American Government after the Civil War - American History
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American Government - 1800s

J. Rainey, first black congressman

After the Civil War, in 1865, the United States changed its Constitution to make slavery illegal. For a few years, black people were able to vote, and serve in Congress. But soon northern people lost interest in helping the black people, and racist white people forced the black people to stop voting and stop trying to get elected to Congress. But also after the Civil War the United States government got to have much more power over the states than it had before. Now it was clear that the states had to do what the United States government said, unless the Supreme Court said it was against the Constitution.

Sitting Bull
Sitting Bull

In the western part of North America, however, many people had their own governments and were not part of the United States or Canada. The Navajo, the Ute, the Sioux, the Blackfeet, the Chinook and the Inuit are good examples. Among these people, most government was at the level of the chiefdom, although the Sioux began to unite under chiefs like Sitting Bull.

In the late 1800s, as more and more poor people began to live in cities and work in factories, poor city men became important to winning elections (women still couldn't vote). To get their votes, men who wanted to be mayors or congressmen or presidents promised to fix up the poor parts of cities where these men lived. The Progressive movement got started. Progressive people thought that both the states and the United States government should work harder to help poor people. Government officials like mayors and congressmen should tell businesses how to treat their workers, and how much to pay the workers. Officials should decide what kinds of houses poor people should live in, and make sure that their food and water were clean and safe. All kids should be able to go to school. During this time, the government did work on a lot of these problems.

By 1900, most of the people of the western part of North America had been forced on to reservations or under the power of the United States or Canada, although there were still some independent Inuit groups.

Learn by doing: what do you think states should do? What should the federal government do?
American Government - 1900s

Bibliography and further reading about American history:

North American History
The Constitution
The Inuit
The Sioux people
The Civil War
American History home

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Karen Carr is Associate Professor Emerita, Department of History, Portland State University. She holds a doctorate in Classical Art and Archaeology from the University of Michigan. Follow her on Instagram or Twitter, or buy her book, Vandals to Visigoths.
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  • Carr, K.E. . Study Guides, . Web. 28 April, 2017