War, Politics, and Society

The Civil War produced far-reaching changes in American life. Most dramatic was the destruction of slavery, begun by the actions of African-Americans who abandoned the plantations in 1861 and 1862, and adopted as a Union war aim in 1863 when Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation.

In the North, mobilizing the Union's resources greatly enhanced the power of the federal government, increased factory production, and accelerated the mechanization of agriculture. War contracts channeled profits into the hands of manufacturers and financiers, even as workers saw their wages devastated by inflation.

At the same time, the war opened opportunities for those long excluded from public life. Hundreds of thousands of women gathered money and medical supplies for soldiers and sent books and clothing to the freedmen. Northern African-Americans won partial recognition of their rights as several states, including Illinois, repealed discriminatory laws.

Along with mounting casualties, all these changes produced deep hostility among many Northerners. Lincoln nevertheless won a sweeping reelection victory in 1864 aided by the capture of Atlanta, which suggested that an end to the war be in sight.

Social turmoil also engulfed much of the South. After an initial burst of patriotism many non-slaveholders became convinced that they were bearing an unfair share of the war's burdens. Inflation, shortages, and Confederate tax policies intensified the effects of wartime destruction, plunging small farmers into poverty and producing growing disaffection. The decline of home front morale did much to hasten the Confederacy's collapse.

The Emancipation Prloclamation

Copyright 2002 The Chicago Historical Society
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