U.S. National Reconstruction and Economic Development (1865 – 1896)

With the tragic end of Lincoln, the Union lost a leader of undisputed authority, who would have been able, with firmness and moderation, to tackle the very serious problem: how to reconquer the south, as well as militarily, also morally, how to rebuild the national union and pluribus unum according to the motto inscribed in the national emblem. Vice President Andrew Johnson (1865-69) who assumed the presidency was not up to the task. In the southern states everything had to be redone. It was evident that the military occupation had to yield to governments made up of men who enjoyed the country’s trust. President Johnson would have been conciliatory; but he did not know how to impose himself on the Congress which wanted to treat the South with the systems that apply to the vanquished. Not only did Congress demand – and after the victory it could be a just claim – the recognition of the XIII amendment to the Constitution which abolished slavery, but it went further: it refused to welcome into its bosom as representatives of the South those who had fought in the Southern camp, that is the most worthy men of the south; he was not satisfied with having granted personal freedom to the Negroes: with the XIV amendment (13 June 1866) he also wanted to grant them all the political rights, including the right to vote. Southern conditions had to be ignored in order not to understand the enormity of this provision; applied in its entirety, it meant that the life and possessions of the Whites were abandoned to the discretion of ignorant, vengeful men, even yesterday slaves. Of the eleven southern states, all but one – Tennessee – refused to ratify the Fourteenth Amendment and resisted passively. With the it came to mean that the life and possessions of the Whites were abandoned to the discretion of ignorant, vengeful men, even yesterday slaves. Of the eleven southern states, all but one – Tennessee – refused to ratify the Fourteenth Amendment and resisted passively. With the Reconstruction Act of March 2, 1867, Congress effectively subjected the ten recalcitrant states to martial law: and in the protective shadow of federal bayonets, so-called “reconstructed” governments were formed, which were certainly not the expression of the south, but a jumble of adventurers and traders descended from the north (the so-called carpet – baggers) and Negroes without work and without bread, deluded or delinquent. These were the governments that brought the south back to Congress; there still remained outside Virginia, Texas, and Mississippi, where the easygoing reconstruction system had failed. Cheerful governments that took advantage of public finances, impoverishing even more the south, already ruined by the war. President Johnson sought, with the right of veto, to stem the misrule of Congress; in 1868 he came into fierce conflict with it; the House of Representatives sued the president before the Senate for the crime of high treason (in reality Johnson had allowed himself to fire one of his ministers without the prior consent of the Senate). For four months we witnessed the spectacle of a president on the dock: he was acquitted by a single majority vote (May 1868). But the South found in itself the most valid defense against the oppression of Congress. Secret associations were formed: the most famous, though not the most efficient, the Ku-Klux Klan, which terrorized the impressionable fantasies of Negroes with its nocturnal masquerades; by all means an attempt was made to intimidate them, to distract them from exercising the right to vote, to impose on them a sense of social and racial distances. Then little by little the indigenous white element of the south was regaining its place in the government of the states, gradually supplanting the intruders carpet – baggers. The amnesty of 1872 allowed the almost general return to public life of the compromises in the Civil War. The hatred gradually faded; new generations mounted. In the north, too, the spirit of vengeance that had dominated Congress during Johnson’s presidency was fading. But under the two presidencies of General Grant (1869-73 and 1873-77) the interested criterion still prevailed that the government of the Union belonged to those who had saved the Union; that is to say, monopoly of the Republican party. Grant as a politician did not demonstrate the fine qualities that had made him the hero of Vicksburg. He considered himself the instrument of his party, personally honest, surrounded himself with people of dubious morality; out of weakness and partisanship he tolerated unprecedented scandals in the public administration, shameful favoritism towards speculators on military supplies, on customs, on railways which in those years were being built at a dizzying pace. Personalities of government and Congress were involved in scandals; local administrations fell prey to business politicians or professional profiteers who formed real organizations (rings) to squander public money; sadly famous is the Tweed Ring in New York. Federal officials lent themselves to plotting and covering up scandals. A reaction manifested itself in the “liberal” wing of the republican party itself, which demanded the reform of the civil service and an end to the policy of oppression against the southern Whites. In the presidential elections of 1876 this liberal wing allied itself with the Democrats; the result of the polls gave cause for serious and well-founded protests by the Democrats. A mixed commission was given the task of unraveling the tangled mess: Republican candidate RB Hayes (1877-81) was proclaimed president by a majority vote. A period of general pacification is inaugurated with him. The south was freed of the last vestiges of political minority and was able to regulate its affairs by itself, without subjecting to the tyranny of the radical republicans of the congress. The problem of the coexistence of the two races was, and is still today, always open. To assert their political supremacy, the Southern Whites gradually introduced into the legislations of the states, in the margins of amendments XIII, XIV and XV (the latter forbade the Union and individual states to revoke or limit the right to vote to Negri), a whole system of subtle contrivances, specious interpretations, ingenious restrictions to reduce the political freedom of action of the Negroes to little or nothing, to deprive it of any real efficiency. If that weren’t enough, there was occasional recourse to means of intimidation such as lynching. It is the system that is still in force today in the south as in any other state of the Union where the mass of black people is worrying. Hayes made honest efforts to heal the public administration, which fell very low for partisan systems. He succeeded in part; what the ironic epithet of halfbred (that is to say the Republican of mixed blood) and it cost him not to be reappointed in the elections of 1880. The party preferred JA Garfield, who was elected. Killed after only four months of presidency by a disappointed employer, Ch. J. Guiteau, he was succeeded by the vice president Ch. A. Arthur (1881-85). He finally succeeded in getting a law passed (Pendleton law, 1882) for the reform of the administration; but with this he did nothing but get behind the Democratic Party which with this program had triumphed in the elections for the Congress of 1882. Democratic superiority was reasserted in the presidential elections of 1884. After 24 years of government – and sometimes of self-government – republican, here is a Democratic president, Grover Cleveland (1885-89). But it is necessary to recognize the immense progress made by the United States in the economic field during these 24 years. An evident symbol of this was the universal exhibition in Philadelphia, in 1876, the first centenary of independence. The expansion towards the west and the north had not ceased for a moment; the Indian tribes had had to retreat under this relentless pressure to shrink into federal “reserves”; their meadows, where bison used to roam, now grazed immense herds of cattle, which the railways quickly brought to the most distant markets; other very large parts were cultivated with cereals, according to industrialized systems of agriculture. The south also took part little by little in this agricultural progress. But more impressive was the industrial development in the north-east, in the lakes region, on the western side of the Allegani, near the mineral deposits: mechanical industries developed, smoking cities arose. And in parallel the workers’ unions were organized (i Knights of Labor from 1869) and, especially after the financial crisis of 1873, the conflicts with the bosses worsened: those in Pittsburg were very bitter in 1877. In agriculture, but more in industry, European immigration found an outlet that it saw in the United States the land of infinite possibilities: over three million immigrants in the decade 1870-80. Generally well received, because the country needed hands, because mostly Nordic (Irish, Germans, Scandinavians) and yet easily assimilated. The whole life of the United States was so vibrant with internal turmoil that it almost seemed estranged from what was going on outside it, in Europe and elsewhere, as if it knew no foreign policy problems. Alabama, to arm themselves in English ports), the Union, by sending troops to the Mexican border (1865), induces Napoleon III to recall the French expeditionary corps from Mexico; in 1866, inspired by purely commercial purposes, he bought Alaska from Russia, known for the wealth of timber and fur animals, not yet for its gold deposits. Then, for over twenty years, the Union closes in on itself, all busy managing its prodigious economic and demographic development.

After the democratic victory of 1884, the weight, also political, of the great industrial interests made itself felt with increasing insistence. Political parties, falling under the influence of these great economic and financial forces, had to increasingly set their programs according to the great interests. Economic problems banished the most purely political-ideal problems, imposing themselves crudely, without frills and masks. Cleveland, an independent character, would have liked to lower customs tariffs, since they were sufficient to largely cover the needs of the federal treasury. But on this point he found weak support in his party and fierce resistance in the republican party, supported by the trusts industrial. In this war of interests, in which class egoisms were shamelessly put on the streets, the workers’ unions found plenty of arguments to denounce the political intrusions of high finance and big industry, to ask for the intervention of federal laws to protect of the working classes. The years 1886-87 were seriously disturbed by workers’ unrest, strikes and armed conflicts. In protesting against big industry, farmers joined forces who, not without reason, accused the mighty railway companies of scandalously protecting, with preferential tariffs, certain industries and certain oil trusts (the Standard Oil Company, for example) to the detriment of producers. agricultural. Congress was too tied to industrial interests to intervene effectively: Interstate Commerce Act, which brought practically little remedy. But proposing tariff cuts cost Cleveland the presidency in the 1888 elections. The Republicans returned to power with B. Harrison (1889-93); and with greater boldness, which soon manifested itself in the approval of the new McKinley tariff, even more protective; in the Sherman Act (1890), which required the federal treasury to purchase silver for the full benefit of the powerful mine owners of the West; in the energy, at times excessive and entirely new, in foreign policy, the harbinger of a real American imperialism. This action, rather than of the president, a dull figure, of his dynamic secretary of state James G. Blaine. He turned his eyes to Latin America, where he set out to beat British commercial competition: in winter 1889-90 summoned all the states of Latin America to a pan-American conference, before an occasional series that still continues; and adapting the Monroe doctrine to pan-Americanism, he unveiled great projects: customs union, intercontinental railroad, etc. But at the same time also politics of force: in 1891 he deliberately inflated an accident with Chile to almost make one casus belli ; another incident with England for seal fishing in the Bering Sea (1891); and another with Italy (1891) in which he must have admitted himself in the wrong, for the murder of Italian emigrants in New Orleans. Passive balance sheet, in essence; but here is the active: 1889, first taking possession, then regulated in 1899, of some of the Samoa Islands; 1893, first intervention in the Hawaiian Islands, which will then lead to their annexation, in 1898. All this could have earned the Republicans the suffrage of the electors in the presidential elections of 1893; but in that same year one of the recurring financial crises, a widespread malaise in the middle and working classes, the disinterest of most in the problems of expansion in the Pacific led the Democrats to victory and Cleveland was president for the second time (1893-97). Although he was well disposed towards the working classes, he was forced to use federal forces to stifle dangerous workers’ movements with an anarchic background, especially in Chicago in 1894; and although anti-imperialist, he nevertheless made a big voice – indeed too big – in a question concerning the borders between Venezuela and British Guiana, from which the United States could very well have refrained from. But on the other hand or the other way around, they wanted to bring in the Monroe doctrine and apply it in favor of Venezuela. The issue became poisoned to the point that, at the end of 1895, there was almost a war between the two Anglo-Saxon nations. This eventuality was considered almost a crime in England; the responsible heads kept a cool head and made conciliatory intentions. Everything was settled with an arbitration which, even if not ratified by the Senate,

U.S. National Reconstruction