The Antebellum Era in the American South lasted roughly seventy-five years, beginning in the late eighteenth century and ending with the outbreak of the Civil War. During this time, Southern society was deeply divided by wealth. Only 0.1 percent of whites owned more than 100 slaves, while 76.1 percent owned none at all. Even so, Southern whites were unified by a deep belief in white supremacy. The poor saw slavery (and racism) as their only source of prestige. They were not ready to let it go (Corbett, et al).
By the mid-nineteenth century, the nation had become polarized over slavery. White Southerners ardently supported its preservation and expansion West. Conversely, every state north of the Mason-Dixon line had abolished it by 1804 (The Antebellum South). Abraham Lincoln’s election to the presidency in 1860 made it clear that the schism between the North and South was irreparable. Over the next year, seven Southern states seceded from the Union and established the Confederate States of America. On April 12, 1861, Southerners fired the first shot of the Civil War at the government-controlled Fort Sumter in South Carolina. Four more states joined the Confederacy (Civil War).
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Lincoln, desperate to preserve the Union, was initially hesitant to act against slavery. But in 1862, it was evident that black enlistment in the Yankee army was necessary (Fowler) and, the following year, Lincoln passed the preliminary Emancipation Proclamation to free over three million slaves in the South (Civil War; Reconstruction). This ultimately proved to be a successful military tactic: public opinion shifted to favor the North, the Confederacy lost much of its labor force and 186,000 black soldiers flocked to Union lines. On April 9, 1865, the Confederates surrendered to the Yankees. Seven days later, Abraham Lincoln was assassinated (Civil War).
Throughout the Civil War, Georgia was a significant aid to the South. The state seceded on January 19, 1861 and, by that time, 25,000 soldiers had already enlisted to fight in the Confederate army. In 1864, General William T. Sherman tore through Georgia on his famous March to the Sea. He disconnected the last railroad supplying Atlanta, leaving the Confederates with no choice but to abandon the city. This Union triumph secured Lincoln’s victory in the Presidential election that year (Fowler).
The Civil War was the bloodiest war fought on American soil in history: 620,000 soldiers lost their lives. So much bloodshed and devastation made it difficult to repair the schism that divided the North and South (Civil War). In May 1865, Vice President Andrew Johnson assumed the Presidency and announced his plans for Presidential Reconstruction. Johnson was a firm believer in the Union and states’ rights. He allowed the South to take restoration into its own hands as long as it respected the Thirteenth Amendment,
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