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A Period of Reconstruction in United States

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Reconstruction refers to the period in U.S. history immediately following the American Civil War and especially to the federal government’s efforts to deal with the defeated Confederacy. As the period began, President Abraham Lincoln methods disagreed with most Congressional Republicans about what course Reconstruction should take. Although President Lincoln never survived to see much of the Reconstruction Era unfold (1865-1877) due to his assassination in April 1965, he set the groundwork policies which enabled its development. “Lincoln’s program of reconstruction can perhaps be understood best as the product of reactive leadership” (Lincoln Institute 2010). Following the Civil War, the amended Constitution towards slavery, minority rights, and economic practices demanded modifications to major institutions. Lincoln’s successor President Andrew Johnson, forwarded the late Lincoln’s reconstruction agendas. The dominance of the Republicans over American politics during this reconstruction era is staggering. From military control, monopoly on voting power, and improvements to education, transportation, and taxation, republicanism though deeply characterized the Reconstruction Era. The Compromise of 1877 ended the Reconstruction when the US Army interposed by overthrowing Republican control in the South and enforced the Jim Crow segregation system.

Initiating the Republican Reconstruction

In President Lincoln’s Proclamation of Amnesty and Reconstruction (December 08, 1963), he laid down the terms and conditions of restoring government in the seceded South. Therefore, in order to be reincorporated into the American Union, the South had to emancipate its slaves and nullifying the institution of slavery. The reason that this objective is high up on Lincoln’s reconstruction agenda is that the issue of slavery was the primary cause for the secession and the growing escalation of hostility between the North and the South which culminated in the Civil War. Lincoln states that “with reference to said rebellion and treason, laws have been enacted by congress, declaring forfeitures and confiscation of property and liberation of slaves” (Proclamation of Amnesty 1963) The Emancipation Proclamation prefaces the Proclamation of Amnesty and Reconstruction where in September 22, 1862 and January 01, 1963, Lincoln released executive orders to abolish slavery particularly in the Southern colonies whose economy was based on slavery. The Southern States were reluctant to free slaves therefore consequential to the proclamations; thousands of slaves ran to freedom lines in the North. Two days before his death, Lincoln himself defined Reconstruction albeit in his last public speech, summarizing the movement as one in which America “simply must begin with, and mould from, disorganized and discordant elements” (Last Public Address 1865). The course of re-building had to begin in the constitutional framework and the embittered Southern state governments.

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Reconstructed Union

Lincoln had a goal to reinstate the Union by gaining the loyalty of the Southerners and to activate federal steps to gradually abolish slavery. In order to solidify the Republican’s position in government, reconstructing also meant installing republicans in each Southern Confederate state. Lincoln expressed that “it is now desired by some persons heretofore engaged in said rebellion to resume their allegiance to the United States and to reinaugurate loyal state governments and (offered) a full pardon” to members of the rebellion. With views towards “a more perfect union” according to the US Constitution, Lincoln commenced the reconciling process. He continued to seek the incorporation of the South with pardons, leniencies, and clemency affirming that “the sole object of the government, civil and military, in regard to those (seceded) States is to again get them into that proper practical relation” (Last Public Address 1865)

Voting Rights and Election Policies

Suffrage is another issue which hinges on slavery which Lincoln had to address in his outline of Reconstructionist objectives. The Constitution had to be amended in order to be more inclusive. Lincoln determined that “the colored man too, in seeing all united for him, is inspired …Grant that he desires the elective franchise, will he not attain it sooner by saving the already advanced steps toward it, than by running backward over them?” (Last Public Address 1865). The Reconstruction also affected the vote of the Caucasian Americans since the amnesty granted after the Civil War imposed that ten percent of the voters of the South who had elected officials in the 1860 election and had not taken part in the secession would be qualified to vote for the reconstructed government. The provisions for a Republican government was supported by “not less than one tenth in number of the votes cast in such state at the presidential election of not having since violated it, and being a qualified voter by the election law… shall reëstablish a state government which shall be republican” (Proclamation of Amnesty and Reconstruction 1963).

Congressional Republicans on Reconstruction

In the elections of Congress in 1866, the pace of Reconstruction quickened. Owing to a more than two-thirds holding majority of the seats in both the House of Representatives and Senate, more bills were passed and approved to amend the constitution and reverse the effects of slavery and the damages of the Civil War. The congressional republicans after the passing of Abraham Lincoln and the booting of successor Andrew Johnson, drafted up new policies of the Reconstruction which widely differed from Lincoln’s more pacific and conciliatory actions. The reason why the congressional Republicans’ method of Reconstruction contrasts with Lincoln’s and Johnson’s is that they went against the then President Andrew Johnson, who was slow, they felt, in moving ahead the desired changed and used too much clemency. With latent to burning revenge against the South, radical congressional republicans temporarily stripped their ‘enemies’ of the right to vote and instituted martial law in the South until the states could come to agreement with the US government (First Reconstruction Act 1867). Although President Johnson vetoed all Three Reconstruction Acts, the radical republicans went on and commissioned the acts which were all issued within 4 months and paved the way for the freedom for the slaves and the extension of the rights, privileges, and responsibilities of citizenship. They later impeached President Johnson. Clearly, the amnesty tone is not what congressional republicans adopt.

With civil rights activities in view, allocation of land for black and white settlers was a priority during the Reconstruction where the abolition of slavery furnished more rights for Blacks. In the wake of the abolition, slaves need land for agriculture and living, since they are to remove from their former homes on the plantations to new lands.

Railroad development was restricted between the North and the South. The North had about 96% of the railroad material and technology while the South had limited passages where the locomotives could transit. Prior to the Civil War, the North had over 20,000 miles of railroad, compared to the South’s 9,000 miles (Economics and the Civil War 2010). The reason for this great disparity is the conflict between North and South leading up to the Civil War. Dealings between both entities were fragmented, so that business and political transactions got hampered. The key to reconstructing the relations was by bridging the gaps geographically and fostering connectivity, through the railway lines.

The 14th Amendment of 1868 gave citizenship status to Blacks who were formerly slaves. The 15th Amendment of 1870 granted full adult suffrage to freedmen. The legislature implemented the changes which Lincoln had intended. Although he was liberal in his proclamations, he was still somewhat conservative since he was still trying to win the favor of the seceded states and the rebel democrats.


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