American Equality After the Civil War

During the Gettysburg Address of 1863, President Abraham Lincoln spoke about his hope for unity and peace throughout the nation. Immediately after the Civil War, there was an increase in pride and patriotism among some Americans as they sought to redefine themselves in the years that ensued. This sense of patriotism was particularly strong in the North, though no region was safe from the concerns and the uncertainty of what it meant to be an American during Reconstruction.

African Americans who were recently freed from enslavement were eager to exercise their right to vote, yet they found themselves unable to do so due to poll taxes, literacy tests, and a lack of land ownership. A poll tax was a fee that an individual had to pay if he wanted to register to vote. A literacy test was an impossibly difficult reading and skills test that was administered to African Americans to see if they were educated enough to cast a vote. Because the formerly enslaved population could not afford the poll tax, and because many former slaves never learned to read, they were not able to vote.

At this point in history, the Native American population had decreased significantly, and though the fighting between the North and the South had stopped, Native Americans still found themselves in danger as more white men moved onto their lands. It became common practice to force them off of their rightful lands to make room for white landowners who wanted to venture westward.

Although the 15th Amendment provided African American men the right to vote, American women of all races found themselves painfully excluded from this opportunity. Women felt that their rights were being denied; since they, too, were citizens of the United States, they felt that they should be granted the right to voice their political opinions. Women in the U.S. would not get the right to vote until 1920

Finally, immigrants formed another population that found themselves excluded from equality. Though the U.S. was supposed to be a welcoming place for everyone, the immigrant experience was one of hatred and discrimination. Since they were not considered citizens of the country, much of what was written in the Constitution did not apply to them.

These groups became increasingly aware of the power that white, land-owning men possessed, and each group would eventually try to carry out movements that guaranteed them their rights under the Constitution.