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Reconstruction Essay, Research Paper

Reconstruction Self-destruction

After the Civil War racism was widespread throughout the south even though there was much effort by the North in creating equality throughout the newly reformed nation. Even though Reconstruction fell far short of its intended goals, the nation was reunited in the governmental sense and many laws were enacted in respects to the equality of blacks. While Congress passed amendments to eventually help future black generations, its actions could not immediately erase two centuries of the nation s social habits. Both whites and African Americans had to hastily adjust to the customs of the new South and most found they had an extremely difficult time doing so.

After the assassination of President Lincoln, the responsibility of Reconstruction was now in President Andrew Johnson s hands. Johnson s plan, a more lenient form of Lincoln s, was to quickly restore the southern states to their rightful place in the Union. Johnson also arranged for ordinary white southerners to sign a loyalty oath to rightfully own their property again and regain their civil and political rights. In Johnson s plans, former high-ranking Confederate officials had to apply for individual pardons, most of which Johnson wrote as fast as they came in. Unlike the Radical Republicans, Johnson was an advocate of states rights. Johnson s program failed, however, when southern delegates were in no frame of mind to follow Johnson s plans to construct new governments. For the most part the southern governments were extremely reluctant in giving African Americans any political rights. In addition, most states passed laws restricting African Americans rights, in effect causing the African Americans to remain property less agricultural laborers with inferior legal rights (NN 536). Congress soon grew tired of Johnson s mishandling of Reconstruction and overrode his vetoes, and passed the civil rights bill and Fourteenth Amendment.

With laws providing racial equality passed, blacks could now move forward as a people. At first the joy of freedom for an African American must have been overwhelming, but soon that newfound joy would have been overtaken by frustration as to how to find a better life than before emancipation. Blacks could now progress in the years after the war, but at the same time were now faced with new obstacles. Blacks had the freedom to travel at will and reunite with their families. After settling down with their families, African Americans established schoolhouses and churches. With the assistance of Radicals, African Americans soon possessed the ability to vote and could now even be elected to state legislatures. After gaining black suffrage, black men constituted nearly eighty percent of the Republican vote in the South. Unfortunately, African Americans never held office in proportion to their voting strength (NN 543). In addition to political rights, blacks desired greatly for their own land and for more education. Blacks were also given the right to own property, which a black veteran commented, Every colored man will be a slave, and feel himself a slave until he can raise him own bale of cotton and put him own mark upon it and say dis is mine! (NN 533). Blacks no longer wanted to work the same way they did in slavery, and a resistance grew to the old system of labor, which led to the adoption of sharecropping. Even though blacks did not have to answer to a master anymore they still found themselves bound by an ever-increasing debt on land they sharecropped from white plantation owners. Even though blacks were supposedly free, they were still constrained to living lives of poor quality resulting from the negative attitudes still held by whites.

Even though blacks had their new glimpse of freedom, they were soon confronted by the likes of hate groups such as the Ku Klux Klan. Slowly as legislation passed, blacks were given more and more rights on paper, but southern whites were still very much opposed to black equality. Southern whites, usually impoverished, joined the Ku Klux Klan in an attempt to curb black equality and preserve their superior social status over blacks. The members also felt obligated to uphold the so-called southern white tradition. The mentality of the Ku Klux Klan can best be summarized by a white southerner who stated, I may be poor and my manners may be crude, but because I am a white man, I have a right to be treated with respect by Negroes . That I am poor is not as important as that I am a white man; and no Negro is ever going to forget that he is not a white man (NN 555). With such violent groups as the Ku Klux Klan, blacks found themselves forbidden from being able to exercise their right to vote, and through corrupted state governments, forced to continue to work on farms falling deeper and deeper into debt.

Reconstruction was waning as northern public opinion became disillusioned during the presidency of Ulysses S. Grant. Segregation was practiced throughout the South and even the North. The Panic of 1873 diverted public attention away from Reconstruction and instead to economic issues. Southern whites used economic coercion, violence and racism to overthrow the Republican state governments. A northern Republican declared, The truth is our people are tired out with the worn out cry of Southern outrages !! (NN 555). Reconstruction came to an end in 1877 with the exchange of Rutherford B. Hayes s election as president. Most apparently, the deep-rooted racism of the nation and especially the South played a crucial role in the eventual failure of Reconstruction.

With Reconstruction came many new laws and amendments for equality of race. The states were united again through much struggle and compromise. Although blacks didn t experience equality right away, the laws were in place for the benefit of future generations. With Reconstruction the southern state governments acknowledged the amendments, but at the same time, the majority of white citizens of those states continued to repeatedly ignore blacks rights. Groups such as the Ku Klux Klan used violence to defend their higher social status over blacks. Although blacks now had laws for equality it would take the nation as a whole many decades for blacks to see changes, and those changes are still being seen today.


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