The American Civil War was one of the most divisive conflicts in United States history. Reconstruction, the period that followed the war, was just as controversial. The primary issue during Reconstruction was how to integrate former slaves into American society.
There were a number of different plans proposed for Reconstruction, and ultimately a combination of elements from different plans was implemented. One of the most important aspects of Reconstruction was the establishment of the Freedman’s Bureau. This organization provided food, housing, medical care, and education to former slaves and other African Americans in the South.
The Freedman’s Bureau was opposed by many white Southerners, who felt that it gave too much assistance to African Americans. They also feared that African Americans would gain too much political power during Reconstruction. In the end, Reconstruction was not successful in creating a lasting peace between whites and blacks in the United States. However, it did lay the groundwork for future efforts to improve race relations in the country.
From 1865 to 1877, the United States grappled with the enormous challenge of restoring a nation riven by a Civil War. After the Civil War, much of the south lay in ruins, with many of its major cities totally destroyed and agricultural production stopped. Furthermore, millions of freedmen were unemployed and homeless throughout the South, looking for work or trying to survive on their own.
The north, fresh off its victory in the Civil War, also had to grapple with how to deal with the millions of freed slaves and what role they would play in American society. There was also the task of bringing the seceded states back into the union and reintegrating them into American society.
The issue of slavery had been a major point of contention in America since its founding. The Constitution had enshrined it as legal and while there were many who disagreed with this decision, they were unable to do anything about it until the Civil War presented an opportunity to right this wrong. Reconstruction was America’s chance to finally address the issue of slavery and ensure that all citizens were treated equally under the law.
However, reconstruction was not without its challenges. The most immediate challenge was how to deal with the millions of freed slaves. There was also the question of what role they would play in American society and whether they would be able to assimilate into mainstream culture. Additionally, there were political divisions within the country over the issue of reconstruction. These divisions often led to violence and bloodshed, as was seen in the 1866 election riots in New York City.
In spite of these challenges, America was able to rebuild itself and ensure that all citizens were treated equally under the law. Reconstruction was a difficult and challenging time for America, but it ultimately resulted in a stronger and more united country.
The 14th Amendment, which was supposed to guarantee full political rights for African Americans, gave the Southern government the leeway to deny blacks their voting right. As a result, the 15th Amendment had to be written and passed, giving every male citizen of age the right to vote. Despite this, many whites continued to withhold their ballots from blacks using “sophisticated dodges” (p. 496).
Jim Crow laws were a “segregation of the races in public places” that began in the South but slowly became adopted by other parts of America as well (p. 496). These laws not only segregated blacks and whites in public places, but also made it harder for blacks to vote by implementing poll taxes and literacy tests. Blacks during this time were also subject to lynching, which was defined as “the extrajudicial killing of a person suspected of crime or supposed to be a danger to the community” (p. 497).
The Ku Klux Klan was a white supremacy group that used violence and intimidation against blacks in order to keep them from voting and participating in society. Reconstruction was a difficult time for blacks in America, as they were constantly fighting for their rights in a country that was supposed to be free.
Furthermore, though the Supreme Court was unaffected during Reconstruction, when southern representatives were sent to Congress “on the first day of the congressional session,” December 4, 1865, they slammed shut Republicans slammed shut the door in the faces of newly elected Southern delegations” (p. 488) in dread of losing their advantage in congress.
This exclusion of the South from the halls of government only deepened the feeling of alienation and betrayal in the white south. The black codes, which were a set of “laws passed by southern states in 1865 and 1866 to control African Americans’ labor and lives” (p. 489) also served as a harbinger of things to come for blacks during Reconstruction. These laws placed restrictions on blacks that made it difficult for them to find work, own property, or move about freely, essentially relegating them to a position of second-class citizenship.
It was not long before violence began to break out across the South as whites sought to reassert their dominance over the newly freed slaves. In May of 1866, whites in Memphis, Tennessee went on a three-day rampage that left 46 blacks dead and many more injured. The following month, a similar massacre occurred in New Orleans, leaving 37 dead and over 100 wounded. In both cases, the perpetrators were never brought to justice.
The situation was made even worse by the fact that the federal government did little to protect southern blacks from this violence. In fact, President Andrew Johnson actually pardoned many of the whites who had participated in the riots, further inflaming racial tensions.
Reconstruction was a time of great turmoil in the United States. It was also a time of great progress for African Americans. Despite the many challenges they faced, blacks were able to gain some measure of equality during this period. Unfortunately, this progress was short-lived, as the country soon reverted back to its old ways once Reconstruction came to an end.