The American Age: United States Foreign Policy at Home and Abroad

By Walter Lafeber | Go to book overview

6
Laying the Foundations for
"Superpowerdom" (1865-1896)

LEGACIES OF THE CIVIL WAR

Americans emerged from the dark shadows of the Civil War as a reluctantly united nation and, in the North, as a supremely confident people. Lincoln and Seward had exerted immense military power to force the South into unconditional surrender. At the same time, they had successfully managed the most delicate of foreign policies. These triumphs consolidated U.S. power and, in the words of historian David P. Crook, allowed the nation "to continue its headlong rush into superpowerdom." 1

But something more than northern power triumphed. An incredible new industrial and communications complex also emerged from the conflict. This complex formed the launch pad for that "rush into superpowerdom" over the next thirty years. Many of the North's business‐ people had not wanted civil war, but once the South seceded, they moved quickly to pass probusiness legislation through Congress. They also took advantage of the nearly bottomless needs of the huge northern armies to make immense profits. When the North's humiliation at the first Battle of Bull Run in mid-1861 indicated that the war would be long, one northern financier confidently predicted a fortune for every person on Wall Street "who is not a natural idiot." 2 A young U.S. businessperson of 1860 lived in a nation that produced hardly any steel and little petroleum. Just forty years later, that person lived in the land

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