Post Civil War: Economic Factors Shape Democracy in America

Life differed for everyone after the Civil War ended—farmers, Southerners, former slaves, and more—because America was rebuilding itself in more ways than one. Former slaves were set free upon the end of the war, and they believed that their years of unpaid labor gave them a claim to land and “”forty acres and a mule”” became their rallying cry. Whites were not willing to give their property to previous slaves, and the federal government chose not to redistribute land in the South, meaning only a few could progress toward becoming landowners.

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With everything taken into account, Southerners had a hard time changing from old ways following the end of slavery. Farmers were tossed into poverty by the war, and this was a huge change from pre-war days when they focused on growing food for their families. It was during this time that the economic life of America became directly related to the level of democracy a person or group could acquire.

The liberation of slaves in the South represented a major issue for landowners who had depended predominantly on slaves for their salaries. Being in control over their labor force for so long, many landowners wanted things to go back to the old way, but former slaves were determined not to. These former slaves wanted their “”forty acres and a mule,” because this would be enough for them to make a living for their families. To them having economic autonomy meant freedom, and we can see this with the freedmen of Edisto Island petition to General Howard and President Johnson. The freedmen of Edisto Island were able to tap into their land rights, but soon after General Howard ordered them to vacate because the land would return to their former owners, who were fighting on the opposite side during the Civil War. They hoped to persuade the general to grant them some land since they had built that land and were supposed to be considered freedmen now. The only way this would happen is by ridding whites of their land. The Federal Government was opposed to taking away property from white owners; thus few ex-slaves were able to obtain land.

Landowners were able to keep ownership of the land; however, they no longer had possession of the slaves who worked on the area. They were not able to exploit the slaves anymore for their labor, but they were able to gather and store away the economic opportunities represented by land. Richard Harvey Cain also believed that after building the nation and being exploited for so long, the former slaves deserved equal rights and the only way for that to happen was to sign the Civil Rights Act of 1875. After all, their labor is the reason America became such a prosperous nation. In his speech, he speaks on how rich, educated white southerners would be more supportive of this bill because it would lead to economic prosperity for them. Cain understood that these men would only act upon the bill if it would be in their best interest to do so.

Many economic problems came with the Great Depression. Farmers had an even harder time selling their produce and livestock at low prices. Multiple families did not have the cash to purchase things, and buyer interest for produced merchandise tumbled off. Fewer families were buying new things. Individuals figured out how to manage without new garments. Numerous families couldn’t pay their lease. Some people left home by hopping on railroad vehicles looking for any activity they could get.

Farmers worked hard to deliver produce and livestock, but costs dropped so low that numerous people went bankrupt and lost their homes. The value of a bushel of corn tumbled to only eight or ten pennies. Some ranch families started consuming corn as opposed to coal in their stoves since corn was less expensive. In Le Mars, Iowa, a crowd of farmers burst into a court and pulled the judge from the seat. They pulled him out of court, drove away, and made him swear not to take any more cases that would cause a family to lose their home. They wanted to hang him when he opposed, but they left instead. The governor, in turn, got the National Guard to gather the leaders and place them in jail. In different regions around the state, farmers came together to form worker unions to keep any milk from to towns and urban areas. They believed this would raise the value farmers were paid. They set up barricades on the streets and made any trucks transferring farm products return home. They called the movement “”Farm Holiday.”” Everybody didn’t join in on the action, and it did not have any impact on costs like they hoped it would.

Regarding second-class citizens, the United States Congress enacted a territorial organic act for governance over Puerto Rico, and this was the first law to define Puerto Rico’s status as a territory. The United States had redefined territorial identity, and by doing so, they extended themselves as an international imperialist power. Treating Puerto Rico as a foreign country gave the United States power beyond the Constitution. They enacted temporary tariffs and duties on goods, imported and exported between the two places, that gave the United States authority to collect revenues that would be in the hands of the president until Puerto Rico was stable enough. By establishing discriminatory tariffs on goods from Puerto Rico to the United States, it provided time for the mainland monopolies to penetrate local markets and purchase the island’s most productive lands. Lawmakers created better conditions for United States firms to destabilize local competitors because they were concerned with potential economic threats. Relations with Cuba stipulated conditions for United States interventions and permitted them to lease and buy land to establish naval bases and coaling stations. Article III barred Cuba from making a treaty that gave another nation power over their affairs, going into debt, or stopping the United States from imposing a sanitation program. Essentially, America was able to establish itself as an empire with overseas colonies.

The increase in military production and the development of new technologies was the way America managed national security and attempted to coexist with the Soviet Union. The NSC 68 was written to justify the United States need to build up their intelligence and military. The Soviet Union was well on their way to being ahead of the United States, and the United States figured if they started now then they would be able to fight, but if they waited, the Soviet Union would win and take over the world with communism. America believed the only way to combat communism was through freedom. The Soviet Union’s demonstration of communism was vital in persuading the people to help expand military spending, which worked because the people believed that to ensure their security and safety this was the only way to go.

Americans level of economic stability significantly shaped people’s understanding of democracy and the level they were able to obtain. After the Civil War, Southerners were without their primary source of labor, and this caused their incomes to fall. Former slaves believed owning land was their way of achieving freedom and equality, and after the Civil War some were able to accomplish this, but it wasn’t until much later that they all were able to. The Great Depression led many to lose their jobs and farmers went into debt. They then created unions to try and raise prices to be able to pay off debts and live comfortably. America used Cuba and Puerto Rico to establish themselves as a world power and to become better off than other countries. Wartime production reached new heights when America used the people’s need for security to fund their new foreign policy. Overall, economic life and democracy shared a cause and effect relationship.

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