The social changes and human and economic costs of the Civil War led to profound legal and constitutional developments after it ended, not least of which were the Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendments and the many laws devised to protect the civil rights of newly freed African Americans. These amendments and laws worked for a while, but they were ineffective or ineffectively enforced for more than a century.
In Ending the Civil War and the Consequences for Congress, contributors explore how the end of the war both continued the trauma of the conflict and enhanced the potential for the new birth of freedom that Lincoln promised in the Gettysburg Address. Collectively, they bring their multidisciplinary expertise to bear on the legal, economic, social, and political aspects of the aftermath of the war and Reconstruction era. The book concludes with the reminder of how the meaning of the war has changed over time. The Civil War is no longer the “felt” history it once was, Clay Risen reminds us, and despite the work of many fine scholars it remains contested.
Contributors: Jenny Bourne, Carole Emberton, Paul Finkelman, Lorien Foote, William E. Nelson, Clay Risen, Anne Sarah Rubin, and Peter Wallenstein
Paul Finkelman is an expert on constitutional history, the law of slavery, and the American Civil War. He coedits the Ohio University Press series New Approaches to Midwestern Studies and is the president of Gratz College. More info →
Donald R. Kennon is the former chief historian and vice president of the United States Capitol Historical Society. He is editor of the Ohio University Press series Perspectives on the History of Congress, 1789–1801. More info →
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Civil War Congress and the Creation of Modern America
A Revolution on the Home Front
Edited by Paul Finkelman and Donald R. Kennon
Drawn from a wide range of historical expertise and approaching the topic from a variety of angles, these essays explore the changes in life at home during the Civil War that led to a revolution in American society and set the stage for the making of modern America.
The American Civil War was the first military conflict in history to be fought with railroads moving troops and the telegraph connecting civilian leadership to commanders in the field. New developments arose at a moment’s notice. As a result, the young nation’s political structure and culture often struggled to keep up. When war began, Congress was not even in session.
“When Lincoln took office, in March 1861, the national government had no power to touch slavery in the states where it existed. Lincoln understood this, and said as much in his first inaugural address, noting: ‘I have no purpose, directly or indirectly, to interfere with the institution of slavery in the States where it exists.’”
During the long decade from 1848 to 1861 America was like a train speeding down the track, without an engineer or brakes. The new territories acquired from Mexico had vastly increased the size of the nation, but debate over their status—and more importantly the status of slavery within them—paralyzed the nation. Southerners gained access to the territories and a draconian fugitive slave law in the Compromise of 1850, but this only exacerbated sectional tensions.