The Era of Reconstruction (1865–1877) for AP U.S. History
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Summary: Postwar plans for assimilating the South back into the Union provoked strong resentment among many white Southerners. In addition, the plans of President Abraham Lincoln, the Radical Republicans in the Congress, and President Andrew Johnson all contained significant differences. Policies enacted that improved the political and economic position of former slaves were opposed by many Southern whites. The impeachment of Andrew Johnson demonstrated the disagreements over Reconstruction policy between Johnson and the Radical Republicans. Congressional passage of the Thirteenth, Fourteenth, and Fifteenth Amendments outlawed slavery, established the rights of blacks, and defined the framework by which Southern states could rejoin the Union. Passage of these amendments, profits made by carpetbaggers and scalawags, and the increased economic and political power held by some Southern blacks all caused some elements of traditional Southern society to feel long-lasting anger and resentment. The Compromise of 1877 ended Reconstruction, bringing another re-ordering of the political, economic, and social structures of the South.
Reconstruction Era (1865–1877): Period after the Civil War during which Northern political leaders created plans for the governance of the South and a procedure for former Southern states to rejoin the Union; Southern resentment of this era lasted well into the twentieth century.
Radical Republicans: Congressional group that wished to punish the South for its secession from the Union; pushed for measures that gave economic and political rights to newly freed blacks in the South and that made it difficult for former Confederate states to rejoin the Union.
Reconstruction Act (1867): act placing Southern states under military rule and barring former supporters of the Confederacy from voting.
Carpetbaggers: Northerners who moved to the South during the Reconstruction era; traditional elements of Southern society were deeply resentful of profits made by carpetbaggers during this period.
Scalawags: term of derision used in the South during the Reconstruction era for white southern Republicans.
Ku Klux Klan: this group was founded in Tennessee in 1866; its oftentimes violent actions during the Reconstruction era represented the resentments felt by many Southern whites towards the changing political, social, and economic conditions of the Reconstruction era.
Compromise of 1877: political compromise ending the disputed presidential election of 1876; by the terms of this compromise Republican candidate Rutherford B. Hayes was awarded the electoral votes of Florida, Louisiana, and South Carolina, thus giving him the presidency; in return, all federal troops were removed from the South and the Congress promised to stop enforcing much Reconstruction-era legislation concerning the South.
Lincoln's Plans for Reconstruction
The preceding quote perfectly expresses the frustrations felt by many Americans during the Reconstruction Era. During this period, political leaders in the North had to decide how the former states of the Confederacy would be assimilated back into the Union. What should be done with former Confederate leaders? What should be done with former slaves? How much punishment (if any) should the former states of the Confederacy be made to endure? These were obviously incredibly complicated questions, and the results had to be imperfect in some manner.
Other factors increased the difficulty of Southern assimilation after the Civil War. It was only when defeated Confederate soldiers returned to their homes that the extent of the devastation of the South during the war became widely known. Virtually the entire Southern railway system and many farms and cities were destroyed by the war. In addition, nearly one-third of all adult males residing in Confederate states died or were wounded during the war. For those plantation owners whose plantations were not destroyed, laborers now had to be hired; many of these owners were now strapped for cash. Many freed blacks wandered the countryside looking for work, while many poorer white men with jobs lived in fear of being replaced by freed black men.
The problems of Reconstruction were compounded by the assassination of Abraham Lincoln at the very end of the Civil War. Lincoln had begun giving shape to a Reconstruction plan as early as mid-1863. Lincoln devised a plan for former Confederates to rejoin the Union, entitled the Ten Percent Plan. By the provisions of this plan, citizens of former Confederate states would be given the opportunity to swear allegiance to the government in Washington (high-ranking Confederate military and civilian authorities would not be offered this opportunity). When 10 percent of the registered voters in the state signed this pledge, the state was afforded the chance to form its own state government, which obviously had to be loyal to Washington.
Tennessee, Louisiana, and Arkansas all went through the appropriate procedures to form loyal state governments, yet their applications for renewed participation in the Union were not approved by the Radical Republicans who dominated the Congress. These men were determined to punish the Southern states in any way possible for their "betrayal" of the Union. This group, led by Thaddeus Stevens, included several who had been ardent abolitionists in the years before the Civil War. They believed that power in the Southern states had to be totally reorganized in order for blacks to achieve equality. The Radical Republicans also saw the creation of Reconstruction policy as a constitutional issue, stating that it was the job of the Congress and not the president to create this policy.
Radical Republicans felt that action was needed to counter the Black Codes, which had been passed by all Southern state legislatures in 1866. These sets of regulations limited movement by blacks, prohibited interracial marriage, and insisted that blacks obtain special certificates to hold certain jobs.
The Radical Republicans were insistent on immediate voting rights for blacks in the South; this desire was behind the Wade-Davis Act, which was passed by Congress in the summer of 1864. This bill stated that Congress would only authorize a state government in former Confederate states when the majority of voters took an "ironclad" oath, stating that they were not now disloyal to the Union nor had they ever been disloyal. Under these provisions, it would be impossible for any state to reenter the Union without a large number of black voters. President Lincoln killed this bill by a pocket veto.