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History of the United States (1865-1918)

 This article is part of the
History of the United States series.
 Colonial America
 History of the United States (1776-1865)
 The coming of the Civil War
 The Civil War
 History of the United States (1865-1918)
 History of the United States (1918-1945)
 History of the United States (1945-1964)
 History of the United States (1964-1980)
 History of the United States (1980-present)
 Demographic history of the United States
 Military history of the United States

Table of contents
1 The Aftermath of the Civil War and Reconstruction
2 The Gilded Age and the Imperial Republic
3 The Progressive Era: The Presidencies of Roosevelt, Taft, and Wilson
4 World War I
5 Related Topics

The Aftermath of the Civil War and Reconstruction

The destructiveness of the Union invasion and defeat of the South, followed by exploitive economic policies in the defeated region after the war, caused lasting bitterness among Southerners toward the U.S. government. This failure of the Federal government to effectively reunite the country contributed to the government's failure for many decades to enforce the Civil Rights of the formerly enslaved African-Americans in the South.

Reconstruction was the period after the American Civil War when the southern states of the defeated Confederacy, which had seceded from the United States, were reintegrated into the Union. Abraham Lincoln had endorsed a lenient plan for reconstruction, but the immense human cost of the war and the social changes wrought by it led Congress resist readmitting the rebel states without first imposing preconditions. A series of laws, passed by the Federal government, established the conditions and procedures for reintegrating the southern states.

Much of the impetus for Reconstruction involved the question of civil rights for the freed slaves in the southern states. In response to efforts by southern states to deny civil rights to the freed slaves, Congress enacted a civil rights act in 1866 (and again in 1875). This led to conflict with President Andrew Johnson, who vetoed the Civil Rights Act of 1866; however, his veto was overridden.

After solid Republican gains in the midterm elections, the first Reconstruction Act was passed on March 2, 1867; the last on March 11, 1868. The first Reconstruction Act divided ten Confederate states (all except Tennessee, which had been readmitted in 1866) into 5 military districts. Governments that had been established under Abraham Lincoln's plan were abolished; the first Reconstruction Act stated that "no legal State governments or adequate protection for life or property now exist in the rebel States".

During the period of Reconstruction there was considerable upheavel in Southern society. Northerners, known as carpetbaggers, moved south to participate in southern governments. Anti civil-rights terrorists formed the Ku Klux Klan.

Three constitutional amendments were passed in the wake of the Civil War: the thirteenth, which abolished slavery; the fourteenth, which granted civil rights to African Americans; and the fifteenth, which granted civil rights to freed citizens. The fourteenth amendment was opposed by the southern states, and as a precondition of readmission to the Union, they were required to accept it (or the fifteenth after passage of the fourteenth). All Southern states were readmitted by 1870, but Reconstruction continued until 1877, when the contentious Presidential election of 1876 was decided in favor of Rutherford B. Hayes, supported by Northern states, over his opponent, Samuel J. Tilden. Some historians have argued that the election was handed to the Hayes in exchange for an end to Reconstruction; this theory characterizes the settlement of that election as the "Compromise of 1877". Not all historians agree with this theory; in any case, regardless of the circumstances, Reconstruction came to an end at this time.

The end of Reconstruction essentially signalled the end of civil rights for African Americans; as the years passed after the end of the war, the North lost interest in continuing to pursue the matter and instead turned its attention towards other concerns. The South was essentially allowed to establish a segregated society in return for accepting its integration into the Union, and the initial flurry of civil rights measures were eroded over time. In the aftermath of Reconstruction, much of the civil rights legislation was later overturned by the United States Supreme Court near the end of the 19th Century. Most notably, the court ruled in the Civil Rights Cases 109 US 3 1883 that the fourteenth amendments being binding only to the states and not to the persons, Congress could not prevent private businesses to segregate black and white citizens in public places, thus repelling the 1875 Civil Rights Act. Plessy v. Ferguson 163 US 537 1896 went even further, providing that state-mandated segregation was legal as long as it provided for "separate but equal" facilities. Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka 347 US 483 1954 was one of the landmark 20th-century cases in which the Supreme Court reversed itself on segregation, but it was not until the Federal government formally struck down the concept of segregation in all public facilities in Title II of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 that Plessy was formally reversed. This act, along with the Voting Rights Act of 1965, finally paved the way to an end to officially sanctioned segregation in the United States.

The Gilded Age and the Imperial Republic

The Industrial Revolution

The U.S. economy changed during the Gilded Age. The population and the labor force have shifted dramatically away from farms to cities, from fields to factories, and, above all, to service industries. In today's economy, the providers of personal and public services far outnumber producers of agricultural and manufactured goods. As the economy has grown more complex, statistics also reveal over the last century a sharp long-term trend away from self-employment toward working for others.

Relations with Native Nations

This era saw the final phase of military conflicts with Native Americans who maintained independence; see: Indian Wars

United States Expansionism

American expansionism had roots in domestic concerns, as in other newly industrializing nations. The United States was a newly industrializing nation, like Germany, where investments overall assisted and accelerated economic progress, aiding the creation of costly infrastructure, such as railways and other public works. However, the findings of the 1890 Census, popularized by historian Frederick Jackson Turner in his paper entitled The Significance of the Frontier in American History, contributed to fears of dwindling natural resources. The Panic of 1893 and the ensuing depression also led some businessmen and politicians to come to the same conclusion as statesmen such as Leopold II of Belgium, Jules Ferry, Benjamin Disraeli, Joseph Chamberlain, and Francesco Crispi had formulated nearly a generation earlier in Europe, which was that industry had apparently over-expanded, producing more goods than domestic consumers could buy.

Like the Long Depression in Europe, which bred doubts regarding growing strength of political resistance of world capitalism, the main features of the Panic of 1893 included deflation, rural decline, and unemployment (indicative of under-consumption), which aggravated the bitter social protests of the Gilded Age, the Populist movement, the free-silver crusade, and violent labor disputes such as the Pullman Strike. Similarly, the post-1873 in Europe period saw a reemergence of far more militant working-class organization and cycles of large strikes. In fact, the rapid turn to imperialism in the late nineteenth century can be correlated with cyclically spaced economic depressions that adversely affected many elite groups. Like the Long Depression, an era of increasing unemployment and deflated prices for manufactured goods, the Panic of 1893 contributed to fierce competition over markets in the growing "spheres of influence" of the United States, which tended to overlap with Britain's, especially in the Pacific and South America.

While Germany, U.S., Italy, and other more recently industrialized empires were under relatively less pressure to offload surplus capital than Britain, these nations would resort to protectionism and formal empire, once attacked by adherents to laissez-faire, to usurp Britain's unfair advantages on international markets. Some politicians, such as Henry Cabot Lodge, William McKinley, and Theodore Roosevelt, advocated a more aggressive foreign policy to pull the United States out of the depression of the second Grover Cleveland Administration, known for a more laissez-faire approach and free trade. By World War I, the rise of US imperialism and militarism, however, would, in effect, save the Allies, the older, more established, and more liberal empires from the emergent threat of Germany.

Just as the German Reich reacted to depression with the adoption of protective tariff protection in 1879, so would the United States with the landslide election victory of William McKinley, who had risen to national prominence six years earlier with the passage of the McKinley Tariff of 1890. Britain's economic threat from the United States, thus, was (at the time at least) intensified by America's rise as a great military and political power after the Civil War, its adoption of such protective tariff protection, its acquisition of a colonial empire in 1898, and its building of a powerful navy, "the Great White Fleet", under the slain McKinley's more "big stick", racist, and militarist successor, Theodore Roosevelt. This course of events paralleled a similar trend in Germany, which emerged as a potential military power after its own unification, its adoption of a tariff in 1879, its acquisition of a colonial empire in 1884-85, and its building of a powerful navy after 1898. On the Pacific, since the Meiji Restoration, Japan's development followed a similar pattern, following the Western lead in industrialization and militarism, enabling it to gain a foothold or "sphere of influence" in Qing China.

Although US capital investments within the Philippines and Puerto Rico were relatively small (figures that would seemingly detract from the broader economic implications on first glance), these colonies were strategic outposts for expanding trade with Asia, particularly China and Latin America, enabling the United States to reap the benefit of China's "Open Door" and Dollar Diplomacy under Taft in Latin America. Imperialism for the United States, however, marked by the reaffirmation of the Monroe Doctrine (formalized by the Roosevelt Corollary to the Monroe Doctrine in 1904), would thus herald the trend of the United States replacing Britain as the predominant "investor" in Latin America'a process largely completed by the end of the Great War.

The end of the 19th century ushered in a period of imperialist expansion, pushing the USA on to the World stage:

Post-Spanish-American War map of "Greater America", including Cuba and the Philippines

The Progressive Era: The Presidencies of Roosevelt, Taft, and Wilson

(not started)

Roots of Progressivism and the Progressive Presidencies

World War I

For details, see the main World War I article.

During the 20th century the U.S. was involved in two World Wars. Firmly maintaining neutrality when World War I began in 1914, the United States entered the war after the RMS Lusitania, a British ship carrying many American passengers, was sunk by German submarines. With American help, Great Britain, France and Italy won the war, and imposed severe economic penalties on Germany in the Treaty of Versailles. Despite President Woodrow Wilson's calls for agreeable terms, the economic impact of the reparations mandated by the Treaty were severe. The misery they helped produce in Germany helped Adolf Hitler to seize power in Germany in 1933. The United States Senate did not ratify the Treaty of Versailles; instead, the United States signed separate peace treaties with Germany and her allies.

Disillusioned by the failure of the war to achieve the high ideals promised by President Woodrow Wilson, the American people chose Isolationism: they turned their attention inward, away from international relations and solely toward domestic affairs.

Related Topics