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Map of the five military districts established in the South with the Reconstruction Act of 1867

Reconstruction was an important step in helping America recover after the Civil War, shifting the power from agrarian elite to the urban centers. This article, “Constitution as Countermonument: Federalism, Reconstruction, and the Problem of Collective Memory,” by Norman W. Spaulding, outlines his ideas on federalism, specifically its development during the Civil War. Spaulding explains how the Civil War was, “the perfect storm,” that lead to an increase in centralized power. The US would cement the supremacy of the federal government over state governments, through broad expansion in power of all the branches, and the strong support for the Reconstruction Amendments, despite southern disapproval. He also argues that the US would come to view much of the southern states as,  “reconquered territory,” as they established clauses necessary for them to rejoin the Union. He also explains how historians and politicians painted the war as, “a battle between brothers,” rather than between to sovereign nations with fundamentally different values. This would lead to the strong cementation a national identity, that would unite the nation in the coming years. Ultimately, this would harden ideas of American exceptionalism, and revive ideas of manifest destiny, as the nation’s democratic values survived the Civil War and emerged stronger.


This is the check made by the US Treasury in 1867, in order to pay $7.2 million to the Russian Empire in exchange for Alaska. The Alaska Purchase occurred during Reconstruction, under President Johnson. Secretary of State William H. Seward who negotiated the Alaska Purchase was an ardent expansionist, but like many Republicans at the time had feared that new territory acquired would become slave territory, rather than free. After the Civil War though, many Republicans that had formerly opposed expansion began to support it. Specifically, Seward believed that this purchase could help further Pacific expansion, by providing coaling stations for military and merchant ships. Alaska would later prove to have various natural resources, such as gold, oil, but would not be discovered until the late 19th Century. Most importantly though, this was the first, large, non-contiguous territory that America would come to possess, and would be the beginning of a larger Pacific presence.

This source is an illustration by Frank Beard, published in 1869 in a newspaper, Frank Leslie’s Illustrated Newspaper. The image shows two outstretched hands extending from trains, labeled, “New York” and “San Francisco,” approaching each other. Buffalo and Native Americans flee in the foreground as the people on the trains cheer. The caption reads, “Does not such a meeting make amends?” echoing ideas of both physical and metaphorical unity in the country with the completion of the transcontinental railroad in 1869. As the US went through Reconstruction in order to reunify and rebuild the nation, the railroad allowed for both a physical connection between east and west, and further economic development. This would set the stage for the settler colonization of the West, and the solidification of American presence in the area.