At the close of the American Civil War in 1865, the United States’ government was faced with the tremendously difficult problem of re-integrating the Confederate States into the Union. Between 1865 and 1877 this problem was addressed by various forms of “Reconstruction,” programs whose goals also included the rebuilding of the ravaged Southern economy, and the integration of freed slaves and other African Americans into citizenship and culture at large. Complicated by an incompetent president, corruption, and a backlash by southern culture, the success of Reconstruction as far as achieving its objectives is questionable. If we, however, look at the Reconstruction’s achievements in culturally relative terms, we will see that it truly did make progress and pave the way for an eventual return to normalcy. The first obstacle that Reconstruction faced was the very president who started it, Andrew Johnson. Johnson became president following the assassination of Abraham Lincoln in May of 1865.
Johnson announced a new plan for Reconstruction, canceling out Lincoln’s plan, within a month of the assassination, and without consulting Congress. (Boyer, et al. , The Enduring Vision, 574) This action marked the beginning of a conflict between the president and Congress, Radical Republicans in particular. The conflict eventually resulted in increased difficulties for Reconstruction.
Johnson’s Reconstruction led to the pardoning of approximately 13, 000 former Confederates and wealthy Southerners. These groups helped write the so-called “Black Codes,” a set of laws which left the freedmen some basic rights gained by the 13 th Amendment but which essentially kept former slaves from being truly liberated. (Boyer, et al. , 575-576) Confronted with a president whose Reconstruction plans were viewed as feeble, moderate and radical republican factions joined forces. The new coalition worked together to overturn the black codes with Lyman Trumbull’s Supplementary Freedmen’s Bureau bill. Johnson vetoed this bill and went on to veto the Civil Rights Act of 1866 as well, claiming that it would “operate in favor of the colored and against the white race.” The coalition Congress overrode both of these vetoes and six more after that.
... for Reconstruction, but after his assassination the nation had to create new plans. The poor relationship between a Republican Congress and the Democratic President ... branches of government. Johnson used the power of the veto more than twice as often as any former president. Also, President Johnson was not an ...
Although the Republicans managed to get their agenda through, the schism caused by Johnson’s confusing actions made things significantly more difficult. (Boyer, et al. , 576-577, 580) Corruption soured southerners against Republican efforts. According to Boyer, Republican rule could be seen as “the most stupendous system of organized robbery in history.” (589) In Louisiana, for example, the governor stole state funds and corruption accompanied every government transaction. It can easily be imagined that Southern Democrats noticed and resented this profiteering.
Corruption extended to the presidential level under the rule of President Grant, as well. Known as “Grantism,” bribery, scandal, and profiteering were characteristic of this time period. The wide-spread corruption led to the formation of the Liberal Republican faction. The Liberals served to make the political scene even more chaotic and opposed Reconstruction, claiming that it had already achieved its goal and that it was only serving to spawn more corruption.
(Boyer, 589) Another obstacle to Reconstruction was the backlash of southern anti-black culture against the newly imposed legislation freeing and enfranchising African-Americans. As early as 1865, directly after the war, the Freedman’s Bureau was reporting acts of terrorism against blacks. (Boyer, 590) Vigilante groups sprung up all across the former Confederacy, and the notorious Ku Klux Klan developed into the most wide-spread. By 1868, Klan chapters existed in every southern state. (Boyer, 590) Actions by the Klan, such as night raids, served to intimidate the black populace and prevent them from voting. The Klan also leveled their fury against Republicans, Freedman’s Bureau officials, and successful blacks.
... North. Reconstruction was an expensive policy and was growing more and more unpopular. Republicans leaders ... Klan organized what it called "rifle clubs" which drilled and practiced shooting in public view. They left the impression that any Black ... Reconstruction Period. Reconstruction was a federal policy established immediately after the South surrendered; it was an attempt to create a new Southern ...
Condemned by Republican legislatures and in violation of many laws, the Klan was able to continue its terrorism because the militias couldn’t enforce the law and local governments wouldn’t convict the wrong-doers. The government would have needed to provide a large military presence in the South to truly prevent the Klan from their crimes, but in fact, the opposite occurred and troops were gradually withdrawn. (Boyer, 590-591) The Klan’s actions, in my eyes, proved to be the biggest obstacle to Reconstruction because no matter what Reconstruction measures managed to get passed, the Klan was there to render it at least partially ineffective. In addition to the rise of anti-black vigilante-ism in the South and the schism in the Republican Party caused by the Liberal Republicans and Grantism, two more factors played roles in the end of Reconstruction. The first was an economic crisis caused by rampant speculation and which fed into a long dispute over currency that started with the fiscal disorder following the war. The “Money Question” of the 1870’s essentially concerned whether American currency should be backed by gold or silver, but it was captivating enough, as Boyer tells us, to distract politicians and voters from the Southern Question.
(603) The final factor in the ending of Reconstruction was the stance that the Supreme Court took on several pieces of Reconstruction legislation. For example, the decision in Ex Parte Milligan (1866) that “a military commission established by the President or Congress could not try civilians in areas remote from war where the civil courts were functioning” seriously undercut the Supplementary Freedmen’s Bureau Act. (Boyer, 603) The Supreme Court followed that decision with the 1873 decision in the Slaughterhouse cases. This decision created the concept of dual citizenship, which declared that each American was simultaneously citizen to the Nation and to his or her respective State, and that the 14 th Amendment only protected rights of National citizenship, effectively rendering the 14 th Amendment null. (Boyer, 603-604) In the end, the myriad forces lined up against Reconstruction proved too much. By 1876, Democrats had regained control of the South and northerners had more or less forgotten about Reconstruction.
... but as the Americans would soon discover, a larger test was still to come with the reconstruction of the South. The post-war ... acres of abandoned land to freed blacks and white refugees. The Bureau experienced great success in education, but it failed at ... of being ruled by blacks, and the insult of federal intervention in their local affairs. BIBLIOGRAPHY Foner, Eric. Reconstruction. [Online] Available ...
The “redemption” of the southern Democrats led to the repeal of many Reconstruction programs and legislation, and helped restore the plantation aristocracy to power. The Reconstruction era came to an end in 1877 when Rutherford B. Hayes, thanks to political negotiations required for him to win the election of 1876, gave the Democrats a number of concessions while the Democrats forgot their end of the bargain which included treating southern blacks fairly. (Boyer, 608) How should history judge the Reconstruction? Was it a failure or a success? The easy answer would be to point at the various shortcomings of Reconstruction and call it a failure.
After all, many feel that blacks are still second-class citizens to this day. In fact, it wasn’t until the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960’s that blacks gained a position of full equality according to the law. Reconstruction’s goal of securing blacks political equality and total integration into American society was certainly not met during the Reconstruction era. Some would even say that with the “redemption” of Southern Democrats the Reconstruction hardly accomplished anything. I, however, view things differently.
To define success or failure in terms of achieving all of one’s goals is a narrow view. Indeed, according to such a view, hardly any political programs could be considered a success. With the Reconstruction, the obstacles were huge. Roadblocks such as Johnson’s political ineptitude, the corruption of politicians, and the anti-black culture of the South were the largest, and were almost insurmountable, impeding change at every turn. On top of that, there were certainly plenty of Northerners who didn’t care about the fate of the African-American, and the aforementioned financial crises and Supreme Court decisions didn’t make things easier. In the face of all of these obstacles, the Reconstruction still accomplished much.
By the end of Reconstruction, the South had regained “home rule” and been re-integrated into America. Reconstruction built roads, bridges, and public buildings as well as creating institutions to care for orphans, the insane and the disabled. (Boyer, 589) Government employees were getting paid more, state militia were formed, and a public-school system was created in the South. According to Prof. Paul Harvey of the University of Colorado, literacy rates for Southern blacks shot up between 1875 and 1900.
... hand, however, Wright uses the chain gang to demonstrate that black Americans receive unfairly harsh treatment from their country’s justice system ... , from early childhood to about age twenty-nine. “Black Boy (American Hunger): A Record of Childhood and Youth”, begins on a ... Richard Wright’s autobiographical book entitled “Black Boy (American Hunger): A Record of Childhood and Youth”, explored many of ...
On top of all of these positive consequences, and regardless of the degree to which they were enforced, the 13 th and 14 th Amendments freed the slaves in writing and granted them citizenship. They served as the groundwork upon which the Civil Rights Movement would build 100 years later. With these positive consequences in mind, it seems to me that Reconstruction not only was a success, but was a success despite the numerous factors working against it. Its legacy in history should be a positive one, one that we could look towards as a model. BIBLIOGRAPHY Boyer, Paul S. , et al, The Enduring Vision: A History of the American People, Houghton Mifflin Company, New York 2005 Cobbs Hoffman, Elizabeth, Gj erde, Jon, Major Problems in American History: Volume II: Since 1865.
Houghton Mifflin Company, New York 2002.