The Civil War proved nothing less than a second American Revolution. In the war’s aftermath, America dramatically changed. The country in 1865 was vastly different than in 1860. The war forced change upon America. Much of the change occurred as a result of political necessity or as war measures. Following the war, changes happened in response to bad southern behavior. In the end, the North crushed the South and the nation changed politically and socially.
The Civil War wiped out the South. Northern armies ran rough shot through the region. Around 200,000 southerners died including 18% of all males between the ages of 13 and 43. Farmland got scorched and animals killed. Northern armies destroyed southern railroads and industry. The southern economy collapsed and their workforce liberated. Although southern politicians eventually regained power in Congress, America did not elect another president from the deep South until 1976. Despite a reconstruction period, it took a century for the South to be fully reintegrated and for the Southern economy to recover.
The pre-war southern economy was based on slave labor. The war and 13th Amendment officially ended slavery. The South refused to comply. As a result, Congress passed the 14th Amendment guaranteeing civil rights and the 15th Amendment which promised voting rights to African Americans. In the end, the Civil War changed the Constitution. Prior to the war, the Constitution provided a negative check on the federal government. The founders feared the potential power of an oppressive federal government, but not the possibile abuses deriving from the states. The Reconstruction Amendments corrected this oversight and provided a negative check on state governments and nationalized civil rights. Although ignored for a century, it provided the basis for civil rights advances during the twentieth century.
With the constitutional transformation, the nature of the relationship of the federal government vis-a-vis the states was settled once and for all. Despite calls from some Texas politicians for secession in 2008, the Civil War ended this possibility. Union soldiers marching through the South essentially destroyed the concept of secession and disunion. Interestingly, the concept never made it to the courts. Lincoln and the Republicans feared if secession went on trial in the form of treason trials for Confederate officials, some crazy judge would validate the concept.
The Civil War dramatically changed America. It leveled the South economically for a century. It precluded southerners from the presidency until Jimmy Carter. The war and its aftermath nationalized civil rights and transformed the Constitution. The Civil War also invalidated secession. In the end, the war proved to be a transformative event in American History.