Radical Reconstruction After the Civil War
Congress Takes Action
Radical Republicans declared that if the South were allowed to rebuild itself along the lines of the Black Codes, the Civil War had been fought for nothing. They introduced a variety of legislation to counter the Black Codes. First, they extended the authority of the Freedmen’s Bureau. It had been intended to operate for only one year, but Congress decided to keep it running. President Johnson vetoed the bill, declaring that the freedmen were not entitled to perpetual charity from the U.S. government. Congress overrode the president’s veto, and the bureau continued to function.
Second, Congress passed the Civil Rights Act of 1866, which stated that everyone born in the United States was a citizen and as such was entitled to full civil rights. President Johnson vetoed the Civil Rights Act on the grounds that the federal government had no right to make such a law. Again, Congress overrode the president’s veto.
In 1868, the Fourteenth Amendment was ratified. This amendment declared that anyone born or naturalized in the United States was a citizen and could not be deprived of life, liberty, or property without due process of law. It also promised all citizens the equal protection of the law. It did not specifically give former slaves voting rights, but it did tie the number of congressmen per state to its total population of voters. This offered southern states an inducement to allow freedmen to vote; now that they would each be counted as one person rather than three-fifths of a person, southern states would legally have larger populations and thus more representatives in the House.
1868 was a congressional election year, with one-third of the Senate and the full House of Representatives at stake. White violence against freedmen in the South had become common, and a number of people had been killed. Northerners overwhelmingly supported Republican candidates in the election, since it appeared to them that Johnson’s policies were likely to overturn everything they had fought for in the Civil War.
Congress passed the Reconstruction Acts of 1867 in response to a recent outbreak of race riots, including an especially violent confrontation in New Orleans. Republicans argued that the riots proved that the South would never conform to the laws of the United States unless forced to do so; therefore they would apply force. The Reconstruction Acts divided the old Confederacy (except Tennessee, which had already been reconstructed) into five military districts, to be occupied by U.S. troops until two things had happened. First, each district must comply with the Fourteenth Amendment. Second, each state must write a new state constitution giving freedmen the vote and the right to hold office.
Practice questions for these concepts can be found at:
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