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How Did Slavery Shape the Lives of the Various People Living in the United States From the End of the Revolutionary War to the Beginning of the Civil War?

The slave phenomenon, which was already deeply embedded into the fabric of the US, affected the lives of different groups of people between the end of the Revolutionary War and the start of the Civil War. This essay argues that slavery was not just sustaining an inflexible racial order, but it was having significant economic and political forces. These resulted in internal frictions, which provided grounds for the dissolution of the Union and the inevitable civil war. Slavery was central to Southern identity as well as the economy; it defined labor relations and stirred up ideological debates like the Kansas-Nebraska Act and the Dred Scott case. This exploration aims to discover how slavery sparked the nation into two warring parts in the middle of the 19th century.

This institution was the solid economic base of the Southern countries, where agriculture largely depended on slave labor. The southern economy depended on cash crops, mainly cotton, and the planters made huge fortunes at the expense of enslaved people’s exploitation (Lecture 1301 3). The combination of racial and economic power in the South meant that this subservience was a dominant part of daily existence. Not only did slavery demarcate the work scene, but it also gave birth to a regional trait that espoused continuation of it as part and parcel of their living style.

Various crucial legislative and judicial incidents revealed how the sectional cleavage caused by slavery had gotten worse. Stephen Douglas advocated for the Kansas-Nebraska Act of 1854, which introduced popular sovereignty and allowed slavery in territories where more than half the population supported slavery (Lecture 1301 5). These events, like Bleeding Kansas—where pro-slavery and anti-slavery settlers were fighting over control—were a prelude to things to come and prefigured the violence of the ideological struggle that ultimately ended up in slavery.

Another critical incident was the Dred Scott case, which occurred in 1857 when the Supreme Court pronounced that an African American was property and not a citizen (Video Lectures 6:19). This only led Chief Justice Roger B. Taney to worsen the division between the North and South in the country. This decision not only made it impossible for Congress to prevent slavery in the various territories but also challenged the fundamental rights of black American people. It just strengthened the Southern determination to defend their economy based on slavery.

The tension culminated in events such as John Brown’s raid at Harper’s Ferry in 1852 and the Lecompton Constitution row, highlighting the unbridgeable gap between the pro-slavery South and the anti-slavery North (Lecture 1301 7). The emergence of hatred and the impending Civil War was foreshadowed by Brown’s radical bid for revolt among enslaved people and the intrigues surrounding the Lecompton Constitution. In addition, a situation known as the Panic of 1857 aggravated the regional differences, and it mainly was a calamity for the industrializing North. The sectional rift worsened the problem, which saw the South unfazed due to its largely rural economy. The simmering differences in slavery and further economic divergences in such a delicate nation made their positions more unsteady.

The aftermath

It was a civil war, and it’s an unfortunate fact that almost everything revolved around the slavery problem. As a result, during this unbelievable and tremendous confrontation, the northern side showed its technical supremacy and demographic advantage against the southern strength in military leadership and defense strategy (PowerPoint 1301 slide 6). The concept of total war came alive as the war progressed, and the Americans became more entrenched in the social fabric. Nevertheless, although the North triumphed, it was only the beginning of the problems for America because they had not yet been able to answer the question about their place in American society.

The advantage that the North had in industry and numbers was what determined who won the Civil War. The Northerners had a growing industrial base and a large workforce pool they could draw on to replenish the Union army if the war lasted long. On the other hand, the southern part depended more on farming than the North, and its relatively small population found it more challenging to cope (Lecture 1301 9). The use of blockade by the Union against the Southern states, alongside its capability to produce in masses, caused disarray in the south of the economy, which consequently limited its effective operation during the war.

Total war, a term introduced during the Civil War, includes targets for civilian and military resources. The objective of this strategy involved attacking the enemies’ army, economic, and other civilian infrastructures to weaken them and diminish their desire to continue fighting the war. That is what General William Tecumseh Sherman’s infamous march to the Sea of 1864 shows precisely. The Union army burnt down everything up to Savannah – military establishment, agriculture, and communication systems. Total war made the confrontation deadlier. The wounds were deep and remained even after the war was over.

The results of the North’s victory. The North registered an industrial boom and infrastructure construction, strengthening its position as the wealthiest economy. War had quickened scientific development and the industrial revolution, preparing the basis for the transformation of the economy. The North became a true giant in the industry.

However, the Southern economy was in shambles. In addition, the post-war situation in the rural South was difficult because of the elimination of slavery, which led to the destruction of local agriculture and economy (Video Lectures: 9:37). The reduced agricultural workforce as a result of losing enslaved labor made the situation worse, leaving the farm economy on its deathbed. As the economic gap between the North and the South increased, the nation was driven towards civil war. The Reconstruction period was crucial for the country as it created an avenue to reconstruct its economic, political, and social structures.

The end of slavery signified a significant milestone in the quest to break a longstanding tradition and resolve years of disagreement about it. President Abraham Lincoln signed an emancipation proclamation that freed all enslaved people situated in any rebel territories on January 1, 1863. Adopted in 1865, the 13th Amendment constitutionally outlawed slavery across the entire US, thereby legally justifying emancipation.

This resulted in ending slavery but did not promise an inclusive America or that black men and women would be entirely united with their societies. Reconstruction was the era that followed the war to reconcile both the material and social dimensions of nationwide reconstruction. The agency established a unique organization called the Freedmen’s Bureau, which offered various educational employment and facilitated their self-government learning processes. Despite these attempts, achieving complete integration as a true union was still tricky. White supremacists resisted the reforms during the Reconstruction era of the South by enacting Jim Crow laws and the Black Codes. This led to racial inequalities becoming further entrenched due to the continuous systemic suppression of blacks.

It was through such critical moments as the Civil War and post-Civil War that American history was transformed. The fight over the issue of slavery reshaped that nation’s economy and paved the way for the civil rights movement. After the victory of the North, the region witnessed extensive industrial development; however, the South had to rebuild its shattered economic infrastructure (Video Lectures 13:14). However, ending slavery was a paramount yet insufficient triumph because the Reconstruction was not enough to erase the entrenched prejudice regarding race. The civil war is perpetually remembered due to the continuous struggle for a better, inclusive community.

In conclusion, the US, the country that went through the American Revolution up to the Civil War, had a deeply embedded institution of slavery. This is because, though this was an issue of race, it was also an economically and politically strong state. Their economic base relied on enslaved people in Southern states. This was the foundation on which a unique social system was based. The developed tensions were expressed in the Kansas-Nebraska Act and the Dred Scot Case before culminating in a breakup of the Union and the Civil War. However, it is worth noting that the success of the North reflected its strong industry while the Southern economy was seriously damaged. The abolition of slavery was an important step, but this does not mean that blacks instantly became part of American society. This way, civil rights will only be another episode in the ongoing saga of the American Civil War until the time comes when America becomes an equal country.

Works Cited

Lecture 1301, The Breakdown of the Union and the Civil War 2023-Tagged PdF

Video Lectures: The Civil War (2023)

PowerPoint, 1301. Indentured Servitude and Slavery in the Fall 2023


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