Reconstruction Study Guide

lincoln and reconstruction


Reconstruction Study Sheet: Birzer

Three big questions being asked:

  • What to do with the Southern states?
  • Which is more powerful–the Legislative or Executive branches?
  • What to do with 4 million emancipated slaves?

Each question carried with it a very strong taint of bitterness.

Often answered with passion rather than logic.  This time period saw nothing less than a complete redefinition of our nation’s purpose and what we were as a Republic.  One of many results of Total War.

  • 620,000 men dead/over 3 million who fought; No family in the United States (north and South) which wasn’t affected in some way
  • Many of those who survived, did so without their limbs
  • farms and economies throughout the South untended; poverty for everyone; a labor force (that equaled property) now released without recompense for owners; new factories started just for war; worthless (worse than worthless–damaging, inflationary money
  • Sherman’s legacy of total war against civilians
  • Revelations of two horrible prison camps–Andersonville in Georgia and Elmira in New York
  • Martial law in both sections of the country
  • the Indians had made incredible gains on the frontier (and some bloody massacres, the Sioux in Minnesota, the Comanche and Kiowa in Texas, and Chivington against the Northern Cheyenne at Sand Creek


Other significant changes in just four short years:

  • United States much more industrial–especially (only) in the North. “Captains of Industry” controlled much.  Great irony in this, considering this is exactly what the South feared, but brought on through secession.  All power, economically especially, resided in the North now.
  • a whole new medical profession–much better trained and equipped physicians
  • Government and big business very cozy with one another; as the Republicans had hoped
  • Most laws of the Yankee Leviathan were repealed–the Constitution was no longer suspended (and elections had always continued).
  • Exception is the continuance of the Greenbacks and tax on state-issued currency (or from private banks that are state chartered). Will lead to the monetary crisis of the 1890s and the creations of the Federal Reserve Bank in 1913, thus resulting in the Great Depression and the end of government-free money.  Disastrous–we’ve still not seen the end of that.
  • Also, the Secret Service to protect the money–inspiration for the ATF, FBI, and CIA.
  • Also helps contribute to the income tax


Legacy (especially important for young men, future Populists and Progressives) that government can be used to do anything.  Marshall the resources and fight a war.

  • Now a nation–no longer a Union. “United States are” to “United States is.”  Were following in a rather long trend begun by the Spanish in 1492–the creation of a nation, and a continuation away from the polycentric kingdoms of Christendom.
  • With the death of Lincoln–the government continues its tradition of Congress being the main branch of government (but, as noted above, not without a rather nasty fight.


What do we as the American nation see between 1863 and 1877?

  • Questions of nationalism settled
  • Questions about the branches of Congress and the Executive answered
  • Questions regarding the status of Blacks–unanswered and undone
  • The United States further industrializing–so that it is the most power country in the world by 1900
  • Severe corruption in government (because of too close of a relationship between government (the Republicans) and business)
  • A severe depression between 1873 and 1877, in no small part due to the continuance of greenbacks and the government messing with the monetary system (and, of course, not knowing what it’s doing)
  • The virtual end of a free-ranging, autonomous American Indians. With the top-heavy officer corps and the “new” emphasis on nationalism and incorporation, the Indians would not only have to give up their territory, but also their traditional lands and Americanized.  Something new.  Prior to the Civil War–Indians didn’t have to give up their way of life.  Whites just defined Indian territory and moved around them.

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