When General Lee surrendered to the Union army in the Appoint Courthouse on April 9, 1865, the period of Reconstruction began. The Civil War had settled the issue of slavery and the question of states’ rights, but several problems remained in the torn nation. First, the Union had to be successfully reunited and control of the Southern states’ governments had to be nurtured back to the national consensus. Second, the South was in a social chaos. Southerners’ spirits had been broken by the war, and the pervasive issue of racism still had to be addressed.
Newly emancipated slaves were without refuge, had little education, and their economic status was uncertain. Third, the South was in economic shambles: all of the wealth invested in slaves was gone, plantations lay in ruins, and railroads and cities were torn to shreds by the Union army. Both the presidency and Congress passed several reforms to attempt to solve all of these problems, however the progress that was made during Reconstruction was for the most part shot down by the Compromise of 1877. The Civil War left the South in ruins.
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Once beautiful plantations were torn apart, and cities were burnt to the ground. Economic investment in banks, factories, or any other business were squandered, mostly due to General Sherman march. Transportation was completely disrupted, and the entire economy Of the South essentially came to a halt. Most devastating to the South’s economic problems was the loss of billions in economic of slaves, which were wiped away by emancipation. Southerners were bitter, some were homeless, and Union troops occupied the South as it would a conquered territory.
Yet somehow, a feeling of loyalty to the Union had to be restored among Southerners. President Lincoln made it his goal to restore the Union as quickly as possible. On December 9, 1863, he proclaimed the war was a rebellion of individuals, and that the states had never actually seceded. Therefore, he offered pardon to “any adherents of the Confederacy who would take the oath to support The Constitution of the United States, and the union of the States thereunto. ” Under the condition that ten percent of the voters in a rebelling state should take this oath and slavery be abolished, a state government could be established and it would be readmitted into the Union. President Lincoln plan was very lenient towards the South, but it did ensure a quick restoration of the Union. This plan, however, angered the addict Republicans, the majority in Congress. Radical Republicans were very unsympathetic toward the South, not only wanting the restoration of the Union and the abolition of slavery, but also guaranteed protection for the freedmen.
They also aimed to retain their majority in Congress, and to punish the South for the havoc it created. Under the presidential plan, Southerners could vote Democratic and restore power to ex-Confederates and other wealthy Southern whites, therefore rendering the war meaningless to the radical Republicans. To oppose the presidential plan, Congress passed the Wade-Davis bill on July 2, 1864. This bill called for significant reconstruction in the rebelling states “by untrusting the reconstruction of a state not to a minority ready for future loyalty, but to a majority whose Unionism was a matter of past conduct. Specifically, if a majority of voters swore allegiance to the Union, a convention of loyal persons would be responsible to draw up a new state constitution. However, no one who had held office or had fought under the Confederacy would be permitted to vote or serve as a delegate to a state constitutional convention. The new state constitution must abolish slavery ratify the Thirteenth Amendment), discard the debts of the Confederacy, and entail that no ex-Confederate may vote or hold office.
Lincoln vetoed the Wade-Davis bill, but gave Southern states the option of selecting his plan or the congressional plan for reconstruction. Naturally, Southerners opted for the former, and by December 1865, all rebelling states successfully reconstructed under the presidential plan (inherited by Andrew Johnson after the assassination of Lincoln). The Radical Republicans’ fears were confirmed when Southern voters elected mostly ex-Confederates and wealthy Southern Democrats to Congress. Also, Southern state legislatures passed the Black Codes, essentially making the Negro a slave in everything but name.
Blacks were denied ordinary citizenship rights: they weren’t allowed to vote, and there were no provisions for their education and economic protection. Northern Republicans felt cheated. The South thought that Reconstruction was complete, but the Radical Republicans, “having made so many painful sacrifices, would [not] let itself be tricked out of what it had spent so much trouble and perseverance to win. ” Congress rejected the President and the South’s notion that it had been constructed, and it refused to seat the newly elected delegates from the former Confederate states.
Congress continued to assert its own reconstruction plan and acquired the new goal of seeking full equality and suffrage for blacks. This new goal had arisen based on humanitarian and political concerns, especially after the passage of the Black Codes in 1865. Blacks were being extremely persecuted in the South, and Northerners had become increasingly sympathetic following numerous incidents in which innocent blacks were harassed, beaten, and killed. Also, Republicans believed that the enfranchisement of black males would provide a backbone or the Republican party in the South, preventing Southern Democrats from gaining power.
One congressman talked of the Radical Republican’s plans: “It prevents the States from going into the hands of the rebels, and giving them the President and the Congress for the next forty years. ” In 1866, Congress passed the Civil Rights Act, which President Johnson vetoed, but Congress passed it over his veto. This act protected the rights of the freedmen from the Black Codes, extended suffrage to blacks, and extended the life of the Freedman’s Bureau. The Freedman’s Bureau was the most important institution during the
Reconstruction era. “It provided relief, gave out land, organized schools, helped make fair labor contracts, and generally tried to help blacks and whites live together in peace. ” The Bureau helped freedmen adjust to their new way of life, and also taught whites to treat them as free citizens. It helped solve disputes among freedmen and whites and set up freedmen ‘s courts. In four years, 21 million rations of food were handed out, forty-six hospitals were set up, and five million dollars were spent in setting up schools for former slaves.
Blacks saw education as the only true route to freedom, ND black children as well as their mothers and fathers were eager to learn how to read and write, a skill exclusive only to rich white families before the war. The continuance of the Freedman’s Bureau was a huge victory for the blacks and the Republicans, but there were still more issues to be faced. Johnny’s growing anger and continual vetoes swayed the more conservative and moderate Republicans toward the left. President Johnson urged voters to oust the radical Republicans from their seats in the midterm elections in 1866, but voters only elected more Radicals to Congress.
The tide ad turned, and Congress began to show that it would take over Reconstruction from the President. Congress appointed a committee of fifteen to handle Reconstruction. Repeatedly, Congress would pass Reconstruction Acts and the President would veto them, but Congress would pass the bill over the veto. By March of 1867, Congress passed laws regulating the Reconstruction of the former Confederate states. The first of these acts divided the South into five military districts in which military governors would have supreme powers in maintaining order and protecting rights of the freedmen.
Next, Congress denounced the residential Reconstruction plan and passed a law incorporating the Wade- Davis bill and black suffrage. Finally, once a state constitution was drawn up under the provisions of the Wade-Davis bill guaranteeing black suffrage and the state ratified the Fourteenth Amendment (guaranteed civil rights for all), its members would be accepted into Congress, thus completing Reconstruction. By 1870, the Union was restored under the congressional plan. Blacks made several political advancements once gaining suffrage, electing several black officials both to Congress and to state legislatures.
Although lacks made up a majority in five states, only in South Carolina did they elect a majority of blacks to the legislature. Whites still played a dominant role in government, but not to the supreme extent that they did before black suffrage. Now that blacks had gained political rights, they still sought jobs, homes, and education. Since blacks did not own land, they became wage workers under their former masters immediately following the Civil War. Neither blacks nor whites enjoyed this system, however, as blacks still faced the same conditions as they did under slavery and whites had to pay out capital that they did not eve.
To solve these problems, a system of sharecropping was developed. Under sharecropping, blacks (or poor whites) would farm on a small plot of land leased by a planter, pledging a certain amount of crops to the landlord before each season as payment for the usage of the land. Often, after bad seasons, sharecroppers slipped into a debt that they could never pay off. “Thus, the sharecroppers were semiautomatics, but remained tied to the landlord’s will for economic survival. ” This system prevailed through most of the South, and it unfortunately led to the disintegration of the rights gained by blacks under congressional
Reconstruction. One Southern governor said of sharecropping, “The Negro skins the land and the landlord skins the Negro. ” Southern Democrat landlords would threaten to evict sharecroppers if they voted Republican, leading to the gradual loss of the Negroes political right. Blacks were forced to rely on the Radical Republicans and Federal troops to give them their rights, and they maintained their rights through the period of occupation. The leaders of the Reconstruction did not give full acknowledgement to this problem of economic servitude.
It was inevitable that once troops were outdrawn, blacks would lose their rights, so Congress was faced with two options to stabilize the economic condition Of the freedmen. One option was to seize land from the wealthiest Southern planters and distribute forty acres and a mule to each newly freed black male. The other option was to establish the Freedman’s Bureau as a permanent institution and allot to it its own budget so it could set and enforce a minimum wage. However, Congress did not address the issue, and the Freedman’s Bureau ceased operations in 1870, after only five years of operation with only a five million dollar budget.
After 870, the black man remained as much of a slave as before the war: uneducated and landless. The Force Acts, passed in 1870 and 1871 , attempted to ensure blacks weren’t prevented their vote by force, but it was loosely enforced after 1875. In the absence of an economic base for blacks, the political successes of Reconstruction were essentially wiped out. In the Compromise of 1877, Republicans agreed to withdraw troops from the South, thereby ending the era of Reconstruction. Blacks could no longer rely on these troops for protection.
All advances that were made for blacks under Reconstruction were wiped out by the Compromise of 1877. White supremacy grew, and more and more hate crimes reminded blacks of their inferior social position. The UK Klux Klan used violence to keep both black and white Republicans from voting. The number of elected black officials decreased to zero as blacks were kept from voting by good character tests, poll taxes, literacy tests, grandfather clauses, and intimidation. The comprehensive Jim Crow laws took prevalence in the South, segregating steamboats, toilets, restaurants, drinking fountains, and any other public place.
Any protest by blacks resulted in quick death or torture by white pharmacists, who undoubtedly went unpunished. All-white juries would not convict fellow whites, and the U. S. Supreme Court even declared the Force Acts unconstitutional. Republican president Hayes stated that he would leave the Southern blacks’ rights in the hands of the Southerners themselves, and it was apparent that he would not enforce the Fourteenth or Fifteenth Amendments. Reconstruction is referred to by many historians as “The Tragic Era” or “The Age of Hate” because of the general mood that the nation felt as a result of a devastating war and compromising solutions.