The Beginning of a New Nation: Southern Reconstruction After The Civil War

The Beginning of a New Nation: Southern Reconstruction After The Civil War

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Following the Civil War, life in the south was dramatically changed. America faced an arduous task of rebuilding the devastated economy and social infrastructure in former Confederate states. This new movement was known as the Reconstruction era, and it was responsible for the emergence of a multifaceted industrialization of manufactured goods and transportation networks. In the book, Steel Drivin’ Man, Scott Reynolds Nelson conveys the intensity of political debate during the Reconstruction era. The conflict revolved around the role of the federal government in domestic affairs as well as the status of recently freed African-American slaves. This period marked the emergence of John Henry, a former African-American slave that became a classic figure of American folklore myths. He was known as the man who defeated the steam-powered drill in a race, but died shortly after from inhaling the rock dust generated by the steam drills. The story of John Henry emerged out of and reflected the histories of southern reconstruction by outlining the political, social, and economic changes that undermined black equality.
After the north had officially defeated the south in May of 1865, preparations to repair the fractured nation began taking place. However, the country faced political turmoil when several opposing ideas on southern reconstruction emerged. Those ideas were divided into three opposing sides: Conservatives, Moderates, and Radicals. The Conservatives believed the South should be readmitted back into the Union without suffering any consequences for secession. This included the repudiation of Confederate war debt and the issuing of pardons to former Confederate generals. Their goal was to return the South to the political, social, a...


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... exponential growth of the railroad network. This created a large gap in the social hierarchy between the factory owners and the labor force. This resulted in violent strikes due to unfair pay and long backbreaking hours. Nelson incorporates this by presenting the hardships that John Henry had to endure while working on the railroad expansion. Not only was he forced into labor by the prison system, but he ultimately forfeited his life by living under the influence of the undemocratic south and among various modes of discrimination.
Overall, the story of John Henry is a good reflection of the influences brought upon by the southern reconstruction. Whether it involved a time of political turmoil, or exponential growth of industry, the backbreaking sweat and sacrifices made by immigrant and black labor forces will be forever immortalized in our nation’s history.

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