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America's History in the Making

Reconstructing a Nation

Theme 3

The period known as Reconstruction was shaped by rapid economic, social, and demographic changes.

Republican opposition to slavery was part of a broader commitment to free labor and active federal intervention to expand the nation’s industrial capacity. The Civil War and Reconstruction were, therefore, accompanied by an ambitious program of economic growth and liberal government grants to railroad companies. Indeed, the Republican Party soon turned its attention from the South and the problems of former slaves to the promise of western development.

This program of development was a boon to some people and a disaster for others. Growing numbers of immigrants from Europe and China came to the United States. Here they labored in its factories, worked on its railroads, or tilled its soils. But the indigenous peoples of the Great Plains soon lost their land and their freedom.

Primary Sources

Artifacts

Completing the Transcontinental Railroad, 1869

Andrew J. Russell, JOINING THE TRACKS FOR THE FIRST TRANSCONTINENTAL RAILROAD, PROMONTORY, UTAH, TERR.(1869). Courtesy National Archives and Records Administration.

What Shall We Do with John Chinaman?

Frank Leslie's Illustrated Newspaper, WHAT SHALL WE DO WITH JOHN CHINAMAN? (1869). Courtesy of the Library of Congress.

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