Period of Reconstruction

The war was followed by the period of Reconstruction, which lasted for twelve years (1865-1877). The characteristic feature of this period was an enormous economic growth, which made the United States the most powerful nation in the world. The country became a leading industrial power. There were great factories, steel mills, flourishing cities and vast agricultural holdings. The first transcontinental railroad was completed in 1869, and by 1900, the United States had more railroads than all of Europe. The industries, such as petroleum, steel and textile, prospered. Americans made use of a series of inventions: the telephone, the light bulb, the phonograph. In Chicago, architect Louis Sullivan used steelframe construction to develop the first skyscraper.

In 1866 the Russian government offered to sell the territory of Alaska to the United States. Secretary of State William H. Seward, enthusiastic about American expansion, negotiated the deal. On March 30, 1867, the two parties agreed that the United States would pay Russia $7.2 million for the territory of Alaska. Opponents of the Alaska Purchase persisted in calling it Seward’s Folly or Seward’s Icebox until 1896, when the great Klondike Gold Strike convinced everybody that Alaska was a valuable addition to American territory.

During this period a real progress in the field of democracy was made as well. The Blacks were given the right to vote, and some of them were elected not only to various state legislatures in the South, but also to the U.S. Congress. While being in these posts, they introduced a lot of legislation beneficial to the common people. However, in 1866, the Southern planters founded a secret organization, the Ku Klux Klan, as an instrument of terror against the Blacks. Most of the leaders were former members of the Confederate Army. During the next years Klansmen wearing masks, tortured and killed black Americans and sympathetic whites. Immigrants, who they blamed for the election of Radical Republicans (they tried to protect civil rights of the blacks and bring them into the mainstream of an American life), became also their targets.

In 1868, the 14th Amendment to the United States Constitution was ratified. It grants citizenship to all persons born or naturalized in the United States, which included former slaves who had just been freed. Known as the Reconstruction Amendment, it forbids any state to deny any person life, liberty or property, without due process of law or to deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of its laws. Reconstruction came to an end in 1877, when new constitutions had been ratified in all Southern states and all federal troops were withdrawn from the area of these states.