During the 1860s and the 1870s, Americans faced a social crisis that literally divided the nation to two. Social developments and constitutional changes that occurred within this time frame amounted to a devastating separation of people. The first major crisis, the Civil War, divided the nation sectionally and what ensued afterward, the Reconstruction, divided the nation completely.
The Civil War lasted four years, from April of 1861 to April of 1865. It physically separated the nation into two, in which the South seceded from the North. The two sides fought for the struggle over slavery – the South was for it, while the North was against it. The South argued that the North was attempting to limit their rights given to them by the Constitution; their rights to exercise those powers were restrained heavily by the politically dominant North. The North at first made a statement stating that the main purpose of the war was to maintain the Union and to keep the South from breaking apart.
However, as the war went on, Lincoln found fighting for these terms was impossible; he knew that the slaves had to be freed. This decision to abolish slavery stirred up controversy in the Union, for many white men, while they opposed slavery, did not like the idea that they were fighting for African-Americans. Many riots erupted from many Union states come draft day, clearly showing the unsettlement and dissatisfaction that Americans had with the idea of freeing slaves. The North not only had to deal with the South, but also with themselves.
Following the Civil War, a period of time known as the Reconstruction came into effect. This was the time where the North attempted to rebuild the South and the time for the South to settle their differences and get over bitter feelings of losing the war. However, despite its good intentions, the Reconstruction was generally considered a failure by most historians. The Reconstruction was led by a certain group of Republicans known as the Radicals. These Radical Republicans wanted the South to pay for the financial cost of the war; they argued that the war was fought over differences initiated by the South, therefore the South was to pay for its cost.
They did exactly what their name suggests: they enacted many radical laws, such as the 14th Amendment, which gave all people [except Native Indians] in the United States citizenship, regardless of race. The 15th Amendment too was set into motion, guaranteeing all citizens suffrage. This allowed the former slaves to now vote for political candidates, giving them a say in the government. The South despised this idea; many conservatives began acts of terror to keep the African-Americans from voting. The most prominent group of white supremacists was the Ku Klux Klan, which utilized violence to scare African-Americans and to resist the Reconstruction.
Aggression erupted throughout the nation as a result from the discontent over the issue of slavery and the rights of Africans. The United States was literally torn apart during the Civil War, as brothers fought one another and deaths piled up. Conditions further worsened during the Reconstruction, when the North refused to forgive the South and the South refused to apologize to the North. Violence became the only answer for many Americans during the late-19th century.