Black Codes, Corruption of Politics, and Westward Expansion: Analytical Essay

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Table of contents

  1. Introduction:
  2. Black Codes:
  3. Corruption of Politics:
  4. Westward Expansion:
  5. Conclusion:


In the period between the Civil War and the Great Depression often referred to as Reconstruction and then the Gilded Age, many expansions were made in innovation and everyday life. The United States started to lead the world in industrialization, it was a time of massive political and social changes, and it was a time of relative prosperity. But, the people that benefited the most by massive margins were white wealthy business owners so much so that the effects of these times can still be felt today. In this essay, I will talk about how although these times are characterized by gains for all Americans towards a better life, if you were not a wealthy white man before these times your chances of getting out of poverty were slim to none. The examples I chose to illustrate this are Black Codes in the south, The corruption of politics, and Westward expansion.

Black Codes:

After Andrew Johnson took office he was tasked with overseeing reconstruction but instead of carrying out Lincoln’s plan he had formulated his own. Because of Johnson’s strong racist beliefs and his belief in states rights he left the southern states to handle reconstruction as they saw fit (560). As a result, laws were passed by southern government that attempted to bring back legalized slavery with a bit of fluff. These laws were called Black Codes. They allowed black americans things like marriage, ownership of property, and limited access to courts, but denied them the right to testify against whites, to serve on juries, or to vote (561). Possibly the most egregious of these laws was that if a freed slave could not prove they had a labor contract they could be forced to work for white landowners again or put in jail for vagrancy. Jobs offered to blacks at the time were very limited and so many freed slaves ended up right back where they started some even worse off. Another result of these failed reconstruction planned was sharecropping. At the time many freed slaves did not own land so the option of sharecropping was almost their only option at the time. The premise was you would rent land from a landowner who in most cases used to own you and you would work the land and pay the rent of the land with whatever crops you got. Essentially it was slavery, you worked the land, made just enough to pay back the owner, and the rest of the money was used on other debts that the landowner would impose on you. The refusal of southern whites to give up the old ways of slavery robbed freed slaves of their right to freedom and shows that even after the emancipation proclamation slavery was alive and well in the south.

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Corruption of Politics:

As discussed in class, the politics of the gilded age raise many ethical questions about the government at the time and how it was run. “Get rich, dishonestly if we can, honestly if we must,” A quote from The Gilded Age claimed to be the slogan of the time (615). I think this quote really captures the essence of the gilded age, wealthy businessmen seek to change legislature to their advantage and make a buck at anyone's expense except their own. As a result, not many pieces of legislation were passed at the federal level which fueled problems that arose from the economic growth in the United States with no clear direction. Many farmers struggled to get by because of the low cost of food, the working poor were living in unsanitary shacks which spread many illnesses, and even middle class Americans were struggling to make it by tightrope walking on the poverty line. This forced many Americans to quit trusting in the federal government and put faith and resources into local government. All of this will come to a climax during the election of 1876 which I think sets the tone for the rest of the era’s politics. Hayes vs Tilden is regarded as one of the most corrupt and controversial elections to take place in American history. In my opinion, I don’t see any great qualities in either of these candidates except that neither of them were involved in large public scandals in the past 10 years leading up to the election. The democrats fear a large African American turnout and so they rely on groups like the Ku Klux Klan, the Redshirts, and the White League to scare off any black voters at the polls. A great deal of money and backroom deals are used to further both parties political gains and as a result, the election is very close but ultimately through the compromise of 1877 also called the great betrayal Hayes is declared President. The cost being that troops were pulled out of Florida, Louisiana, and South Carolina giving the south back full control of its state laws and brings an end to post civil war reconstruction.

Westward Expansion:

At the end of the Civil War, the settled parts of the United States did not extend much further than the Mississippi. Thought to hold many acres of good farmland it didn’t take long for settlers to start moving west with the help of the US Government. What was not taken into consideration was the effects this would have on the indigenious people living there or how tough farming some of these lands might be. Some prominent images that come to mind when thinking about the west is the numerous small family farms and the iconic cowboy but contrary to popular believe neither of these images are as glorious as you may think. The land out west was unforgiving the the consequences were deadly for many. Poisonous snakes lived in the tall grasses and blizzards, droughts, and dust storms would ravage the area periodically. The burden of these difficulties normally fell on the women (604). On top of this, these farms were rarely profitable and most farmers were living below the poverty line or completely broke and left homeless. The real money to be made in the west was by wealthy white business conglomerates who were the only people with enough capital and man power to effectively cultivate the land and make large profits. Other businesses that prospered in the west included oil, lumber, and tourism again all owned and operated by large corporations. The other result of western expansion is the racial cleansing of the majority of the native American people. During the civil war, many altercations with the native people had already taken place but after the conclusion of the war these fights took on a whole new level of aggression. Starting with the economy of the natives the United States army set out to destroy villages, horses, and especially the buffalo (608). As a result, tribes were broken and natives were put on to reservations as white settlers moved deeper into the west. The reservations would not last long though, for the idea of American freedom did not apply to anyone who was not white and christian and so the government decided to remake the Indian way of life. At young ages, natives were taken from their homes and sent to boarding schools to learn a more “civilized” way of life. Then the most egregious legislature was passed in 1887 named “The Dawes Act”. This act broke up all of the native lands into small farming plots and were given to native families, if they accepted then they would become American citizens and hopefully learn the habits of civilized society. “The policy proved to be a disaster, leading to the loss of much tribal land and the erosion of Indian cultural traditions. Whites however benefited enormously.” White settlers purchased more than 80% of the indians land leaving the natives a fraction of their homeland and sacred sights. If this wasn’t enough the final “battle” between native americans and the united states army was on December 29th, 1890, a group of natives called the ghost dancers were peacefully gathering for days of singing, dancing, and religious observance. This was seen as a possible uprising and on that day soldiers opened fire on the ghost dancers and killed 200 natives most were women and children. The soldiers who were in the “battle” received medals of honor which have still to this day not been rescinded.


Looking through the lense of the white man at the time you may be able to rationalize the three examples I gave above because although these gross atrocities happened to these people it was all in the name of forward progress. But looking at these times from any other view it's easy to see who the real benefactors of all this economic gain is and it is wealthy white men above all others. I chose my three points for specific reasons, the black codes to show the persecution of black americans in the south, westward expansion to show the harsh side of settlement in the west, and the corruption in politics that made this all possible. All these points illustrate a period of great power differences between all minority groups compared to whites. The laws that were passed during this time have created an unequal playing field that still persists in the united states today. Looking at all these examples it's plain to see the government chose white power and money over the wellness of its minority citizens.

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Black Codes, Corruption of Politics, and Westward Expansion: Analytical Essay. (2022, July 14). Edubirdie. Retrieved July 19, 2024, from
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