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Reconstruction (1865–1877)

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Study Questions & Essay Topics

Study Questions & Essay Topics

Study Questions & Essay Topics

Study Questions & Essay Topics

Study Questions & Essay Topics

Always use specific historical examples to support your arguments.

Study Questions

In what ways was Reconstruction a success? A failure? Explain.

Reconstruction was a success in that it restored the United States as a unified nation: by 1877 , all of the former Confederate states had drafted new constitutions, acknowledged the Thirteenth, Fourteenth, and Fifteenth Amendments, and pledged their loyalty to the U.S. government. Reconstruction also finally settled the states’ rights vs. federalism debate that had been an issue since the 1790 s.

However, Reconstruction failed by most other measures: Radical Republican legislation ultimately failed to protect former slaves from white persecution and failed to engender fundamental changes to the social fabric of the South. When President Rutherford B. Hayes removed federal troops from the South in 1877 , former Confederate officials and slave owners almost immediately returned to power. With the support of a conservative Supreme Court, these newly empowered white southern politicians passed black codes, voter qualifications, and other anti-progressive legislation to reverse the rights that blacks had gained during Radical Reconstruction. The U.S. Supreme Court bolstered this anti-progressive movement with decisions in the Slaughterhouse Cases, the Civil Rights Cases, and United States v. Cruikshank that effectively repealed the Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendments and the Civil Rights Act of 1875 .

Meanwhile, the sharecropping system—essentially a legal form of slavery that kept blacks tied to land owned by rich white farmers—became widespread in the South. With little economic power, blacks ended up having to fight for civil rights on their own, as northern whites lost interest in Reconstruction by the mid- 1870 s. By 1877 , northerners were tired of Reconstruction, scandals, radicals, and the fight for blacks’ rights. Reconstruction thus came to a close with many of its goals left unaccomplished.

Some historians have suggested that had Lincoln not been assassinated, Radical Republicans in the House might have impeached him instead of Andrew Johnson. Defend this argument.

Radical Republicans in Congress might have impeached President Lincoln after the Civil War, had he not been assassinated, because he and Congress had contrasting visions for handling postwar Reconstruction. Ultimately, however, Congress ended up impeaching President Andrew Johnson, who followed many parts of Lincoln’s blueprint for Reconstruction.

In 1863 , Lincoln wanted to end the Civil War as quickly as possible. He feared that strong northern public support for the war would wane if the fighting continued and knew that the war was also taking an enormous toll on northern families and resources. Lincoln worried that if the war dragged on, a settlement would be reached that would leave the North and South as two separate nations. As it turned out, his fears were justified: by late 1863 , an increasing number of Democrats were calling for a truce and peaceful resolution to the conflict.

As a result, in the Proclamation of Amnesty and Reconstruction of 1863 , Lincoln drafted lenient specifications for secessionist states for readmission into the Union—an attempt to entice Unionists and those tired of fighting in the South to surrender. His Ten-Percent Plan, part of the proclamation, called for southern states to be readmitted into the Union after 10 percent of the voting public swore a loyalty oath to the United States. In addition, he offered to pardon all Confederate officials and pledged to protect southerners’ private property. Lincoln did not want Reconstruction to be a long, drawn-out process; rather, he wanted the states to draft new constitutions so that the Union could be quickly restored.

Radical Republicans, on the other hand, wanted the South to pay a price for secession and believed that Congress, not the president, should direct the process of Reconstruction. The Radical Republicans saw serious flaws in Civil War–era southern society and were adamant that the South needed full social rehabilitation to resemble the North. Many Republican Congressmen also aimed to improve education and labor conditions to benefit all of the oppressed classes in southern society, black and white. To quicken this transformation of the South, Congress passed a series of progressive legislation, including the Civil Rights Act of 1866 , the First and Second Reconstruction Acts, the Ku Klux Klan Act of 1871 , the Civil Rights Act of 1875 , and the Thirteenth, Fourteenth, and Fifteenth Amendments to the U.S. Constitution.

In the end, Radical Republicans in the House impeached President Andrew Johnson in 1868 because he repeatedly blocked their attempt to pass radical legislation. For example, Johnson vetoed the Civil Rights Act of 1866 , the Freedmen’s Bureau charter, and the ratification of the Fourteenth Amendment, all of which were progressive, “radical” bills. Had Lincoln remained alive, he might have been in the same position himself: he wanted Reconstruction to end quickly and did not necessarily favor progressive legislation. Indeed, Lincoln had made it clear during the Civil War that he was fighting to restore the Union, not to emancipate slaves. It is likely that Lincoln thus would have battled with Congress over the control of Reconstruction, blocked key Reconstruction policies, and met as vindictive a House as Johnson did 1868 .

Explain how three of the following shaped northern politics during Reconstruction: a) black codes b) the Depression of 1873 c) Crédit Mobilier d) the “Swing Around the Circle” speeches e) the Resumption Act of 1875

The Crédit Mobilier scandal, the Depression of 1873 , and the Resumption Act of 1875 focused attention away from the South and onto political and economic woes in the North. All three thus played a role in ending Reconstruction.

In the 1860 s, executives of the Union Pacific Railroad created a dummy construction company called Crédit Mobilier and then hired themselves out as contractors at high rates to earn large profits. The executives bribed dozens of Congressmen and cabinet members in Ulysses S. Grant’s administration, including Grant’s vice president, to allow the scam to work. The scheme was eventually exposed, and many politicians were forced to resign. Along with other scandals, such as the Fisk-Gould gold scandal and the Whiskey Ring, Crédit Mobilier distracted northern voters’ attention away from southern Reconstruction and toward corruption and graft problems in the North.

When the Depression of 1873 struck, northern voters became even less interested in pursuing Reconstruction efforts. Unemployment climbed to 15 percent, and hard currency became scarce. With pressing economic problems, northerners did not have time to worry about helping former slaves, punishing the Ku Klux Klan, or readmitting southern states into the Union.

Moreover, the Republican Party’s adherence to unpopular, strict monetary policies in response to the depression—such as the Resumption Act of 1875 —opened the door for the Democratic Party to make large political gains, accelerating the end of Reconstruction. The Resumption Act reduced the amount of currency circulating in the economy in an effort to curb inflation caused by the depression. Although the act improved economic conditions in the long run, it made for harder times in both the North and South in the short run. The Act was Republican-sponsored, so Democrats were able to capitalize on its unpopularity to rally support for their party. This increased popularity translated into election victories that enabled Democrats to retake the South, bringing Reconstruction to a close.

Suggested Essay Topics

1 . Compare and contrast Lincoln’s plans for Reconstruction, Presidential Reconstruction, and Radical Reconstruction.

2 . What effect did Reconstruction have on blacks? Were they better off after Reconstruction than they were before the Civil War?

3 . Was the impeachment of President Johnson justified? Why or why not? What were the consequences of his acquittal in the Senate?

4 . What effect did the Compromise of 1877 have on politics in the North and South?

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Civil War Reconstruction Ultimately a Failure

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President Lincoln was elected into presidency at a horrible time for the country but he still fought to do the best he could. After the civil war the main focus of Lincoln was to rebuild the North but still keep the South happy. His plans consisted of making the North’s reconstruction a main focal point and distributing 10% of the damages done to the south to aid their reconstruction. President Lincoln thought that the states that seceded last should be given less guilt than the ones who seceded first. He gave more money to Arkansas, Louisiana, Tennessee, and Virginia and he treated them better because they were the last to secede. Along with his plans for reconstruction came the Radical Republicans who were a small minority in congress. They were very strict on giving all rights to African Americans and wanted to punish the south. All of these ideas and plans for Lincoln were all good ideas and could have been successful but they came to an abrupt end when Lincoln was assassinated by John Wilkes Booth in 1865.

After the tragedy of Lincoln’s death, Vice President Andrew Johnson stepped up into the presidential position and started his own plans for reconstruction; his too, would turn out to be a failure. He supported hardcore Democratic principles and restoring Southern power. He brought in the remaining states back into the constitution. He

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The third plan to come out was that of the Congress. They were more about punishing the south for what they did and giving black equal rights. Their plan was a failure because they created two major acts that were never passed. They had plans of the Freedmen’s Beauro Act that was a watch for racism and protection of black rights. They also came up with the Civil Rights Act in 1866 that ensured black rights but both of these were not passed. Congress did pass a reconstruction act that revoked the pardons, punished the south and protected the rights of slaves. They also passed the 14th and 15th amendments that gave blacks equal rights and voting rights. All this did was cause chaos in the south because they did believe in it even thought it was an amendment.

The status of an African American was the focal problem of Reconstruction. Slavery had been abolished by the Thirteenth Amendment, but the white people of the south still thought lowly of blacks and thought that they still belonged as slaves. This was shown in the “Black Codes” passed by some of the state legislatures. Northerners regarded these codes as a “Revival of slavery in disguise.” The first state to pass the codes was Mississippi in November of 1865. They were a list of codes that were totally anti-Black rights and restrained many of their rights. This was one of four main events that promoted racism in the south.

Another cause of racism was the creation of the Ku Klux Klan. It was created in the same month as the abolition of slavery with the Thirteenth Amendment. A group of Ex-Confederate soldiers in Tennessee met to form a secret society of white men, dedicating their lives to resisting pro Black laws and promoting racism. It functioned as a social club for ex-Confederates and southern men. They dressed up in all white and claimed they were ghosts of dead confederates. They used terrorist tactics coming out at night and murdering/beating African Americans and commonly hung them from trees. This is an example of how the idea of reconstruction just pushed some people into attacking and killing innocent people.

On July 30, 1864, Radical Republicans that were angered by black codes in Louisiana and by the legislatures refusal to give Africans the right to vote started the convention of 1864. The 25 delegates met in the convention and 200 African Americans came to support them. Former confederates were threatened by their assembly and raided the convention shooting and killing innocent victims. 100 people were injured, 34 blacks were killed, and 3 whites were killed. This is another example of the lack of unity in the country.

A very large cause in allowing racism throughout the south was the Compromise of 1877. In this compromise, the Democrats gave up there chance to win the presidential election and gave the win to Rutherford B Hayes by accepting the Republican presidential electors. In return the Democrats made the Republicans withdraw federal soldiers from their remaining positions in the South. They had to enact a federal legislation that would spur industrialization in the south. They also had to appoint Democrats to patronage positions in the south, and appoint a Democrat to the presidential cabinet. With no soldiers or watch in the south they were able to commit all the acts of racism they wanted and nothing was done to stop racism until the 1950’s.

Racism was a part of life for people in the south for a very long time. This all could have been prevented with a better reconstruction plan. The North had no control over the South’s act of racism because of some of the choices they made and things they sacrificed. After the Civil War the entire American population was watching the government to see what would be done about the slavery issue. When it started to tip toward favoring the free blacks, the South stepped up and pushed their way through loopholes in the system to where they could promote racism whenever they wanted. The reconstruction plans all had good points, ideas, or rules in them but none of them worked because the rebellious south didn’t even follow the rules they didn’t want to. This made the entire reconstruction period a failure because they didn’t solve the largest problem they had. They abolished slavery and it showed up in the American constitution, but it never showed up in the American society.

Was The Reconstruction A Success Or A Failure Essay

The Freedmen Bureau was the federal institution in control of those terrains given to blacks and now they had to take it back. Under the administration of O. O. Howard the bureau functions were to “establish schools, provide aide to the poor and aged, settle disputes between whites and blacks and among freedpeople, and secure for former slave and white Unionist equal treatment before court,” (Foner 483). The Bureau did not have enough agents to put in action the task appointed to it in the south. The Freedmen Bureau was dissolved after five years living the black man on its own.

Something that President Johnson did to start the period of Reconstruction was to pardon all Confederates soldiers if they plead loyalty and alliance to the Union. No one was held accountable for what happened, one man was murder. Also he demanded that the states in the south abolish slavery and change their constitution in order to be accepted into the United States. Those were Andrew Johnson terms for Reconstructions. Not very efficient because it leaves all these defeated soldiers, filled with anger and violence in the streets. Then Congress tried to pass the Civil Rights bill and the 14th amendment which

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