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Robert Kennedy's United States History Class

Study Guide

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?

4. Identifications:

•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.




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.




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.


Reconstructing Society


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.




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.



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.




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.




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

political power.




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.




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.