The Civil War is a cornerstone event in American history. Beyond its obvious political relevance, the culmination of the war influenced American society, economy and culture. This essay will argue that the rapid industrialization following the war gave rise to two major features of national identity: American capitalism and American culture.
One could identify 3 major aspects of industrialization during and after the era of Reconstruction. In terms of geography, the North-South divide that politically and culturally separated the country had ceased to exist. This is not to say, however, that there were no misgivings between the two groups of citizens under auspices of the united nation. The era also saw more frequent waves of immigration and settlement on the mid-west and eastern states of the union. This reconfigured the population distribution, which erstwhile was concentrated on New England and its environs.
The exhaustion of the war, ironically, created an atmosphere of peace. This gave vent to the entrepreneurial aspirations of the citizens. But the opportunities were not uniform or equitable. The privileged White Anglo-Saxon Protestant (WASP) community, which owned most of the properties, continued its economic and social dominance. It was this preordained economic privilege for the community that would give rise to such great industrialists as Henry Ford, John Rockefeller, etc. These luminaries were the first great capitalists of the country. Indeed they would develop great companies like Standard Oil and Ford Motor Company, which would supersede in scale and revenues even some older establishments in Europe.
In terms of the legislature, many key laws were passed between 1865 and 1920. The extension of equal citizenship to black Americans was a landmark historical event. It has to be qualified though that this equality remained very nominal and barely applied in practical affairs. This somewhat incomplete justice for blacks would reinvigorate the community for another wave of collective action a century later. Hence the unfulfilled promises of the Reconstruction era, vis-à-vis social justice, would sow the seeds for the Civil Rights movement of the mid-twentieth century.
The rapid pace of industrial growth had a major socio-cultural impact. It affected the life of the average working American in many different ways. The most important change they witnesses is the transformation of the mode of livelihood from independent small-farmers to wage-earning factory workers. In fact, the late 19th century labor press was saturated with discussions on such fundamental changes. This transformation was not a smooth and swift process at all. Most small farmers put their independence ahead of job security. They moreover perceived receiving wages from a capitalist master as a slur on their dignity. They considered wage-slavery as only a tad better than the condition of chattel-slavery. But the capitalist market forces at work made consolidation of ownership of agrarian land inevitable. Hence small, marginalized farmers were forced to cede their ownership to bigger players and join the factory workforce. American labor market was thus born.