America Moves West Reconstruction Is the Name Essay

Excerpt from Essay :

America Moves West

Reconstruction is the name for the period in United States history that covers the post-Civil War era, roughly 1865-1877. Technically, it refers to the policies that focused on the aftermath of the war; abolishing slavery, defeating the Confederacy, and putting legislation in effect to restore the nation -- per the Constitution. Most contemporary historians view Reconstruction as a failure with ramifications that lasted at least 100 years later: issues surrounding the Civil Rights were still being debated in the 1970s, corrupt northern businessmen "carpetbaggers" brought scandal and economic corruption, monetary and tariff policies were retributive and had legal results in the north as well. Despite the failure of this period as an equalizer or integrator of races in the Old South, there was an equally robust push westward that not only encouraged individuals of all ethnicities to move, but changed the political and economic texture of the United States forever. In fact, there were several "trends" that one can see impacting this era that would set the tone for the next few decades, as well as the new century. For instance, if we compare these three representations of the U.S., just prior to the Civil War (1860), just after (1865)

The major themes of this expansion were:

Railroads - The successes of the Union Pacific and Central Pacific railroads caused other ventures to be launched when the Federal Government offered huge subsidies and land grants. This was a radical change in philosophy, and several scandals ensued, as well as the economic Panic of 1873. However, by them the momentum had already started, and dozens of companies moved forward to increase rail travel throughout the nation. Once track had been laid, additional settlement and industrialization followed, since supply lines to and from were far easier. As with any economic development, getting workers and settlers to areas where raw materials were abundant influenced urbanization, as well as territory populations that would eventual become States (Railroads Following the Panic 2001; McNeese 2006).

Electricity - Electrification really began around 1869 with the founding of the Westinghouse Company. George Westinghouse took other people's research and patented it, and the wave of inventions that relied on electricity changed society dramatically after the Civil War. Urban areas were lit, factories were able to stay open longer, machines that needed manpower were replaced by those using electricity, transportation changed (cable car, etc.). Large companies were formed and employed thousands of people to electrify the nation, and numerous inventions resulted (light bulb, telegraph, telephone, etc.) from the infrastructure that resulted (Leposky 2000).

Free Enterprise -- Technological improvements and the need for greater production caused a system of free enterprise, also known as laissez fair capitalism, to increase. Numerous businesses opened the steel and oil industries bloomed, factories replaced craft shops, machines replaced hard labor. So many businesses opened that it gave the U.S. Economy a huge boost, which fueled itself, causing even more businesses to open. Tariff increases and more government regulation caused the Federal government to push for more control over the economy, but because the nation was so in debt from the war, needed as much capital circulating as possible. This change in economic policy also changed society -- greater urbanization, greater number of workers needed, class distinctions caused with huge corporations, and the increasing development of public works and transportation improved cities and towns (Immigration and Labor 2009; Herron, 2009).

Natural Resources (land, minerals, timber, and oil) - All economies flow on resources and the vast resources of the United States caused further and quicker expansion westward. When resources were found, people congregated, railroads were built, and the infrastructure moved from settlement to town to city (Westward Expansion 2009). Of course, many areas were "boom and bust," particularly those centered around gold or silver, but often once the minerals were gone, industrialization or agriculture became the prime economic motivator. Numerous areas that were "owned" by other governments (Russia, Mexico) were settled and either purchased or ceded into the United States. The resources fueled Industrialization and colonization of the West, resulting in a larger economy and an even greater…

Sources Used in Document:


Immigration and Labor. (2009). Encarta.MSN. Retrieved from:

Railroads Following the Panic. (2001). U.S. 2001. Retrieved from:

Teaching With Documents: The Homestead Act of 1862. (2007). National Archives.

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