How did Abraham Lincoln election, the South’s secession and Civil War effect American society?

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saintfester eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The Civil War, which began with the secession crisis over Lincoln’s election was one of the most formative events in American history, and had a profound effect on American society.

When Lincoln was elected despite not being on the ballot in most of the southern states, it showed that the south no longer had the ability to influence national politics. Lincoln wasn’t for the abolition of slavery when he was first elected, but he did call for the end of its spread. Without slavery being allowed to spread in the new territories, the south’s tenuous hold on the Senate would be gone, meaning anti-slavery legislation would have an easy time passing through congress. For that reason, the south saw no alternative but secession to preserving the system of slavery. One by one 11 southern states seceded from the Union, eventually leading to the Civil War.

The Civil War itself raged from 1861-1865 and affected the U.S. in many ways. 2% of the population died in it, roughly 650,000 people. Countless others came home horrible scarred or injured. Almost everyone in the country knew one of the dead or wounded personally. Most of the south was physically and economically devastated, with most of the south’s major cities being reduced to rubble.

Most importantly it ended the age-old institution of slavery and marked the beginning of a new social order in the south. During the period of Reconstruction, newly freed slaves and their former masters were locked in struggle for power. The Civil War completely redefined the social structure of the south as well as the north and west as freed slaves either tried to fight against the entrenched white political bureaucracy or fled to the west or north looking for a new start to their lives.