Essay on The Civil War And The Reconstruction Era

Essay on The Civil War And The Reconstruction Era

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The 1860s, a decade that encompassed the American Civil War and the Reconstruction Era, was an immensely controversial time. The country was literally divided along the issue of slavery, but President Lincoln was able to reunite it under the Emancipation Proclamation. However, even after Reconstruction was well under way and amendments to reconcile slavery were in the process of being ratified, “[f]ormer Confederates almost universally rejected the principle of black suffrage, and few accepted the constitutional legitimacy of Reconstruction.”¹ Many white southerners, knowing that black Americans held the majority in the South, sought ways to control and manipulate them once again in order to ensure that the racial hierarchy—with white Americans on top and black Americans at the bottom—remained intact. Nevertheless, the ideals of citizenship and suffrage for all shined a new light upon America that even encouraged men—specifically black Americans Thomas Bayne and William J. Whipper—to advocate for women’s suffrage.²
Thomas Nast, in the midst of the ratification of the Reconstruction Era amendments, used “Uncle Sam’s Thanksgiving Dinner” to reflect the current events and sentiments of the time period. At the center of the table, Nast labelled the centerpieces as “self governance” and “universal suffrage,” reflecting the ideas behind the thirteenth, fourteenth, and fifteenth amendments—which were ratified in 1865, 1868, and 1870, respectively. These concepts were prevalent in the 1860s, especially among black Americans who finally tasted freedom after hundreds of years of enslavement. Furthermore, underneath the portraits of presidents Lincoln and Grant are the inscribed words, “with malice towards none and charity to all” and “peace...


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...ericans at the top while other non-white racial groups make up the bulk, as well as the bottom, of the hierarchy.
Although Thomas Nast and G.F. Keller used similar techniques in creating their political cartoons, their illustrations of “Uncle Sam’s Thanksgiving Dinner” elicited polar opposite opinions. Nast, caught in the ideals of Reconstruction and emancipation, showed the public a racial hierarchy that made all Americans “free and equal.” Keller, embittered by the growing threat of a foreign labor force, publicized a racial hierarchy where all racial groups were valued below white Americans. The progression from Nast’s perspectives to Keller’s touches on two patterns in American sentiment throughout history: black Americans normally lay at the bottom of the racial hierarchy, and all are welcome in the land of opportunity until the opportunities begin to run out.

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