The South after the Civil War
At the end of the war, an important part of the South was in ruins. Much of the war had been fought on its territory. Many of its cities had been burned or destroyed. Many of its railroads had been torn up. Many of the fields only had weeds growing in them.
There was no American money anywhere in the South. The people only had worthless Confederate money. The Southern banks could not loan out any money because they didn't have any. To make matters worse, the price of cotton fell drastically on the world market. Before the war, most of the world cotton supply was grown in the South. During the last year of the war, the Black people stopped growing cotton, so England began looking for places in its colonies where it could grow cotton. The British planted very much cotton in their colonies, especially in Egypt and India. As a result, there was too much cotton on the world market. The price of cotton fell. Everybody in the South became poor. The economy of the South was in ruins. During the next eighty years, the world market price for cotton remained low. The South had nothing but cotton, so the South remained poor until World War II.
During the war, hundreds of thousands of the slaves had run away. About half a million Black people were living in refugee camps when the war ended. Gradually, the people returned to their homes and the refugee camps were closed. The people returned to the rural areas because they were not familiar with city life.
There was much discussion about the future of the South. During the war, many people in the South had taken an oath of loyalty to the Confederacy and became Confederate citizens. Congress said that people could not be citizens of two countries. People who became Confederate citizens lost their American citizenship and lost their right to vote.
In 1867, Congress decided to hold new elections in the South under the control of the US army. The army was to decide who could or could not vote. The army refused to register people who had been active supporters of the Confederacy. In 1867, the army gave the right to vote to 703,000 Black men and to 627,000 white men. About twenty five percent of the white men were not allowed to vote.
After the war, some white men from the North came to live in the South because they wanted to help the Black people. When the elections were held, many of these newcomers were candidates. Most of them won the election. In addition, a large number of Black men were elected. The new state governments were controlled by the Black people and their friends. These were called the Reconstruction governments. Many Black men were elected to Congress. Also, the South chose some Black senators.
The Reconstruction governments wanted to make things better for Black people. In particular, they wanted to support education. Before the war, there had been no public education in the South. Rich white children went to private schools. Poor white children and Black children did not go to school. The Reconstruction governments decided to build schools for everyone. However, under the American constitution, each state had to collect money for its schools from inside the state. The only way to get money was by taxes. To pay for the schools, new taxes on land were levied. Each landowner had to pay a tax on his land. Everywhere new schools were built. Everywhere, all children, Black and white, began going to school. For example, in South Carolina, before the war only 20,000 children were in school. By 1873, there were 70,000 Black children and 50,000 white children in school.
However, there was one big problem. Many of the landowners did not have the money to pay taxes. To get money, they had to sell land. But so many people were trying to sell land that land in the South became very cheap. These people got very little money for their land, so they became very angry at the schools and at the Reconstruction governments. People from the North bought a lot of land for small sums of money.
The Black people were now free. They could not be bought or sold. But the Black people were not given any money. They did not own any land. Some senators such as Thaddeus Stevens wanted to confiscate the land of all the Confederate leaders and to divide it up among the Black people. However, the Senate only agreed to confiscate the land of the Confederate president, Jefferson Davis, and of a few other leaders. This land was divided among their former slaves. But most of the Black people received nothing. Stevens wanted to confiscate the land of the rest of the Confederate officials, but the Senate did not support him.
Most Black people did not own any land. The owners of land did not have enough money to pay wages for workers. Gradually a new system developed. The landowners agreed to let Black people plant cotton on the land. The Black people would do all of the work. In the autumn, when the cotton was sold, the Black people would get two-thirds of the money; the landowners one-third. This new system was called sharecropping. It lasted until World War II. During the growing season, the Black people often ran out of money. They had to borrow money to live. They were almost always in debt.
Cotton growing needed a lot of hand labor. Cotton grows in little white balls. To harvest the cotton, people took big bags into the cotton fields. They picked each cotton ball by hand and put it in the bag. They dragged the bag as they went. They dragged the bag until it had fifty kilograms of cotton in it. Cotton picking was very hard work. However, around World War II, a machine that could pick cotton was invented. Black people were no longer needed to pick cotton. Also, an insect called the boll weevil began to infest the cotton fields. This insect killed the cotton plants by eating parts of them. So cotton growing moved to the Southwestern states where the weevil did not live. Most of the Black people left the fields and went to the cities to live.