The American Civil War

This topic guide will help you work with the American Civil War, and the related issue of slavery in the US. The guide is mainly intended for use in English class, but it may also be relevant for other school subjects such as History or Social Studies. 

The guide is designed to give you a good overview of the American Civil War and its aftermath. You can also find specific suggestions for texts to use as reference points, as well as ideas for further thematic perspectives. 

Overview

Even before the US became an independent nation, slavery was widespread in the American colonies. Especially the plantations in the southern colonies had great need of labor, which led to a massive import of African slaves.

This development continued after the US achieved independence in 1783. The difference between Northern and Southern states become more and more clear in relation to the slave question, however. The economy of the North was far less reliant on slavery, and the Northern states gradually began to abolish the practise in the coming decades. The Southern states were still strongly dependent on slavery, however - some states had so many slaves that they made up the majority of the population.

The slave question, along with other political and economic disagreements, gradually led to more and more conflict between North and South, which eventually led to the beginning of the Civil War in 1861. The Southern states (the Confederacy) tried to achieve independence, while the Northern states (the Union) sought to keep the nation together. 

The battle raged for several years and had devastating human and economic consequences. The slave question remained one of the driving forces behind the conflict, which eventually led US President Abraham Lincoln (who led the Northern states) to make his famous Emancipation Proclamation, which aimed to abolish slavery and thus put extra pressure on the Southern states.

The strong economy and industry of the Northern states eventually led them to victory. General Robert E. Lee surrendered on April 9, 1865, and despite scattered resistance from remaining Confederacy forces, the last battles ended quickly thereafter.

After the Civil War, the Confederacy government was dissolved and slavery was finally abolished in all US states. Amendments were also made to the US Constitution, in an effort to secure the civil rights of the former slaves. Despite these amendments, they were still subjected to massive discrimination in many areas during the following decades - especially in the former slave states, where people and politicians where not necessarily ready to accept them as equal citizens.  

The consequences of the American Civil War are still evident today. This is especially visible in the heated debate about the status of Confederacy monuments - are they an important part of American history and culture, or are they terrible symbols of white supremacy, intended to celebrate the inhuman and racist institution of slavery that the Confederacy fought to keep alive? 

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The American Civil War

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