After the acquisition of the Oregon territory and the cession of California and New Mexico according to the Gudalupe-Hidalgo treaty, by 1848 the boundaries of the United States almost reached their present limits. Between 1848 and 1877, several important events happened that determined the way the United States will look in the coming decades.
Seneca Falls Convention held in Seneca Falls, New York in 1848 is considered to be the beginning of the women’s movement in America. One of the members of the convention, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, wrote the Declaration of Sentiments, a document declaring the rights of women based on the Declaration of Independence.
The ideas mentioned in the Declaration of Sentiments proclaimed that a man should not deny a woman’s rights, take her property or decline her right to vote. Participants of Seneca Falls convention unanimously supported the declaration. The convention was publicly criticized and the press and religious leaders denounced the happenings at Seneca Falls, however, the convention was an important momentum for the activists of the women’s rights. Slowly, the role of women was changing. During the Civil War, women worked as nurses in the field hospitals. In 1849, a woman received a medical degree for the first time. Teaching was another area where women became increasingly important.
One of the most important events of the period was without doubt the Emancipation Proclamation of 1863. It was the first step to improve the existence of the black people, for whom life still has been unfair and difficult for the several coming decades. The Emancipation Proclamation has been often criticized that it freed slaves only according to the law, however, this document gave a hope for freedom and better future to the thousands of former slaves.
During the years before and after the Civil War, the United States have shifted from agricultural economy to the economy based on exchange of goods and services. The North was experiencing manufacturing boom after the cotton gin was invented. New industries have emerged and new roads, railroads and telegraph lines were built. American society started moving to the cities, especially in the North, and the first American middle class appeared. Especially in the years after the Civil War, industrialization was a driving force of many changes.
The Reconstruction period brought several important changes in the legislature. The Thirteenth Amendment passed in 1865 outlawed slavery and the Fourteenth Amendment, which was ratified in 1848, guaranteed citizenship for all people born or naturalized within the United States territory regardless of their color and race. The Fifteenth Amendment gave right to vote to all men regardless of their race.
During the post-Civil War years, the universal public education was established. In 1868 8-hour working day for federal employees was introduced. After the Civil War, Congress demanded from the states to guarantee in their constitutions free non-sectarian education to all kids. The Massachusetts legislature passed a law prohibiting racial segregation in the state’s schools already in 1855; it was the first such law in the United States.
Despite of the revolutionary improvements and reforms, the discussed period received significant amount of criticism and the Reconstruction was considered a failure by some historians. During the period, there was corruption in politics and in business, land speculations, scandals in politics, and unethical business practices.
North and South really grew apart before the Civil War started. The Reconstruction period was a beginning of their reunification. North and South had economic and social structure and different views on slavery and federal government. South favored more freedom for individual states, while North supported federal government. As Lincoln put it in his Gettysburg Address, the outcome of the Civil War would determine the fate of representative government, and it did.
The events that happened between 1848 and 1877 have drastically changed the way the United States were developing and prepared foundation for further changes. The women’s movement started, that already in 1878 resulted in women’s right to vote and increasing importance of women’s role in society. Slaved received freedom, which was a beginning of their long way toward equality. The United States made important scientific, economic and industrial progress, including new factories and railroads. Education has significantly improved. As a result of these developments, by the end of the nineteenth century, the U.S. was one of the most developed countries in the world.
Even though years between 1848 and 1877 were controversial and problematic, I believe that very important decisions were made during this period, which determined the way the country would develop further.