Before we move too far beyond the Civil War it’s probably worth taking a moment think about the outcomes. This bloody conflict that left our nation in tatters was, ultimately, a bit of a mixed bag in terms of what it did for us as a people and as a nation.
To think about the outcomes of the civil war, however, we need to think about it in the context of the various factions involved. Some groups, such as Moderate Republicans, fared pretty well by 1865. Other groups, such as Southern Democrats, didn’t do so well. African Americans and Radical Republicans saw some of their goals a complex to wild others would take many years to be implemented .
Let’s look first at these successes experienced by the Moderate Republicans as a result of the Civil War. The Moderate Republicans set out to end slavery. This they accomplished, as evidenced by the passing of the thirteenth amendment. Moderate Republicans also sought political rights for African-Americans. In this way they experienced a limited amount of success, but it would take many years before things like Jim Crow laws and Black Codes would be wiped from the landscape, allowing African-Americans to vote freely, and without threat of reprisals. In fact, the 14th and 15th amendments were attempts to deal with the Black Codes, and to help guarantee African-American political rights. Moderate Republicans also saw the restoration of the union as a goal of the war. In this regard, they were slowed by Radical Republicans, in that Reconstruction was a much more intense, prolonged, and arduous process than what the Moderate Republicans , for the most part, would have hoped for . Finally, Moderate Republicans sought the triumph of Free labor. Their success here was limited by failures that would occur in the sharecropping system and in the Freedmen’s Bureau.
The radical wing of the Republican Party, shared some goals with the Moderate Republicans. They sought the end of slavery; they sought political rights for African-Americans; they sought Free Labor. However, the Radical Republicans also sought full political and social rights for African-Americans. It would take Republicans almost an entire century to pass a Civil Rights Act implementing these ideas.
there can be no question, that the end of slavery was of immense benefit to African-Americans. This radical change in the Southern way of life put African-Americans on an entirely different footing, legally if not socially or economically. Still, African-Americans would have to fight every step of the way to see their political rights implemented. To some degree, there is still a fight to provide equal social rights for African Americans almost 150 years later. Racism, which was perhaps inherent in the slavery system, became rouge, and at times more dangerous and more violent than it had been when it was institutionalized.
This leaves us with the Democrats. The handful of northern Democrats left would have liked, by 1865, to see a quick restoration of the Union. Obviously, this wasn’t going to happen. The Southern Democrats lost the most. They sought to maintain the Southern culture and to secure States’ Rights. These efforts failed, as evidenced by the military occupation of the South during reconstruction, as well as a much stronger Federal government.
So, was it worth it? I suppose it depends on who you ask. For my part, I believe that slavery had to end; it was a festering wound, a dark mark on the soul of every American, Northern and Southern. I’m not certain that the Civil War was the best way, or the only way, to end it, however. I believe that the Civil War did not (and could not) end racism, guarantee equal social or economic rights, or force a Free Labor system on the South. I would have liked to have had restoration, rather than Reconstruction. I would rather have resolved the issues without throwing away so much State and Local power to the Federal government.
If Civil War was the only way to end slavery, if it could have secured equal social rights for African-Americans, and if it could have happened without the usurpation of power by the Federal government or the systematized destruction of the South, I’d say it was worth it, hands down. As it stands, I think that Civil War was the worst possible way for us to go about things, and is as dark a mark on our souls as slavery itself.