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Reconstruction Failure Essay

reconstruction failure essay

Example #1

The aftermath of the American Civil War was intended to be a time of hope and unity. As both the North and South had the opportunity to recover from the colossal casualties caused by the war, there was huge political pressure to begin reconstruction and bond the American states together. However, this was easier said than done. On paper, it would appear that reconstruction was well underway. The 13th amendment allowed for the abolishment of slavery that had created an uproar of equality among states.

There was a government aim to rebuild the South on an economic and social level. The 14th amendment was adopted in order to ensure the rights of newly freed slaves. And the 15th amendment was later passed to allow African American men voting rights. Yet the actual events of the reconstruction tell a different story in terms of its success.

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Economically speaking, the South was left in ruins, with little to no industrial base to build from. Northern opportunists used the events to make their own money in the South, of which very little was put back into the land. The most apparent issue with reconstruction was of course the treatment of newly freed African Americans.

Although the new amendments promised social change, they were executed poorly. Black Codes meant that black rights were extremely limited to levels comparable with slavery. Violence also occurred due to social unrest in the South, with the emergence of groups such as the KKK. It was clear that there were many prominent social divides still present after the war.

After the immense pressure of battle had lifted, it was clear that the Southern economy had taken a beating. Its entire grounds for the industry had been wiped out during the course of the Civil War, and the only real hope of substantial income was from the land itself. Southern states were infamous for exporting their wide range of demanded goods that could be produced on the land.

Even so, there had been such a reliance on slavery that many land/ plantation owners could not afford to continue such production. The various landholding classes were left with no option other than to divide up the plantation systems for more manageable paid labor, or simply sell the land on. Even that would prove an issue, however, as the war had brought about a 30% decrease in Southern property value. It was this sort of economic struggle that arguably caused further difficulty for newly freed salves.

Had Congress been able to confiscate plant owner land to be redistributed among the free people, there would have been far more opportunity for African Americans to attain their new social rights. It could have provided them with economic foundations of opportunities and freedoms that they were said to deserve. In many cases the lands were rented by the previous owners to members of the black community that could afford to, allowing them the ability to farm the land.

The South’s economic slump also effected divisions between North and South which did not improve the situation. Soon after the end of the Civil war, many Northern business opportunists saw the money-making potential in the South’s weakened economic state. They hoped to work on behalf of the newly emancipated slaves and set up their own schemes in the much-needed development of industry, in order to exploit the Southern misfortune. At first glance, this looks like it may be beneficial for the South, but very little of the money made was reinvested.

Instead, a majority of the income returned to the North, or with the businesses themselves. This was economically disastrous. The Civil War had cost the South an estimate of 2.98 billion dollars that would never return for the purpose of industrial investment. Soon the Northern opportunists were stifled by the economic downturn in 1873, and departed to take their investment to the West.

The White South was left penniless, with very little opportunity for economic growth. The government’s lack of focus to improve the Southern economy was a huge contraction on the ability of reconstruction. It created economic hardship for those in the South who were already tired after a long war. The social divides created were also wearing, as African Americans could be granted very few developments in true freedom. This was followed by a continued hostile divide between North and South, as Northerners took advantage of the economic misfortune.

Another hugely important downfall to reconstruction after the Civil War was the poor execution of amendments addressing black rights. These were put in place in Southern states between 1865 and 1866 in order to define the new rights and responsibilities of black people. With them, came new opportunities for African Americans, such as the ability to testify in court.

However, the Black Codes had numerous limitations and were far from progressive. Essentially, the Black Codes allowed for the essence of slavery to continue and worked as an excellent legal suppressant of the new black freedom. With the huge shortage of labour on plantations, there was an economic call to boost employment that occurred in the form of the Black Codes.

Black people now had to sign labour contracts with their previous owners in order to attain guaranteed work. If these contracts were broken in any way, the plantation owner was within his legal rights to whip and beat the black worker as punishment. There was a huge lack of working right for black people in comparison to whites at the time. Blacks were still under a great deal of both physical and metaphorical supervision. A far call from the expected freedom that would be granted upon the Union’s victory in the Civil War. It wasn’t just fully grown black men who were targeted for unfair labour.

Young black orphans were often placed into labour schemes at an early age in order to work the land and continue into the future. There was still the sense of ownership that had been present throughout the reign of slavery. Congress had simply not put enough power behind its amendments to truly enforce black freedom. The Black Codes still implemented the huge inequalities without any legal backlash and were a huge downfall in the attempted reconstruction.

An important creation during the beginning of the Reconstruction era was The Freedmen’s Bureau. It was established in 1865 and initiated by Abraham Lincoln, with the aim to enforce the new promised black freedoms and aid the freed slaves in poverty. Bureau agents were intended to establish schools to improve black education, aid the young and old, and settle disputes between whites and blacks. This was another example of the Reconstruction appearing successful on paper. The Bureau’s aims were honorable to black freedoms and appeared very progressive for the time. Yet its achievements were limited to areas such as health and education.

By 1869 there were nearly 3000 schools with around 150,000 pupils that reported to the Bureau. This was of course a huge step forward for African Americans, but with no more than 1000 agents operating in the South, the progress was slow. Furthermore, the assassination of Lincoln saw Southerner Andrew Johnson take the presidency. He was far less interested in participating in the Reconstruction, and his fumbles saw a number of downfalls for the Bureau.

In the Summer of 1865, Johnson ordered nearly all land to be returned to its previous owner, and not shared with the free black people of the South. This decision was met by many protests from the black community who felt cheated by the decision. This had a huge knock-on effect for the freed people. Without the land, they were to remain poor for the majority of the Reconstruction period and forced to work under the White labor force once again. It was a colossal backlash from the government that left a sense of betrayal.

A huge downfall that was evident in the Reconstruction period was seen in the social disorder that followed the Civil War. Violence against newly freed African Americans in the South was not uncommon. The Ku Klux Klan (KKK) was infamous for its militant protest against black rights. Founded between 1865 and 1866 by 6 former confederate army members, the original clan terrorized key areas of black society.

They had a sense of frontier justice, taking matters into their own hands without concerning existing laws or authorities. It became a mission of self-justification and revenge for white supremacy. But, the close nit group’s efforts were perceived as acts of terror to those around them of opposing views.

The murder was a focal point in their acts of violence. In the first years of their creation, nearly a thousand race motivated murders were committed. This took place commonly in the form of lynching. There was a message sent in this form of murder that made it clear to black citizens that they could not prosper as people within Southern society. It acted as a dramatic warning to those who wished to challenge their beliefs. Yet, this kind of hostility was not exclusively intended for black people.

Whites who wished to sympathize or support black people in their freedoms were targeted as a warning to others who wished to intervene. Every aspect of black society was targeted. Black schools and churches were set on fire, homes were broken into, robbing the little possessions black families had, and in some cases black representatives with a grasp at political power were murdered in order to stop blacks from attaining a vote.

This kind of violence continued on through the Reconstruction period. The government made very little effort to intervene with these acts of terror that were set to continue. Congress ultimately were unable to execute any sort of legal aid for the situation. This may be down to fear of causing further unrest between the North and the South. Government intervention may have sparked further conflict and uproar that could have even led to another war. Yet the social mess that followed showed clear failures in reconstruction. Racial tensions showed the clear boundaries of the intended black rights. Fear was the true boundary.

The prospect of violence had black communities anxious to build and develop schools and houses. Any hope for progressive change was put to a complete halt. The social disorder also had whites in conflict with each other, on the beliefs of black freedoms. Violence and social unrest clearly conveyed the failure of the U.S Reconstruction, as racism was further ingrained into the South.

To conclude, the Reconstruction was almost a complete failure. The amendments created to protect black freedoms seemed like a huge step in the right direction, but their terrible execution left social integration at a stand still for the black community. Furthermore, the South’s economic low point made it almost impossible to recover from the hardships of the Civil War. Labour shortages and little to no reliable industry had the South on its knees for income. Northern business opportunists who took advantage of the matter made things worse economically speaking. Their presence also created further tensions between the North and the South. Black Codes were another aspect of the Reconstruction that actually limited the right of newly freed black slaves.

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They limited the new found freedoms to a standard that appeared similar to slavery. Efforts to help reinforce these freedoms such as the Freedmen’s Bureau had positive aims, but lacked the means to truly honor them. Their absence of agents and power made their efforts weak. A final key area of failure in Reconstruction was the social unrest and violence that followed the end of the Civil War.

Groups such as the KKK terrorized the black community to spread a message of fear to those who opposed white supremacy. This continued to grow further tension of opposing views within the white community. A lack of real government intervention meant there was little hope for true Reconstruction.


Example #2

The Failure of Reconstruction In American history, the Civil War helped preserved the Union and helped free the slaves. During the Reconstruction however, there was a lack of political focus and the elimination of the freed slaves newly gained civil liberties failed to bring long-term racial integration.

After the Civil War, the Union needed to bring the South back into the country. They wanted to also make sure that the South was on equal footing meaning that the South’s economy was revived and also help build their landscape back up. Abraham Lincoln first proposed the 10% plan, which had offered an easy and lenient way for Southern states to rejoin the Union.

However, when Lincoln was assassinated, Andrew Johnson, and accused former owner of slaves, became president and created his own plan for Reconstruction. His plan has worked initially however when he became president, former Confederates eventually worked their way in and were elected to the United States Congress. Then, the Republican-dominated Congress had refused to sit with the Southerners.

Congress became more divided and due to this, there were tensions rising and it led to little progress of Reconstruction as well as the impeachment of Andrew Johnson. The Northern states disputed so much that it had sidetracked the Union from any real progress and did not help to bring the South back into Union.

Another cause of the lack of political focus during the Reconstruction was the economic prosperity in the North followed by the Civil War. The Northern states had failed to effectively build the South back up into the Union during Reconstruction. The first unsuccessful part of Reconstruction was seen in 1880.

The difference between the South and the Northeast was similar to that between Russia which at the time was one of the poorest nations in Europe and between Germany which was one of the wealthiest. Also, “long into the 20th century, the South remained a one-party region under the control of a reactionary ruling elite,” (Couvares, 410) that had harbored hatred against the North.

Even in fact, until the 1940’s Tennessee was the one and only state of the confederacy to observe Lincoln’s birthday as a legal national holiday. Another issue of reconstruction was the integration of freed slaves into society, which was another unsuccessful part of Reconstruction. There were several times during Reconstruction when progress was made for freed African Americans. The first was the 13th, 14th, 15th Amendments that guaranteed African Americans certain liberties. In this time period, fourteen African Americans were elected to Congress and several others had served in state and local governments.

However, during this time, the rise of the Klu Klux Klan and other groups of white supremacy groups began to intimidate freed slaves and push back black liberties. Reconstruction after the Civil War was a failure. The North was distracted and at odds over how the effort should be addressed and that did not effectively rebuild the South and bring it back into Union.

Also, although for a time it appeared as if the slaves that were freed would become equal with whites, and racism to end. There were many ineffective efforts to bring the South back into the Union as equal to the North in many ways.


Example #3

The success or the failure of the implementation of a national policy is normally subject to contention. However, the fundamental consent is that if the prime objectives of its implementation are not met, then it is ultimately considered a failure. The reconstruction era refers to the period following the civil war whereby the numerous different affiliations in the government intended to find a solution to the socio-economic and political problems imposed by the civil war, which was characterized by intense disarray and disorder in the government.

The whites from the south opposed all aspects of equality, while blacks were after complete liberty and their own land in the United States, which resulted to riots. The reconstruction era is arguably one of the most divisive periods in the history of the United States and took place during 1865-1877[1].

Many people are of the opinion that the failure of the reconstruction after the civil war can be significantly attributed to black politics, which was commonly referred as Negro government. Foner notes that paradoxically, racism diminished due to the Northern Democratic Appeal. This paper discusses why the reconstruction after the civil war is considered a failure.

The most probable cause of the failure of the reconstruction following the civil war is black legislatures. The court’s intervention also played a significant role in ensuring that the reconstruction of the south failed in the realization of its goals and objectives. Foner is of the opinion that the court was initially reluctant in attempting to solve the controversies associated with the reconstruction.

In addition, the compromise of 1877 can be perceived to be a solution to the disputed presidential election of 1877 played an important role in ending the reconstruction era after the civil war. The banks also had a role in accelerating the failure of the reconstruction of the south after the civil war. This arguably evident by the fact that the Freedman’s Savings bank held large sums of the black’s money, lacking even the money to give to its depositors.

The Freedman’s Savings Bank operations came to a halt. The reduction of the prices of the crops was also a significant contributor to the failure of the reconstruction of the south, because most of the farmers could make a decent living out of their earnings. The depression had adverse effects on commerce and the economic situation, which significantly impaired social mobility for blacks[2].

The reconstruction of the south under the administration of President Lincoln and Johnson are major indicators of the difficulties that were inherent in the quest to reshape the South following the civil war.

There was lack of vision in the north concern the state of south after the civil war, there were intense disputes that existed among the Congress and Presidency with respect to the lines of authority and the fact the southern whites were not willing to offer blacks a significant power position are major indicators of the failure of the reconstruction of the South.

The initial plan of approach the reconstruction of the south appeared to be plausible; however, during the cause of its development, it become ultimately evident that the problems that the southerners were facing were not being solved due to the extreme laws and the ongoing malice not in favor of the previous confederates. The peak of this was when the Comprehensive Amnesty Act was passed by the congress, and was used in the restoration of the full rights of the supporters of the confederates[3].

Over the course of the reconstruction era, states in the south started to elect the Democrats back to power, which served to displace the “carpetbagger governments and inflicting a spirit of fear within the blacks not to vote. By the onset of 1876, the republicans only had three states in the South. At this time, warfare was still an imminent characteristic of the south, which was fostered by the deficit imposed by the mediocre government and depraved by 10-year duration of racial warfare.

It is unfortunate that the internal racial policy was elevated from one position to another. Irrespective of the fact that it condoned severe punishments for any forms of discrimination from the white leaders in the south, it only served to increase the degrading forms of racial discrimination directed at the blacks. The late 19 century saw the prevalence of the Jim Crow laws within the states in the south, which only served to promote segregation through the restriction of the blacks from gaining admittance to the various civic facilities[4].

The basic inference from the above is that the reconstruction of the south was a failure because its objectives were not achieved. This is because there was no commitment from the executive government, no adequate funding for long-term policies to prevent racial violence. In addition, there was fear from the white population concerning the outcomes of equity and the failure of the court intervention to maintain the amendments in the United States Constitution.

  1. Eric, Foner. History, Give Me Liberty!: An American (New York: W. W. Norton & Company Limited, 2010), 56-60
  2. Eric, Foner. History, Give Me Liberty!: An American (New York: W. W. Norton & Company Limited, 2010), 56-60
  3. John, Hope. Reconstruction After the Civil War (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1995). 100
  4. Judith, Peacock. Reconstruction: Rebuilding After the Civil War. (New York: Capstone Press, 2002), 74


Example #4

The Reconstruction of the South was a period where the government decided they needed to solve economic and political problems that had become over the years. I think the Reconstruction Era was a failure for many reasons.

The Era had a goal of allowing freedom and equality for all, abolishing slavery, and restoration of the Union and I don’t feel as though any of those were accomplished. President Lincoln issued a proclamation in 1863 showing his plan, where readmittance of all Southern states would take place after 10% of its voting population had proved its loyalty to the Union.

Lincoln was then assassinated and Johnson took on the plan as the new president, but Congress called for stricter measurements. The proclamation was supposed to be put in place to secure rights for former slaves, and equality, although that issue still seems to be an issue in America today.

The 13th, 14th, and 15th Amendments were all passed in an effort to abolish slavery and make African-Americans feel as though they were equal to whites.

There was such a push by certain groups to abolish slavery, but slaveowners and southerners found many ways around the new rules. Things such as literacy tests and poll taxes were there to make sure things still weren’t equal for African-Americans, although laws were trying to force it. Slaves weren’t educated, nor paid nearly close enough to what they needed to live off of, therefore it was impossible for them to pass literacy tests, and pay the poll taxes which meant they weren’t able to place their vote, and they were still set back by their race. The Republicans believed that for the restoration of the Union to take place, that they’d have to make sure the South wasn’t going to secede once again.

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Along with knowing the Southern states were not going to secede, they demanded an oath of loyalty from 50% of each states voting population. The restoration of states was a well thought out goal but didn’t accomplish all that they were hoping for. In a country with all different views and beliefs, I believe there will always be dispute between groups. I think the Reconstruction Era was a well thought out idea, but not approached in the right ways.

I would consider it a failure, but there were positive aspects of it, such as slaves being freed, and African-Americans gaining the right to vote, if they got lucky. Slaves gained very few rights but still were happy they gained any. Although it brought both negative and positive aspects for people, I think we would be in the same position we’re in right now socially, and economically in America.


Example #5

The political, social and economic conditions after the Civil War defined the goals of Reconstruction. At this time, Congress was divided politically on issues that grew out of the Civil War: readmitting southern states to the Union, rebuilding the south, black equality and deciding who would control the government.

Socially the south was in chaos. Newly emancipated slaves wandered around the south after having left their former masters; the white population was spiritually devastated and uneasy with what lay ahead for them. Economically the south was also, itself, devastated with plantations in ruin, railroads were torn up and the system of slave labor in shambles. Amid post-Civil War chaos, various political groups were scrambling to further their agendas.

First, southern Democrats made up of leaders of the Confederacy and other wealthy southern whites and who dominated the south sought to end what they perceived as future northern domination of the south. Southern Democrats sought to limit the rights of blacks to vote, travel and change jobs, which like slavery, would provide a cheap labor supply for plantations.

Second, the Moderate Republican party wanted to pursue a policy of reconciliation between the north and the south, but at the same time ensure slavery was abolished. Third radical Republicans, which were comprised of northern politicians, were strongly opposed to slavery and unsympathetic to the south and merely wanted to protect newly freed slaves.

The fourth elements were various other groups, abolitionists, and Quakers, who were strongly motivated by principle and the belief inequality in which blacks needed this equality in American society, although they differed in what the nature of that should be. Also at this same time, President Andrew Johnson was striving to unify the nation.


Example #6

In U.S. history, the period (1865–77) that followed the American Civil War and during which attempts were made to redress the inequities of slavery and its political, social, and economic legacy and to solve the problems arising from the readmission to the Union of the 11 states that had seceded at or before the outbreak of war.

Long portrayed by many historians as a time when vindictive Radical Republicans fastened black supremacy upon the defeated Confederacy, Reconstruction has since the late 20th century been viewed more sympathetically as a laudable experiment in interracial democracy.

Reconstruction witnessed far-reaching changes in America’s political life. At the national level, new laws and constitutional amendments permanently altered the federal system and the definition of American citizenship. In the South, a politically mobilized black community joined with white allies to bring the Republican Party to power, and with it a redefinition of the responsibilities of government.

Origins Of Reconstruction

The national debate over Reconstruction began during the Civil War. In December 1863, less than a year after he issued the Emancipation Proclamation, Pres. Abraham Lincoln announced the first comprehensive program for Reconstruction, the Ten Percent Plan. Under it, when one-tenth of a state’s prewar voters took an oath of loyalty, they could establish a new state government. To Lincoln, the plan was an attempt to weaken the Confederacy rather than a blueprint for the postwar South.

It was put into operation in parts of the Union-occupied Confederacy, but none of the new governments achieved broad local support. In 1864 Congress enacted (and Lincoln pocket vetoed) the Wade-Davis Bill, which proposed to delay the formation of new Southern governments until a majority of voters had taken a loyalty oath. Some Republicans were already convinced that equal rights for the former slaves had to accompany the South’s readmission to the Union.

In his last speech, on April 11, 1865, Lincoln, referring to Reconstruction in Louisiana, expressed the view that some blacks — the “very intelligent” and those who had served in the Union army — ought to enjoy the right to vote. Presidential Reconstruction Following Lincoln’s assassination in April 1865, Andrew Johnson became president and inaugurated the period of Presidential Reconstruction (1865–67). Johnson offered a pardon to all Southern whites except Confederate leaders and wealthy planters (although most of these subsequently received individual pardons), restoring their political rights and all property except slaves.

He also outlined how new state governments would be created. Apart from the requirement that they abolish slavery, repudiate secession, and abrogate the Confederate debt, these governments were granted a free hand in managing their affairs.

They responded by enacting the black codes, laws that required African Americans to sign yearly labor contracts and in other ways sought to limit the freedmen’s economic options, and reestablish plantation discipline. African Americans strongly resisted the implementation of these measures, and they seriously undermined Northern support for Johnson’s policies. When Congress assembled in December 1865, Radical Republicans such as Rep, Thaddeus Stevens of Pennsylvania, and Sen.

Charles Sumner from Massachusetts called for the establishment of new Southern governments based on equality before the law and universal male suffrage. But the more numerous moderate Republicans hoped to work with Johnson while modifying his program. Congress refused to seat the representatives and senators elected from the Southern states and in early 1866 passed the Freedmen’s Bureau and Civil Rights Bills.

The first extended the life of an agency Congress had created in 1865 to oversee the transition from slavery to freedom. The second defined all persons born in the United States as national citizens, who were to enjoy equality before the law. A combination of personal stubbornness, fervent belief in states’ rights, and racist convictions led Johnson to reject these bills, causing a permanent rupture between himself and Congress.

The Civil Rights Act became the first significant legislation in American history to become law over a president’s veto. Shortly thereafter, Congress approved the Fourteenth Amendment, which put the principle of birthright citizenship into the Constitution and forbade states to deprive any citizen of the “equal protection” of the laws. Arguably the most important addition to the Constitution other than the Bill of Rights, the amendment constituted a profound change in federal-state relations. Traditionally, citizens’ rights had been delineated and protected by the states.

Thereafter, the federal government would guarantee all Americans’ equality before the law against state violation. Radical Reconstruction In the fall of 1866 congressional elections, Northern voters overwhelmingly repudiated Johnson’s policies. Congress decided to begin Reconstruction anew. The Reconstruction Acts of 1867 divided the South into five military districts and outlined how new governments, based on manhood suffrage without regard to race, were to be established.

Thus began the period of Radical or Congressional Reconstruction, which lasted until the end of the last Southern Republican governments in 1877. By 1870 all the former Confederate states had been readmitted to the Union, and nearly all were controlled by the Republican Party.

Three groups made up Southern Republicanism. Carpetbaggers, or recent arrivals from the North, were former Union soldiers, teachers, Freedmen’s Bureau agents, and businessmen. The second large group, scalawags, or native-born white Republicans, included some businessmen and planters, but most were non slaveholding small farmers from the Southern up-country. Loyal to the Union during the Civil War, they saw the Republican Party as a means of keeping Confederates from regaining power in the South. In every state, African Americans formed the overwhelming majority of Southern Republican voters.

From the beginning of Reconstruction, black conventions and newspapers throughout the South had called for the extension of full civil and political rights to African Americans. Composed of those who had been free before the Civil War plus slave ministers, artisans, and Civil War veterans, the black political leadership pressed for the elimination of the racial caste system and the economic uplifting of the former slaves. Sixteen African Americans served in Congress during Reconstruction — including Hiram Revels and Blanche K. Bruce in the U.S. Senate — more than 600 in state legislatures, and hundreds more in local offices from sheriff to justice of the peace scattered across the South.

So-called “black supremacy” never existed, but the advent of African Americans in positions of political power marked a dramatic break with the country’s traditions and aroused bitter hostility from Reconstruction’s opponents. Serving an expanded citizenry, Reconstruction governments established the South’s first state-funded public school systems, sought to strengthen the bargaining power of plantation labors, made taxation more equitable, and outlawed racial discrimination in public transportation and accommodations.

They also offered lavish aid to railroads and other enterprises in the hope of creating a “New South” whose economic expansion would benefit blacks and whites alike. But the economic program spawned corruption and rising taxes, alienating increasing numbers of white voters. Meanwhile, the social and economic transformation of the South proceeded apace. To blacks, freedom meant independence from white control. Reconstruction provided the opportunity for African Americans to solidify their family ties and to create independent religious institutions, which became centers of community life that survived long after Reconstruction ended.

The former slaves also demanded economic independence. Blacks’ hopes that the federal government would provide them with land had been raised by Gen. William T. Sherman’s Field Order No. 15 of January 1865, which set aside a large swath of land along the coast of South Carolina and Georgia for the exclusive settlement of black families, and by the Freedmen’s Bureau Act of March, which authorized the bureau to rent or sell land in its possession to former slaves. But President Johnson in the summer of 1865 ordered land in federal hands to be returned to its former owners. The dream of “40 acres and a mule” was stillborn.

Lacking land, most former slaves had little economic alternative other than resuming work on plantations owned by whites. Some worked for wages, others as sharecroppers, who divided the crop with the owner at the end of the year. Neither status offered much hope for economic mobility. For decades, most Southern blacks remained property less and poor. Nonetheless, the political revolution of Reconstruction spawned increasingly violent opposition from white Southerners.

White supremacist organizations that committed terrorist acts, such as the Ku Klux Klan, targeted local Republican leaders for beatings or assassination. African Americans who asserted their rights in dealings with white employers, teachers, ministers, and others seeking to assist the former slaves also became targets. At Colfax, Louisiana, in 1873, scores of black militiamen were killed after surrendering to armed whites intent on seizing control of local government. Increasingly, the new Southern governments looked to Washington, D.C., for assistance. By 1869 the Republican Party was firmly in control of all three branches of the federal government.

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After attempting to remove Secretary of War Edwin M. Stanton, in violation of the new Tenure of Office Act, Johnson had been impeached by the House of Representatives in 1868. Although the Senate, by a single vote, failed to remove him from office, Johnson’s power to obstruct the course of Reconstruction was gone. Republican Ulysses S. Grant was elected president that fall. Soon afterward, Congress approved the Fifteenth Amendment, prohibiting states from restricting the right to vote because of race. Then it enacted a series of Enforcement Acts authorizing national action to suppress political violence. In 1871 the administration launched a legal and military offensive that destroyed the Klan. Grant was reelected in 1872 in the most peaceful election of the period.

The End Of Reconstruction Nonetheless, Reconstruction soon began to wane. During the 1870s, many Republicans retreated from both the racial egalitarianism and the broad definition of federal power spawned by the Civil War. Southern corruption and instability, Reconstruction’s critics argued, stemmed from the exclusion of the region’s “best men” — the planters — from power.

As Northern Republicans became more conservative, Reconstruction came to symbolize a misguided attempt to uplift the lower classes of society. Reflecting the shifting mood, a series of Supreme Court decisions, beginning with the Slaughterhouse Cases in 1873, severely limited the scope of Reconstruction laws and constitutional amendments. By 1876 only South Carolina, Florida, and Louisiana remained under Republican control.

The outcome of that year’s presidential contest between Republican Rutherford B. Hayes and Democrat Samuel J. Tilden hinged on disputed returns from these states. Negotiations between Southern political leaders and representatives of Hayes produced a by the turn of the century, a new racial system had been put in place in the South, resting on the disenfranchisement of black voters, a rigid system of racial segregation, the relegation of African Americans to low-wage agricultural and domestic employment, and legal and extralegal violence to punish those who challenged the new order.

Nonetheless, while flagrantly violated, the Reconstruction amendments remained in the Constitution, sleeping giants, as Charles Sumner called them, to be awakened by subsequent generations who sought to redeem the promise of genuine freedom for the descendants of slavery.

Not until the 1960s, in the civil rights movement, sometimes called the “second Reconstruction,” would the country again attempt to fulfill the political and social agenda of Reconstruction. Hayes would recognize Democratic control of the remaining Southern states, and Democrats would not block the certification of his election by Congress (see United States presidential election of 1876). Hayes was inaugurated; federal troops returned to their barracks; and as an era when the federal government accepted the responsibility for protecting the rights of the former slaves, Reconstruction came to an end.

The Failures of Reconstruction However, although Reconstruction was a success in a broad sense, it was a failure in several specific ways. The swift changes in political power in the South rendered useless most of the legislation that Radical Republicans had passed through Congress. Rutherford B. Hayes’s removal of federal troops from the South in 1877 allowed many former Confederates and slave owners to regain power, and this return of power to whites also meant a return to the policy of the old South.

Southern politicians passed the black codes and voter qualifications and allowed the sharecropping system to thrive — all with the support of a conservative U.S. Supreme Court, whose key court rulings in the 1870s and 1880s effectively repealed the Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendments and the Civil Rights Act of 1875. As a result, by 1877, northerners were tired of Reconstruction; weary of battling southern elites, scandal, and radicalism; and had largely lost interest in supporting black civil rights.

Theoretically, North and South reached a compromise: black civil liberties and racial equality would be set aside in order to put the Union back together. As it turned out, blacks would not regain the support of the federal government until the civil rights movement of the 1960s.


Example #6 – Interesting Ideas

Reconstruction was an abysmal failure. This was due largely to the fact that the Republicans attempted to mold the South into a social and political animal more conducive to Republican ideals. Democrats had already suffered a devastating war, brutal occupation by Union forces and were now witnessing an influx of Republicans (carpetbaggers) into the South who were becoming Mayors, Governors, Judges and law enforcement authorities.

Additionally, many Unionists were establishing businesses in the South under the auspices of the Union authorities which limited opportunities for Southerners. Moreover, many of these transplanted Republicans were Blacks. Basically the Union was attempting to exact revenge on the South thinly veiled as “reconstruction.”

The end result was the development of various domestic guerrilla groups aimed at ridding the South of Republicans and reestablishing White dominance over Blacks. The most prolific of these was the KKK. The Sough remained mired in social, economic, and political backwardness for more than a century following the Civil War as a result.

But understand that the US used similar tactics (though far less punitive) in post-war Japan and Germany.

I am assuming you are asking about the American War between the States (not a true Civil War).

Reconstruction failed because, after the Assassination of Abraham Lincoln, Radical Republicans took over power. They were bent more on revenge and retaliation than rebuilding the South. Instead of working to try to create good racial relations, they thrust blacks into power early on, but they didn’t support them.

Tensions continued to boil under the surface and when the controversial election of 1876, compromise led to the end of Reconstruction and the beginning of Jim Crow.

Reconstruction immediately after the Civil War had as its goal the remolding of the old South. There were many problems but chief among them was that the slaves had to be not only freed but allowed to survive. It is not enough to have people be free if they don’t have jobs, food, and places to live.

During the period of Reconstruction it appeared that the freedmen were going to get their “40 acres and a mule” but as so often happens, good intentions were not met by reality. Legally the Federal government could not take land away from plantation owners without due compensation, they had to pay them for it.

On the other hand, where were the freedmen to go if not to their own land? Granted, those who found land and housing, jobs and affluence, often also found leadership positions. Many black ministers who were literate and who understood the basics of politics were elected to office.

However, The real test was to come after the period of Reconstruction ended, roughly 1877. Were the changes made in the lifestyles of the freedmen going to be permanent? The answer is clearly ‘no’. Once Reconstruction ended all of the best intentions ended with it. Freedmen generally ended up back on their former plantations of near-by plantations but now working under a system called ‘sharecropping.’

This system provided them with a house and land to farm and they would ‘share’ their crops with the owner of the land, the former plantation owner. In some ways this was little different than slavery and in some cases it could be worse because there were so few legal protections of the sharecroppers and lynchings were all too common.


Reconstruction Essay Q’n’A

The goals of Reconstruction were to unite the nation, rebuild the South, and protect and assist the freedmen. Although there was initial success, Reconstruction was a failure as Redeemer Governments created racist laws and the KKK terrorized freedmen.
Topic Sentence 1
Andrew Johnson used the 10% Plan Lincoln proposed to reunite the southern states with the North.
First Paragraph Terms
10% Plan, Wade-Davis Bill, Andrew Johnson, 13th Amendment
Topic Sentence 2
The creation of the Freedmens Bureau helped rebuild the south, as well as, protect and assist blacks.
Second Paragraph Terms
Freedmens Bureau, 14th and 15th Amendments, Union League, Woman’s Loyal League, Special Field Order No. 15, Reconstruction Act
Third Paragraph Terms
Black codes, Jim Crow laws, KKK, sharecroppers, scalawags, carpetbaggers, redeemer governments, Reconstruction Act
Topic Sentence 3
Reconstruction failed in protecting blacks and limited their political and economic opportunities.
Wade-Davis Bill
pocket vetoed by Lincoln, proposed by Congress, 50% loyalty to be readmitted
!0% Plan
Johnson used to reunite the nation, required 10% of loyalty for state to be readmitted into the US
13th Amendment
freed the slaves
Andrew Johnson
disenfranchised voters, and pardoned southerners from Civil War crimes
immediately looked for their families separated during slavery
Freedmen’s Bureau
attempted to provide food, clothes, and medicine to freedmen, but was only able to successfully provide education
Women’s Loyal League
provided supplies for women to help in war
Union League
political club for blacks, gave blacks opportunity to be elected into office
14th Amendment
gave blacks civil rights
15th Amendment
black voting rights
Special Field Order No. 15
promised freed slaves land, did not work
threatened and intimidated blacks
Redeemer governments
created racist laws, had more power after Reconstruction Act ended
Black codes
freedmen could not rent or own land leading to sharecroppers
Jim Crow Laws
created literacy tests, and a poll tax, to limit blacks from voting but created the grandfather clause so poor whites could vote
Reconstruction Act
Split the south into five sections and sent troops to each section, protected freedmen
Northerners who came to South and attempted to start businesses, killed by KKK
people who supported the North during the civil war, attacked by KKK but not killed
freedmen worked on previous owners land, and got a small portion of their own, constantly in debt could never leave

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