Welcome to the first module of our HISTORY 1053 course. This module will cover the Reconstruction period which began at the conclusion of the Civil War and lasted until 1877 when a presidential election brought it to a close.
Before we begin our discussion of Reconstruction, let us first quickly review the Civil War. As you know, the Civil War was caused due to numerous sectional differences. The northern economy was based on industries while the south depended on agriculture. Slavery was a major asset to the agricultural structure and was engrained into the social system. While the South promoted slavery, the North did not. As territory was added to the United States, the balance of power in the government came into question. Every time a state was added to the Union, the North and South fought over whether the state would be a free or a slave state. They did this not only out of principle, but because each side wanted more representation in Congress and thus greater power over the other. Finally, the last sectional difference we will discuss is that the North believed in a more federalist style of government in which the central government and the states shared equal power. The South on the other hand believed this gave the central government far too much authority. Instead, the South promoted greater states rights. This difference was an important issue as Reconstruction played out.
Timothy O’Sullivan, “Incidents of the war. A Harvest of Death, Gettysburg, July 1863,” ca. 1865, Photograph, Selected Civil War Photographs, 1861-1865, Library of Congress, Washington D.C., http://memory.loc.gov/cgi-bin/query/r?ammem/cwar:@field(NUMBER+@band(cwp+4a40875)).Once the Civil War started, it lasted 4 long years. By the end it was estimated that a million men were either killed or wounded.
Barnard, George, “Ruins seen from the capitol, Columbia, S.C.,” 1865, Photograph, Pictures of the Civil War, National Archives and Records Administration, Washington D.C., http://www.archives.gov/research/military/civil-war/photos/index.html#photographers. At the conclusion of the Civil War, the South was devastated. As one onlooker described, “Hell had laid her egg, and right here it hatched.” Their transportation system was broken and their agriculture (the economic lifeblood of the South) was crippled. It took ten years for the south to produce as large a cotton crop as it had in 1860. This led to inflation, affecting the economic system.
“The Great Negro Emancipation,” Dec. 21, 1861, Cartoon, Harper’s Weekly, http://blackhistory.harpweek.com/7Illustrations/CivilWar/GreatNegroEman.htm. The group that was affected the most at the conclusion of the Civil War were the slaves. The Emancipation Proclamation had officially banned slavery, “freeing” four million southern blacks. While these individuals had their freedom, they faced an uphill battle. They were unskilled, illiterate, had no property or money and no real way to acquire it. Freedmen, as they were called, had little knowledge of how to survive as free people.
With the Northern victory over the South, the next question was how the North should proceed with rebuilding the country. Should the reunification during reconstruction include a harsh or a lenient punishment. As we discuss this issue, please consider for yourself which option you would have chosen had you been given the chance.There are two frames of thought here:Some believed that the south had officially left the union at the beginning of the Civil War. With this choice, southern states became traitors to the United States and were now captured provinces. Justice had to be met for leaving the union, causing the war, and the death of loved ones. Those who believed in this desired a harsh punishment for the southern states.Others, however, believed that the south had never legally left the union. These northerners desired to peacefully reunite the union through easy remittance, such as a simple declaration of allegiance.
Harsh or lenient reunification was not the only question that had to be answered. Who would actually direct the process of Reconstruction? Should it be the president, congress, or the southern states themselves that decided the punishment and fate of the south?
In actuality, all three tried to run the reconstruction process. For the rest of the lecture, we will analyze these three separate plans. As we do, I would like you as the student to decide which one you believe to have been most effective.
Alexander Gardner, “Abraham Lincoln, head-and-shoulders portrait, facing front,” Nov. 8, 1863, Photograph, Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division, Washington D.C., http://www.loc.gov/pictures/item/96522529/. First, let’s discuss the presidential plan for reconstruction. As the fate of the Civil War was being played out, President Abraham Lincoln constructed his plan for the postwar situation. In 1863 Lincoln established his plan entitled, “The Proclamation of Amnesty and Reconstruction.” With the word amnesty, meaning to pardon, being a central part of this title, you can easily tell that Lincoln’s plan was extremely lenient. He believed that the southern states had never legally withdrawn from the union and that a speedy restoration should take place. The “Proclamation of Amnesty and Reconstruction” outlined Lincoln’s 10% plan. For southern states to be allowed back into the union, all they had to do was to get 10% of their voters to pledge an oath of allegiance to the United States. While Lincoln’s plan focused on the status of each state, it failed to resolve any of the problems faced by the freedmen. His plan did not include any social or political rights to ex-slaves or assistance to the freedmen.
“Hon. Andrew Johnson, half-length portrait, facing left,” c.a. 1855-1865, Photograph, Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division, Washington D.C., http://www.loc.gov/pictures/item/96522530/. After Abraham Lincoln was assassinated, his Vice President, Andrew Johnson became president. Radical Republicans believed Johnson would be wonderful because he would be tote their party line. Johnson was anti-confederate and hated the planter-class. Prior to his presidency, Johnson claimed harsh punishment for the planters, making such statements as, “I would arrest them, I would try them, I would convict them, and I would hang them.” However, once he came to office, Johnson was a great disappointment to the republicans. His racist views dominated his prior position. Hi was a defender of slavery as seen with statements such as “Africans are inferior to the white man in point of intellect – better calculated in physical structure to undergo drudgery (hard, routine work) and hardship.” President Johnson also promoted states rights and privileged the south as he vetoed numerous congressional bills.
President Johnson had eight months before Congress reconvened which he used to establish his reconstruction plan. His plan was even more lenient than his predecessor's. President Johnson agreed with Lincoln that states had never legally been outside the Union. With this foundation, he had no qualms about giving full pardons. In fact, he pardoned 14,000 wealthy or high-ranking ex-Confederates and even allowed former confederate leaders to be elected into congress. He went as far to even return confiscated land to ex-Confederates even if freedmen were currently in possession of it. This destroyed the dream that many freedmen had that they would be allowed some property rights over the land they had worked for often times generations.This image is a political cartoon attacking President Johnson’s actions. As you can see, Johnson is stepping on a freedmen as he makes a deal with the devil to pardon southern wealthy ex-confederates.
Perhaps the only proactive accomplishment made by Johnson during his presidency was the ratification of the 13th amendment to the constitution. Ratified in December 1865, this amendment reads, “Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction.” This amendment therefore was an extension of the Emancipation Proclamation and made the abolition of slavery a concrete aspect of the United States. While the freedmen gained freedom with this amendment, they still lacked citizenship, the right to vote, and needed economic aid.
While both President Lincoln and President Johnson promoted an extremely lenient reconstruction plan, congress had a much different agenda. Congress was made up of predominately radical republicans who believed that the south deserved to be punished. Congress believed that southern states had essentially committed suicide when they left the union and had forfeited all their rights. Therefore, southern states should only be readmitted as “conquered provinces.” Congress hated Lincoln and Johnson’s plan believing it was too lenient and was restoring southern aristocracy which would keep blacks enslaved. Thus, Congress and President Johnson were at extreme odds. The more Johnson fought for his agenda, the more radical congress became.
Alfred R. Waud, “The Freedmen’s Bureau,” July 25, 1868, wood engraving, Harper’s Weekly, Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division, Washington D.C.,http://www.loc.gov/pictures/item/92514996/.So with that foundational understanding, let’s look at the plan that congress set out for reconstruction. Congress looked to resolved both the reunification question and even some of the economic and social trials faced by the freedmen. The first section of the plan that we will investigate is the social advancement aspect. Congress pushed for the establishment of a Freedmen’s Bureau which was basically a primitive welfare agency. The Bureau was to provide food, clothing, medical care, and education to freedmen and to white refugees. With very little to begin with, freedmen badly needed these essentials. The Bureau was also successful in teaching 200,000 blacks to read. The Bureau even went as far as to offer freedmen 40 acres and a mule – although this plan was thwarted by Johnson’s pardons and reestablishment of southern aristocracy.
“Migrant family from the South,” n.d., Photograph, ChicagoHistory.org, http://www.chicagohistory.org/greatchicagostories/bronzeville/background.php. (Please note, this image is not accurate to the time, but suits the visual purpose of our discussion.) While the next two slides are not necessarily part of congressional reconstruction, I want to plug them into our discussion of social advancement for the freedmen. The time between 1878 – 1880 is known as the Great Migration. During this time, 25,000 blacks from Louisiana, Texas, and Mississippi surged in a mass exodus to Kansas and other areas of the United States. They moved for several reasons. With the ratification of the 13th amendment, slaves were officially made free. By moving, blacks gained greater freedom from their master. Freedmen also moved looking for economic opportunity, the possibility to reunite their family, and many times just to see the other side of the hill.
“Mt. Pleasant Church and Parsonage,”n.d., Photograph, Rockville, Md., http://www.rockvillemd.gov/historic/AAHwalkingtour.html. In addition to the freedom granted by moving to a different area, blacks sought greater freedom in their religious practices. Black churches became the bedrock of black community life providing independent worship and freedom from white patriarchy. Black churches grew dramatically during this time. In 1850, there were approximately 150,000 patrons to the Black Baptist Church. By 1870, only 20 years later, this number had grown to 500,000. The same can be said about the African Methodist Episcopal Church which saw a growth from 100,000 to 400,000 during the first decade after emancipation.
Now that we have looked at the social advancement aspect of the congressional reconstruction plan, let’s look at how congress attempted to readmit southern states into the union.While the presidential plans were filled with pardons and amnesty, the congressional plan was much more harsh. Congress pushed through the Military Reconstruction Act which divided the 10 former Confederate states into 5 military districts. Each district was overseen by a union general. Re-admittance to the union now required two major things:Ratification of the 14th amendment to the constitution.Black political participation in the elections for state constitutional conventions. (Please do not get this second requirement mixed up with the 15th amendment which gave blacks the right to vote.)These requirements were extremely radical. However, some claimed it was not radical enough for it did not prosecute southern leaders for treason nor did it redistribute land. Many radical republicans believed that economic independence was more important than political rights.
As previously stated, the Military Reconstruction Act demanded southern states to ratify the 14th amendment in order to be re-admitted into the union. In the end, the 14th amendment, also known as the “Equal Rights Amendment” (not to be confused with the ERA of the 1970s and 1980s) was indeed ratified. Part of the amendment states, “All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the state wherein they reside. No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.” In lay terms, this amendment made all native-born or naturalized persons American citizens. It offered citizenship which brings with it a national guarantee of equality before the law. This amendment is perhaps one of the most important amendments to the constitution. Numerous organizations and individuals throughout history, including minorities, the disabled, and women have referred to this amendment for constitutional rights. As a side note, at the time of ratification, President Johnson advised southerners to reject the amendment claiming that the southern blacks did not need protection. Several white violent rampages against blacks proved Johnson wrong.
“Hon. Andrew Johnson, half-length portrait, facing left,” c.a. 1855-1865, Photograph, Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division, Washington D.C., http://www.loc.gov/pictures/item/96522530/. Based on our discussion thus far, it is evident that the radical Republican congress and democrat President Johnson not only disagreed with each other, but began to hold great animosity against the other. This leads us to President Johnson’s impeachment. Central to this story is an understanding of the Tenure of Office Act. The act passed by congress required the approval of the Senate for removal of any government official. This limited the power of the president and increased the power of the senate.
“Edwin Stanton, head-and-shoulders portrait,” n.d. Photograph, Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division, Washington D.C., http://www.loc.gov/pictures/item/2005687476/.The Tenure of Office Act was created specifically to protect Secretary of War Edwin M. Stanton who was a radical ally needed to enforce the Reconstruction acts.Johnson however, dismissed Stanton anyways – breaking the law established by the Tenure of Office Act.
Everett Rosenfeld, “Top 10 Government Showdowns,” Time,July 27, 2011, http://www.time.com/time/specials/packages/article/0,28804,2085383_2085381_2085353,00.html. Because of this, President Johnson was impeached. The word impeachment simply means to bring an accusation against or to charge with a crime. When impeaching a president, the House of Representatives calls for his impeachment and then the senate holds the trial. Therefore, just because a president is impeached does not mean that he is found guilty of the crime and kicked out of office. In this case, Johnson escaped conviction in the senate by 1 vote. Johnson is the first of two presidents to have ever been impeached. His impeachment greatly affected the remainder of his presidency. The experience quieted Johnson and for the last ten months that he held office, he did not interfere with congress.
Therefore, for the next ten months congress enjoyed free-reign. It was during this time that the 15th Amendment to the constitution was ratified. This Amendment prohibited states from depriving any citizen of the right to vote because of “race, color, or previous condition of servitude.” This amendment was great for republicans at the time since blacks gave them the vote. There are definitely some major pros and cons to the 15th amendment. First, while this was a monumental improvement for our nation, there was one group who felt slighted by its verbiage: women. Was this just an accident? Was the word “gender” just overlooked? No. The creators of the amendment felt that if the word “gender” was added, it would make the amendment much too radical and ratification would not take place. Women would have to wait for their turn. As Fredrick Douglass explained, “This is the Negro’s Hour.” It was at this point that the women’s movement broke from the abolitionist movement.Second, once the 15th amendment was ratified, congress essentially scratched “the Negro question” from their agenda. As Representative Wendell Phillips explained, the black man now held, “sufficient shield in his own hands… Whatever he suffers will be largely now, and in the future, his own fault.”Finally, while this amendment allowed African Americans to vote, it did not prohibit restrictions on suffrage such as property requirements and literacy tests.
This leads us to the third and final group that attempted to control Reconstruction: The Southern States themselves.
Joseph John Kirkbride, “The chain gang, Thomasville, Georgia,” c.a. 1884-1891, Photograph, Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division, Washington D.C., http://www.loc.gov/pictures/item/00652806/.Generally speaking, the south despised having African Americans free. Their form of reconstruction was to reestablish the pre-Civil War racial hierarchy in which the whites controlled and dominated over the blacks. To do this, southern states set up several devices to counteract the 13th, 14th, and 15th amendments. These “devices” are known as Black Codes. Black Codes are laws that reinstated slavery in all but name. Black Codes restricted working conditions, voting rights, and even social interactions.
“Negro sharecroppers tending tobacco in South Carolina,” c.a. 1900, Photograph. http://www.historynyc.com/proddetail.asp?prod=5275-1. Black Codes restricted working conditions. For example, labor contracts were created which forced blacks to work for meager pay. Blacks could be arrested if they were unemployed. If convicted, they could be contracted out for labor. Judges even went as far as to order black children to be bound to white employers under apprenticeship laws. African Americans often had to pay an annual tax to work.
Dorothea Lange, “Thirteen-year old sharecropper boy near Americus, Georgia,” July 1937, Photograph, Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division, Washington D.C., http://www.loc.gov/pictures/item/fsa2000001575/PP/.One major form of restricted working conditions existed with the sharecropping system. In this system, freedmen rented land from planters. This was great because it gave blacks freedom from white supervision and the ability to control their own time. This was more than they had ever had before. However, the system was fatal for blacks for in the end, they had to pay their landowner up to 50% of their crops. In addition to this cost, in order to utilize their rented land, blacks had to borrow supplies such as mules, seeds, tools, food, and clothing from country merchants who often charged as much as 60% interest. With these two major costs, at the end of the growing season, the freedmen could not pay their debts. In fact, they grew more and more in debt with each passing year. This led to a downward spiral of dependency. Blacks became slaves to the land they rented.
While laws that restricted working conditions counteracted the freedom given by the 13th amendment, laws that restricted voting rights worked to counteract the 15th amendment by creating ways to disqualify black voters. Some ways that voting rights were restricted included the usage of literacy tests, lengthy residence requirements, poll tax, and the grandfather clause. Literacy tests were brutal for not only were they insanely difficult, blacks had a lack of education at the time and were not allowed to vote because of it. In addition, tests could be interpreted differently for blacks and whites.Southern whites established the lengthy residence requirements because at the time, blacks moved more often (as we have discussed) and were thus not settled in an area long enough to meet the residence qualifications for voting.Poll taxes were extremely detrimental to voting because poor black sharecroppers could rarely afford this tax. Southern white elite could also use these taxes to disenfranchise poor whites.And finally, the grandfather clause permitted any male over 21 to vote only if their grandfather had been eligible to vote in 1867. Very few African Americans had grandfathers who could vote before 1867 since the 15th amendment was not even ratified until 1870. This clause was not found unconstitutional until 1915.
Finally, southern states counteracted the most powerful of the three reconstruction amendments – the 14th amendment – by restricting social interactions between blacks and whites. Jim Crow laws were created to ensure that while the 14th amendment established citizenship and equality on paper, it would not be found in society. Jim Crow laws allowed for segregation between blacks and whites in public facilities. The two races were segregated in restaurants, drinking fountains and bathrooms, buses, rest stops, and any other public facility. While these laws seem absolutely unconstitutional, they were actually upheld by the Supreme Court Case Plessy v Ferguson which established the “separate but equal” principle. It was not until the Supreme Court Case Brown v Board of Education in 1954 that Plessy v Ferguson was overturned.
“Early photograph of a White Supremacist vigilante,” n.d., Photograph, Tennessee State Museum, http://www.journalofamericanhistory.org/issues/923/. The Ku Klux Klan ensured that the racial hierarchy supported by Jim Crow Laws was kept. Originally a social club of Confederate veterans, the KKK became a paramilitary organization supporting Democrats. The group went on numerous rampages, whipping, hanging, shooting, burning, and throat-cutting to restore white supremacy.
“KKK Rally Boulder, Colorado,” 1925, Photograph, University of Denver, http://law.du.edu/jenkins/Chapter1.htm. Shockingly, there was little to no governmental or judicial support against this violence for often times KKK members dominated the police force and judicial system.
“This is a White Man’s Government,” Sept. 5, 1868, Cartoon, Harper’s Weekly, http://blackhistory.harpweek.com/7Illustrations/Reconstruction/ThisIsAWhiteMansGov.htm. The KKK ultimately allowed democrats to retake control of state governments. In fact, only 6% of southern congressional delegations between 1865 and 1877 were black. Violent intimidation led to white political monopoly.
The era of reconstruction came to an end by 1877 for several reasons. First, Northerners grew tired of southern reconstruction. They believed the fundamental goals of reconstruction had been accomplished with the 13th, 14th, and 15th amendments.
“President Ulysses S. Grant, half-length portrait, seated, facing right,” 1869-1885, Photograph, Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division, Washington D.C., http://www.americaslibrary.gov/jb/nation/jb_nation_grant_1_e.html. Second, President Grant’s presidency proved fatal to the reconstruction effort. To secure reelection, Grant became more conservative in his approach to reconstruction. In addition, Northerns felt they had their own set of problems in the form of governmental corruption during Grant’s presidency.
Third, many believed blacks were incapable of effective government. Blacks failed to establish a strong hold in government and violent intimidation led to white political monopoly.
Tilden:“Samuel Tilden Biography,” National Park Service, U.S. Department of Interior, http://www.nps.gov/gate/historyculture/samuel-tilden-biography.htm. Hayes: “President Rutherford B. Hayes, half-length portrait, seated, facing left,” 1877-1893, Photograph, Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division, Washington D.C., http://www.loc.gov/pictures/item/96522533/.Lastly, the election of 1876 brought reconstruction to an official close. Democrat Samuel J. Tilden ran against Republican Rutherford B. Hayes. This election was wrought with corruption and confusion. In the end, it was unclear as to who had won. To settle the situation, the democratic and republican parties agreed to a monumental compromise known as the Compromise of 1877. In this negotiation, republicans were given the presidency in exchange for the removal of federal troops from the south. Thus ended military reconstruction established by congress. Southern Democrats ultimately regained power in the south and racial hierarchy was reestablished.
As we close our discussion of the reconstruction era, I leave you with a question to consider: Was reconstruction successful?Our next lecture will cover Westward Migration.
Recorded - Reconstruction
Reconstruction 1865 - 1877
Civil War Caused by Sectional Differences North SouthIndustry AgricultureNo Slavery SlaveryIncreasing power in Decreasing power ingovernment governmentFederalism States Rights
13 th Amendment• Section 1: Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction.
14 th Amendment• Sect. 1: All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the state wherein they reside. No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.
15 th Amendment• Sect. 1: The right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of race, color, or previous condition of servitude.
“We regard the Reconstruction Acts(so called) of Congress as usurpations, and unconstitutional, revolutionary, and void.”– Democratic Platform “This is a White Man’s Government.” -Thomas Nast, 1868