The American civil war, which period commences with the official ending in 1865, amounted to a cessation of hostilities on the battlefield. Nevertheless, the civil war had injected powerful mechanisms of disequilibrium into the American polity.
The scars left behind by the civil war were deeply felt, not only in the political terrain but in the economic, social and psychological lives of the Americans.
In the political terrain, the civil war injected what could be regarded as acute polarization, not only within the political class in the north and the south, but also among the politicians in the respective regions.
In the north, for instance, the political class was sharply divided into two. On the one hand was the group that believed that the prevailing policy should be to forgive and to forget. On the other side of the spectrum were those who believed that the rebels must be severely punished.
In the south, the bitterness of the civil war and the defeat suffered by the region had created a particularly difficult group, which did not want to leave behind both the causes and the consequences of the war. Put differently, they were not ready to purge themselves off their rebellious streak.
This group, therefore, believed that, there should be no agreement between the south and the north. However, there was a group in the south that believed that the bitterness of the civil war should end. This group sought to find accommodation in the peace process inaugurated by the federal government.
Thus, because of their readiness to cooperate with the victorious north, they were derisively referred to as the SCALAWAGS by their compatriots in the south.
It could be seen, therefore, that in spite of the peace process, there were still antagonistic camps, not only within the regions, but also across the north-south divide.
In the social realm, there was what could be regarded as unprecedented devastation and social dislocation. In the war, not only did America lose about 620,000 people, but several others were physically and psychologically maimed for life.
Several young women were widowed early in life and young girls also lost potential husbands.
As a corollary to this the American nation also witnessed the collapse of moral values. For instance, since many young men who were drafted into the war died in the ensuing conflagration, the situation by that very fact forced a redefinition of the whole laws and privileges governing issues such as marriage, infidelity, prostitution etc.
Effects on the Economy
In the economic field, the economic situation had become so confused that almost all the structures servicing the sectors had almost been destroyed.
All good agricultural fields had been destroyed. Potential labour had been drafted into the war and manufacturing had ceased. Other important infrastructures such as roads, rail lines etc, had also been destroyed.
And to compound the problem, both the north and the south had adopted different currencies and the rules governing the adoption of these currencies had closely tied to the workings of the different economies.
As a result of the major disequilibrium introduced into the economy by the distortion, it became imperative that for the economy to be refloated, the currency and the rules governing its issuance, compatibility, etc, must be regulated and harmonized.
Thus, because of the problem created by the civil war and as a result of the foregoing, it became a matter of top priority that the American economy and the society at large be fundamentally restructured.
This gave rise to a conflicting reconstruction programme, which further polarized the American economy, politics and society.
Next Article: Topic Two: The Era of Reconstruction, 1865 – 1877