1834 a dictator set up in Mexico, and the Texans didn't like this. They became the 28th state in 1845. President Polk declared the Mexican War in 1846. The American rebels lost a battle at the Alamo, but shortly afterwards they won the war.

In the meantime, the United States got what would become Arizona, Nevada, California, Utah, and some of New Mexico, Colorado and Wyoming.


Americans suddenly had big heads. They decided that the United States had a destiny to extend the nation from the Atlantic coast all the way to the Pacific. But there was a problem. Andrew Jackson had filled up the space between the States and the Pacific with the native population he had forced to move there.

Americans weren't very good at sharing so something had to be done. It wasn't going to be pretty. And there was the continuing problem of slavery. Half the country wanted slavery banned in new states, the other half didn't.


In the Missouri Compromise, Missouri was admitted as a slave state, and Maine became a free state. In the Compromise of 1850 California was admitted as a free state, and Texas was admitted as slave state. This sounds funny, but the eye for an eye admissions policy was all the rage. No one wanted the other side to have a majority in the House or Representatives. If that happened, slavery would either be banned or completely unrestricted.

The practice of slavery was slowly dying out, but it wasn't going fast enough. There was a really nasty court case about the rights of black men. In the Dred Scott Case, a slave was taken by his master into a free territory. The slave, Scott, decided that he was free. The case went to the Supreme Court but he was denied freedom. It was ruled that black men were not citizens, only property.

Harriet Beecher Stowe wrote a book called Uncle Tom's Cabin about runaway slaves. This book got a lot of attention from Northern abolitionists. It explained a lot about the lives of people kept in slavery.

During the 1858 campaign for U.S. Senate in Illinois, Abraham Lincoln and Stephen Douglas held debates. Douglas thought that states should be allowed to decide for themselves about slavery. Lincoln argued that everyone, including lawmakers, should assume that slavery was wrong and would eventually end. Douglas won that election, but two years later Lincoln beat him in the presidential election.

South Carolina was terribly upset about Lincoln's election. They announced that they seceded from the union and were no longer part of the United States. In his inaugural address, Lincoln said that they couldn't do that. On April 12 1861 guns opened fire in South Carolina and the Civil War started.


In 1863 Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation which freed slaves in all the rebelling states. Slavery was still allowed in Border States so the proclamation didn't do a lot, but it made it clear that the war effort sought the abolition of slavery. The South was not weakening, and they decided to invade the North. There was a battle at Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. The North won, and Lincoln made a really famous speech called the Gettysburg Address. After a long battle at Appomattox, the war was over.


Lincoln had been reelected to a second term in 1864. He made it clear that he wouldn't punish the states that had rebelled, only the rebel leaders. But he didn't get to put his plans into action because an angry southern soldier, John Wilkes Booth, assassinated him on April 14th.

The Vice President, Andrew Johnson, took office. Johnson made each rebel state decide not to secede, not pay war debt, draft new constitutions, and to elect a governor loyal to the union. Also, they had to ratify the Thirteenth Amendment that made slavery illegal.

Next, the Fourteenth Amendment made the freed slaves citizens. It extended citizenship to anyone born or naturalized in the United States. This reversed the Dred Scott Case. The Freedman's Bureau helped the black population find work, and obtain education. The Fifteenth Amendment said that a man could vote no matter what his race, color, or status. In 1872 the Amnesty Act forgave all but a few Confederate sympathizers.


President Johnson wasn't very popular because he vetoed a lot of legislation protecting freed men and punishing Confederate leaders. They began impeachment proceedings, but didn't convict him. They decided it was a bad idea to kick the president out just because he disagreed with Congress. Johnson served until the end of his term. Ulysses S. Grant took office until 1877.