The History of the United States and the American People
The history of the United States and the American people has its roots in 15th century. With the voyage of Columbus, the great continent was discovered, and the new page of human civilization’s history began. America has been always considered to be a very powerful state with proud people and significant resources. However, the history of the American greatness has many dark spots. The colonization of the American continent brought not only culture and the benefits of European civilization, but also suffering and devastation to the native people of North and South Americas. Another wave of colonization marked the flourishing of slavery that has eventually led the United States to the Civil War and a long and exhausting period of Reconstruction. This essay focuses on the last two phenomena in particular. Slavery in North America gained a significant scale and, therefore, deserves a thorough discussion. Along with the issues of slavery in the U.S., the Era of Reconstruction that followed after the Civil War between Northern and Southern states is discussed. The current essay helps to understand the roots of slavery in America and analyzes the accomplishments of Reconstruction.
By the year 1700, colonialists had made fortunes by cultivating land in Virginia, and growing tobacco. Virginia differed significantly from New England colonies. With the construction of the Church of England in Virginia, people were forced to support the church, irrespective of whether they were Anglicans or not. In Virginia, the justice of the peace administered taxes. The leadership met often not for legislative purposes but for the purpose of raising taxes to drive their agenda forward. Maryland was made the first proprietary property. The colony was meant for Catholics, who were experiencing harassment in England, although the Protestants ended up occupying the colony due to the cheap land in the area. In Chesapeake society, the colonizers cultivated tobacco mainly in Virginia and Maryland. Although it created employment, the product was shipped to England and profits were not repatriated, resulting to the low development of towns. Slavery was in place, especially in the plantations. Development difference was noted between the colonies of New England, advancing in urban development, while Maryland and Virginia were dominated by plantations with minimal urban development. Small scale farmers were squeezed out by the practitioners. Many challenges existed at the time with the connection between New England and Chesapeake being the treatment of the highly prevalent malaria at that time that resulted to high mortality rates. There was equally high level of fluctuation of tobacco prices, resulting to prolonged economic depression in the region. In 1676 Nathaniel Bacon marched forward the settlers against a local tribe, killing its entire population. He equally decided to drive out all Indians from the colony when it expanded. Very little attention was offered to the indentured servants as well as slaves, before they were replaced with the African slaves. In 1660, Chesapeake colonies enforced law that defined slavery as a life-long inheritable condition based on race. Slavery led to an abuse of Africans and their children who were equally forced to engage in work in plantations (Davis, 1986, p. 88).
Differences existed between colonies in New England and those in Massachusetts. English immigrants came as a result of religious observance, while settlers came in search of economic benefits. Most of these settlers were puritans. Unlike the other colonies, New Jersey, New York, Delaware and Pennsylvania were created with an aim of developing trading centers. Netherlands engaged in a colonial strategy, where it authorizes companies to establish commerce in such areas. There were increased efforts to colonize Americans, especially in the fertile Pennsylvania and Delaware. Pennsylvania grew faster than other colonies in America, as it was highly advertised by Quakers, drawing huge number of immigrants. Pennsylvania was highly harmonized by Quaker who adopted an all inclusive leadership, although the incoming immigrants were undermining his benevolent approach. The tolerance of their leader made the colony succeed. Delaware equally operated with the policies and approaches of Pennsylvania. It is worth noting that New Jersey, New York and Delaware shared a number of factors. They were all linked in trade. Unlike in the Puritan England, there existed no dominant religions in this area (Nelson, 2008, p. 27).
From the above presentation, it is evident that while some colonies, such as Maryland, Virginia and New England differed significantly, puritan colonies were highly homogeneous. Unlike the New England and Maryland regions, where Americans were treated with a high level of hostility, Quakers efforts in Pennsylvania promoted peaceful coexistence and commerce. It is clear that leadership significantly determined the living conditions of whites and blacks in the society. Areas that experienced good governance recorded higher levels of urbanization and trade, as opposed to areas where the leadership extremely discriminated people based on race.
Slavery in North America
Slavery in North America escalated at the time of colonization, as the immigrants explored new lands. Slaves were transported to American colonies by ships as work force. However, Faragher, Buhle, Czitrom, and Armitage (2009) point out that the slaves had little economic benefit for planters, since they cost twice as much as indentured servants (p. 80). However, we can note that slaves benefitted the settlers by offering even their children for hard labor. The American society of the 17th century was rather diverse and multiracial because of the high level of assimilation between the whites, the blacks, and the natives. Interracial relationships were not uncommon at that time, and the result of such interaction was the development of mixed community, where people could share their cultural and social values and traditions. This study focuses on slavery in North America, identifying causes and roots of slavery in the region, as well as the reaction of diverse stakeholders to the slavery
The final quarter of 17th century showed colonial centers such as Chesapeake developing into a slave society where slaves were a dominant form of labor (Faragher et al., 2009, p. 80). With the rise of proportion of slaves in the colonial population, colonists made a decision to legitimize the slavery, entrenching the practice in law. It is important to note that British law did not have any legal acts, supporting any form of lifetime enslavement. In 1662, the Virginian planter assembly declared that henceforth the children born in the state will be considered free or bound, depending on the race of their mothers (Faragher et al., 2009, p. 80). This meant that slavery was now inheritable. Thus, slavery was institutionalized along with the growth of the Atlantic slave trade in the 18th century. During the 1701-1710 periods, North America imported more Africans more than the previous centuries (Faragher et al., 2009, p. 81).
The great inflow of slaves into North America resulted in growth of the population, a big part of which were slaves and servants. Slaves got separated from their masters not only because of their status, but due to their different life styles. They lived separately in small communities, often serving their masters from generation to generation. Houses of the planters often had small rooms for household servants or even annexes where the slaves lived.
In the Spanish colonies, the situation was quite different than in the English ones. The character of slavery there varied with local conditions. For instance, in many Florida settlements, the conditions of servants were more similar to the household slavery, common in African communities than the plantation slavery of South Carolina and Georgia. In 1699, in an attempt to weaken the English influence in the Lower South colonies, authorities in Spain made Florida state a refuge centre for escaping slaves, offering free land to any fugitive who would help to defend the colony. Over the next half century, refugee Indians and fugitive Africans established many communities in the countryside, surrounding St. Augustine (Faragher et al., 2009, p. 83).
With the appearance of the defenders of slaves, the situation in the country became very tense. This conflict led to the Civil War lasting 4 years (1861-1865) taking lives of hundreds of people. The Civil War in America marked the commencement of the new era in the American history. It became a crucial point in the development of the nation’s social structure. The Emancipation Proclamation of 1863 declared immediate and irreversible freedom for all slaves in the United States paving the way for the eventual abolition of American slavery. The freedom given to the black slaves by the 13th Amendment of the United States Constitution catalyzed the development of the new U.S. social policy. The proclamation consisted of two orders. The first order of 1862 outlined the intent to abolish slavery within territories that affiliated the Confederate States of America and decided not to rejoin the Union towards the last days of 1862. The second order of 1863 specifically named the states that applied the proclamation: Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, North Carolina, Georgia, South Carolina, Louisiana, Virginia, Mississippi, and Texas (McPherson, 2001, pp. 316-321).
The aftermath of the Civil War could be evaluated from two different perspectives. The 13th Amendment to the US Constitution brought confusion into the masses. Freed black people did not know what to do with their newly acquired freedom and were surrounded by white hostile people who did not know how to treat their former slaves. The Reconstruction implemented by Congress was aimed at developing means for reorganizing the Southern states in order to provide conditions in which black and white people could live together peacefully. However, the South did not welcome the Reconstruction and perceived it like a vengeful mean to humiliate the Southern states. Therefore, the Southern Democrats and Conservatives did everything they could, making the exercise of freedom challenging for former slaves.
The Era of Reconstruction
The Era of Reconstruction began with the Lincoln’s Plan aimed at reunion of quarreling Southern and Northern states. In1863, the president issued Proclamation of Amnesty and Reconstruction, announcing his intention to reunite the South and the North. The current paper focuses on Lincoln’s and Johnson plans, the rule and all of the radicals, as well as the end of the radical republicans rule in 1877.
On the contrast with Radical Republicans in Congress, Lincoln did not want to reorganize southern society. Moreover, he imagined that Reconstruction could be a very short process over which states considered secessionist could make a draft of the new constitutions so that the United States could exist in the way they were before the Civil War. However, after Lincoln’s assassination in April 1865, Andrew Johnson became the President with quite different vision of Reconstruction. His attempt to take charge of Reconstruction was based on the plan similar to Lincoln’s by which new state constitutions should be written by the southern states that would allow them to re-enter the Union. This plan, though, did not provide for allowing any political rights to black people. The adoption of this plan and its results made a horrifying impression on the northern states. According to Johnson’s plan, former Confederate leaders were elected to high positions. The new states developed Black Codes that put serious limitations on the freedom of black people and aimed at continuing slavery in any possible way.
The land was owned mostly by the white people, and its redistribution was not the subject of discussion. Some of the Radical Republicans supported the idea of dividing the planters’ land, in order to give some part of it to the freemen. However, the government did not plan this, as it was too risky. Such radical action could dispose northern and southern property owners to hostile reaction and influence the desire to fight for equal rights. Such policy resulted in a controversial situation in the South: freed people did not have the land to feed them and had to continue working for the property owners, in order to stay alive; this made them vulnerable to economic and political intimidation.
At the end of the Civil War, not many people supported the idea of allowing the freemen to vote. However, by 1866, the issue of equal political rights for African-Americans gained significant attention of the lawmakers. The 15th Amendment to the Constitution of 1870 granted the freemen a suffrage after a long dispute. However, this step was only the beginning of the exhausting war for the equal rights. Democrats could not accept the fact that the African-Americans could vote; thus, two decades after the ratification of the 15th Amendment, several states under the Democrats’ governance developed ways to restrain African-American from voting. Through such means as poll taxes, gerrymandering, and property ownership legislation, the right to vote was taken away from the Southern freemen.
Most Republicans were black freemen, holding conventions and creating black churches that created political self-confidence and unity in them. They often were delegates to constitutional conventions and held office positions. Therefore, the Republican Radical Party received its major support from the black people. With the newly obtained right to vote, freemen could considerably influence politics and gain power that would help them to achieve status and equality they wanted.
The Reconstruction Act of 1867 was adopted by the new Congress, regardless of President Johnson’s veto. This document presented a different plan on the South that corresponded with the Radical Republicans’ ideas and views. The Act implied that delegates to constitutional conventions should be voted according to the principle of Universal Male Suffrage. However, high Confederate officers and government officials could not be delegates to the new constitutional conventions. According to the Act, the state could re-enter the Union with two conditions. First, the state’s constitution must be accepted by the state’s voters and the Congress. Second, the state has to ratify the 14th Amendment that guaranteed the United States citizenship to anyone born or naturalized in America and equal protection of the laws to any U.S. citizen (Randall & Donald, 1969, p. 581).
In 1876, only three Southern states were under the governance of Republicans: Florida, South Carolina, and Louisiana. Controversial Presidential election and compromise of 1877 made President Hayes pull the federal army from these three states, and Redeemers took control over them. The South was under the governance of conservative Democrats, putting an end to Reconstruction. The victory of Democrats and Reconstruction’s failure was the defeat of the freemen (Franklin, 1961, pp. 215-223).
The end of Republican government marked the end of the Reconstruction. The white Democrat Southerners enacted Jim Crow laws and after 1890 disenfranchised most blacks and poor whites, regardless of several constitutional amendments and electoral laws. This was a beginning of the system of white supremacy and second-class citizenship for black people, now identified as the Jim Crow’s age. From this study, it is clear that although the slaves were freed, reorganization resulted to them being free but second class citizens.