Comparing the effects of the Civil War on American national identity | US history | Khan Academy

Comparing the effects of the Civil War on American national identity | US history | Khan Academy


– [Narrator] It’s hard to imagine anything more transformative
in American history than the Civil War. Before the Civil War, the United States was a largely rural, barely
unified collection of states not making much of a
blip on the world stage. After the Civil War the United
States was well on its way toward becoming a modern country with a strong central government and a thriving industrial economy that was soon to make it
into a serious world power. The Civil War is seen as such
an enormous turning point in US history that most
colleges split courses into US history before 1865
and US history after 1865. But was the United States
really that different before and after the Civil War? As historians, we could
tackle that question from a lot of different angles. We could look at the role
of the federal government in American life before and after the war. We could look at changes in the economy. I’m curious about changes in
American national identity during this period. What do I mean by national identity? National identity encompasses things like core beliefs about
democracy, citizenship, and America’s proper role in the world. We can identify these beliefs
in different time periods by looking at practices like who gets to vote, which groups are defined as
a part of the American people versus which groups are
defined as aliens or others, and whether the American
public is expressing lots of national pride or lots of doubt about the way things are going. So now we’ve got a historical question that we’re curious about. If we saw that question
like this on an exam it might say something like compare the relative
significance of the effects of the Civil War on American values. Okay, well what we’re
really doing is asking, how much did the Civil War
change the core beliefs around American national identity? Did it change some more than others? To answer this question,
first we need to decide which core beliefs we want to track. I’m gonna choose ideas around democracy. So who gets to vote, whether Americans believe that democracy is something everyone
should participate in or just a select few? Second, let’s look at
ideas around citizenship. Who is defined as an American or as part of the American people and entitled to the
privileges and immunities of citizenship. Last, let’s look at ideas about
America’s role in the world. Whether or how the United
States should be involved in world affairs or
extending its influence beyond the boundaries
of the United States. Now you might want to look
at different core beliefs than I’ve chosen here like maybe whether people
saw their regional identity as more important than
their national identity. And if you want to do
that that’s totally okay. I’m gonna go with these
three themes for now. So let’s brainstorm
some of the major trends that occur in each of these themes before and after the Civil
War in between 1844 and 1877. I’ve got our timeline here
with the big dividing line at the end of the Civil War. Now we’re looking at this
from a bird’s eye view of the whole era so I’m not
gonna go into much detail about the events we’re talking about. If something sounds unfamiliar
to you just make a note of it and you can go back to review that concept when you have time. All right, first democracy. In the years before the Civil War, what were the prevailing ideas about who should be able to vote and who actually could vote in practice? Well by 1844, most States
had extended voting rights to all white men regardless
of property ownership, women couldn’t vote and neither could enslaved
Africans in the South, and voting rights for free
African American men in the North were pretty limited. How about after the Civil War? Now the biggest change there was the ratification of
the 15th Amendment in 1870 which granted all men the right to vote enfranchising African American men. It did not, to the disappointment of the women’s suffrage
movement, enfranchise women but by 1877, the end of Reconstruction when the federal government stopped enforcing the rights of
black citizens in the South, Jim Crow laws would make voting all but impossible for black men. Okay, now let’s look at how
values around citizenship changed before and after the Civil War. Who was a citizen before the Civil War and who was considered eligible to be part of the American people? Well white men definitely and white women, free people of color in the North with some limitations depending
on their state of residents, immigrants arriving
from Ireland and Germany were eligible for citizenship but Native Americans were
considered to be members of separate nations not Americans. Mexican Americans and the territories acquired in the Mexican Cession were technically American citizens but had few legal protections. And enslaved people in the South were still considered
property not citizens. How did that change after the Civil War? Well the Emancipation Proclamation in 1863 and the 13th Amendment
in 1865 ended slavery. The 14th Amendment in 1868 made all people born or naturalized in the
United States citizens, granting citizenship
to African American men and women in the South. But again, the end of Reconstruction and the rise of Jim Crow
made it difficult for them to access the rights of
citizenship after 1877. White men and women and
immigrants were still citizens. The US government began to
stop treating Native Americans as members of separate nations but started classifying
them as wards of the state rather than citizens. In the West, Chinese
immigrants were looked upon as two different to become citizens and they would soon be forbidden from entering the United States at all. Mexican Americans saw little change in their precarious status. Finally, how did Americans
view the proper role of the United States in the world before and after the Civil War? In 1844, the US was still
practicing isolationism to avoid entangling alliances abroad but the ideas of manifest
destiny led to a general sense that the United States
had a divine mission to occupy North America
from coast to coast which provided the impetus
for the Mexican War and for Indian Removal. After the Civil War, both isolationism as a foreign policy outside North America and manifest destiny as a foreign policy within North America
continued on as before. So now let’s return to our question, how much did the Civil War change American national identity? In terms of ideas about democracy there was definitely a big
expansion of the franchise due to the Civil War with the addition of two
million African American men as new voters in the South after the ratification
of the 15th Amendment. But that was short-lived. The Jim Crow system would effectively prevent black voters in the
South from casting ballots until the 1960s. In terms of citizenship,
that too was altered by the passage of a
constitutional amendment. In this case, the 14th Amendment. Those citizenship guarantees
were also short-lived but let’s not forget
the long-term importance of the 14th and 15th Amendments for securing equal rights
in the 20th century. Even though those rights
were only on paper during the Jim Crow era that paper would eventually
be very important for expanding voting
and citizenship rights after World War II. As for ideas about
America’s role in the world, those didn’t change much at all. The drive to expand the
borders of the United States all the way to the Pacific only intensified after the Civil War. So we might answer our question with the following thesis statement. The Civil War brought on some
immediate short-term changes in American ideals of
democracy and citizenship, which would fade after
the end of Reconstruction, while the belief in the divine
mission of the United States to spread across North
America only intensified in this time period. Even though there was little
change in the 19th century, the seeds planted immediately
after the Civil War would sprout into major
changes in the 20th century. What do you think? How would you weigh
these pieces of evidence to draw conclusions about how the Civil War changed American values? You might come up with a completely different
thesis statement than I did and that’s perfectly fine. The important part of
thinking like a historian is to gather evidence and
then craft an argument supported by that evidence.

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