5.9 Government Policies during the Civil War

5 min readdecember 22, 2022

Caleb Lagerwey

Caleb Lagerwey

Milo Chang

Milo Chang

AP US History 🇺🇸

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Preserving the Union

President Abraham Lincoln's initial rationale for fighting the American Civil War was to preserve the Union and prevent the breakup of the country. Lincoln believed that the United States was a single, indivisible nation that could not be divided without causing significant damage to its stability and prosperity. In his first inaugural address in 1861, Lincoln made it clear that he was committed to preserving the Union and that he would use whatever means necessary to do so. He argued that the Constitution, which had been ratified by all the states, was the supreme law of the land and that it was his duty as President to uphold it. He also stated that he had no intention of interfering with the institution of slavery in the Southern states, but that he would not allow the Southern states to secede from the Union.

Opposition to the War

Both sides introduced a draft (conscription) that produced a backlash on the homefront from those opposed to the war or to forcing people to join the war.
  • Copperheads/Peace Democrats opposed the war in the North
  • The New York Draft Riots were an example of opposition to the war in the North (NYC was a Democrat stronghold)
  • Bread riots erupted in Southern cities because of a lack of food and other supplies
Don’t forget that Lincoln had to run for reelection in 1864: he narrowly beat the Democratic candidate, former General George B. McClellan, who drew strength from opposition to Lincoln’s aggressive tactics to the length of the war, to the draft, and to fighting for African Americans.
McClellan was a popular and experienced military leader, and he ran on a platform that promised to end the Civil War and bring about a peaceful settlement with the Confederacy. He was seen as a moderate candidate who was more willing to compromise with the South than Lincoln, and his campaign was supported by many Democrats who opposed the war and believed that the Union should seek a peaceful resolution to the conflict. However, McClellan's campaign was ultimately unsuccessful, and Lincoln was re-elected.
Abraham Lincoln's re-election as President of the United States in 1864 was, in part, a byproduct of recent military victories that had been achieved during the American Civil War, including the Union's victory at the Battle of Atlanta. This battle, which took place in July 1864, was a major victory for the Union and helped to turn the tide of the war in their favor.

Lincoln & the Border States

Lincoln declared martial law (military rule) and suspended habeas corpus (the right to have a trial so you know what you’re charged with) in order to keep the border states in the Union. Border States (MO, KY, MD, & DE; in yellow at right) were slave states that stayed loyal to the Union.

Image Courtesy of Wikimedia

Lincoln declared martial law in certain parts of the country to prevent the spread of rebellion. He suspended habeas corpus to detain individuals suspected of supporting the Confederacy or plotting against the Union.These actions were controversial at the time and were criticized by some as being a violation of civil liberties. However, they were seen as necessary measures to protect the Union and maintain order during a time of crisis.
The border states played a significant role in the Civil War and were a key factor in the outcome of the conflict. They were strategically important because they were located along the border between the North and the South and because they were home to many resources, including factories, railroads, and other infrastructure that were important to both sides. If Maryland joined the Confederacy, Washington DC would be surrounded on all sides by enemy states.

Emancipation Proclamation

Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation, issued on January 1, 1863, freed slaves in areas in rebellion, so no slaves were immediately freed since those areas were not listening to him. It also didn’t apply to border states to keep them loyal.
  • This leads to the reframing of the war goals: the goals are now emancipation and preserving the Union
  • Enslaved people ran away to Union lines and thus freed themselves
  • Leads to African Americans in the Union Army (ex: 54th Massachusetts)
The Emancipation Proclamation was a military measure. It was issued in response to the progress of the Civil War and was designed to help turn the tide of the conflict in favor of the Union. The Emancipation Proclamation was also designed to help weaken the Confederacy by undermining its economic and social foundations. By freeing the slaves, the Union hoped to undermine the Confederacy's labor force and to disrupt its economy, which was heavily dependent on slave labor.
The Emancipation Proclamation also had a direct impact on Confederate international relations. It led to a change in the way that the Confederacy was viewed by other countries, as it demonstrated the country's commitment to the institution of slavery. This had a negative impact on the Confederacy's reputation and made it more difficult for them to secure the support and assistance of other countries.
🎥Watch: AP US History - The Civil War

Restoring the Nation

On November 19, 1863, Lincoln delivered the Gettysburg Address at the dedication of the Soldiers' National Cemetery in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, where Union and Confederate soldiers had been killed in a major battle earlier that year. The Gettysburg Address is one of the most famous speeches in American history.
In the speech, Lincoln honored the soldiers who had died in the battle and reaffirmed the importance of the Union and the principles of democracy and equality. He also spoke about the need to preserve the Union and to ensure that "government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth."
Lincoln delivered his Second Inaugural Address on March 4, 1865. The speech was given at a time when the country was deeply divided and was in the midst of the American Civil War. The Second Inaugural Address is known for its conciliatory tone and for its emphasis on forgiveness and reconciliation. Lincoln called on the American people to come together and to work towards a peaceful resolution to the Civil War, and he argued that the conflict had been a punishment from God for the sin of slavery.
He expressed his desire for rebuilding the nation by concluding, "With malice toward none with charity for all with firmness in the right as God gives us to see the right let us strive on to finish the work we are in to bind up the nation's wounds, to care for him who shall have borne the battle and for his widow and his orphan ~ to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace among ourselves and with all nations."
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