In the history of the United States, the term Reconstruction Era has two senses: the first covers the complete history of the entire U.S. from 1865 to 1877 following the Civil War; the second sense focuses on the transformation of the Southern United States from 1863 to 1877, as directed by Washington, with the reconstruction of state and society. Although in strict terms Reconstruction ended in 1877, the phrase "Reconstruction Era" includes more eclectically, in certain contexts, several years even after the disputed presidential election of 1876, with respect to pockets of the Deep South where Republicans continued to hold sway.
Reconstruction freed and enfranchised African Americans, giving them the right to vote for the first time in 1867.
|Other names||Reconstruction; Radical Reconstruction|
|Participants||President Abraham Lincoln
President Andrew Johnson
President Ulysses S. Grant
President Rutherford B. Hayes
|Date||January 1, 1863to March 31, 1877|
New Orleans Riot
South Carolina Riots
In the history of the United States, the term Reconstruction Era has two senses: the first covers the complete history of the entire U.S. from 1865 to 1877 following the Civil War; the second sense focuses on the transformation of the Southern United States from 1863 to 1877, as directed by Washington, with the reconstruction of state and society. Although in strict terms Reconstruction ended in 1877, the phrase "Reconstruction Era" includes more eclectically, in certain contexts, several years even after the disputed presidential election of 1876, with respect to pockets of the Deep South where Republicans continued to hold sway.
From 1863 to 1869, Presidents Abraham Lincoln, and Andrew Johnson (who became president on April 15, 1865) took a moderate position designed to bring the South back to normal as soon as possible, while the Radical Republicans (as they called themselves) used Congress to block the moderate approach, impose harsh terms, and upgrade the rights of the Freedmen (former slaves). The views of Lincoln and Johnson prevailed until the election of 1866, which enabled the Radicals to take control of policy, remove former Confederates from power, and enfranchise the Freedmen. A Republican coalition came to power in nearly all the southern states and set out to transform the society by setting up a free labor economy, with support from the Army and the Freedmen's Bureau. The Radicals, upset at President Johnson's opposition to Congressional Reconstruction, filed impeachment charges but the action failed by one vote in the Senate. President Ulysses S. Grant supported Radical Reconstruction and enforced the protection of African Americans in the South through the use of the Force Acts passed by Congress. President Grant used both the U.S. Justice Department and the U.S. military to suppress white insurgency and support Republican reconstructed states. Southern Democrats, who strongly opposed African American equality to whites, alleged widespread corruption, counterattacked and regained power in each state by 1877. President Rutherford B. Hayes blocked efforts to overturn Reconstruction legislation.
The deployment of the U.S. military was central to the establishment of Southern Reconstructed state governments and the suppression of violence against black and white voters. Reconstruction was a significant chapter in the history of civil rights in the United States, but most historians consider it a failure because the region became a poverty-stricken backwater and whites re-established their supremacy, making the Freedmen second-class citizens by the start of the 20th century. Historian Eric Foner argues, "What remains certain is that Reconstruction failed, and that for blacks its failure was a disaster whose magnitude cannot be obscured by the genuine accomplishments that did endure."
In the different states Reconstruction began and ended at different times; federal Reconstruction finally ended with the Compromise of 1877. In recent decades most historians follow Foner (1988) in dating the Reconstruction of the South as starting in 1863 (with emancipation) rather than 1865; the usual ending has always been 1877. Reconstruction policies were debated in the North when the war began, and commenced in earnest after the Emancipation Proclamation, issued on January 1, 1863.
Reconstruction policies were implemented when a Confederate state came under the control of the US Army. President Abraham Lincoln set up reconstructed governments in several southern states during the war, including Tennessee, Arkansas, and Louisiana. He experimented with giving land to former slaves in South Carolina. Following Lincoln's assassination in April 1865, President Andrew Johnson tried to follow Lincoln's policies and appointed new governors in the summer of 1865. Johnson quickly declared that the war goals of national unity and the ending of slavery had been achieved, so that reconstruction was completed. Republicans in Congress refused to accept Johnson's terms and rejected the new members of Congress elected by the South; in 1865 and 1866, they broke with the president. A sweeping Republican victory in the 1866 Congressional elections in the North gave the Radical Republicans enough control of Congress to override Johnson's vetoes and began what is called "Radical Reconstruction" in 1867. Congress removed civilian governments in the South in 1867 and put the former Confederacy under the rule of the U.S. Army. The army conducted new elections in which the freed slaves could vote, while whites who had held leading positions under the Confederacy were temporarily denied the vote and were not permitted to run for office.
In ten states, coalitions of freedmen, recent black and white arrivals from the North (carpetbaggers), and white Southerners who supported Reconstruction (scalawags) cooperated to form Republican biracial state governments. They introduced various reconstruction programs, including the founding of public schools in most states for the first time, and the establishment of charitable institutions. They raised taxes, which historically had been low as planters preferred to make private investments for their own purposes; offered massive aid to support railroads to improve transportation and shipping. Conservative opponents charged that Republican regimes were marred by widespread corruption. Violent opposition towards freedmen and whites who supported Reconstruction emerged in numerous localities under the name of the Ku Klux Klan (KKK), a secret vigilante organization, which led to federal intervention by President Ulysses S. Grant in 1871 that suppressed the Klan. White Democrats calling themselves "Redeemers" regained control state by state, sometimes using fraud and violence to control state elections. A deep national economic depression following the Panic of 1873 led to major Democratic gains in the North, the collapse of many railroad schemes in the South, and a growing sense of frustration in the North.
The end of Reconstruction was a staggered process, and the period of Republican control ended at different times in different states. With the Compromise of 1877, Army intervention in the South ceased and Republican control collapsed in the last three state governments in the South. This was followed by a period that white Southerners labeled Redemption, in which white-dominated state legislatures enacted Jim Crow laws and (after 1890) disenfranchised most blacks and many poor whites through a combination of constitutional amendments and electoral laws. The white Democrat Southerners' memory of Reconstruction played a major role in imposing the system of white supremacy and second-class citizenship for blacks, known as the age of Jim Crow.
Reconstruction addressed how the eleven seceding states would regain self-government and be reseated in Congress, the civil status of the former leaders of the Confederacy, and the Constitutional and legal status of freedmen, especially their civil rights and whether they should be given the right to vote. Violent controversy erupted throughout the South over these issues.
The laws and constitutional amendments that laid the foundation for the most radical phase of Reconstruction were adopted from 1866 to 1871. By the 1870s, Reconstruction had officially provided freedmen with equal rights under the constitution, and blacks were voting and taking political office. Republican legislatures, coalitions of whites and blacks, established the first public school systems and numerous charitable institutions in the South. Beginning in 1874, however, there was a rise in white paramilitary organizations, such as the White League and Red Shirts in the Deep South, whose political aim was to drive out the Republicans. They also disrupted political organizing and terrorized blacks to bar them from the polls in Louisiana, Mississippi, North and South Carolina. From 1873 to 1877, conservative white Democrats (calling themselves "Redeemers") regained power in the states.
In the 1860s and 1870s the terms "radical" and "conservative" had distinctive meanings. "Conservatism" in this context generally indicates the mindset of the ruling elite of the planter class. Many leaders[clarification needed] who had been Whigs were committed to modernization. Most of the "radical" Republicans in the North were men who believed in free enterprise and industrialization; most were also modernizers and former Whigs. The "Liberal Republicans" of 1872 shared the same outlook except they were especially opposed to the corruption they saw around President Grant, and believed that the goals had been achieved so that the federal intervention could now end.
Passage of the 13th, 14th, and 15th Amendments is the constitutional legacy of Reconstruction. These Reconstruction Amendments established the rights that, through extensive litigation, led to Supreme Court rulings starting in the early 20th century that struck down discriminatory state laws. A "Second Reconstruction", sparked by the Civil Rights Movement, led to civil rights laws in 1964 and 1965 that protected and enforced full civic rights of African Americans.
Reconstruction played out against a backdrop of a once prosperous economy in ruins. The Confederacy in 1861 had 297 towns and cities with a combined population of 835,000; of these, 162 locations with 681,000 total residents were at one point occupied by Union forces. Eleven were destroyed or severely damaged by war action, including Atlanta, Georgia; Charleston, South Carolina; Columbia, South Carolina; and Richmond, Virginia; these eleven contained 115,900 people in the 1860 census, or 14% of the urban South. The number of people who lived in the destroyed towns represented just over 1% of the Confederacy's combined urban and rural populations. In addition, 45 courthouses were burned (out of 830), destroying the documentation for the legal relationships in the affected communities.
Farms were in disrepair, and the prewar stock of horses, mules and cattle was much depleted; two-fifths of the South's livestock had been killed. The South's farms were not highly mechanized, but the value of farm implements and machinery in the 1860 Census was $81 million and was reduced by 40% by 1870. The transportation infrastructure lay in ruins, with little railroad or riverboat service available to move crops and animals to market. Railroad mileage was located mostly in rural areas and over two-thirds of the South's rails, bridges, rail yards, repair shops and rolling stock were in areas reached by Union armies, which systematically destroyed what they could. Even in untouched areas, the lack of maintenance and repair, the absence of new equipment, the heavy over-use, and the deliberate relocation of equipment by the Confederates from remote areas to the war zone ensured the system would be ruined at war's end. Restoring the infrastructure — especially the railroad system — became a high priority for Reconstruction state governments.
The enormous cost of the Confederate war effort took a high toll on the South's economic infrastructure. The direct costs to the Confederacy in human capital, government expenditures, and physical destruction from the war totaled $3.3 billion. By 1865, the Confederate dollar was worthless due to massive inflation, and people in the South had to resort to bartering services for goods, or else use scarce Union dollars. With the emancipation of the southern slaves, the entire economy of the South had to be rebuilt. Having lost their enormous investment in slaves, white planters had minimal capital to pay freedmen workers to bring in crops. As a result, a system of sharecropping was developed where landowners broke up large plantations and rented small lots to the freedmen and their families. The South was transformed from a prosperous minority of landed gentry slaveholders into a tenant farming agriculture system.
The end of the Civil War was accompanied by a large migration of new freedpeople to the cities. In the cities, African Americans were relegated to the lowest paying jobs such as unskilled and service labor. Men worked as rail workers, rolling and lumber mills workers, and hotels workers. The large population of slave artisans during the antebellum period had not been translated into a large number of freemen artisans during Reconstruction. Black women were largely confined to domestic work employed as cooks, maids, and child nurses. Others worked in hotels. A large number became laundresses.
Over a quarter of Southern white men of military age — meaning the backbone of the South's white workforce — died during the war, leaving countless families destitute. Per capita income for white southerners declined from $125 in 1857 to a low of $80 in 1879. By the end of the 19th century and well into the 20th century, the South was locked into a system of poverty. How much of this failure was caused by the war and by previous reliance on agriculture remains the subject of debate among economists and historians.
During the Civil War, the Radical Republican leaders argued that slavery and the Slave Power had to be permanently destroyed, and that all forms of Confederate nationalism had to be suppressed. Moderates said this could be easily accomplished as soon as Confederate armies surrendered and the Southern states repealed secession and accepted the 13th Amendment – most of which happened by December 1865.
President Lincoln was the leader of the moderate Republicans and wanted to speed up Reconstruction and reunite the nation painlessly and quickly. Lincoln formally began Reconstruction in late 1863 with his Ten percent plan, which went into operation in several states but which Radical Republicans opposed. Lincoln pocket vetoed the Radical plan, the Wade–Davis Bill of 1864, which was much more strict than the Ten-Percent Plan.
The opposing faction of Radical Republicans was skeptical of Southern intentions and demanded stringent federal action. Congressman Thaddeus Stevens of Pennsylvania and Senator Charles Sumner of Massachusetts led the Radicals. Sumner argued that secession had destroyed statehood but the Constitution still extended its authority and its protection over individuals, as in existing U.S. territories. Thaddeus Stevens and his followers viewed secession as having left the states in a status like new territories. The Republicans sought to prevent Southern politicians from "restoring the historic subordination of Negroes". Since slavery was abolished, the three-fifths compromise no longer applied to counting the population of blacks. After the 1870 census, the South would gain numerous additional representatives in Congress, based on the population of freedmen. One Illinois Republican expressed a common fear that if the South were allowed to simply restore its previous established powers, that the "reward of treason will be an increased representation".
Upon Lincoln's assassination in April 1865, Andrew Johnson of Tennessee, who had been elected with Lincoln in 1864 as the latter's vice president, became president. Johnson rejected the Radical program of harsh, lengthy Reconstruction and instead appointed his own governors and tried to finish reconstruction by the end of 1865. Thaddeus Stevens vehemently opposed President Johnson's plans for an abrupt end to Reconstruction, insisting that Reconstruction must "revolutionize Southern institutions, habits, and manners… The foundations of their institutions… must be broken up and relaid, or all our blood and treasure have been spent in vain." By early 1866, full-scale political warfare existed between Johnson (now allied with the Democrats) and the Radical Republicans; he vetoed laws and issued orders that contradicted Congressional legislation.
Congress rejected Johnson's argument that he had the war power to decide what to do, since the war was over. Congress decided it had the primary authority to decide how Reconstruction should proceed, because the Constitution stated the United States had to guarantee each state a republican form of government. The Radicals insisted that meant Congress decided how Reconstruction should be achieved. The issues were multiple: who should decide, Congress or the president? How should republicanism operate in the South? What was the status of the Confederate states? What was the citizenship status of men who had supported the Confederacy? What was the citizenship and suffrage status of freedmen?
The election of 1866 decisively changed the balance of power, giving the Republicans two-thirds majorities in both houses of Congress, and enough votes to overcome Johnson's vetoes. They moved to impeach Johnson because of his constant attempts to thwart Radical Reconstruction measures, by using the Tenure of Office Act. Johnson was acquitted by one vote, but he lost the influence to shape Reconstruction policy.
The Republican Congress established military districts in the South and used Army personnel to administer the region until new governments loyal to the Union could be established. Congress temporarily suspended the ability to vote of approximately 10,000 to 15,000 white men who had been Confederate officials or senior officers, while constitutional amendments gave full citizenship and suffrage to former slaves.
With the power to vote, freedmen started participating in politics. While many slaves were illiterate, educated blacks (including escaped slaves) moved down from the North to aid them, and natural leaders also stepped forward. They elected white and black men to represent them in constitutional conventions. A Republican coalition of freedmen, southerners supportive of the Union (derisively called scalawags by white Democrats), and northerners who had migrated to the South (derisively called carpetbaggers) — some of whom were returning natives, but were mostly Union veterans -, organized to create constitutional conventions. They created new state constitutions to set new directions for southern states.
The issue of loyalty emerged in the debates over the Wade–Davis Bill of 1864. The bill required voters to take the "ironclad oath", swearing they had never supported the Confederacy or been one of its soldiers. Pursuing a policy of "malice toward none" announced in his second inaugural address, Lincoln asked voters only to support the Union. The Radicals lost support following Lincoln's veto of the Wade–Davis Bill but regained strength after Lincoln's assassination in April 1865.
Congress had to consider how to restore to full status and representation within the Union those southern states that had declared their independence from the United States and had withdrawn their representation. Suffrage for former Confederates was one of two main concerns. A decision needed to be made whether to allow just some or all former Confederates to vote (and to hold office). The moderates wanted virtually all of them to vote, but the Radicals resisted. They repeatedly tried to impose the ironclad oath, which would effectively have allowed no former Confederates to vote. Radical Republican leader Thaddeus Stevens proposed, unsuccessfully, that all former Confederates lose the right to vote for five years. The compromise that was reached disenfranchised many former Confederate civil and military leaders. No one knows how many temporarily lost the vote, but one estimate was 10,000 to 15,000.
Second, and closely related, was the issue of whether freedmen should be allowed to vote. The issue was how to receive the four million former slaves as citizens. If they were to be fully counted as citizens, some sort of representation for apportionment of seats in Congress had to be determined. Before the war, the population of slaves had been counted as three-fifths of a comparable number of free whites. By having four million freedmen counted as full citizens, the South would gain additional seats in Congress. If blacks were denied the vote and the right to hold office, then only whites would represent them. Many conservatives, including most white southerners, northern Democrats, and some northern Republicans, opposed black voting. Some northern states that had referenda on the subject limited the ability of their own small populations of blacks to vote.
Lincoln had supported a middle position to allow some black men to vote, especially army veterans. Johnson also believed that such service should be rewarded with citizenship. Lincoln proposed giving the vote to "the very intelligent, and especially those who have fought gallantly in our ranks." In 1864, Governor Johnson said, "The better class of them will go to work and sustain themselves, and that class ought to be allowed to vote, on the ground that a loyal negro is more worthy than a disloyal white man." As President in 1865, Johnson wrote to the man he appointed as governor of Mississippi, recommending, "If you could extend the elective franchise to all persons of color who can read the Constitution in English and write their names, and to all persons of color who own real estate valued at least two hundred and fifty dollars, and pay taxes thereon, you would completely disarm the adversary [Radicals in Congress], and set an example the other states will follow."
Charles Sumner and Thaddeus Stevens, leaders of the Radical Republicans, were initially hesitant to enfranchise the largely illiterate former slave population. Sumner preferred at first impartial requirements that would have imposed literacy restrictions on blacks and whites. He believed that he would not succeed in passing legislation to disfranchise illiterate whites who already had the vote.
In the South, many poor whites were illiterate as there was almost no public education before the war. In 1880, for example, the white illiteracy rate was about 25% in Tennessee, Kentucky, Alabama, South Carolina, and Georgia; and as high as 33% in North Carolina. This compares with the 9% national rate, and a black rate of illiteracy that was over 70% in the South. By 1900, however, with emphasis within the black community on education, the majority of blacks had achieved literacy.
Sumner soon concluded that "there was no substantial protection for the freedman except in the franchise." This was necessary, he stated, "(1) For his own protection; (2) For the protection of the white Unionist; and (3) For the peace of the country. We put the musket in his hands because it was necessary; for the same reason we must give him the franchise." The support for voting rights was a compromise between moderate and Radical Republicans.
The Republicans believed that the best way for men to get political experience was to be able to vote and to participate in the political system. They passed laws allowing all male freedmen to vote. In 1867, black men voted for the first time. Over the course of Reconstruction, more than 1,500 African Americans held public office in the South; some of them were men who had escaped to the North and gained educations, and returned to the South. They did not hold office in numbers representative of their proportion in the population, but often elected whites to represent them. The question of women's suffrage was also debated but was rejected.
From 1890 to 1908, southern states passed new constitutions and laws that disfranchised most blacks and tens of thousands of poor whites with new voter registration and electoral rules. When establishing new requirements such as subjectively administered literacy tests, in some states, they used "grandfather clauses" to enable illiterate whites to vote.
The Five Civilized Tribes that had been relocated to Indian Territory (now part of Oklahoma) held black slaves and signed treaties supporting the Confederacy. During the war, a war among pro- and anti-Union Indians had raged. Congress passed a statute that gave the President the authority to suspend the appropriations of any tribe if the tribe is “in a state of actual hostility to the government of the United States… and, by proclamation, to declare all treaties with such tribe to be abrogated by such tribe”(25 USC Sec. 72).
As a component of Reconstruction, the Interior Department ordered a meeting of representatives from all Indian tribes which had affiliated with the Confederacy. The Council, the Southern Treaty Commission, was first held in Ft. Smith, Arkansas in September 1865, was attended by hundreds of Indians representing dozens of tribes. Over the next several years the commission negotiated treaties with tribes that resulted in additional relocations to Indian Territory and the de facto creation (initially by treaty) of an unorganized Oklahoma Territory.
President Lincoln signed two Confiscation Acts into law, the first on August 6, 1861, and the second on July 17, 1862, safeguarding fugitive slaves from the Confederacy that came over into Union lines and giving them indirect emancipation if their masters continued insurrection against the United States. The laws allowed the confiscation of lands for colonization from those who aided and supported the rebellion. However, these laws had limited effect as they were poorly funded by Congress and poorly enforced by Attorney General Edward Bates.
In August 1861, Maj. Gen. John C. Frémont, Union commander of the Western Department, declared martial law in Missouri, confiscated Confederate property, and emancipated their slaves. President Lincoln immediately ordered Frémont to rescind his emancipation declaration stating, "I think there is great danger that ... the liberating slaves of traitorous owners, will alarm our Southern Union friends, and turn them against us – perhaps ruin our fair prospect for Kentucky." After Frémont refused to rescind the emancipation order, President Lincoln terminated him from active duty on November 2, 1861. Lincoln was concerned that border states would bolt from the Union if slaves were given their freedom. On May 26, 1862, Union Maj. Gen. David Hunter emancipated slaves in South Carolina, Georgia, and Florida stated all "persons ... heretofore held as slaves ... forever free." Lincoln, embarrassed by the order, rescinded Hunter's declaration and canceled the emancipations.
On April 16, 1862 Lincoln signed a bill into law outlawing slavery in Washington D.C. and freeing the estimated 3,500 slaves in the city and on June 19, 1862 he signed legislation outlawing slavery in all U.S. territories. In July 1862, under the authority of the Confiscation Acts and an amended Force Bill of 1795, he authorized the recruitment of freed slaves into the Union army and seizure of any Confederate property for military purposes.
In an effort to keep border states in the Union, President Lincoln as early as 1861 designed gradual compensated emancipation programs paid for by government bonds. Lincoln desired Delaware, Maryland, Kentucky, and Missouri to "adopt a system of gradual emancipation which should work the extinction of slavery in twenty years." On March 26, 1862 Lincoln met with Senator Charles Sumner and recommended that a special joint session of Congress be conveyed to discuss giving financial aid to any border states who initiated a gradual emancipation plan. In April 1862, the joint session of Congress met, however, the border states were not interested and did not make any response to Lincoln or any Congressional emancipation proposal. Lincoln advocated compensated emancipation during the 1865 River Queen steamer conference.
In August 1862, President Lincoln met with African American leaders and urged them to colonize some place in Central America. Lincoln planned to free the Southern slaves in the Emancipation Proclamation and he was concerned that freedmen would not be well treated in the United States by Whites in both the North and South. Although Lincoln gave assurances that the United States government would support and protect any colonies, the leaders declined the offer of colonization. Many free blacks had been opposed to colonization plans in the past and wanted to remain in the United States. President Lincoln persisted in his colonization plan believing that emancipation and colonization were part of the same program. Lincoln was successful by April 1863 at sending black colonists to Haiti and 453 to Chiriqui in Central America; however, none of the colonies was able to remain self-sufficient. Frederick Douglass, a prominent 19th-century American civil rights activist, criticized that Lincoln was "showing all his inconsistencies, his pride of race and blood, his contempt for Negroes and his canting hypocrisy." African Americans, according to Douglass, wanted citizen rights rather than to be colonized. Historians debate if Lincoln gave up on African American colonization at the end of 1863 or if he actually planned to continue this policy up until 1865.
Starting in March 1862, in an effort to forestall Reconstruction by the Radicals in Congress, President Lincoln installed military governors in certain rebellious states under Union military control. Although the states would not be recognized by the Radicals until an undetermined time, installation of military governors kept the administration of Reconstruction under Presidential control, rather than that of the increasingly unsympathetic Radical Congress. On March 3, 1862, Lincoln installed a loyalist Democrat Senator Andrew Johnson, as Military Governor with the rank of Brigadier General in his home state of Tennessee. In May 1862, Lincoln appointed Edward Stanly Military Governor of the coastal region of North Carolina with the rank of Brigadier General. Stanly resigned almost a year later when he angered Lincoln by closing two schools for black children in New Bern. After Lincoln installed Brigadier General George F. Sheply as Military Governor of Louisiana in May 1862, Sheply sent two anti-slavery representatives, Benjamin Flanders and Michael Hahn, elected in December 1862, to the House which capitulated and voted to seat them. In July 1862, Lincoln installed Colonel John S. Phelps as Military Governor of Arkansas, though he resigned soon after due to poor health.
In July 1862, President Lincoln became convinced that "a military necessity" was needed to strike at slavery in order to win the Civil War for the Union. The Confiscation Acts were only having a minimal effect to end slavery. On July 22, he wrote a first draft of the Emancipation Proclamation that freed the slaves in states in rebellion. Lincoln decided not to release the document until there was a Union victory in the battlefield. After he showed his cabinet the document, slight alterations were made in the wording. Then on September 22, 1862, George McClellan defeated Robert E. Lee at Antietam; the second draft of the Emancipation Proclamation was issued to the public the following day. On January 1, 1863, the second part of the Emancipation Proclamation was issued, specifically naming ten states in which slaves would be "forever free". The proclamation did not name the states of Tennessee, Kentucky, Missouri, Maryland, and Delaware, and specifically excluded numerous counties in some other states. Eventually, as the Union Armies advanced into the Confederacy millions of slaves were set free. Many of these freedmen joined the Union army and fought in battles against the Confederate forces. Yet hundreds of thousands of freed slaves died during emancipation from illness that devastated army regiments. Freed slaves suffered from smallpox, yellow fever, and malnutrition.
President Abraham Lincoln was concerned to effect a speedy restoration of the Confederate states to the Union after the Civil War. In 1863, President Lincoln proposed a moderate plan for the Reconstruction of the captured Confederate State of Louisiana. The plan granted amnesty to Rebels who took an oath of loyalty to the Union. Black Freedmen workers were tied to labor on plantations for one year at $10 a month pay. Only 10% of the state's electorate had to take the loyalty oath in order for the state to be readmitted into U.S. Congress. The state was required to abolish slavery in its new constitution. Identical Reconstruction plans would be adopted in Arkansas and Tennessee. By December 1864, the Lincoln plan of Reconstruction had been enacted in Louisiana and the legislature sent two Senators and five Representatives to take their seats in Washington. However, Congress refused to count any of the votes from Louisiana, Arkansas, and Tennessee, in essence rejecting Lincoln's moderate Reconstruction plan. Congress, at this time controlled by the Radicals, proposed the Wade–Davis Bill that required a majority of the state electorates to take the oath of loyalty to be admitted to Congress. Lincoln pocket-vetoed the bill and the rift widened between the moderates, who wanted to save the Union and win the war, and the Radicals, who wanted to effect a more complete change within Southern society. Frederick Douglass denounced Lincoln's 10% electorate plan undemocratic since state admission and loyalty only depended on a minority vote.
Before 1864, slave marriages had not been recognized legally; emancipation did not affect them. When freed, many former slaves made official marriages. Before emancipation, slaves could not enter into contracts, including the marriage contract. After emancipation, former slaves and whites both began to view the lack of officially recognized marriage for their unions as problematic. Not all free people formalized their unions. Some continued to have common-law marriages or community-recognized relationships. The acknowledgement of marriage by the state increased the state’s recognition of freedpeople as legal actors and eventually helped make the case for parental rights for freedpeople against the practice of apprenticeship of black children. These children were legally taken away from their families under the guise of “providing them with guardianship and ‘good’ homes until they reached the age of consent at twenty-one” under acts such as the Georgia 1866 Apprentice Act. Such children were generally used as sources of unpaid labor.
On March 3, 1865 the Freedmen's Bureau Bill became law, sponsored by the Republicans to aid freedmen and white refugees. A federal Bureau was created to provide food, clothing, fuel, and advice on negotiating labor contracts. It attempted to oversee new relations between freedmen and their former masters in a free labor market. The Act, without deference to a person's color, authorized the Bureau to lease confiscated land for a period of three years and to sell it in portions of up to 40 acres per buyer. The Bureau was to expire one year after the termination of the War. Lincoln was assassinated before he could appoint a commissioner of the Bureau. A popular myth was that the Act offered 40 acres and a mule, or that slaves had been promised this.
With the help of the Bureau, the recently freed slaves began voting, forming political parties, and assuming the control of labor in many areas. The Bureau helped to start a change of power in the South that drew national attention from the Republicans in the North to the conservative Democrats in the South. This is especially evident in the election between Grant and Johnson, where almost 700,000 black voters voted and swayed the election 300,000 votes in Grant's favor.
Even with the benefits that it gave to the freedmen, the Freedmen's Bureau failed to protect and take care for former slaves in certain areas. Because the Bureau only provided help with labor, food, and housing, medical attention for the former slaves was severely lacking. Furthermore, neither the Bureau nor other government institutions were able to protect the slaves from groups like the KKK. Terrorizing freedmen for trying to vote, hold a political office, or own land, the KKK was the antithesis to the Freedmen's Bureau. Sadly, the Bureau seemed to be unable to address the issue of hate groups which permeated the South.
Other legislation was signed that broadened equality and rights for African Americans. Lincoln outlawed discrimination on account of color, in carrying U.S. mail, in riding on public street cars in Washington D.C., and in pay for soldiers.
Lincoln and Secretary of State William H. Seward met with three southern representatives to discuss the peaceful reconstruction of the Union and the Confederacy on February 3, 1865 in Hampton Roads, Virginia. The southern delegation included Confederate vice-president, Alexander H. Stephens, John A. Campbell, and Robert M.T. Hunter. The southerners proposed the Union recognition of the Confederacy, a joint Union-Confederate attack on Mexico to oust dictator Maximillian, and an alternative subordinate status of servitude for blacks rather than slavery. Lincoln flatly denied recognition of the Confederacy, and said that the slaves covered by his Emancipation Proclamation would not be re-enslaved. He said that the Union States were about to pass the Thirteenth Amendment outlawing slavery. Lincoln urged the governor of Georgia to remove Confederate troops and "ratify this Constitutional Amendment prospectively, so as to take effect—say in five years ... Slavery is doomed." Lincoln also urged compensated emancipation for the slaves as he thought the North should be willing to share the costs of freedom. Although the meeting was cordial, the parties did not settle on agreements.
Lincoln continued to advocate his Louisiana Plan as a model for all states up until his assassination on April 14, 1865. The plan successfully started the Reconstruction process of ratifying the Thirteenth Amendment in all states. Lincoln is typically portrayed as taking the moderate position and fighting the Radical positions. There is considerable debate on how well Lincoln, had he lived, would have handled Congress during the Reconstruction process that took place after the Civil War ended. One historical camp argues that Lincoln's flexibility, pragmatism, and superior political skills with Congress would have solved Reconstruction with far less difficulty. The other camp believes the Radicals would have attempted to impeach Lincoln, just as they did to his successor, Andrew Johnson, in 1868.
Northern anger over the assassination of Lincoln and the immense human cost of the war led to vengeful demands for harsh policies. Vice President Andrew Johnson had taken a hard line and spoke of hanging rebel Confederates, but when he succeeded Lincoln as President, Johnson took a much softer line, pardoning many Confederate leaders and former Confederates. Jefferson Davis was held in prison for two years, but other Confederate leaders were not. There were no treason trials. Only one person—Captain Henry Wirz, the commandant of the prison camp in Andersonville, Georgia—was executed for war crimes. According to historian Eric Foner, Andrew Johnson's conservative view of Reconstruction did not include blacks or former slaves involvement in government and he refused to heed Northern concerns when southern state legislatures implemented Black Codes that lowered the status of the freedmen similar to slavery.
President Andrew Johnson's Reconstruction policy would be known primarily for the nonenforcement and defiance of Reconstruction laws passed by the U.S. Congress and would be in constant conflict constitutionally with the Radicals in Congress over the status of freedmen and whites in the defeated South. Although resigned to the abolition of slavery, many former Confederates were unwilling to accept both social changes and political domination by former slaves. The defeated were unwilling to acknowledge that their society had changed. In the words of Benjamin F. Perry, President Johnson's choice as the provisional governor of South Carolina: "First, the Negro is to be invested with all political power, and then the antagonism of interest between capital and labor is to work out the result."
The fears, however, of the mostly conservative planter elite and other leading white citizens were partly assuaged by the actions of President Johnson, who ensured that a wholesale land redistribution from the planters to the freedman did not occur. President Johnson ordered that confiscated or abandoned lands administered by the Freedman's Bureau would not be redistributed to the freedmen but be returned to pardoned owners. Land was returned that would have been forfeited under the Confiscation Acts passed by Congress in 1861 and 1862.
Southern state governments quickly enacted the restrictive "black codes". However, they were abolished in 1866 and seldom had effect, because the Freedman's Bureau (not the local courts) handled the legal affairs of freedmen.
The Black Codes indicated the plans of the southern whites for the former slaves. The freedmen would have more rights than did free blacks before the war, but they still had only a limited set of second-class civil rights, no voting rights and no citizenship. They could not own firearms, serve on a jury in a lawsuit involving whites or move about without employment. The Black Codes outraged northern opinion. They were overthrown by the Civil Rights Act of 1866 that gave the freedmen full legal equality (except for the right to vote).
The freedmen, with the strong backing of the Freedman's Bureau, rejected gang-labor work patterns that had been used in slavery. Instead of gang labor, freedpeople preferred family-based labor groups. They forced planters to bargain for their labor. Such bargaining soon led to the establishment of the system of sharecropping, which gave the freedmen greater economic independence and social autonomy than gang labor. However, because they lacked capital and the planters continued to own the means of production (tools, draft animals and land), the freedmen were forced into producing cash crops (mainly cotton) for the land-owners and merchants, and they entered into a crop-lien system. Widespread poverty, disruption to an agricultural economy too dependent on cotton, and the falling price of cotton, led within decades to the routine indebtedness of the majority of the freedmen, and poverty by many planters.
Northern officials gave varying reports on conditions for the freedmen in the South. One harsh assessment came from Carl Schurz, who reported on the situation in the states along the Gulf Coast. His report documented dozens of extra-judicial killings and claimed that hundreds or thousands more African Americans were killed.
The number of murders and assaults perpetrated upon Negroes is very great; we can form only an approximative estimate of what is going on in those parts of the South which are not closely garrisoned, and from which no regular reports are received, by what occurs under the very eyes of our military authorities. As to my personal experience, I will only mention that during my two days sojourn at Atlanta, one Negro was stabbed with fatal effect on the street, and three were poisoned, one of whom died. While I was at Montgomery, one negro was cut across the throat evidently with intent to kill, and another was shot, but both escaped with their lives. Several papers attached to this report give an account of the number of capital cases that occurred at certain places during a certain period of time. It is a sad fact that the perpetration of those acts is not confined to that class of people which might be called the rabble. Carl Schurz, "Report on the Condition of the South", December 1865 (U.S. Senate Exec. Doc. No. 2, 39th Congress, 1st session).
The report included sworn testimony from soldiers and officials of the Freedman's Bureau. In Selma, Alabama, Major J.P. Houston noted that whites who killed 12 African Americans in his district never came to trial. Many more killings never became official cases. Captain Poillon described white patrols in southwestern Alabama
who board some of the boats; after the boats leave they hang, shoot, or drown the victims they may find on them, and all those found on the roads or coming down the rivers are almost invariably murdered. The bewildered and terrified freedmen know not what to do—to leave is death; to remain is to suffer the increased burden imposed upon them by the cruel taskmaster, whose only interest is their labor, wrung from them by every device an inhuman ingenuity can devise; hence the lash and murder is resorted to intimidate those whom fear of an awful death alone cause to remain, while patrols, Negro dogs and spies, disguised as Yankees, keep constant guard over these unfortunate people.
Much of the violence that was perpetrated against African Americans was shaped by gendered prejudices regarding African Americans. Black women were in a particularly vulnerable situation. To convict a white man of sexually assaulting black women in this period was exceedingly difficult. Black women were socially constructed as sexually avaricious and since they were portrayed as having little virtue, society held that they could not be raped. One report indicates two freedwomen, Frances Thompson and Lucy Smith, describe their violent sexual assault during the Memphis Riots of 1866. However, black women were vulnerable even in times of relative normalcy. Sexual assaults on African American women were so pervasive, particularly on the part of their white employers, that black men sought to reduce the contact between white males and black females by having the women in their family avoid doing work that was closely overseen by whites. Black men were construed as being extremely sexually aggressive and their supposed or rumored threats to white women were often used as a pretext for lynching and castrations.
During fall 1865, out of response to the Black codes and worrisome signs of Southern recalcitrance, the Radical Republicans blocked the readmission of the former rebellious states to the Congress. Johnson, however, was content with allowing former Confederate states into the Union as long as their state governments adopted the 13th Amendment abolishing slavery. By December 6, 1865, the amendment was ratified and Johnson considered Reconstruction over. Johnson was following the moderate Lincoln Presidential Reconstruction policy to get the states readmitted as soon as possible.
Congress, however, controlled by the Radicals, had other plans. The Radicals were led by Charles Sumner in the Senate and Thaddeus Stevens in the House of Representatives. Congress, on December 4, 1865, rejected Johnson's moderate Presidential Reconstruction, and organized the Joint Committee on Reconstruction, a 15-member panel to devise reconstruction requirements for the Southern states to be restored to the Union.
In January 1866, Congress renewed the Freedman's Bureau; however, Johnson vetoed the Freedmen's Bureau Bill in February 1866. Although Johnson had sympathies for the plights of the freedmen, he was against federal assistance. An attempt to override the veto failed on February 20, 1866. This veto shocked the Congressional Radicals. In response, both the Senate and House passed a joint resolution not to allow any Senator or Representative seat admittance until Congress decided when Reconstruction was finished.
laws are to be enacted and enforced depriving persons of African descent of privileges which are essential to freemen ... A law that does not allow a colored person to go from one county to another, and one that does not allow him to hold property, to teach, to preach, are certainly laws in violation of the rights of a freeman ... The purpose of this bill is to destroy all these discriminations.
The key to the bill was the opening section:
All persons born in the United States ... are hereby declared to be citizens of the United States; and such citizens of every race and color, without regard to any previous condition of slavery ... shall have the same right in every State ... to make and enforce contracts, to sue, be parties, and give evidence, to inherit, purchase, lease, sell, hold, and convey real and personal property, and to full and equal benefit of all laws and proceedings for the security of person and property, as is enjoyed by white citizens, and shall be subject to like punishment, pains, and penalties and to none other, any law, statute, ordinance, regulation, or custom to the Contrary notwithstanding.
Congress quickly passed the Civil Rights bill; the Senate on February 2 voted 33–12; the House on March 13 voted 111–38.
Although strongly urged by moderates in Congress to sign the Civil Rights bill, Johnson broke decisively with them by vetoing it on March 27, 1866. His veto message objected to the measure because it conferred citizenship on the freedmen at a time when eleven out of thirty-six states were unrepresented and attempted to fix by Federal law "a perfect equality of the white and black races in every State of the Union." Johnson said it was an invasion by Federal authority of the rights of the States; it had no warrant in the Constitution and was contrary to all precedents. It was a "stride toward centralization and the concentration of all legislative power in the national government."
The Democratic Party, proclaiming itself the party of white men, north and south, supported Johnson. However the Republicans in Congress overrode his veto (the Senate by the close vote of 33:15, the House by 122:41) and the Civil Rights bill became law. Congress also passed a toned-down Freedmen's Bureau Bill; Johnson quickly vetoed as he had done to the previous bill. This time, however, Congress had enough support and overrode Johnson's veto.
The last moderate proposal was the Fourteenth Amendment, whose principal drafter was Representative John Bingham. It was designed to put the key provisions of the Civil Rights Act into the Constitution, but it went much further. It extended citizenship to everyone born in the United States (except visitors and Indians on reservations), penalized states that did not give the vote to freedmen, and most importantly, created new federal civil rights that could be protected by federal courts. It guaranteed the Federal war debt would be paid (and promised the Confederate debt would never be paid). Johnson used his influence to block the amendment in the states since three-fourths of the states were required for ratification (the amendment was later ratified.). The moderate effort to compromise with Johnson had failed, and a political fight broke out between the Republicans (both Radical and moderate) on one side, and on the other side, Johnson and his allies in the Democratic Party in the North, and the conservative groupings (which used different names) in each southern state.
Concerned that President Johnson viewed Congress as an "illegal body" and wanted to overthrow the government, Republicans in Congress took control of Reconstruction policies after the election of 1866. Johnson ignored the policy mandate, and he openly encouraged southern states to deny ratification of the 14th Amendment (except for Tennessee, all former Confederate states did refuse to ratify, as did the border states of Delaware, Maryland and Kentucky). Radical Republicans in Congress, led by Stevens and Sumner, opened the way to suffrage for male freedmen. They were generally in control, although they had to compromise with the moderate Republicans (the Democrats in Congress had almost no power). Historians generally refer to this period as Radical Reconstruction.
The South's white leaders, who held power in the immediate postwar era before the vote was granted to the freedmen, renounced secession and slavery, but not white supremacy. People who had previously held power were angered in 1867 when new elections were held. New Republican lawmakers were elected by a coalition of white Unionists, freedmen and northerners who had settled in the South. Some leaders in the South tried to accommodate to new conditions.
Three Constitutional amendments, known as the Reconstruction Amendments, were adopted. The 13th Amendment abolishing slavery was ratified in 1865. The 14th Amendment was proposed in 1866 and ratified in 1868, guaranteeing United States citizenship to all persons born or naturalized in the United States and granting them federal civil rights. The 15th Amendment, proposed in late February 1869 and passed in early February 1870, decreed that the right to vote could not be denied because of "race, color, or previous condition of servitude". The amendment did not declare the vote an unconditional right; it prohibited these types of discrimination. States would still determine voter registration and electoral laws. The amendments were directed at ending slavery and providing full citizenship to freedmen. Northern Congressmen believed that providing black men with the right to vote would be the most rapid means of political education and training.
Many blacks took an active part in voting and political life, and rapidly continued to build churches and community organizations. Following Reconstruction, white Democrats and insurgent groups used force to regain power in the state legislatures, and pass laws that effectively disfranchised most blacks and many poor whites in the South. Around the start of the 20th century, from 1890 to 1910, southern states passed new constitutions that completed disfranchisement of blacks. U.S. Supreme Court rulings on these provisions upheld many of these new southern constitutions and laws, and most blacks were prevented from voting in the South until the 1960s. Full federal enforcement of the Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendments did not occur until after passage of legislation in the mid-1960s as a result of the African-American Civil Rights Movement (1955–1968).
For details, see:
The Reconstruction Acts as originally passed, were initially called "An act to provide for the more efficient Government of the Rebel States" the legislation was enacted by the 39th Congress, on March 2, 1867. It was vetoed by President Johnson, and the veto overridden by two-thirds majority, in both the House and the Senate, the same day. Congress also clarified the scope of the federal writ of habeas corpus to allow federal courts to vacate unlawful state court convictions or sentences in 1867 (28 U.S.C. §2254).
With the Radicals in control, Congress passed the Reconstruction Acts on July 19, 1867. The first Reconstruction Act, authored by Oregon Sen. George H. Williams, a Radical Republican, placed ten Confederate states under military control, grouping them into five military districts:
20,000 U.S. troops were deployed to enforce the Act.
Tennessee was not made part of a military district (having already been readmitted to the Union), and therefore federal controls did not apply.
The ten Southern state governments were re-constituted under the direct control of the United States Army. One major purpose was to recognize and protect the right of African Americans to vote. There was little or no combat, but rather a state of martial law in which the military closely supervised local government, supervised elections, and tried to protect office holders and freedmen from violence. Blacks were enrolled as voters; former Confederate leaders were excluded for a limited period. No one state was entirely representative. Randolph Campbell describes what happened in Texas:
The first critical step ... was the registration of voters according to guidelines established by Congress and interpreted by Generals Sheridan and Charles Griffin. The Reconstruction Acts called for registering all adult males, white and black, except those who had ever sworn an oath to uphold the Constitution of the United States and then engaged in rebellion ... Sheridan interpreted these restrictions stringently, barring from registration not only all pre-1861 officials of state and local governments who had supported the Confederacy but also all city officeholders and even minor functionaries such as sextons of cemeteries. In May Griffin ... appointed a three-man board of registrars for each county, making his choices on the advice of known scalawags and local Freedman's Bureau agents. In every county where practicable a freedman served as one of the three registrars ... Final registration amounted to approximately 59,633 whites and 49,479 blacks. It is impossible to say how many whites were rejected or refused to register (estimates vary from 7,500 to 12,000), but blacks, who constituted only about 30 percent of the state's population, were significantly overrepresented at 45 percent of all voters.
All Southern states were readmitted to representation in Congress by the end of 1870, the last being Georgia. All but 500 top Confederate leaders were pardoned when President Grant signed the Amnesty Act of 1872.
During the Civil War, many in the North believed that fighting for the Union was a noble cause – for the preservation of the Union and the end of slavery. After the war ended, with the North victorious, the fear among Radicals was that President Johnson too quickly assumed that slavery and Confederate nationalism were dead and that the southern states could return. The Radicals sought out a candidate for President who represented their viewpoint.
In 1868, the Republicans unanimously chose Ulysses S. Grant to be the Republican Presidential candidate. Grant won favor with the Radicals after he allowed Edwin M. Stanton, a Radical, to be reinstated as Secretary of War. As early as 1862, during the Civil War, Grant had appointed the Ohio military chaplain John Eaton to protect and gradually incorporate refugee slaves in west Tennessee and northern Mississippi into the Union War effort, and pay them for their labor. It was the beginning of his vision for the Freedmen's Bureau. Grant opposed President Johnson by supporting the Reconstruction Acts passed by the Radicals.
Immediately upon Inauguration in 1869, Grant bolstered Reconstruction by prodding Congress to readmit Virginia, Mississippi, and Texas into the Union, while ensuring their constitutions protected every citizen's voting rights. Grant met with prominent black leaders for consultation, and signed a bill into law that guaranteed equal rights to both blacks and whites in Washington D.C. In Grant's two terms he strengthened Washington's legal capabilities. He worked with Congress to create the Department of Justice and Office of Solicitor General, led by Attorney General Amos Akerman and the first Solicitor General Benjamin Bristow, who both prosecuted thousands of Klansmen under the Force Acts. Grant sent additional federal troops to nine South Carolina counties to suppress Klan violence in 1871. In 1872, Grant was the first American President to legally recognize an African American governor, P. B. S. Pinchback of Louisiana. Grant also used military pressure to ensure that African Americans could maintain their new electoral status; won passage of the Fifteenth Amendment giving African Americans the right to vote; and signed the Civil Rights Act of 1875 giving people access to public facilities regardless of race. To counter vote fraud in the Democratic stronghold of New York City, Grant sent in tens of thousands of armed, uniformed federal marshals and other election officials to regulate the 1870 and subsequent elections. Democrats across the North then mobilized to defend their base and attacked Grant's entire set of policies. On October 21, 1876 President Grant deployed troops to protect black and white Republican voters in Petersburg, Virginia.
Grant's support from Congress and the nation declined due to presidential scandals during his administration and the political resurgence of the Democrats in the North and South. By 1870, most Republicans felt the war goals had been achieved, and they turned their attention to other issues such as financial and monetary policies.
On April 20, 1871, the U.S. Congress launched a 21-member investigation committee on the status of the Southern Reconstruction states: North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, Mississippi, Alabama, and Florida. Congressional members on the committee included Rep. Benjamin Butler, Sen. Zachariah Chandler, and Sen. Francis P. Blair. Subcommittee members traveled into the South to interview the people living in their respective states. Those interviewed included top-ranking officials, such as Wade Hampton, former South Carolina Gov. James L. Orr, and Nathan B. Forrest, a former Confederate general and prominent Ku Klux Klan leader. Others southerners interviewed included farmers, doctors, merchants, teachers, and clergymen. The committee heard numerous reports of white violence against blacks, while many whites denied Klan membership or knowledge of violent activities. The majority report by Republicans concluded that the government would not tolerate any Southern "conspiracy" to resist violently the Congressional Reconstruction. The committee completed its 13-volume report in February 1872. While Grant had been able to suppress the KKK through the Force Acts, other paramilitary insurgents organized, including the White League in 1874, active in Louisiana; and the Red Shirts, with chapters active in Mississippi and the Carolinas. They used intimidation and outright attacks to run Republicans out of office and repress voting by blacks, leading to white Democrats regaining power by the elections of the mid-to-late 1870s.
Republicans took control of all Southern state governorships and state legislatures, except for Virginia. The Republican coalition elected numerous African Americans to local, state, and national offices; though they did not dominate any electoral offices, black men as representatives voting in state and federal legislatures marked a drastic social change. At the beginning of 1867, no African-American in the South held political office, but within three or four years "about 15 percent of the officeholders in the South were black—a larger proportion than in 1990." About 137 black officeholders had lived outside the South before the Civil War. Some who had escaped from slavery to the North and had become educated returned to help the South advance in the postwar era. Others were free blacks before the war, who had achieved education and positions of leadership elsewhere. Other African-American men who served were already leaders in their communities, including a number of preachers. As happened in white communities, not all leadership depended upon wealth and literacy.
|Race of delegates to 1867
state constitutional conventions
(% in 1870)
There were few African Americans elected or appointed to national office. African Americans voted for white candidates and for blacks. The Fifteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution guaranteed the right to vote, but did not guarantee that the vote would be counted, that the districts would be apportioned equally, or that voters would be free from intimidation and violence. As a result, states with majority African-American population often elected only one or two African-American representatives in Congress. Exceptions included South Carolina; at the end of Reconstruction, four of its five Congressmen were African American.
|African Americans in Office 1870–1876|
W. E. B. Du Bois argued that the freedmen had a deep commitment to education and that African Americans in the Republican coalition played a critical role in establishing the principle of universal public education in state constitutions during congressional Reconstruction. Some slaves learned to read from white playmates although formal education was not allowed by law; African Americans started "native schools" before the end of the war; Sabbath schools were another widespread means freedmen created for teaching literacy. When they gained suffrage, black politicians took this commitment to public education to state constitutional conventions.
African Americans and white Republicans joined to build education at the state level. They created a system of public schools, which were segregated by race everywhere except New Orleans. Generally, elementary and a few secondary schools were built in most cities, and occasionally in the countryside, but the South had few cities.
The rural areas faced many difficulties opening and maintaining public schools. In the country, the public school was often a one-room affair that attracted about half the younger children. The teachers were poorly paid, and their pay was often in arrears. Conservatives contended the rural schools were too expensive and unnecessary for a region where the vast majority of people were cotton or tobacco farmers. They had no vision of a better future for their residents. One historian found that the schools were less effective than they might have been because "poverty, the inability of the states to collect taxes, and inefficiency and corruption in many places prevented successful operation of the schools."
Numerous private academies and colleges for freedmen were established by northern missionaries. Every state created state colleges for freedmen, such as Alcorn State University in Mississippi. The state colleges created generations of teachers who were critical in the education of African American children.
In 1890, the black state colleges started receiving federal funds as land grant schools. They received state funds after Reconstruction ended because, as Lynch explains, "there are very many liberal, fair-minded and influential Democrats in the State who are strongly in favor of having the State provide for the liberal education of both races."
Every Southern state subsidized railroads, which modernizers felt could haul the South out of isolation and poverty. Millions of dollars in bonds and subsidies were fraudulently pocketed. One ring in North Carolina spent $200,000 in bribing the legislature and obtained millions in state money for its railroads. Instead of building new track, however, it used the funds to speculate in bonds, reward friends with extravagant fees, and enjoy lavish trips to Europe. Taxes were quadrupled across the South to pay off the railroad bonds and the school costs. There were complaints among taxpayers, because taxes had historically been low, since there was so little commitment to public works or public education. Taxes historically had been much lower than in the North, reflecting a lack of public investment in the communities. Nevertheless thousands of miles of lines were built as the Southern system expanded from 11,000 miles (17,700 km) in 1870 to 29,000 miles (46,700 km) in 1890. The lines were owned and directed overwhelmingly by Northerners. Railroads helped create a mechanically skilled group of craftsmen and broke the isolation of much of the region. Passengers were few, however, and apart from hauling the cotton crop when it was harvested, there was little freight traffic. As Franklin explains, "numerous railroads fed at the public trough by bribing legislators ... and through the use and misuse of state funds." The effect, according to one businessman, "was to drive capital from the State, paralyze industry, and demoralize labor."
Reconstruction changed the tax structure of the South. In the U.S. from the earliest days until today, a major source of state revenue was the property tax. In the South, wealthy landowners were allowed to self-assess the value of their own land. These fraudulent assessments were almost valueless, and pre-war property tax collections were lacking due to property value misrepresentation. State revenues came from fees and from sales taxes on slave auctions. Some states assessed property owners by a combination of land value and a capitation tax, a tax on each worker employed. This tax was often assessed in a way to discourage a free labor market, where a slave was assessed at 75 cents, while a free white was assessed at a dollar or more, and a free African American at $3 or more. Some revenue also came from poll taxes. These taxes were more than poor people could pay, with the designed and inevitable consequence that they did not vote.
During Reconstruction, new spending on schools and infrastructure, combined with fraudulent spending and a collapse in state credit because of huge deficits, forced the states to dramatically increase property tax rates. In places, the rate went up to ten times higher—despite the poverty of the region. The infrastructure of much of the South—roads, bridges, and railroads—scarce and deficient even before the war—had been destroyed during the war. In addition, there were other new expenditures, because pre-war southern states did not educate their citizens or build and maintain much infrastructure. In part, the new tax system was designed to force owners of large estates with huge tracts of uncultivated land either to sell or to have it confiscated for failure to pay taxes. The taxes would serve as a market-based system for redistributing the land to the landless freedmen and white poor.
Here is a table of property tax rates for South Carolina and Mississippi. Note that many local town and county assessments effectively doubled the tax rates reported in the table. These taxes were still levied upon the landowners' own sworn testimony as to the value of their land, which remained the dubious and exploitable system used by wealthy landholders in the South well into the 20th century.
|State Property Tax Rates during Reconstruction|
|1869||5 mills (0.5%)||1 mill (0.1%) (lowest rate between 1822 and 1898)|
|1870||9 mills||5 mills|
|1871||7 mills||4 mills|
|1872||12 mills||8.5 mills|
|1873||12 mills||12.5 mills|
|1874||10.3–8 mills||14 mills (1.4%) "a rate which virtually amounted to confiscation" (highest rate between 1822 and 1898)|
|Source||J. S. Reynolds, Reconstruction in South Carolina, 1865–1877, (Columbia, SC: The State Co., 1905) p. 329.||J. H. Hollander,Studies in State Taxation with Particular Reference to the Southern States, (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins Press, 1900) p. 192.|
Called upon to pay an actual tax on their property, angry plantation owners revolted. The conservatives shifted their focus away from race to taxes. Former Congressman John R. Lynch, a black Republican leader from Mississippi, concluded,
The fact that their former slaves now held political and military power angered many whites. They self-consciously defended their own actions within the framework of an Anglo-American discourse of resistance against tyrannical government, and they broadly succeeded in convincing fellow white citizens says Steedman. They formed new political parties (often called the "Conservative" party) and supported or tolerated violent activist groups that intimidated both black and white Republican leaders at election time. By the mid-1870s, the Conservatives and Democrats had aligned with the national Democratic Party, which enthusiastically supported their cause even as the national Republican Party was losing interest in Southern affairs. Historian Walter Lynwood Fleming describes mounting anger of Southern whites:
The Negro troops, even at their best, were everywhere considered offensive by the native whites ... The Negro soldier, impudent by reason of his new freedom, his new uniform, and his new gun, was more than Southern temper could tranquilly bear, and race conflicts were frequent.
Often, these parties called themselves the "Conservative Party" or the "Democratic and Conservative Party" in order to distinguish themselves from the national Democratic Party and to obtain support from former Whigs. These parties sent delegates to the 1868 Democratic National Convention and abandoned their separate names by 1873 or 1874.
Most [white] members of both the planter/business class and common farmer class of the South opposed black power, Carpetbaggers and military rule, and sought white supremacy. Democrats nominated blacks for political office and tried to steal other blacks from the Republican side. When these attempts to combine with the blacks failed, the planters joined the common farmers in simply trying to displace the Republican governments. The planters and their business allies dominated the self-styled "conservative" coalition that finally took control in the South. They were paternalistic toward the blacks but feared they would use power to raise taxes and slow business development.
Fleming is a typical example of the conservative interpretation of Reconstruction. His work defended some roles in opposing military oppression by the white supremacist group the Ku Klux Klan (KKK) but denounced the Klan's violence. Fleming accepted as necessary the disenfranchisement of African Americans because he thought their votes were bought and sold by Carpetbaggers. Fleming described the first results of the movement as "good" and the later ones as "both good and bad." According to Fleming (1907) the KKK "quieted the Negroes, made life and property safer, gave protection to women, stopped burnings, forced the Radical leaders to be more moderate, made the Negroes work better, drove the worst of the Radical leaders from the country and started the whites on the way to gain political supremacy."
The evil result, Fleming said, was that lawless elements "made use of the organization as a cloak to cover their misdeeds ... the lynching habits of today  are largely to conditions, social and legal, growing out of Reconstruction."
Ellis Paxson Oberholtzer (a northern scholar) in 1917 explained:
Outrages upon the former slaves in the South there were in plenty. Their sufferings were many. But white men, too, were victims of lawless violence, and in all portions of the North and the late "rebel" states. Not a political campaign passed without the exchange of bullets, the breaking of skulls with sticks and stones, the firing of rival club-houses. Republican clubs marched the streets of Philadelphia, amid revolver shots and brickbats, to save the negroes from the "rebel" savages in Alabama ... The project to make voters out of black men was not so much for their social elevation as for the further punishment of the Southern white people—for the capture of offices for Radical scamps and the entrenchment of the Radical party in power for a long time to come in the South and in the country at large.
Reaction by the angry whites included the formation of violent secret societies, especially the KKK. Violence occurred in cities with Democrats, Conservatives and other angry whites on one side and Republicans, African-Americans, federal government representatives, and Republican-organized armed Loyal Leagues on the other. The victims of this violence were overwhelmingly African American. The Klan and other such groups were careful to avoid federal legal intervention or military conflict. Their election-time tactics included violent intimidation of African American and Republican voters prior to elections while avoiding conflict with the U.S. Army or the state militias and then withdrawing completely on election day. Conservative reaction continued in both the north and south; the "white liners" movement to elect candidates dedicated to white supremacy reached as far as Ohio in 1875.
As early as 1868 Supreme Court Chief Justice Salmon P. Chase, a leading Radical during the war, concluded that:
Congress was right in not limiting, by its reconstruction acts, the right of suffrage to whites; but wrong in the exclusion from suffrage of certain classes of citizens and all unable to take its prescribed retrospective oath, and wrong also in the establishment of despotic military governments for the States and in authorizing military commissions for the trial of civilians in time of peace. There should have been as little military government as possible; no military commissions; no classes excluded from suffrage; and no oath except one of faithful obedience and support to the Constitution and laws, and of sincere attachment to the constitutional Government of the United States.
By 1872, President Ulysses S. Grant had alienated large numbers of leading Republicans, including many Radicals by the corruption of his administration and his use of federal soldiers to prop up Radical state regimes in the South. The opponents, called "Liberal Republicans", included founders of the party who expressed dismay that the party had succumbed to corruption. They were further wearied by the continued insurgent violence of whites against blacks in the South, especially around every election cycle, which demonstrated the war was not over and changes were fragile. Leaders included editors of some of the nation's most powerful newspapers. Charles Sumner, embittered by the corruption of the Grant administration, joined the new party, which nominated editor Horace Greeley. The badly organized Democratic party also supported Greeley.
Grant made up for the defections by new gains among Union veterans and by strong support from the "Stalwart" faction of his party (which depended on his patronage), and the Southern Republican parties. Grant won with 55.6% of the vote to Greeley's 43.8%. The Liberal Republican party vanished and many former supporters—even former abolitionists—abandoned the cause of Reconstruction.
In the South, political–racial tensions built up inside the Republican party as they were attacked by the Democrats. In 1868, Georgia Democrats, with support from some Republicans, expelled all 28 black Republican members[clarification needed], arguing blacks were eligible to vote but not to hold office. In several states, the more conservative scalawags fought for control with the more radical carpetbaggers and usually lost. Thus, in Mississippi, the conservative faction led by scalawag James Lusk Alcorn was decisively defeated by the radical faction led by carpetbagger Adelbert Ames. The party lost support steadily as many scalawags left it; few recruits were acquired. Meanwhile, the freedmen were demanding a bigger share of the offices and patronage, thus squeezing out their carpetbagger allies. Finally, some of the more prosperous freedmen were joining the Democrats, as they were angered at the failure of the Republicans to help them acquire land.
Although historians such as W. E. B. Du Bois looked for and celebrated a cross-racial coalition of poor whites and blacks, such coalitions rarely formed in these years. Writing in 1915, former Congressman Lynch, recalling his experience as a black leader in Mississippi, explained that,
While the colored men did not look with favor upon a political alliance with the poor whites, it must be admitted that, with very few exceptions, that class of whites did not seek, and did not seem to desire such an alliance.
Lynch reported that poor whites resented the job competition from freedmen. Furthermore, the poor whites
with a few exceptions, were less efficient, less capable, and knew less about matters of state and governmental administration than many of the former slaves.… As a rule, therefore, the whites that came into the leadership of the Republican party between 1872 and 1875 were representatives of the most substantial families of the land.
By 1870, the Democratic–Conservative leadership across the South decided it had to end its opposition to Reconstruction and black suffrage to survive and move on to new issues. The Grant administration had proven by its crackdown on the Ku Klux Klan that it would use as much federal power as necessary to suppress open anti-black violence. Democrats in the North concurred with these Southern Democrats. They wanted to fight the Republican Party on economic grounds rather than race. The New Departure offered the chance for a clean slate without having to re-fight the Civil War every election. Furthermore, many wealthy Southern landowners thought they could control part of the newly enfranchised black electorate to their own advantage.
Not all Democrats agreed; an insurgent element continued to resist Reconstruction no matter what. Eventually, a group called "Redeemers" took control of the party in the Southern states. They formed coalitions with conservative Republicans, including scalawags and carpetbaggers, emphasizing the need for economic modernization. Railroad building was seen as a panacea since northern capital was needed. The new tactics were a success in Virginia where William Mahone built a winning coalition. In Tennessee, the Redeemers formed a coalition with Republican governor DeWitt Senter. Across the South, some Democrats switched from the race issue to taxes and corruption, charging that Republican governments were corrupt and inefficient. With continuing decrease in cotton prices, taxes squeezed cash-poor farmers who rarely saw $20 in currency a year but had to pay taxes in currency or lose their farm.
In North Carolina, Republican Governor William Woods Holden used state troops against the Klan, but the prisoners were released by federal judges. Holden became the first governor in American history to be impeached and removed from office. Republican political disputes in Georgia split the party and enabled the Redeemers to take over.
In the lower South, violence continued and new insurgent groups arose. The disputed election in Louisiana in 1872 found both Republican and Democratic candidates holding inaugural balls while returns were reviewed. Both certified their own slates for local parish offices in many places, causing local tensions to rise. Finally, Federal support helped certify the Republican as governor, but the Democrat Samuel D. McEnery in March 1873 brought his own militia to bear in New Orleans, the seat of government.
Slates for local offices were certified by each candidate. In rural Grant Parish in the Red River Valley, freedmen fearing a Democratic attempt to take over the parish government reinforced defenses at the Colfax courthouse in late March. White militias gathered from the area a few miles outside the settlement. Rumors and fears abounded on both sides. William Ward, an African-American Union veteran and militia captain, mustered his company in Colfax and went to the courthouse. On Easter Sunday, April 13, 1873, the whites attacked the defenders at the courthouse. There was confusion about who shot one of the white leaders after an offer by the defenders to surrender. It was a catalyst to mayhem. In the end, three whites died and 120–150 blacks were killed, some 50 were held as prisoners. The disproportionate numbers of black to white fatalities and documentation of brutalized bodies are why contemporary historians call it the Colfax Massacre rather than the Colfax Riot, as it is known locally.
This marked the beginning of heightened insurgency and attacks on Republican officeholders and freedmen in Louisiana and other Deep South states. In Louisiana, Judge T.S. Crawford and District Attorney P.H. Harris of the 12th Judicial District were shot off their horses and killed from ambush October 8, 1873, while going to court. One widow wrote to the Department of Justice that her husband was killed because he was a Union man and "... of the efforts made to screen those who committed a crime ..."
In the North, a live-and-let-live attitude made elections more like a sporting contest. But in the Deep South, many white citizens had not reconciled with the defeat of the war or the granting of citizenship to freedmen. As an Alabama scalawag explained,
The Panic of 1873 (a depression) hit the Southern economy hard and disillusioned many Republicans who had gambled that railroads would pull the South out of its poverty. The price of cotton fell by half; many small landowners, local merchants and cotton factors (wholesalers) went bankrupt. Sharecropping for black and white farmers became more common as a way to spread the risk of owning land. The old abolitionist element in the North was aging away, or had lost interest, and was not replenished. Many carpetbaggers returned to the North or joined the Redeemers. Blacks had an increased voice in the Republican Party, but across the South it was divided by internal bickering and was rapidly losing its cohesion. Many local black leaders started emphasizing individual economic progress in cooperation with white elites, rather than racial political progress in opposition to them, a conservative attitude that foreshadowed Booker T. Washington.
Nationally, President Grant was blamed for the depression; the Republican Party lost 96 seats in all parts of the country in the 1874 elections. The Bourbon Democrats took control of the House and were confident of electing Samuel J. Tilden president in 1876. President Grant was not running for re-election and seemed to be losing interest in the South. States fell to the Redeemers, with only four in Republican hands in 1873, Arkansas, Louisiana, Mississippi and South Carolina; Arkansas then fell after the violent Brooks–Baxter War in 1874 ripped apart the Republican party there.
In wide area of the South, secret societies sprang up with the aim of preventing blacks from voting and destroying the organization of the Republican party by assassinating local leaders and public officials. The most notorious such organization was the Ku Klux Klan, which in effect served as the military arm of the Democratic party in the South. It was led by planters, merchants, and Democratic politicians, men who liked to style themselves the South's "respectable citizens."(Foner Give me liberty 504). Political violence had been endemic in Louisiana, but in 1874 the white militias coalesced into paramilitary organizations such as the White League, first in parishes of the Red River Valley. A new organization operated openly and had political goals: the violent overthrow of Republican rule and suppression of black voting. White League chapters soon rose in many rural parishes, receiving financing for advanced weaponry from wealthy men. In one example of local violence, the White League assassinated six white Republican officeholders and five to twenty black witnesses outside Coushatta, Red River Parish in 1874. Four of the white men were related to the Republican representative of the parish.
Later in 1874 the White League mounted a serious attempt to unseat the Republican governor of Louisiana, in a dispute that had simmered since the 1872 election. It brought 5000 troops to New Orleans to engage and overwhelm forces of the Metropolitan Police and state militia to turn Republican Governor William P. Kellogg out of office and seat McEnery. The White League took over and held the state house and city hall, but they retreated before the arrival of reinforcing Federal troops. Kellogg had asked for reinforcements before, and Grant finally responded, sending additional troops to try to quell violence throughout plantation areas of the Red River Valley, although 2,000 troops were already in the state.
Similarly, the Red Shirts, another paramilitary group, arose in 1875 in Mississippi and the Carolinas. Like the White League and White Liner rifle clubs, these groups operated as a "military arm of the Democratic Party", to restore white supremacy.
Democrats and many northern Republicans agreed that Confederate nationalism and slavery were dead—the war goals were achieved—and further federal military interference was an undemocratic violation of historic Republican values. The victory of Rutherford Hayes in the hotly contested Ohio gubernatorial election of 1875 indicated his "let alone" policy toward the South would become Republican policy, as happened when he won the 1876 Republican nomination for president.
An explosion of violence accompanied the campaign for the Mississippi's 1875 election, in which Red Shirts and Democratic rifle clubs, operating in the open and without disguise, threatened or shot enough Republicans to decide the election for the Democrats. Republican Governor Adelbert Ames asked Grant for federal troops to fight back; Grant initially refused, saying public opinion was "tired out" of the perpetual troubles in the South. Ames fled the state as the Democrats took over Mississippi.
This was not the end of the violence, however, as the campaigns and elections of 1876 were marked by additional murders and attacks on Republicans in Louisiana, North and South Carolina, and Florida. In South Carolina the campaign season of 1876 was marked by murderous outbreaks and fraud against freedmen. Red Shirts paraded with arms behind Democratic candidates; they killed blacks in the Hamburg and Ellenton SC massacres; and one historian estimated 150 blacks were killed in the weeks before the 1876 election across South Carolina. Red Shirts prevented almost all black voting in two majority-black counties. The Red Shirts were also active in North Carolina.
Reconstruction continued in South Carolina, Louisiana and Florida until 1877. The elections of 1876 were accompanied by heightened violence across the Deep South. A combination of ballot stuffing and intimidating blacks suppressed their vote even in majority black counties. The White League was active in Louisiana. After Republican Rutherford Hayes won the disputed 1876 presidential election, the national Compromise of 1877 was reached.
The white Democrats in the South agreed to accept Hayes's victory if he withdrew the last Federal troops. By this point, the North was weary of insurgency. White Democrats controlled most of the Southern legislatures and armed militias controlled small towns and rural areas. Blacks considered Reconstruction a failure because the Federal government withdrew from enforcing their ability to exercise their rights as citizens.
On January 29, 1877 President Ulysses S. Grant signed the Electoral Commission Act that set up a 15-member commission to settle the disputed 1876 election of 8 Republicans and 7 Democrats. The Electoral Commission awarded Rutherford B. Hayes the electoral votes he needed; Congress certified he had won by one electoral vote. The Democrats had little leverage—they could not block Hayes' election, but they were mollified by the implicit, "back room" deal that federal troops would be removed on the condition that the Southern states pledged to protect the lives of African Americans. Hayes's friends also let it be known that he would promote Federal aid for internal improvements, including help for a railroad in Texas, and name a Southerner to his cabinet. With the removal of Northern troops, the President had no method to enforce Reconstruction, thus this "back room" deal signaled the end of American Reconstruction.
After assuming office on March 4, 1877, President Hayes removed troops from the capitals of the remaining Reconstruction states, Louisiana and South Carolina, allowing the Redeemers to have full control of these states. President Grant had already removed troops from Florida, before Hayes was inaugurated, and troops from the other Reconstruction states had long since been withdrawn. Hayes appointed David M. Key from Tennessee, a Southern Democrat, to the position of Postmaster General. By 1879, thousands of African American "exodusters" packed up and headed to new opportunities in Kansas.
The Democrats gained control of the Senate, and had complete control of Congress, having taken over the House in 1875. Hayes vetoed bills from the Democrats that outlawed the Republican Force Acts; however, with the military underfunded, Hayes could not adequately enforce these laws. Blacks remained involved in Southern politics, particularly in Virginia, which was run by the biracial Readjuster Party.
Numerous blacks were elected to local office through the 1880s, and in the 1890s in some states, biracial coalitions of Populists and Republicans briefly held control of state legislatures. In the last decade of the 19th century, southern states elected five black US Congressmen before disfranchising constitutions were passed throughout the former Confederacy.
The interpretation of Reconstruction has been a topic of controversy. Nearly all historians hold that Reconstruction ended in failure but for different reasons.
The first generation of Northern historians believed that the former Confederates were traitors and Johnson was their ally who threatened to undo the Union's constitutional achievements. By the 1880s, however, Northern historians argued that Johnson and his allies were not traitors but had blundered badly in rejecting the 14th Amendment and setting the stage for Radical Reconstruction.
The black leader Booker T. Washington, who grew up in West Virginia during Reconstruction, concluded later that, "the Reconstruction experiment in racial democracy failed because it began at the wrong end, emphasizing political means and civil rights acts rather than economic means and self-determination." His solution was to concentrate on building the economic infrastructure of the black community, in part by his leadership of Tuskegee Institute.
The Dunning School of scholars, based at the history department of Columbia University analyzed Reconstruction as a failure after 1866 for different reasons. They claimed that it took freedoms and rights from qualified whites and gave them to unqualified blacks who were being duped by corrupt carpetbaggers and scalawags. As T. Harry Williams (who was not a member of the Dunning school) notes, the Dunningites portrayed the era in stark terms:
"Reconstruction was a battle between two extremes: the Democrats, as the group which included the vast majority of the whites, standing for decent government and racial supremacy, versus the Republicans, the Negroes, alien carpetbaggers, and renegade scalawags, standing for dishonest government and alien ideals. These historians wrote literally in terms of white and black."
In the 1930s, revisionism became popular among scholars. As disciples of Charles A. Beard, revisionists focused on economics, downplaying politics and constitutional issues. They argued that the Radical rhetoric of equal rights was mostly a smokescreen hiding the true motivation of Reconstruction's real backers. Howard K. Beale argued that Reconstruction was primarily a successful attempt by financiers, railroad builders and industrialists in the Northeast, using the Republican Party, to control the national government for their own selfish economic ends. Those ends were to continue the wartime high protective tariff, the new network of national banks and to guarantee a sound currency. To succeed, the business class had to remove the old ruling agrarian class of Southern planters and Midwestern farmers. This it did by inaugurating Reconstruction, which made the South Republican, and by selling its policies to the voters wrapped up in such attractive vote-getting packages as Northern patriotism or the bloody shirt. Historian William Hesseltine added the point that the Northeastern businessmen wanted to control the South economically, which they did through ownership of the railroads. However, historians in the 1950s and 1960s refuted Beale's economic causation by demonstrating that Northern businessmen were widely divergent on monetary or tariff policy, and seldom paid attention to Reconstruction issues.
The black scholar W. E. B. Du Bois, in his Black Reconstruction in America, 1860–1880, published in 1935, compared results across the states to show achievements by the Reconstruction legislatures and to refute claims about wholesale African-American control of governments. He showed black contributions, as in the establishment of universal public education, charitable and social institutions and universal suffrage as important results, and he noted their collaboration with whites. He also pointed out that whites benefited most by the financial deals made, and he put excesses in the perspective of the war's aftermath. He noted that despite complaints, several states kept their Reconstruction constitutions for nearly a quarter of a century. Despite receiving favorable reviews, his work was largely ignored by white historians.
In the 1960s neoabolitionist historians emerged, led by John Hope Franklin, Kenneth Stampp, Leon Litwack, and Eric Foner. Influenced by the Civil Rights Movement, they rejected the Dunning school and found a great deal to praise in Radical Reconstruction. Foner, the primary advocate of this view, argued that it was never truly completed, and that a Second Reconstruction was needed in the late 20th century to complete the goal of full equality for African Americans. The neo-abolitionists followed the revisionists in minimizing the corruption and waste created by Republican state governments, saying it was no worse than Boss Tweed's ring in New York City.
Instead, they emphasized that suppression of the rights of African Americans was a worse scandal and a grave corruption of America's republican ideals. They argued that the tragedy of Reconstruction was not that it failed because blacks were incapable of governing, especially as they did not dominate any state government, but that it failed because whites raised an insurgent movement to restore white supremacy. White elite-dominated state legislatures passed disfranchising constitutions from 1890 to 1908 that effectively barred most blacks and many poor whites from voting. This disfranchisement affected millions of people for decades into the 20th century, and closed African Americans and poor whites out of the political process in the South.
Re-establishment of white supremacy meant that within a decade white people forgot that blacks were creating thriving middle classes in many states of the South. African Americans' lack of representation meant that they were treated as second-class citizens, with schools and services consistently underfunded in segregated societies, no representation on juries or in law enforcement, and bias in other legislation. It was not until the Civil Rights Movement and the passage of Federal legislation that African Americans regained their suffrage and civil rights in the South, under what is sometimes referred to as the "Second Reconstruction."
In 1990 Eric Foner concluded that from the black point of view, "Reconstruction must be judged a failure." Foner stated Reconstruction was "a noble if flawed experiment, the first attempt to introduce a genuine inter-racial democracy in the United States". The many factors contributing to the failure included: lack of a permanent federal agency specifically designed for the enforcement of civil rights; the Morrison R. Waite Supreme Court decisions that dismantled previous congressional civil rights legislation; and the economic reestablishment of conservative white planters in the South by 1877. Historian William McFeely explained that although the constitutional amendments and civil rights legislation on their own merit were remarkable achievements, no permanent government agency whose specific purpose was civil rights enforcement had been created.
More recent work by Nina Silber, David W. Blight, Cecelia O'Leary, Laura Edwards, LeeAnn Whites and Edward J. Blum, has encouraged greater attention to race, religion and issues of gender while at the same time pushing the end of Reconstruction to the end of the 19th century, while monographs by Charles Reagan Wilson, Gaines Foster, W. Scott Poole and Bruce Baker have offered new views of the Southern "Lost Cause".
While 1877 is the usual date given for the end of Reconstruction, some historians extend the era to the 1890s. Reconstruction is unanimously considered a failure, though the reason for this is a matter of controversy.
Historian Donald R. Shaffer maintained that the gains during Reconstruction for African Americans were not entirely extinguished. The legalization of African American marriage and family and the independence of black churches from white denominations were a source of strength during the Jim Crow era. Reconstruction was never forgotten among the black community and remained as a source of inspiration. The system of share-cropping allowed blacks a considerable amount of freedom over slavery.
As a journalist writing as Joe Harris for the Atlanta Constitution, mostly after Reconstruction, Joel Chandler Harris tried to advance racial and sectional reconciliation in the late nineteenth century. He supported the editor Henry Grady's vision of a New South, while Grady was editor from 1880 to 1889. Harris wrote many editorials encouraging southern acceptance of the changed conditions and some Northern influence, although he also asserted his belief that it should proceed under white supremacy.
In popular literature two early 20th-century novels by Thomas Dixon—The Clansman (1905) and The Leopard's Spots: A Romance of the White Man's Burden – 1865–1900 (1902)— romanticized white resistance to Northern/black coercion, hailing vigilante action by the KKK. Dixon's The Clansmen was adapted for the screen in D.W. Griffith's anti-Republican movie The Birth of a Nation (1915), considered to contribute to the 20th-century revival of the KKK. Many other authors romanticized the benevolence of slavery and the elite world of the antebellum plantations in memoirs and histories published in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, and the United Daughters of the Confederacy promoted influential works by women in these genres.
Only Georgia has a separate article about its experiences under Reconstruction. The other state names below link to a specific section in the state history article about the Reconstruction era.
in each State
|South Carolina||December 20, 1860||February 4, 1861||July 9, 1868||April 11, 1877|
|Mississippi||January 9, 1861||February 4, 1861||February 23, 1870||January 4, 1876|
|Florida||January 10, 1861||February 4, 1861||June 25, 1868||January 2, 1877|
|Alabama||January 11, 1861||February 4, 1861||July 14, 1868||November 16, 1874|
|Georgia||January 19, 1861||February 4, 1861||July 15, 1870||November 1, 1871|
|Louisiana||January 26, 1861||February 4, 1861||June 25, 1868 (or July 9)||January 2, 1877|
|Texas||February 1, 1861||March 2, 1861||March 30, 1870||January 14, 1873|
|Virginia||April 17, 1861||May 7, 1861||January 26, 1870||October 5, 1869|
|Arkansas||May 6, 1861||May 18, 1861||June 22, 1868||November 10, 1874|
|North Carolina||May 21, 1861||May 16, 1861||July 4, 1868||November 28, 1870|
|Tennessee||June 8, 1861||May 16, 1861||July 24, 1866||October 4, 1869|
For much more detail see Reconstruction: Bibliography
|Wikisource has the text of the 1905 New International Encyclopedia article Reconstruction.|