Aftermath and Impacts of the Civil War

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How did the Civil War change the United States?

The Civil War changed the United States by leading to the end of slavery, causing the growth of railroads and mass production, leading to improvements in medicine, fueling the fight for women's rights, and reinforcing the power of the federal government.

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The eminent historian Shelby Foote once said that, in the aftermath of the Civil War, the United States was no longer referred to as "are," but "is." In other words, the United States was now, for the first time in its history, conceived of as a political unity rather than...

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The eminent historian Shelby Foote once said that, in the aftermath of the Civil War, the United States was no longer referred to as "are," but "is." In other words, the United States was now, for the first time in its history, conceived of as a political unity rather than a collection of states.

To be sure, this process had been proceeding gradually for some time as the Federal government steadily arrogated more power to itself at the expense of the states. But in the aftermath of the Civil War, the centralization of power in the United States rapidly advanced and has remained a feature of American political life ever since.

Although various governments have returned certain powers to the states—for instance, the provision of welfare—this has only been done on a piecemeal basis. The real power still resides at the center. This is one of the most abiding legacies of the Civil War, which fundamentally altered the political and constitutional balance between the Federal government and the states firmly in favor of the former.

It may seem hard to imagine nowadays but the debate concerning the appropriate relation between Federal and state government was a live one for decades, generating considerable bitterness and anger on both sides. Today, however, all that's changed. Though in the American system of government states still retain quite a broad range of powers and responsibilities, there is no doubt that fundamental power lies in Washington, D.C. That this burning question appears to have been settled once and for all is due in no small part to the Civil War and its outcome.

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The Civil War profoundly changed the United States. First, as a result of the war, slavery was abolished with the Thirteenth Amendment. While the country would not grant full civil rights to African Americans yet, ending a practice that had been abolished in much of the Western world was a nice start. Also, the Civil War affected how Americans produced and shipped goods. Railroads became more important than ever before during the war—many key battles were fought near rail hubs. After the war, rail soon replaced canals as the preferred method of shipping products all over the country. The United States mass produced goods for the Union army during the war; after the war, companies still practiced mass production, thus making goods cheaper. The United States spread west with settlers and rail faster than ever before, as millions of Southerners looked for fresh starts away from the impoverished South. Also, veterans of the Union army received government pensions. These old age pensions would continue to be a major part of the federal budget for the rest of the nineteenth century.

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Alongside its political legacy (as outlined by the previous educator), the Civil War changed the nation in a number of cultural and scientific ways, too:

  • The Civil War galvanized the movement for women's rights and suffrage. During the war, women had joined the labor force en masse, working as nurses, spies, camp followers, in factories and offices. In short, they had filled the economic role of the men who had gone off to fight. When the war ended, women were expected to return to their pre-war domestic roles, but many were not content to do so and they began agitating for social change. (See the first reference link provided.)
  • The Civil War brought great changes and improvements to the field of medicine. The huge numbers of sick and injured soldiers forced field doctors to improvise in new ways: field hospitals began separating the wounded into categories, like "mortally wounded" and "slightly wounded," thereby establishing the modern practice of triage. Doctors and nurses also learned more about infectious diseases and how to prevent them from spreading. (See the second reference link provided.)
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The Civil War changed our nation in many ways.

First, it brought slavery to an end. Slavery ended with the ratification of the thirteenth amendment. 

Second, it showed Americans that fighting a civil war is not the way to go. So many families were impacted by the Civil War.  Approximately 620,000 Americans died in this conflict.  Americans began to realize there are better solutions than fighting to resolve differences that exist. 

The Civil War led to economic diversification in the South.  After the Civil War and Reconstruction, the South began to develop industries along with the farming for which it was known. 

The Civil War also reinforced the principle that the power of the federal government comes before the power of state government. For example, states can’t pass laws that go against federal laws or the Constitution.  States also can’t withdraw from the Union when they don’t like an action of the federal government. 

The Civil War began a long process of bringing more equal opportunities and rights for African Americans.  While this wasn’t accomplished as quickly as we would have liked for it to occur, the country has been evolving toward a more equal society since the Civil War ended. 

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