Investigative Question

How did the country change because of the Civil War and Reconstruction in the nineteenth century?

Students can continue with a selective review of American government by considering this question: How did the country change because of the Civil War and Reconstruction in the nineteenth century? The events leading up to the Civil War, the successes and failures of Reconstruction, and informal and formal segregation brought on by Jim Crow laws also provide context for understanding racial inequities in late-nineteenth-century America. To help students understand the history of the Constitution after 1787, teachers pay particular attention to the post–Civil War amendments (Thirteenth, Fourteenth, and Fifteenth), which laid the foundation for the legal phase of the twentieth-century civil rights movement. 

 

The amended Constitution gave the federal government increased power over the states, especially for the extension of equal rights and an inclusive definition of citizenship. A focus on these topics later on in the course allows for a comparative study of the civil rights movement over time as ethnic and racial minorities experienced it.

 

In addition to the civil rights groundwork laid by the Reconstruction-era Constitutional Amendments, students should closely read the Fourteenth Amendment as it is has been continually reinterpreted and applied to different contexts by the courts; for example, sometimes it has been employed as a protection for workers and other times as a protection for corporations. In the context of the late nineteenth century, civil rights advocates such as Booker T. Washington, the founder of Tuskegee Institute and author of the 1895 Atlanta Exposition address, and W. E. B. Du Bois, a founder of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) and author of The Souls of Black Folk, had different perspectives on the means of achieving greater progress and equality for African Americans. Racial violence, discrimination, and segregation inhibited African Americans’ economic mobility, opportunity, and political participation. 

 

As background for their later studies about challenges to Jim Crow segregation, students understand the meaning of “separate but equal,” as both a legal term and as a reality that effectively limited the life chances of African Americans by denying them equal opportunity for jobs, housing, education, health care, and voting rights.

 

The politics of slavery, westward expansion, and industrialization violently tore the nation apart from the 1850s through the 1880s, but racial conflict, industrialization, and westward expansion also simultaneously stitched the country back together in equally compelling ways. Factories employing millions of native-born and immigrant laborers turned raw materials into industrial goods that helped build railroads that connected the West’s abundant natural resources with industrial cities like Chicago, Cleveland, and Pittsburgh. Cities such as San Francisco and Denver industrialized rapidly during and after the Civil War and became major economic hubs, especially after the completion of the first transcontinental railroad in 1869. The United States rose to world power through the rapid dispossession of indigenous lands, federal subsidies for railroads and domestic industries, the use of troops and police to break strikes, the recruitment of cheap immigrant labor, and an abundance of diverse natural resources. 

 

Throughout the country workers actively resisted their exploitation and developed strategies to gain their freedom and improve their pay, treatment, and opportunities. Former slaves took up arms as soldiers in the US army to fight their former masters. Railroad workers rose up against their employers after repeated pay cuts reduced them to unsustainable deprivation and prolonged poverty. Chinese Americans and other immigrants lived and worked together because native-born whites excluded and persecuted them, but immigrants also frequently chose to live in Chinatown, Little Italy, and other ethnic neighborhoods to facilitate their adjustment to a new and strange place and to take advantage of job opportunities and familiar community institutions. In response, these diverse groups met the violent and repressive reactions of employers, nativists, rival immigrants, politicians, and white supremacists. 

 

Debates about race, freedom, equality, labor, and opportunity polarized American politics during the Civil War and Reconstruction. Racial ideologies shaped politics in every region of the country in distinct but related ways. In order to justify the cruel system of racial slavery, plantation owners asserted the inferiority of blacks. Poor whites from Appalachia may have hated slavery and the southern aristocrats who marginalized and mocked them, but they strongly agreed with slaveowners that blacks were inferior. At the start of the war, many supporters of the Union assaulted abolitionists and blamed them for provoking the war. Some Northern whites started riots that targeted and victimized blacks. However, the rhetoric of Abraham Lincoln throughout the war charted the evolution of white attitudes on slavery, blacks, and equality. The profound loss the war inflicted on millions of Americans and the bravery and heroism of black troops in the Union army persuaded many Northern whites to support emancipation even though they had resented arguments at the outset of the war that the conflict had been about slavery. 

 

As white Americans in the West excluded the Chinese and dispossessed the region’s indigenous people, wealthy businessmen tried to destroy unions, and many Anglo-Americans in the East fought vigorously to stem immigration from southern and eastern Europe. They soon associated these new immigrants with labor radicalism and subversive politics, which allowed politicians and industrialists to exploit and exclude workers from immigrant communities as the situation dictated. Sometimes the same group that had not long before been demonized as subversive radicals quickly won the favor of their recent critics by supplying strikebreakers who helped to defeat a union.

 

At the same time, southern blacks struggled to gain the equal rights promised to them by the recently amended Constitution, but once federal troops receded from the South and Reconstruction ended, southern whites immediately resorted to violence and political fraud to restore white supremacy and exploit and terrorize African Americans. Although racial hierarchies looked different in the West than they did in the urban North or the rural South, most whites across the country began to agree that they should limit economic and political opportunities to people most like them and should actively exclude the people that were most different. By the 1880s, southern whites had begun to institute laws that built the foundation for Jim Crow segregation. In 1882 Congress passed the Chinese Exclusion Act (though California had passed anti-Chinese legislation earlier in the nineteenth century) and established the federal government’s role in distinguishing between desirable and undesirable immigrant communities. This policy would be expanded, refined, and formally institutionalized over the next several decades with the passage of increasingly restrictive immigration laws. Federal intervention and the use of troops against striking workers directly benefited big business and continued to tighten the grip of corporate power over American work, politics, and daily life until it nearly choked the labor movement to death. The excessive influence of big business and the economic and social distortions it caused eventually provoked a larger series of movements for reform that took root at the end of the nineteenth century and continued to grow during the early twentieth century. 

 

The sources in this inquiry set aim to illustrate many of these developments that will set the stage for the enduring themes and topics that will frame the course. The first two sources both show images of industrial development in the far western United States. Source 1 provides a photograph of a train traveling east from Sacramento, and Source 2 is a picture of the industrial mining of silver and gold on the Comstock Lode. Both images convey the rapid pace of westward expansion that fed conflicts that contributed to the Civil War.

 

Source 3 provides a defense of slavery by Alexander Stephens, the vice president of the Confederacy, and Source 4 is the Emancipation Proclamation, written and issued by President Lincoln. These two documents demonstrate the distinct goals of the Union and the Confederacy. Together they illustrate war goals, but also the ideologies left in the aftermath of the war.

 

Sources 5 – 7 demonstrate how the Civil War changed the meaning of freedom and the Americans who participated in this transformation. 

 

Sources 8 – 10 show how some Americans actively opposed a more inclusive and expansive freedom. These sources demonstrate how violence, persecution, and legal exclusion were all used to place limits on who should enjoy access to liberty, justice, and opportunity.

 

 

Racialized slavery, violence, segregation, racism, nativism

Literacy Support (Unit 11.1, Source 3: Alexander Stephens, “Cornerstone of the Confederacy” speech)

Teacher background

Alexander Stephens, vice president of the Confederate States of America and a vocal defender of slavery, delivered his “Cornerstone of the Confederacy” speech on March 21, 1861, in Savannah, Georgia, arguing that the races were fundamentally unequal and that slavery is not only justified, but natural. This literacy activity will help students to notice and understand some of the rhetorical strategies Stephens employed in doing so and will guide them to consider the effectiveness of these strategies for Stephens’s audience and purpose.

Directions

1.  Provide context. Using the “Who/When/Where” section of the student handout, orient students to the basic contextual information about the circumstances of this speech. Situate this speech within the context of other events/texts discussed so far in class.

2.  Interpret and discuss text.

a.    To ensure students have basic comprehension about the meaning of the text, begin by reading the excerpt aloud or listening to an audio recording, such as this scholarly reading from the Audio Law Library (from 12:50 – 15:18 and 18:00 – 18:42). Together as a whole class, answer the “What” question: What does Stephens argue about the relationship between race and slavery?

b.    To maximize student opportunities to talk and negotiate meaning, have them work in pairs or small groups to complete as much of the “How” section as they can. Encourage them to consult the footnote as well as the internet as needed to learn more about the biblical references. Debrief and expand upon these responses as a whole class.

c.    Finally, ask students to synthesize ideas by writing and reflecting, either individually or in pairs, on the rhetorical effectiveness of the text (the “Why” section of the handout) and the connections of this text to the unit and its central questions (the “Unit Connection” section of the handout). Give each student a chance to verbalize and expand on their thoughts with one or more classmates, and then debrief as a class as needed.

3.    Extend the learning. Find (or ask students to find) one or more current arguments that many would find racist in nature. These could include op-eds related to Confederate monuments, policing practices, immigration policies, etc. What is each argument built on, and how is the approach of each similar to or different from Alexander Stephens’s approach? Who is being appealed to and what kinds of appeals are being made? Are there any metaphors? Biblical references? Appeals to morality or rationality? How might one build an argument to refute it using similar approaches?

 

 

 

 

 

STUDENT HANDOUT

Exploring Rhetoric in the Cornerstone Address

Who/When/Where:

After secession of many of the Southern states in March of 1961, Alexander Stephens, from Georgia, served as the vice president of the Confederate States of America. He delivered the following speech, known as the “Cornerstone Address” or the “Cornerstone Speech” on March 21,1861, in Savannah, Georgia.

 

What:

Excerpts from “The Cornerstone of the Confederacy”:1

 

The constitution, it is true, secured every essential guarantee to the institution while it should last, and hence no argument can be justly urged against the constitutional guarantees thus secured, because of the common sentiment of the day. Those ideas, however, were fundamentally wrong. They rested upon the assumption of the equality of races. This was an error. It was a sandy foundation, and the government built upon it fell when the “storm came and the wind blew.”2

 

Our new government is founded upon exactly the opposite idea; its foundations are laid, its corner-stone rests, upon the great truth that the negro is not equal to the white man; that slavery subordination to the superior race is his natural and normal condition. This, our new government, is the first, in the history of the world, based upon this great physical, philosophical, and moral truth. This truth has been slow in the process of its development, like all other truths in the various departments of science. It has been so even amongst us. Many who hear me, perhaps, can recollect well, that this truth was not generally admitted, even within their day. The errors of the past generation still clung to many as late as twenty years ago. Those at the North, who still cling to these errors, with a zeal above knowledge, we justly denominate fanatics. All fanaticism springs from an aberration of the mind from a defect in reasoning. It is a species of insanity. One of the most striking characteristics of insanity, in many instances, is forming correct conclusions from fancied or erroneous premises; so with the anti-slavery fanatics. Their conclusions are right if their premises were. They assume that the negro is equal, and hence conclude that he is entitled to equal privileges and rights with the white man. If their premises were correct, their conclusions would be logical and just but their premise being wrong, their whole argument fails. . . . 

 

Many governments have been founded upon the principle of the subordination and serfdom of certain classes of the same race; such were and are in violation of the laws of nature. Our system commits no such violation of nature’s laws. With us, all of the white race, however high or low, rich or poor, are equal in the eyes of the law. Not so with the negro. Subordination is his place. He, by nature, or by the curse against Canaan, is fitted for that condition which he occupies in our system.

1 Text from H. Cleveland, Alexander H. Stephens, in Public and Private: With Letters and Speeches, Before,  During, and Since the War (Philadelphia: National Publishing, 1866), 717 – 29.

 

2Matthew 7:24 – 27

 

What (continued):

What does Stephens argue about the relationship between race and slavery? Underline a few key lines related to this point in the speech and write your summary below:

 

 

 

 

 

 

How:

How does Stephens use metaphor and/or biblical references to build his argument?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

How does Stephens characterize the thinking of the new Confederate government versus that of those who were/are antislavery? List some specific words/phrases associated with each group to show how he does so.

 

Confederate government thinking = ______________

Antislavery thinking = ______________

Words/phrases from the text that contribute to this characterization:

 

 

 

 

 

 

Words/phrases from the text that contribute to this characterization:

 

 

Why:

Given what you know about the historical context, why would Stephens make these arguments? Who is he talking to? Do you think the rhetorical moves described above would have appealed to his audience? Why or why not?

 

 

 

 

 

 

Unit Connection:

What does our study of this text add to our conversation about the causes of the Civil War and/or how the country changed because of it?

 

 

TEACHER KEY

Exploring Rhetoric in the Cornerstone Address

Who/When/Where:

After secession of many of the Southern states in March of 1961, Alexander Stephens, from Georgia, served as the vice president of the Confederate States of America. He delivered the following speech, known as the “Cornerstone Address” or the “Cornerstone Speech” on March 21,1861, in Savannah, Georgia.

 

What:

Excerpts from “The Cornerstone of the Confederacy”:1

 

The constitution, it is true, secured every essential guarantee to the institution while it should last, and hence no argument can be justly urged against the constitutional guarantees thus secured, because of the common sentiment of the day. Those ideas, however, were fundamentally wrong. They rested upon the assumption of the equality of races. This was an error. It was a sandy foundation, and the government built upon it fell when the “storm came and the wind blew.”2

 

Our new government is founded upon exactly the opposite idea; its foundations are laid, its corner-stone rests, upon the great truth that the negro is not equal to the white man; that slavery subordination to the superior race is his natural and normal condition. This, our new government, is the first, in the history of the world, based upon this great physical, philosophical, and moral truth. This truth has been slow in the process of its development, like all other truths in the various departments of science. It has been so even amongst us. Many who hear me, perhaps, can recollect well, that this truth was not generally admitted, even within their day. The errors of the past generation still clung to many as late as twenty years ago. Those at the North, who still cling to these errors, with a zeal above knowledge, we justly denominate fanatics. All fanaticism springs from an aberration of the mind from a defect in reasoning. It is a species of insanity. One of the most striking characteristics of insanity, in many instances, is forming correct conclusions from fancied or erroneous premises; so with the anti-slavery fanatics. Their conclusions are right if their premises were. They assume that the negro is equal, and hence conclude that he is entitled to equal privileges and rights with the white man. If their premises were correct, their conclusions would be logical and just but their premise being wrong, their whole argument fails. . . . 

 

Many governments have been founded upon the principle of the subordination and serfdom of certain classes of the same race; such were and are in violation of the laws of nature. Our system commits no such violation of nature’s laws. With us, all of the white race, however high or low, rich or poor, are equal in the eye of the law. Not so with the negro. Subordination is his place. He, by nature, or by the curse against Canaan, is fitted for that condition which he occupies in our system.

1 Text from H. Cleveland, Alexander H. Stephens, in Public and Private: With Letters and Speeches, Before, During, and Since the War (Philadelphia: National Publishing, 1866), 717– 29.

 

2Matthew 7:24 – 27

 

What (continued):

What does Stephens argue about the relationship between race and slavery? Underline a few key lines related to this point in the speech and write your summary below:

 

 

Stephens argues that the white race is superior to the black race and that black people, by nature, are meant to be subordinate and enslaved.

 

 

How:

How does Stephens use metaphor and/or biblical references to build his argument?

 

Stephens builds his argument on the metaphor of the belief of the equality of races being a “sandy foundation”; that is, ground on which a house (and therefore any conclusions based on the equality of races) cannot stand. If we follow the footnote, we can learn that this metaphor is an allusion to the Sermon on the Mount, a passage of the Bible containing Jesus’s moral teachings. Stephens also mentions the “curse against Canaan,” from a story in the Bible’s Book of Genesis that has sometimes been misinterpreted to justify racism against black people.

 

 

How does Stephens characterize the thinking of the new Confederate government versus that of those who were/are antislavery? List some specific words/phrases associated with each group to show how he does so.

 

Confederate government thinking = __

Enlightened/righteous_

Antislavery thinking = _Ignorant/mentally ill_

Words/phrases from the text that contribute to this characterization:

 

“great truth”

“first in the history of the world”

“great physical, philosophical, and moral truth”

“science”

“commits no such violation of nature’s laws”

 

Words/phrases from the text that contribute to this characterization:

 

“error”

“sandy foundation”

“cling”

“zeal”

“fanatics”

“aberration of the mind”

“defect in reasoning”

“insanity”

 

Why:

Given what you know about the historical context, why would Stephens make these arguments? Who is he talking to? Do you think the rhetorical moves described above would have appealed to his audience? Why or why not?

 

     Stephens was trying to garner support — mainly among other elite white Southerners — for

the central role of slavery in Southern civilization. Responses evaluating his rhetoric will vary, but they might make connections between the strong religious values of people (especially Southerners) at the time and Stephens’s intentional biblical references, and/or between the intellectual/moral values of the elite class with Stephens’s characterization of the Confederate government’s philosophy as enlightened (compared to antislavery advocates as misguided).

Unit Connection:

What does our study of this text add to our conversation about the causes of the Civil War and/or how the country changed because of it?

 

 

This document, in showing the centrality of slavery to the social order of Southern society, affirms the central role that slavery played in the causes of the Civil War. Furthermore, this look at extreme and, for the time, also mainstream racial ideologies helps to explain why racial conflict continued (and continues) to persist in the United States after the end of the Civil War.