Why did the South Lose: the South before and after the Civil War
The Civil War began in 1861 and ended in 1865. These years marked the bloodiest years in American history; experts believe that approximately 618,000 to 700,000 Americans died in the Civil War. The war primarily began due to increased tensions between the Northern and Southern states, including states’ rights, the Dred Scott court case, slavery, the Underground Railroad, Abraham Lincoln’s election, and many more. All of these tensions gave reason for southern states to put the idea of secession from the Union into motion. Abraham Lincoln’s inauguration on March 4, 1861, initiated seven states to secede from the Union. The act of succession led to the beginning of the bloodiest war in American history. In 1865, the Civil war ended with Union victory, but in the process left 620,000 Union and Confederate Soldiers dead. This war changed the South in various ways that left an everlasting impact on society, but also had many aspects that stayed the same pre and post-Civil War: freed slaves, sharecropping, education, and class differentiation.
Slavery was a necessity in the South before the Civil War. Years prior, the cotton gin was invented, revolutionizing cotton production. This machine allowed southern planters to grow cotton at a faster pace, the crop being well adapted to the hot temperature. This made cotton production more profitable for farmers in the South; however, operation of this machine still required much labor, which was output through slavery. The only way this Southern economy could possibly work was through African American slave labor. This was only one of various jobs African American slaves were required to do. Slaves would begin working early in the morning, usually before dawn, and ended late in the night. This day would include a lunch break that would be around an hour or two. The misconception among many individuals is white farmers that had a large supply of slaves would not do much work. White farmers also worked long days, but the primary difference between the slaves’ work ethic and theirs was that the white farmers were allowed to work at their own pace. African American slaves were under constant physical strain and punishment by their owners.
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However, all of this changed with the advent of the Civil War and the ratification of the Emancipation Proclamation. There were two main reasons behind this proclamation: gain manpower for the Union and take the Confederacy’s main source of manpower. The Emancipation Proclamation in the process freed millions of slaves from the Confederacy. After the Civil War, many former African American slaves traveled to the west in order to escape the Jim Crow laws and buy land through the Homestead Act. Comparatively to white Americans, African Americans also established churches, schools, grocery stores, restaurants, and etc. However, there were still many African American families who remained in the Deep South, under constant terror and racism, especially with the introduction of the Jim Crow Laws. African Americans were still treated unequally in multiple areas, such as education, restaurants, hotels, bathrooms, job opportunities, much the same as before the Civil War.
However, the number of opportunities offered to African American were much more numerous after the Civil War as compared to before. The immigration of thousands of African Americans left the South with a severe shortage of labor compared to before the Civil War. By 1870, the South’s cotton production had been cut in half, leading to a shift in the South’s economy from slavery-infused cotton production to sharecropping.
Before the Civil War, the Southern states had a purely agricultural economy. Sharecropping describes a specific type of farming where families rent a small portion of land from the landowner in return for a portion of their crop at the end of each year. This was practiced by many former slaves in the South because not many African Americans owned land in the South. Approximately only 30,000 African Americans in 1870 owned land in the South, compared to 4 million that did not. Sharecropping often led to conflicts between white farmers and African American farmers, as the white farmers were used to governing over the now-freed slaves; however, each had to learn to compromise through trial and error, in order to do the best they each could to survive. Generally, in a sharecropping economy, the farmers would ask the landowners for a piece of land for a share of their crop and/or financial compensation. This request for equivalence between the white landowners often black farmers infuriated their employers; yet, they still needed the labor to survive. As such, the core of the economy was still agriculturally dependent.
The primary difference between the two economies was that instead of slave-powered agricultural society, it became a shared between white Americans and African Americans in post-Civil War society. This sharecropping economy helped rebuild the South’s economy slowly, eventually rebounding to pre-Civil war levels. By the time the Southern economy was able to rebound, laws had further changed, giving many basic civil rights to all citizens to America. Hence, the development of the sharecropping economy was just the beginning of the shift in Southern economy and society in ways still apparent in modern society.
For many African Americans, true freedom included education as a must. Before the Civil War, North Carolina was the only Southern state that had developed an education system for white children. During the Civil War, public education began to make its way down to the South. The Freedmen’s Bureau and various state governments provided a majority of the funding for the betterment and education of freedmen. However, in order to fully optimize and utilize this assistance, African Americans still had to purchase land, construct buildings, hire teachers, and come up with a well-developed system for education for themselves. This desire for education led to the construction of the nation’s first African American colleges: Howard University, Fisk University, Hampton Institute, and etc. The Freedmen’s Bureau, missionary societies, and African Americans built over 3,000 schools in the South. Many of the children and young adults who attended these schools became leaders and teachers who made an everlasting impact on the world.
Class distinction was a pivotal part of the Civil War momentum across America. Many decades before the war, the economic and social foundation of the Northeast and Old Northwest completely changed from small, specialized crafts to industrialized jobs (banking, finance, and etc.). These changes led to larger class differences, and the development of the working class as the middle class between the upper and lower classes; these class differences were present throughout all races in society, including Native Americans and African Americans.
During the Civil War, these conflicts led to riots, the most violent of which were the New York City Draft Riots in 1863. In modern society, class is not such a defining factor as compared to the 19th century. The 19th century class classification was (in order from upper to lower): White individuals, elite Protestant families, middle class dispositions, the master craft and yeoman class, industrial laborers, servants, and slaves in the South or free African Americans in the North. According to this pre-Civil War classification, it is clearly shown that no matter the societal status of African Americans, they were discriminated against. In pre-Civil War times, African Americans had few to no opportunities, due to the slavery, causing them to be automatically part of the socioeconomic low class. After the Civil War however, African Americans had many more opportunities, giving a better economic standpoint; unfortunately, due to severe racial discrimination, African Americans remained a part of the lower class socially.
If an upper-class, white individual worked a specific job, they would receive much higher pay, as compared to an African American individual. Even in modern society, African American men working a full-time job only receive 72% a year, on average, of what white men earn on the same job. This economic gap has deep roots seated in the 19th century, stemming from the socioeconomic status of African Americans in pre-Civil War times. Fortunately, the Civil War catalyzed a drastic shift in the status of African Americans in society, the repercussions and effects of which are seen even in today’s society.
In conclusion, the Civil War was the bloodiest war in American History. This conflict arose due to many factors that pushed the Southern states to politicize the idea of seceding from the Union, sparking from Abraham Lincoln’s inauguration being the tipping point. The Civil War started in 1861 and ended in 1865. The war ended with Union victory, but in the process left many positive and negative repercussions, especially in the South. This Civil War killed approximately 618,000 to 700,000 Americans. Albeit this morbid statistic, this battle brought with it many positive changes and reformations that have an effect on Southern society to this day. These changes included, but were not limited to: freed slaves, the advent of the sharecropping economy (which has further developed into the strong agricultural-based economy of the South today), and education. Many aspects of these changes stayed the same post-Civil War as they had been prior; however, these shifts in society changed American culture and society forever.