After four years of horrific war with numerous casualties, nationwide fragmentation, and unyielding conscription, the Civil War finally ended.
However, the end of the US Civil War also meant a paradigm shift in American society, the ripples of which can still be felt today.
After the war was over in 1865, American society was never the same. Here are some of the most notable changes after the Union claimed victory:
The Two-Party System
Over the past two centuries, it is very well the norm of American politics: the Democrats vs. The Republicans.
However, before the American Civil War, the Democrats had to fight for support against parties known as the Whig and the Free soil as the Republican Party did not exist.
The Republican Party – also referred to as conservatives – was formed seven years before the Civil War. They replaced the Whig party, whose ambiguous position on slavery eventually spelled their end.
The hallmark of Republican belief was that the republic's interests should reign supreme over the states. And they would soon get their say.
The Republicans were internally united over their position on slavery against the democrats who were divided on the matter.
Therefore, Abraham Lincoln (a Republican) capitalized on the situation by becoming the 16th American president in 1860.
In the aftermath of the war, the two opposing parties took their position in the American political arena as the dominant ideological platforms.
The "Solid South" looked out for the interests of the rural Southern elite and voted for the Democratic Party until the civil rights movement.
And when the Democrats lent their support to the movement, the Republicans swooped in. They captured a large part of their voting bloc, focusing on socially conservative values and state importance.
The two parties eventually swapped party hats, leading to the current political setup associated with modern America.
Furthermore, the previously Republican strongholds in the North and Northeast gravitated towards the Democrats after they adopted a progressive manifesto, giving us the blue and red blocks that usually seen during voting broadcasts!
Interestingly, the two parties were initially supported by demographics that were ideologically opposed to the demographic they attract now!
Sanctity Of Certain Rights
The aftermath of the United States Civil War brought about three significant amendments to the American constitution and changed how we defined an American.
While previously, the concept for liberty and justice for all didn't account for much unless you were a white Anglo-Saxon man, the amendments paved the way for the extension of civil and voting rights for minorities.
Although women were still not permitted to vote till 1920, the amendments laid the foundations for universal suffrage, regardless of race and gender.
And finally, universal voting rights were clarified and legally enshrined in the 1964 Civil Rights Act, granting every American citizen protection from bigotry and disenfranchisement.
The three watershed amendments, ratified within five years after the end of the Civil War, were:
- The 13th amendment was ratified in 1865: It made slavery and involuntary servitude illegal within the United States.
- The 14th amendment was ratified in 1868: It granted citizenship to every person born or naturalized in the United States.
- The 15th amendment was ratified in 1870: It protected citizens from being denied the right to vote based on their race or color.
Concept Of Being American
Before the Civil War, the concept of American-ness was reasonably fluid, resulting in a fragmented society.
States chose to see themselves as separate sovereign entities. It wasn't uncommon to hear of the United States being referred to as a collection of various semi-autonomous states.
After the war, the new political sphere wanted to bring the nation together under one national identity by stressing the importance of sharing common values and ideals as an American nation.
Abraham Lincoln's Gettysburg address can be seen as a defining moment that brought about the beginning of a new America. He spoke of a government that was "of the people, by the people, and for the people."
Dawn Of Modern Medicine
The Civil War dealt a final blow to medieval medicine and brought about the dawn of a new age in healthcare and medical practice.
Both sides entered the war with primitive medical supplies and untrained physicians. The four years of fighting forced doctors, physicians, and caregivers to adapt to new science and incorporate anesthesia, surgery, and anatomical study in their practice.
While male doctors were charged with performing surgery and anesthesia on returning soldiers, women were brought in as caregivers and nurses.
The war also gave America its first ambulance corps, transporting wounded soldiers to hospitals using wagons. This concept of shuttling wounded men to makeshift hospitals through vehicles gave birth to America's modern ambulance system.
Before the war broke out, seeking medical help at home was the norm. However, several battlefield hospitals sprung up around the country during the war, serving as the foundation for modern medical care centers.
Turned America Into The Land Of Opportunity
Before the Civil War, America was a disjointed union of states, the years after the Union’s victory brought about a progressive period of rapid economic growth.
It paved the way for Americans to experience new lifestyles, move around and explore opportunities in ways not possible a decade before. These post-war years benefitted the economy because of the collective sense of optimism.
Moreover, the population boomed as immigrants started to flock to the land of opportunity, trying to carve their American dream.
As Southern landowners had blocked the possibility of land reforms and land-grant legislation for years before the war, this influx of immigrants compelled the government to revisit these primitive laws.
Therefore, during the war in 1862, Congress passed a set of land-grant laws that would change America's political and economic setup. These land-measures were:
- The land grant system: It authorized the sale of lands to set up colleges in every state. These colleges would later become the institutions we now know as Texas A&M and Virginia Tech, among others
- The Homestead Act: Any adult citizen could be granted 160 acres of government land after living on it for five years
The years following the Civil War focused on benefitting from this newfound unity. So it became essential to physically connect each state and provide people with economic tools to conduct business.
Therefore, the Transcontinental Railroad made the American West Coast, namely California, accessible to Americans. It gradually led to settlement rising all over the country, from the Atlantic to the Pacific coasts.
Furthermore, a national paper currency was introduced. This national paper currency bankrolled the country's development, helping to set up commerce and industry.
The Advent Of Technology In America
Abraham Lincoln was an early advocate of technology as he was intrigued with its use in the war. He was also the only president to hold a patent.
He brought about a change in warfare machinery, stressing rapid-fire weapons development, and paved the way for modernization in American combat.
Other than that, he even used hot-air balloons for espionage purposes and set up a Balloon Corps, among his many uses of technology for warfare.
However, one of the most useful by-products of the Civil War has to be how the telegram service was used. While this service was in use since the 1840s, Lincoln emphasized concise and short speech, doing away with formal speech.
Most importantly, the government's adoption of telegram evolved the service and helped develop newer communication devices, culminating in the telephone and Internet.
Seeing War Up Close
"What was the Civil War about after all?"
Some Americans still display differing opinions about the two warring sides; however, we pay homage to those that lost their lives fighting for the freedom we enjoy today.
This was the first instance where Americans witnessed the horrors and misery of war up close, and every year we display flags in remembrance of those that were there to see it.
Since then, Memorial Day has expanded into an annual tradition where we remember and honor all those who died in military service.
No matter where we may be, Memorial Day anchors our sentiments for the country, unites us in our goals, and helps us avoid the divides that caused this dreadful war.