History often shows that water bodies have a significant role to play in emerging civilizations. Similarly, pre-civil war America was shaped by the water bodies within the country and those surrounding it. This paper aims at looking at the socio-economic impact of water in America in the 1800's.
Europeans who crossed the Atlantic Ocean initiated America's discovery. Explorative expeditions followed this by Europeans who were seeking new resources. Later, colonies were started in America as people migrated into the country from Europe. Consequently, new routes for commerce were started resulting in Oceanic commerce with goods as well as slaves being exchanged between continents.
America had been established as an independent country before the 1800's. By the year 1840, White people were living around the Mississippi. The country had experienced an economic depression causing people to move towards the Pacific seeking fertile land. Their migration followed prominent rivers westward. Americans valued land and wanted their nation to reach the Pacific.
The Western expansion had major consequences to different parties. The native people were forcefully displaced. Another result was that white Americans settled in Mexican territories. Initially, few Americans lived there. However, the population grew due to colony plans such as one by Moses Austin in 1820. A decade later the settler population had drastically increased in the Mexican territories such as Texas. Consequently, this populace desired self-determination as opposed to Mexican rule. For example, Mexico did not allow slavery yet many settlers used slave labor and resented being treated as equals with black people. In 1836, Americans living in Texas rebelled against the Mexican government, and in the following year, they joined the Union.
Secondly, the expansion gave America access to the Ocean from the West coast. But still, the majority of the citizenry were displeased resulting in many of them moving to California, a state belonging to Mexico at the time. Therefore, politics was steered towards getting control of California as proposed by James K. Polk. Mexico initially refused to hand over California to America, and this prompted Polk to wage an armed conflict with Mexico. Unfortunately, in 1848 Mexico lost and had to sell California to the United States while also confirming America's claim to Texas.3 Thus, America gained more coastline towards the Pacific.
The Gold Rush
The occupation of California by citizens of the United States resulted in the exploration for gold in 1848. Indians living close to the gold country were quickly displaced by white people who migrated into the area to mine gold. We observe water playing a significant role during this time as many visitors traveled via ships as well as steamboats to get to California. Experienced miners, as well as inexperienced ones, were brought into the country from Mexico, Brazil, and Europe. Chinese people also traveled via ships to get to America to take part in the gold trade. San Francisco grew immensely regarding the populace due to the influx of migrants. Railway lines were also established to facilitate transport to California and to move the gold.
The Goldrush also had some unforeseen circumstances. The influx of migrants resulted in ethnic conflict especially when gold deposits started to become scarce. The White community often alienated other racial groups such as the natives, the French and Asians. The legislation was also passed that favored White citizens over foreigners. A large portion of the indigenous communities was displaced from their land by miners. Often there was fighting with these indigenous people and unfortunately, experienced major losses of land and people.
San Diego was another port town that gave America access to the Pacific. The coastal port was obtained from Mexico. Together with San Francisco America had gained access to explore the trade with the Eastern countries like Japan. By 1854, Japan had approved commercial activities with America. Once again water played an important role in facilitating trade and enhancement of international relations through movement of ships across the Pacific Ocean.
War of Secession
The acquisition of California and Texas from Mexico coupled with the interaction with Europe caused Americans to question slavery. European countries were starting to give independence to some of their previous colonies. This international trend was followed by the abolitionists call for the dissolution of the slave trade. Republicans recommended that enslavement should not be allowed in newly acquired states. On the other hand, Democrats felt that the Republicans were infringing on their freedom as a people. Lincoln's election to office in 1860 confirmed this. The following year the South had made plans to secede.
The war of secession came at a great cost to both parties. Economies shifted since more Americans were joining the army leaving very few behind to practice farming as well as carry out business. Many of the men who enlisted in the North were workers in farms, shops, and artisans while in the Confederacy many lower ranking men were small-scale farmers who did not own slave. The wealthy men in the south were appointed senior ranks in the army when they enlisted. This social stratification impacted the war in a significant way. The Confederate states depended on the labor of slaves to facilitate farming on large cotton plantations. The North, on the other hand, had a diverse economy which involved agriculture with paid labor as well as an emerging manufacturing industry.
The financial structure of the Union experienced most change during the fighting. The manufacturing industry grew due to the large demand for processed foods, clothing and blankets. Millers flourished. Miners worked hard to expand their activities as coal and iron were needed in large supply. Agriculture in the North and to the West became more mechanized to account for the labor gap as abled men joined the army. The politics of the time also favored economic growth as legislation that fostered Congress adopted growth. The Confederacy, though, had an over-reliance on cotton farming. The fighting halted the growth of the cotton industry. There was also a shortage of labor as men joined the army and captives escaped to the North. Consequently, a food shortage occurred and many farmers were advised to grow food crops instead of cotton. Consequently, a majority of the non-slave owning Southern soldiers felt demotivated as the war progressed since there was nobody left to provide for their families yet it was difficult to obtain food.
The fighting required good transportation systems to enable deployment of armies. The war saw the enhancement of technology for warfare. Water played an important role as the North, and the South had a naval force. Several battles were waged over the sea. Ship manufacturing also changed with the initial ships made of iron showing superiority over ships made of wood. 1861 saw Union ships form a blockade over the Southern coast. At the time steamboats were largely used in the navy. Furthermore, technologies like the telegraph and national gauge railway roads enhanced activities in the war. The North has a more diverse economy was able to invest in these technologies that enhanced their military agenda.
Advancement of railroads enhanced military activities, but it also had its consequences. The native Indians were further antagonized and driven away. The Union often called its standing army to counter the antagonized tribes. Consequently, many of them were moved to reservation camps as their land was taken. The South, on the other hand, allowed natives to elect representatives to Congress.
The issue of enslavement was openly discussed during the war. Northern politics favored emancipation to uphold the liberty of humanity. The Confederacy, however, relied heavily on slave labor and opposed this agenda. Eventually, the North prevailed, and they emancipated the slaves. Often escaped slaves crossed over to the Union camp seeking freedom, these escaped slaves gave the Union armies crucial information about the enemy. The Union forces enlisted Blacks into their armies and thereby increased their workforce over the South. The South reluctantly accepted black slaves into their ranks in exchange for their freedom. Blacks did not experience equal treatment in the army despite gaining freedom. They were often paid less, expected to do a lot of the manual work and were not initially permitted to fight. Ironically, we see water uniting the races during the war. This is because black people in the navy were treated as equals, often receiving equal wages, sleeping, working, and eating in the same shared space as their white counterparts. Although this was mainly attributed to small spaces found on ships.
Women were significant in the time of war and often supported the men in the army and helped to raise resources for the war. Women took up nursing work in the army and helped to treat the wounded. Women also worked in factories and other businesses in previously male-dominated roles. Women in the South had to run their families' farms on their own when men were serving the army. Therefore, women were able to experience independence.
Termination of the war occurred in 1865 accompanied by abolition of slavery. The South had surrendered after facing defeat on various fronts. Slaves were now free, but the constitution lacked clarity on their rights and how they would fit into this new society. Termination of fighting now marked the genesis of the reconstruction period.
A large water body plays a symbolic role in separating from the mainland the first place where reconstruction took place. In 1861, Lincoln's reconstruction agenda was first practiced off the coast of South Carolina on an island. The government arranged for freed slaves to live on the island. Staff from the Union and volunteers moved to the island to assist in the orderly transition from slavery to freedom. The freed slaves were offered education by Northern teachers and worked for wages on the island. This served as an example for future reconstruction projects.
The years after the war saw the government establish a Reconstruction policy that aimed at bringing economic growth to the South and enhancing the freedom of the African-Americans. The federal government established the Freedmen's Bureau that set out to uphold the rights of the former slaves and improve their welfare. The bureau was operational for five years and set out to establish schools for African-Americans. This was the first time that former slaves got the chance to use public facilities such as schools and hospitals with minimal discrimination. The former slaves were able to use their new freedom to gather and start their organizations such as black schools and churches.
Black people expected true social as well as economic freedom after the war. This meant access to education, wages, land, equal political representation, and fair judicial process. However, the Reconstruction failed to provide the black community with all these components of freedom. Reconstruction only offered the blacks with access to education and payment for labor. Unfortunately, the black people were paid low wages that kept them poor and landless. Another positive impact was that African-Americans were granted the right to vote political representatives into Congress. The Blacks felt bitter having been shortchanged from true freedom with many left in poverty and were denied land ownership in most Southern territories.
New legislation was passed that promoted the rights of the Blacks and other immigrants. The Bill of Rights ensured that freed slaves were treated as citizens of the natio...
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