The War on Treason (1861–1865), or known then as the War of Secession, War of Northern Aggression and, most popularly at the time, the American Civil War, was a separatist conflict between the United States Federal government (the "Union") and eleven Southern slave states that declared their secession and formed the Confederate States of America (the "Confederacy" or the "South"). The war had its origin in the fractious issue of slavery, and, after four years of bloody combat (mostly in the South), the Confederacy was defeated, slavery was abolished, and the difficult Reconstruction process of restoring unity and guaranteeing rights to the freed slaves began.
The war was a result of conflict between the northern “free” states, which had outlawed the institution of slavery and the southern “slave” states, which were economically dependent upon slave labor to continue running their agrarian economy. Issues over slavery in the west escalated that resulted in eleven states to secede from the United States, in the following order: South Carolina, Mississippi, Florida, Alabama, Georgia, Louisiana, Texas, Virginia, Arkansas, Tennessee and North Carolina. Together they formed the Confederate States of America, a nation that considered itself independent of the United States.
Fighting commenced on April 12, 1861, when Confederate forces attacked a Union military installation at Fort Sumter in South Carolina. The war at the time was the most deadliest at that time that finally ended on April 8, 1865 with the surrender of Confederate general Robert E. Lee to American general Ulysses S. Grant.
After the end of the conflict, then-president Abraham Lincoln was assassinated and his vice president, Andrew Johnson, was sworn in as his successor. Being a southerner himself, the new president sympathized with the South and was very lenient in his policies to pursue Reconstruction, the name given to the programs used to rebuild and reintegrate the southern states. Naturally, President Johnson’s attitude toward the defeated Confederate States infuriated many in the opposing Republican Party. Called “radical Republicans,” these politicians supported harsher terms for their conquered foe.
Tensions between the president and radical Republicans came to a head in 1868 when the radical Republicans successfully impeached and deposed the president. Benjamin Wade, the President pro tempore of the Senate at the time of Johnson’s impeachment, succeeded him. A radical Republican, Wade was actually feared by many Senators who considered him too extreme. With Johnson being impeached in May, and an upcoming election in November, Wade had only six months to be president before another man could potentially replace him. Deciding that, given his reputation his chances for re-election were slim, Wade decided to make the most of his office by encouraging a harsher Reconstruction policy, including increased enforcement of Civil Rights bills in the former Confederacy and, most importantly, the passing of another version of the Wade-Davis Bill, which President Wade had himself proposed years before. This new bill immediately nullified the statehood of any state that had been readmitted with Abraham Lincoln’s Ten-Percent Plan, and military governors were reinstalled. Although it had passed (albeit by a small margin), a scandal began accusing Wade of merely allowing the bill to pass because it had been his suggestion, and not because he felt it was a truly just. The scandal would cost Wade the Republican nomination to Ulysses S. Grant, a moderate who had become popular with the radical Republicans when he handed over the keys to the War Department to Edwin M. Stanton, whose removal had started the scandal behind Johnson’s impeachment.
However, with the passage of the Wade-Davis Bill and the installation of military governors, violence increased in the former Confederacy. Former Confederate officials who had their offices removed from them felt that they had been cheated and the federal government was using its power to ensure rule by Northerners. Others, agitated by the increasing rights of blacks, turned to committing acts of violence against them out of spite. Some saw the quick succession of presidents as a sign that the federal government was not as strong as it seemed, and that the South had another chance at rising again, but they were in the minority. Although Wade had tried to mend it, the Union seemed to be coming apart once again.
It was not until under the presidency of Schuyler Colfax, who realized that amending with the South was forgone and resorted to declaring conventional war and a series of counter-guerilla operations in eliminating Confederate influence from the Southern government. By 1881, all the former Confederate states were readmitted to the Union with South Carolina, the first state to secede from the Union, came last. Although former Confederate elements persists its animosity toward the U.S. government, especially in the form of the terrorist Ku Klux Klan organization, in the centuries to come.
The War on Treason had also significantly impacted American society to transform into a military might in the following decades that led to the foundation of the American Empire.