The First Reforms
Welcome back to our in depth look at the American Progressive Era. The Progressive Era is also know as the Second Reform Movement. In order to understand the progressive movement we need to look back to the first reforms that occurred before, during and after the American Civil War.
The debate to end slavery did not begin in the American Civil War nor did it start a war. Abolitionism, those who supported the end of slavery, had started a reformation movement during the late 18th century to free the slaves and make them members of the American society. Abolitionist sometimes would illegally grant slaves an education. The abolitionist movement gained wider attention with the release of Harriet Beecher Stowe's novel, Uncle Tom's Cabin.
The American Civil War lasted from April 12, 1861 – May 10, 1865 and is known as the Bloodiest War the United States has ever fought. Although it occurred in the beginning of the 19th century it has caused the most American lives in any war we have ever fought. The Civil War cost 1,030,000 casualties, including about 620,000 soldier deaths—two-thirds by disease, and 50,000 civilians. According to a September 2011 New York Times article, "Binghamton University historian J. David Hacker believes the number of soldier deaths was approximately 750,000, 20% higher than traditionally estimated, and possibly as high as 850,000." 56,000 soldiers died in prison camps while approximately 60,000 men lost a limb.
The Emancipation Proclamation, signed by President Abraham Lincoln on January 1, 1863, changed everything for the Civil War. At the beginning of the war slavery had been only one issue that the states were fighting against. With Abraham Lincoln's signature the war now became about only one thing - slavery. Abraham Lincoln had reformed the United States by stripping away one of the south's precious commodities, slavery. It wasn't an unheard of move at the time. The United Kingdom had outlawed slavery with the Slavery Abolition Act of 1833. Before the war, many slaves had tried to escape from their masters via the Underground Railroad. The Underground Railroad was a secret, safe route from the south to Canada that was manned by abolitionists. Harriet Tubman, former slave and Union spy during the American Civil War, helped many former slaves navigate through the Underground Railroad. The Emancipation Proclamation was a major reform for African Americans but it was only a stepping stone towards complete freedom. After the proclamation was signed the United States government knew it would have to do something to ensure these newly freed slaves would have a place in our society. During the war, groups of Northern soldiers would experiment with localized reform efforts by granting the former slaves an education and teaching them how to manage their own farms.
After the Civil War, the United States had a new problem on their hands along with the integration of the former slaves into society. Entire cities, towns and personal property throughout the North and South lay in ruins with the Southern states receiving most of the damages. Most of the war was fought in the south. It was a common characteristic of the Union soldiers to burn any Southern farm and home they came across plus rob the locals. Images such as the picture above were common place after the war. Life after the war had become an emotional, mental and physical ordeal for most people, especially for the Southern states.