Wednesday, June 16, 2010
Reconstruction is the name used for the period in United States history immediately after the Civil War. The word also means the method used by the Union to restore relations with the Confederate states after their defeat. This period of time lasted form 1865 to 1877. It was also one of the most controversial periods in the history of the United States. Its successes and failures are still debated. There was much destruction in the South during the Civil War. Atlanta, Georgia, and Richmond, Virginia, were in ruins. Most of the railroad system in the South and the few factories there were destroyed. The North, in comparison, had little damage from the war, and its farms and industries were prosperous. There were many difficult questions during Reconstruction for leaders of both the North and the South. Some of those questions were: 1) How should the Union readmit the eleven states that had seceded or withdrawn? 2) Should the Confederate leaders be punished? If so, how should they be punished? 3) What rights should be extended to the four million former slaves? How should those rights be protected? 4) How should the rebuilding of the South be done? Some of the questions were answered and the problems solved during Reconstruction. All of the Confederate states eventually rejoined the Union by 1870 after meeting requirements for readmission. Amendments to the Constitution were proposed to give blacks the right to vote and laws were passed by Congress to protect the rights of blacks. The ruined areas of the South were gradually rebuilt. Other problems continued. The living and working conditions of the blacks improved slightly because most white people in the South refused to see blacks as equals. The Reconstruction governments needed support from the North because white Southerners wouldn't support them. These governments were considered illegal by most Southerners. Blacks were prevented from voting by some violent whites. Whites in the South regained control of their state governments as North lost interest in Reconstruction. Many of the newly won rights of the blacks were taken away by whites. The Union was restored during Reconstruction, and the rebuilding of the South began. The economic problems of both blacks and the South were not solved by Reconstruction. Because few of them acquired land, blacks didn't obtain the economic independence that comes from owning land. Most blacks continued doing the same labor for the same masters that they had done as slaves. The South was the poorest section of the nation even though its natural resources were developed and its railroad system expanded. Most Southern whites became firm supporters of the Democratic Party because of Reconstruction, creating the "Solid South." No Republican presidential candidate received a majority of the Southern vote for more than forty years after Reconstruction. Racial disharmony continued long after Reconstruction because whites refused to share important political power with blacks. Blacks set up their own churches rather than attempt to join white society. The blacks gradually lost all their new rights after Reconstruction. Every Southern state passed laws by the early 1900's limiting voting rights. The right to vote was given only to males who could pass certain educational tests or pay special taxes (poll taxes). The result was that few blacks voted. This violation of blacks' rights continued for many years after Reconstruction ended. This was one of the main reasons why the Fourteenth and the Fifteenth Amendments to the Constitution were needed. These amendments established a national system of legal protection of equality before the law. The great guarantees of these amendments are still part of the United States Constitution even though they were often broken through the years. The Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendments in the mid-1990's became the legal basis of the struggle of black Americans for equality and the civil rights movement. Facts for this post came from an article by Eric Foner in World Book Encyclopedia, Vol. 16, pp 176-180.