From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.

Jump to: navigation, search

In the history of the United States, reconstruction was the period after the American Civil War when the states of the breakaway Confederacy were reintegrated into the United States of America.


Laws and legislation

Abraham Lincoln had endorsed a lenient plan for reconstruction, which neither aided the recently freed slaves, nor imposed a Northern agenda on the restoration of the Southern economy. However, a powerful group of Radical Republicans within the U.S. Congress resisted readmitting the rebel states without first imposing conditions. A series of laws, passed by the Federal government, established the conditions and procedures for reintegrating the Southern states.

Much of the impetus for Reconstruction involved the social and political status of freed slaves in the Southern states. In response to efforts by Southern states to deny civil rights to the freed slaves, Congress enacted a Civil Rights Act in 1866 and again in 1875. This action led to conflict with President Andrew Johnson, who vetoed the Civil Rights Act of 1866; however, his veto was overridden.

After solid Republican gains in the midterm elections, the first Reconstruction Act was passed on March 2, 1867; the last on March 11, 1868. The first Reconstruction Act divided ten Confederate states (all except Tennessee, which had been readmitted on July 24, 1866) into five military districts.

The constitutional amendments

The 13th, 14th and 15th constitutional amendments were adopted in the wake of the Civil War: the 13th, which abolished slavery; the 14th, which granted civil rights to Negroes; and the 15th, which granted the right to vote to all otherwise qualified adult males regardless of race, color, or previous condition of servitude. The 14th Amendment was opposed by the Southern states, and as a pre-condition of readmission to the Union, the Southern states were required to accept it (or the 15th after adoption of the 14th). All Southern states were readmitted by 1870Georgia was last on July 15 of that year, and all but 500 Confederate sympathizers were pardoned when President Ulysses S. Grant signed the Amnesty Act on May 22, 1872. Reconstruction nevertheless continued until 1877, when the contentious Presidential election was decided in favor of Rutherford B. Hayes, supported by Northern states, over his opponent, Samuel J. Tilden. Some historians have speculated that the disputed election was simply handed to Hayes in a political exchange for an end to Reconstruction; this theory characterizes the settlement of that election as the Compromise of 1877. Not all historians agree with that theory; some see the election as coinciding with a decreased desire for inter-elite conflict, an increased will to integrate the Southern social hierarchy with the larger American society, and a drive to redirect the military to campaigns against Native Americans.

Military reconstruction

Reconstruction-era military districts in the South
Reconstruction-era military districts in the South
First Military District: Virginia, under Gen. John Schofield
Second Military District: The Carolinas, under Gen. Daniel Sickles
Third Military District: Georgia, Alabama and Florida, under Gen. John Pope
Fourth Military District: Arkansas and Mississippi, under Gen. Edward Ord
Fifth Military District: Texas and Louisiana, under Gen. Philip Sheridan and several others.

Tens of thousands of U.S. military personnel were stationed in the U.S. Southern states to oversee the process of Reconstruction.

Governments that had been established under Abraham Lincoln's plan were abolished; the first Reconstruction Act stated that "no legal State governments or adequate protection for life or property now exist in the rebel States".

The failure of Reconstruction

Reconstruction officially ended in 1877 when the South agreed to accept Rutherford B. Hayes's victory if the North withdrew federal troops from the South. The end of Reconstruction marked the demise of most civil, political, and economic rights and opportunities for African Americans, and ushered in an era some historians refer to as the nadir of American race relations. Blacks would legally and socially remain second-class citizens until the civil rights movement of the mid-twentieth century. The end of Reconstruction also marked the end of the nascent interracial working peoples' alliances that had tentatively begun to form in the South. In exchange for its acceptance of reintegration into the Union, the South (along with the rest of the country) was allowed to reestablish a segregated, race-discriminatory society, and Congress was reorganized to give elite Southern legislators extraordinary power, lasting into the mid-twentieth century. By reestablishing a firm racial hierarchy, the one-party Southern elites maintained much more effective control of working people and working conditions; and non-elite whites received the satisfaction of knowing that their own lives would at least have more value than those of their dehumanized African-American neighbors. The initial flurry of Reconstruction civil rights measures was eroded and converted into laws that expanded racial dictatorship throughout American institutions and everyday life. The resurrection and expansion of the racist society provided a solid basis for both the pronounced limitations of the American labor movement and the associated paucity and frailty of democratic social entitlements in the U.S.

In response to Reconstruction, the South also swayed Congress to pass the Posse Comitatus Act, which prohibited federal military authorities from exercising localized civilian police powers. This was in direct response to President Grant's successful but short-lived use of the military in the south to supress white supremacists campaign of terror and intimidation against blacks and their Republican supporters.

In the demise of Reconstruction, much of the civil rights legislation was overturned by the United States Supreme Court. Most notably, the court suggested in the "Slaughterhouse Case" 83 US 36 (1873), then held in the Civil Rights Cases 109 US 3 (1883), that the Fourteenth Amendment only gave Congress the power to outlaw public, rather than private discrimination. Plessy v. Ferguson 163 US 537 (1896) went even further, announcing that state-mandated segregation was legal as long as the statute or ordinance provided for "separate but equal" facilities. By 1905, in Lochner v. New York, 198 U.S. 45, the Supreme Court had retooled the fourteenth amendment into a law protecting the autonomy of corporations, rather than protecting the citizenship of African-Americans or similarly-oppressed people born or naturalized into the United States.

The Supreme Court maintained "separate but equal" for almost sixty years until finally admitting that its implementation was almost always highly unequal. The Court abandoned it, reversing Plessy in Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka 347 US 483 (1954). It was not until the mid 1960s that the civil rights movement grew strong enough to win political reforms which weakened the system of private racial discrimination entrenched in the shadow of state Jim Crow laws. The government finally passed the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which outlawed discrimination in "public accommodations," i.e., restaurants, hotels and businesses open to the public, as well as in private schools and workplaces.

Legacy of Reconstruction

The legacy of Reconstruction was initially viewed as a failure. Following Reconstruction and the perpetuation of segregation, the romanticized idea of the South was born, and many in the New South began decrying the corruption during Reconstruction. Works of this period (such as The Klansmen and Gone With The Wind) glorified the white supremacist and Redeemer governors, as well as vigilante organizations such as the Ku Klux Klan, and romanticized the true nature of antebellum South, especially in regards to the treatment and disposition of African-Americans. These sentiments found outlets in the Twentieth Century in the form of D.W. Griffith's silent movie (based on The Klansmen), Birth of A Nation, as well as in the work produced by the Dunning School of History at Columbia University, which viewed Reconstruction as a failure because it gave freedom and rights to blacks, and that these developments should never have come to pass (this school of historical thought provided much justification for the segregation of the South and for Jim Crow laws). However, by the middle to latter part of the Twentieth Century, historians, most notably, Eric Foner (who ironically was working with funds from the William Archibald Dunning Grant) rewrote and revised the historical views on Reconstruction, shedding new light on the lives of the people both black and white who participated in this exciting point in American history. This new research, highlighted the real tragedy of Reconstruction, that it failed not because blacks were incapable of governing, but because the civil rights and equalities granted during this period were but a passing temporary development, and that these rights would ultimately be removed, only to wait until the 1950s and 1960s, for the rise of the Civil Rights Movement what is sometimes referred to as "Second Reconstruction."

Significant dates

State Seceded Admitted C.S. Readmitted U.S. Local Control Re-established
South Carolina December 20, 1860 February 4, 1861 July 9, 1868 November 28, 1876
Mississippi January 9, 1861 February 4, 1861 February 23, 1870 January 4, 1876
Florida January 10, 1861 February 4, 1861 June 25, 1868 January 2, 1877
Alabama January 11, 1861 February 4, 1861 July 14, 1868 November 16, 1874
Georgia January 19, 1861 February 4, 1861 July 15, 1870 November 1, 1871
Louisiana January 26, 1861 February 4, 1861 June 25 or July 9, 1868 January 2, 1877
Texas February 1, 1861 March 2, 1861 March 30, 1870 January 14, 1873
Virginia April 17, 1861 May 7, 1861 January 26, 1870 October 5, 1869
Arkansas May 6, 1861 May 18, 1861 June 22, 1868 November 10, 1874
North Carolina May 21, 1861 May 16, 1861 July 4, 1868 November 28, 1876
Tennessee June 8, 1861 May 16, 1861 July 24, 1866 October 4, 1869

See also


  • This article incorporates public domain text from Twenty Years of Congress: From Lincoln to Garfield. With a review of the events which led to the political revolution of 1860, by James Blaine.
  • W. E. B. DuBois, Black Reconstruction. An Essay toward a History of the Part which Black Folk Played in the Attempt to Reconstruct Democracy in America, 1860-1880,(1935), Free Press, 1999, ISBN 0684856573
  • Eric Foner (1988) Reconstruction: America's Unfinished Revolution, 1863- 1877, HarperCollins. ISBN 0060937165
  • Eric Foner (1996) Freedom's Lawmakers: A Directory of Black Officeholders During Reconstruction, Louisiana State University Press. ISBN 0807120820

External links

Personal tools
In other languages