Robert Kennedy's United States History Class
Reconstruction and Its Effects
1. list five problems facing the South after the Civil War. Then describe the solution that was attempted for each problem.
2. Do you think that Reconstruction had positive effects on Southern society? Why or why not?
Think About: • the formation of the Ku Klux Klan • the establishment of African American churches and schools • why so many African Americans turned to sharecropping
3. How did the Radical Republicans hope to reconstruct the South?
•Freedmen’s Bureau •Reconstruction •Radical Republicans •Andrew Johnson •Fourteenth Amendment •Fifteenth Amendment •scalawag •carpetbagger •Hiram Revels •sharecropping •Ku Klux Klan (KKK)
Reconstruction and Its Effects
The Politics of Reconstruction:
The need to help former slaves was just one of many issues the nation confronted
after the war. In addition, the government, led by Andrew Johnson, Lincoln’s
vice-president and eventual successor, had to determine how to bring the
Confederate states back into the Union. Reconstruction, the period during
which the United States began to rebuild after the Civil War, lasted from 1865 to
1877. The term also refers to the process the federal government used to readmit the defeated Confederate states to the Union. Complicating the process was the fact that Abraham Lincoln, Andrew Johnson, and the members of Congress all had different ideas about how Reconstruction
should be handled.
Lincoln made it clear that he favored a lenient Reconstruction policy. In December
1863, Lincoln announced his Proclamation of Amnesty and Reconstruction, also known as the
Ten-Percent Plan. Under this plan, the government would pardon all
Confederates—except high-ranking officials and those accused of crimes against
prisoners of war—who would swear allegiance to the Union. As soon as ten percent
of those who had voted in 1860 took this oath of allegiance, a Confederate
state could form a new state government and send representatives and senators
to Congress. Under Lincoln’s terms, four states—Arkansas, Louisiana, Tennessee,
and Virginia—moved toward readmission to the Union.
However, Lincoln’s Reconstruction plan angered a minority of Republicans in
Congress, known as Radical Republicans. The Radicals, led by Senator Charles
Sumner of Massachusetts and Representative Thaddeus Stevens of Pennsylvania,
wanted to destroy the political power of former slaveholders. Most of all, they
wanted African Americans to be given full citizenship and the right to vote.
JOHNSON’S PLAN FOR RECONSTRUCTION
Lincoln was assassinated before he could fully implement his Reconstruction plan. In May 1865, his successor, Andrew Johnson, announced his own plan. Johnson’s plan differed little from
Lincoln’s. The major difference was that Johnson tried to break the planters’
power by excluding high-ranking Confederates and wealthy Southern landowners
from taking the oath needed for voting privileges. However, Johnson also pardoned
more than 13,000 former Confederates because he believed that “white
men alone must manage the South.”
The seven remaining ex-Confederate states quickly agreed to Johnson’s terms.
In the following months, these states—except for Texas—set up new state governments
and elected representatives to Congress. In December 1865, the newly elected
Southern legislators arrived in Washington to take their seats. Congress, however,
refused to admit the new Southern legislators. At the same time, moderate
Republicans pushed for new laws to remedy weaknesses they saw in Johnson’s plan.
In 1866, Congress voted to enlarge the Freedmen’s Bureau and passed the Civil
Rights Act of 1866. That law gave African Americans citizenship and forbade states
from passing discriminatory laws—black codes—that severely restricted African
Americans’ lives. Johnson shocked everyone when he vetoed both the Freedmen’s
Bureau Act and the Civil Rights Act. Congress, Johnson contended, had gone far
beyond anything “contemplated by the authors of the Constitution.”
Angered by Johnson’s actions, radical and moderate Republican factions decided to work together to shift the control of the Reconstruction process from the executive branch to the legislature. In mid-
1866, they overrode the president’s vetoes of the Civil Rights Act and Freedmen’s
Bureau Act. In addition, Congress drafted the Fourteenth Amendment, which
prevented states from denying rights and privileges to any U.S. citizen, now
defined as “all persons born or naturalized in the United States.” This definition was expressly intended to overrule and nullify the Dred Scott decision.
In the 1866 elections, moderate and radical Republicans gained control of
Congress. They joined together to pass the Reconstruction Act of 1867, which did
not recognize state governments—except Tennessee—formed under the Lincoln
and Johnson plans.
The act divided the former Confederate states into five military districts. The
states were required to grant African-American men the vote and to ratify the
Fourteenth Amendment in order to reenter the Union. When Johnson vetoed the
Reconstruction legislation, Congress promptly overrode the veto.
Because the Radicals thought Johnson was blocking Reconstruction, they looked for grounds on which to impeach him. They found grounds when Johnson removed Secretary of War Edwin Stanton from office in 1868. Johnson’s removal of the cabinet member violated the Tenure of Office Act, which stated that a president could not remove cabinet officers during the term of the president who had appointed them without the Senate’s approval. The House impeached Johnson, but he remained in office after the Senate voted not to convict.
U. S. GRANT ELECTED
In the 1868 presidential election, the Civil War hero Ulysses S. Grant won by a margin of only 306,000 votes out of almost 6 million ballots cast. More than 500,000 Southern African Americans had voted. Of this number, 9 out of 10 voted for Grant. The importance of the African-American vote to the Republican Party was obvious. After the election, the Radicals introduced the Fifteenth
Amendment, which states that no one can be kept from voting because of “race, color, or previous condition of servitude.”
The Fifteenth Amendment, which was ratified by the states in 1870,
was an important victory for the Radicals.
Under the congressional Reconstruction program, state constitutional conventions
met and Southern voters elected new, Republican-dominated governments.
By 1870, all of the former Confederate states had completed the process.
However, even after all the states were back in the Union, the Republicans did not
end the process of Reconstruction because they wanted to make economic
changes in the South.
CONDITIONS IN THE POSTWAR SOUTH The war had devastated the South
economically. Southern planters returned home to find that the value of their
property had plummeted. Throughout the South, many small farms were ruined.
The region’s population was also devastated. Hundreds of thousands of Southern
men had died in the war. The Republican governments began public works programs
to repair the physical damage and to provide social services.
POLITICS IN THE POSTWAR SOUTH Another difficulty facing the new
Republican governments was that the three groups that constituted the
Republican Party in the South—scalawags, carpetbaggers, and African
Americans—often had conflicting goals.
Scalawags were white Southerners who joined the Republican Party. Many
were small farmers who wanted to improve their economic position and did not
want the former wealthy planters to regain power. Carpetbaggers were
Northerners who moved to the South after the war. This negative name came
from the misconception that they arrived with so few belongings that they carried
everything in small traveling bags made of carpeting.
The third and largest group of Southern Republicans—African Americans—gained voting rights as a result of the Fifteenth Amendment. During Reconstruction, African-American men registered to
vote for the first time; nine out of ten of them supported the Republican Party. Although many former slaves could neither read nor write and were politically inexperienced, they were eager to exercise their voting rights.
The differing goals of scalawags, carpetbaggers, and African Americans led to
a lack of unity in the Republican Party. In particular, few scalawags shared the
Republican commitment to civil rights for African Americans.
The new status of African Americans required fundamental changes in the
attitudes of most Southern whites. However, many white Southerners refused to
accept blacks’ new status and resisted the idea of equal rights.
FORMER SLAVES IMPROVE THEIR LIVES
Before the Civil War, African Americans had been denied full membership in many churches. During Reconstruction African Americans founded their own churches, which often
became the center of the African American community, and the only institutions
that African Americans fully controlled. Many African American ministers
emerged as influential community leaders who also played an important role in
the broader political life of the country.
With 95% of former slaves illiterate, former slaves required education to
become economically self-sufficient. In most of the Southern states, the first public
school systems were established by the Reconstruction governments. The new
African American churches, aided by missionaries from Northern churches and by
$6 million from the Freedmen’s Bureau, worked to create and run these and other schools. Atlanta, Fisk, and Howard Universities, for instance, were all founded by religious groups such as the
American Missionary Association.
Thousands of African Americans also took advantage of their new freedom by migrating to reunite with family members or to find jobs in Southern towns and cities.
AFRICAN AMERICANS IN RECONSTRUCTION
After the war, African Americans took an active role in the political process. Not only did they vote, but for the first time they held office in local, state, and federal government. Nevertheless, even though there were almost as many black citizens as white citizens in the South, African American
officeholders remained in the minority. Out of 125 Southerners elected to the U.S. Congress during congressional Reconstruction, only 16 were African Americans.
Among these was Hiram Revels, the first African American senator. African Americans also served in political offices on the state and local levels.
In January 1865, General Sherman had promised the former slaves who followed his army 40 acres per family and the use of army mules. For the most part, however, former slaves received no land. Most Republicans considered private property a basic American right, and thus refused to
help redistribute it. As a result, many plantation owners in the South retained their land.
SHARECROPPING AND TENANT FARMING
Without their own land, freed African Americans, as well as poor white farmers, could not grow crops to sell or to use to feed their families. Therefore, economic necessity forced many
former slaves and impoverished whites to become sharecroppers.
In the system of sharecropping, landowners divided their land and assigned each head of household a few acres, along with seed and tools. Sharecroppers kept a
small share of their crops and gave the rest to the landowners. In theory, “croppers” who saved a little might even rent land for cash and keep all their harvest in a system known as tenant farming.
The Collapse of Reconstruction
Most white Southerners swallowed whatever resentment they felt over AfricanAmerican
suffrage and participation in government. Some whites expressed their
feelings by refusing to register to vote. Others were frustrated by their loss of political
power and by the South’s economic stagnation. These were the people who
formed vigilante groups and used violence to intimidate African Americans.
OPPOSITION TO RECONSTRUCTION
The most notorious and widespread of the Southern vigilante groups was the Ku Klux Klan (KKK). The Klan’s goals were to destroy the Republican Party, to throw out the Reconstruction governments, to aid the planter class, and to prevent African Americans from exercising their political
rights. To achieve these goals, the Klan and other groups killed perhaps 20,000
men, women, and children. In addition to violence, some white Southerners
refused to hire or do business with African Americans who voted Republican. To curtail Klan violence and Democratic intimidation, Congress passed a series of Enforcement Acts in 1870 and 1871. One act provided for the federal supervision of elections in Southern states. Another act gave the president the power to use federal troops in areas where the Klan was active.
Although Congress seemed to shore up Republican power with the
Enforcement Acts, it soon passed legislation that severely weakened the power of
the Republican Party in the South. In May 1872, Congress passed the Amnesty
Act, which returned the right to vote and the right to hold federal and state offices
to about 150,000 former Confederates. In the same year Congress allowed the
Freedmen’s Bureau to expire. These actions allowed Southern Democrats to regain
SUPPORT FOR RECONSTRUCTION FADES
Eventually, support for Reconstruction weakened. The breakdown of Republican unity made it even
harder for the Radicals to continue to impose their Reconstruction plan on the
South. In addition, a series of bank failures known as the panic of 1873 triggered
a five-year depression, which diverted attention in the North away from the
South’s problems. The Supreme Court also began to undo some of the social and
political changes that the Radicals had made. Although political violence continued
in the South and African Americans were denied civil and political rights,
Republicans slowly retreated from the policies of Reconstruction.
DEMOCRATS “REDEEM” THE SOUTH
As the Republicans’ hold on the South loosened, Southern Democrats began to regain control of the region. As a result of “redemption”—as the Democrats called their return to power—and a political
deal made during the national election of 1876, congressional Reconstruction
came to an end.
In the election of 1876, Democratic candidate Samuel J. Tilden won the popular
vote, but was one vote short of the electoral victory. Southern Democrats in
Congress agreed to accept Hayes if federal troops were withdrawn from the South.
After Republican leaders agreed to the demands, Hayes was elected, and
Reconstruction ended in the South.
Reconstruction ended without much real progress in the battle against discrimination.
However, the Thirteenth, Fourteenth, and Fifteenth Amendments
remained part of the Constitution. In the 20th century, these amendments provided
the necessary constitutional foundation for important civil rights legislation.