United States Era 5


Standard 1: The causes of the Civil War.

Standard 2: The course and character of the Civil War and its effects on the American people

Standard 3: How various reconstruction plans succeeded or failed

The Civil War was perhaps the most momentous event in American history. The survival of the United States as one nation was at risk and on the outcome of the war depended the nation’s ability to bring to reality the ideals of liberty, equality, justice, and human dignity.

The war put constitutional government to its severest test as a long festering debate over the power of the federal government versus state rights reached a climax. Its enormously bloody outcome preserved the Union while releasing not only four million African Americans but the entire nation from the oppressive weight of slavery.

The war can be studied in several ways: as the final, violent phase in a conflict of two regional subcultures; as the breakdown of a democratic political system; as the climax of several decades of social reform; and as a pivotal chapter in American racial history. In studying the Civil War, students have many opportunities to study heroism and cowardice, triumph and tragedy, and hardship, pain, grief, and death wrought by conflict. Another important topic is how the war necessarily obliged both northern and southern women and children to adapt to new and unsettling situations.

As important as the war itself, once the Union prevailed, was the tangled problem of Reconstruction. Through examining the 13th, 14th, and 15th amendments–fundamental revisions of the Constitution–students can see how African Americans hoped for full equality as did many white lawmakers. They can assess the various plans for Reconstruction that were contested passionately. The retreat from Radical Reconstruction–the first attempt at establishing a biracial democracy–should be of concern to all students who need to understand how shared values of the North and South sharply limited support for social and racial democratization. The enduring republican belief in the need to respect local control made direction by central government power unpopular. Northerners, like southerners, did not support schemes to redistribute wealth under Reconstruction because of the need to protect private property. Northerners, like southerners, believed in the social inferiority of blacks.

Students should learn how southern white resistance and the withdrawal of federal supervision resulted in the “redemption” of the South through the disfranchisement of African Americans, the end of their involvement in Reconstruction state legislatures, greater racial separation, the rise of white intimidation and violence, and the creation of black rural peonage.

Balancing the success and failures of Reconstruction should test the abilities of all students. Too much stress on the unfinished agenda of the period can obscure the great changes actually wrought. Moreover, it needs to be remembered how most white Americans were diverted from completing Reconstruction toward new goals brought about by social change. A new generation sought new fields of endeavor afforded by industrialization. They were not imbued by the reformist idealism of their predecessors. Indeed, they were receptive to new doctrines of racial and social inequality. The legacies of the era of war and reconstruction needs to be considered with reference to the North and West as well as the South.

Each standard was developed with historical thinking standards in mind. The relevant historical thinking standards are linked in the brackets, [ ], below.


The causes of the Civil War.

Standard 1A

The student understands how the North and South differed and how politics and ideologies led to the Civil War.

7-12 Identify and explain the economic, social, and cultural differences between the North and the South. [Draw upon quantitative data to trace historical developments]
9-12 Analyze how the disruption of the second American party system frayed the durable bonds of union, leading to the ascent of the Republican party in the 1850s. [Analyze multiple causation]
7-12 Explain how events after the Compromise of 1850 and the Dred Scott decision in 1857 contributed to increasing sectional polarization. [Analyze cause-and-effect relationships]
7-12 Analyze the importance of the “free labor” ideology in the North and its appeal in preventing the further extension of slavery in the new territories. [Examine the influence of ideas]
5-12 Explain the causes of the Civil War and evaluate the importance of slavery as a principal cause of the conflict. [Compare competing historical narratives]
7-12 Chart the secession of the southern states and explain the process and reasons for secession. [Analyze cause-and-effect relationships]


The course and character of the Civil War and its effects on the American people.

Standard 2A

The student understands how the resources of the Union and Confederacy affected the course of the war.

7-12 Compare the human resources of the Union and the Confederacy at the beginning of the Civil War and assess the tactical advantages of each side. [Utilize visual and mathematical data]
5-12 Identify the innovations in military technology and explain their impact on humans, property, and the final outcome of the war. [Utilize visual and mathematical data]
5-12 Identify the turning points of the war and evaluate how political, military, and diplomatic leadership affected the outcome of the conflict. [Assess the importance of the individual in history]
5-12 Evaluate provisions of the Emancipation Proclamation, Lincoln’s reasons for issuing it, and its significance. [Examine the influence of ideas]
9-12 Analyze the purpose, meaning, and significance of the Gettysburg Address. [Identify the author of the historical document and assess its credibility]
9-12 Describe the position of the major Indian nations during the Civil War and explain the effects of the war upon these nations. [Reconstruct patterns of historical succession and duration]

Standard 2B

The student understands the social experience of the war on the battlefield and homefront.

7-12 Compare the motives for fighting and the daily life experiences of Confederate with those of white and African American Union soldiers. [Evidence historical perspectives]
9-12 Analyze the reasons for the northern draft riots. [Analyze multiple causation]
9-12 Evaluate the Union’s reasons for curbing wartime civil liberties. [Consider multiple perspectives]
5-12 Compare women’s homefront and battlefront roles in the Union and the Confederacy. [Compare and contrast differing sets of ideas]
5-12 Compare the human and material costs of the war in the North and South and assess the degree to which the war reunited the nation. [Examine historical perspectives]


How various reconstruction plans succeeded or failed.

Standard 3A

The student understands the political controversy over Reconstruction.

7-12 Contrast the Reconstruction policies advocated by Lincoln, Andrew Johnson, and sharply divided Congressional leaders, while assessing these policies as responses to changing events. [Compare and contrast differing sets of ideas]
7-12 Analyze the escalating conflict between the president and Congress and explain the reasons for and consequences of Johnson’s impeachment and trial. [Consider multiple perspectives]
5-12 Explain the provisions of the 14th and 15th amendments and the political forces supporting and opposing each. [Consider multiple perspectives]
5-12 Analyze how shared values of the North and South limited support for social and racial democratization, as reflected in the Compromise of 1877. [Analyze cause-and-effect relationships]
9-12 Analyze the role of violence and the tactics of the “redeemers” in regaining control over the southern state governments. [Interrogating historical data]

Standard 3B

The student understands the Reconstruction programs to transform social relations in the South.

7-12 Explain the economic and social problems facing the South and appraise their impact on different social groups. [Examine historical perspectives]
5-12 Evaluate the goals and accomplishments of the Freedmen’s Bureau. [Hold interpretations of history as tentative]
9-12 Describe the ways in which African Americans laid foundations for modern black communities during Reconstruction. [Hypothesize the influence of the past]
7-12 Analyze how African Americans attempted to improve their economic position during Reconstruction and explain the factors involved in their quest for land ownership. [Analyze multiple causation]

Standard 3C

The student understands the successes and failures of Reconstruction in the South, North, and West.

9-12 Evaluate the effects of northern capital and entrepreneurship on economic development in the postwar South. [Consider multiple perspectives]
5-12 Assess the progress of “Black Reconstruction” and legislative reform programs promoted by reconstructed state governments. [Marshal evidence of antecedent circumstances]
9-12 Evaluate Reconstruction ideals as a culminating expression of the mid-19th-century impulse of social democratization and perfectionism. [Evaluate major debates among historians]
7-12 Assess how the political and economic position of African Americans in the northern and western states changed during Reconstruction. [Examine historical perspectives]
7-12 Analyze how the Civil War and Reconstruction changed men’s and women’s roles and status in the North, South, and West. [Analyze cause-and-effect relationships]
5-12 Evaluate why corruption increased in the postwar period. [Analyze multiple causation]