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Reconstruction: a Success Or a Failure

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The Reconstruction era is the time period that took place immediately following the civil war, this timeline is often referred to as being between 1865 and 1877 but can be viewed differently from many different historian’s points of view. Every historian has a different point of view when it comes to history and their studies, many people can be biased while some people only research and report what they believe to be factual even if it goes against their own beliefs. Because history is such a diverse subject, and everyone is entitled to write their own opinion about it, you will notice that some believe that reconstruction was a huge success while others believe that it was one of the largest failures in American history.

Many people choose to look at reconstruction as America trying to put back together all its pieces to make it a functioning country once again. The South was still predominantly agriculturally based with very little functioning government or economies, while the North was still focused on manufacturing products, trade with other counties, and establishing a strong working economy. While the North and the South still had very different views and ways of life to work out, there were almost four million former slaves who had recently been freed that were trying to find their place in the world. The former slaves were set free, by the thirteenth amendment in 1865, into a world they had no idea how to support themselves in. Many political leaders felt threatened by the freedom of slaves and came up with plans for new governments in the states. Abraham Lincoln had come up with a plan that was known as “The Lincoln Plan” but was assassinated before he could execute his plan or put it into the place of an already existing government system. After Lincoln’s death, many political leaders from the Republican party who also went by the nickname “radical republicans” came forward with their ideas for the new government. The radical republicans have a few major goals in mind, but two of which we’re putting the blame for the civil war on the south and helping the nearly four million slaves who had just been freed. The Freedmen’s Bureau gave congress the power to divide up abandoned or confiscated confederate land for former slaves. The Freedmen’s Bureau was very important because land ownership was key to freedom and many slaves were promised land from the union army who said they would distribute land in forty-acre plots to freed slaves, but unfortunately never happened. Andrew Johnson who was the current president ordered all land to be returned to its former owners, so the south remained largely agricultural with the same white people owning the same large farms and plantations, which eventually lead us to sharecrop. The landowners would provide housing to those who participated in sharecropping as well as tools and seeds for growing the crops but would take most of the crop once the work was done. At this point, freed blacks were still working on plantations and farms doing the same work and making so little money they could not afford to leave. While they were no longer being considered slaves, they were still being treated so poorly they could not afford to become landowners or to try and start their own farms to support their families. By the late 1860s ever poor white farmers had resulted in sharecropping as well. Jefferson’s idea of the small independent farmer was turned upside down when sharecropping became a huge industry for agriculture in the south, tying people to the land they didn’t own. Many members of Congress were not happy that the reconstructed South looked so much like the pre-Civil War south, and radical republicans felt the war had been fought for equal rights and wanted to see the power of the national government put to use. The Civil rights bill was passed in 1866 stating that everyone born in the United States was a citizen and deserved nationwide equality. Andrew Johnson immediately vetoed the law claiming that protecting the rights of African Americans would ultimately be discriminating against the rights of white people. After Johnson decided to veto the Civil Rights bill, congress was so mad they did something that had never been done before in American history. Congress got together and overrode the presidential veto with a two-thirds majority vote. After Congress successfully overrode the presidential veto, congress decided to also amend the fourteenth amendment. In 1867 congress passed the reconstruction act which divided the south into five military districts and required each state to create a new government that included the participation of African American men. All governments had to ratify the fourteenth amendment if they wanted to be let back into the union. After the presidential election of Grant, the republican party started to question how their party’s success in the election was affected by African American voters. Then came the 15th amendment which required the government to allow African American men the right to vote, but the women were still not able to at this time. Because we allowed African Americans to have their freedom and to participate in the government, the republican party grew so large they could dominate. With the majority of African American people living in the south, it made it very easy for the republican party to become very successful. There were about two thousand African Americans that held office during the reconstruction era. Having African American officeholders has a huge step forward for supporting the rights of African Americans all over the United States. While the republican government did often fail in the south, it did allow for public school systems for African American children. Although the schools were still very segregated, the opportunity for blacks to attend a public school was still a great achievement. After 1867 almost, all the violence towards African Americans in the south was politically motivated. The Kul Klux Klan was founded in 1866 and very quickly became a terrorist organization targeting republicans, both black and white. The Kul Klux Klan also known as the “KKK” would beat women and men to try and scare them off from voting or participating in politics. Because of discrimination laws and the acts of the KKK, fewer and fewer African American and white republicans were voting which ended up giving the power back to the white democrats.

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Now that I have shared with you a brief overview of the reconstruction era and some of the key components that led to the world as we know it today I can better explain why I feel that the reconstruction era overall was a failure from my point of view. As I discussed at the beginning of this essay, the reconstruction era took place immediately following the civil war which left America split between the north and the south. While the South was still predominantly agriculturally based, and the North was still focused on the freedom for slaves and manufacturing, the government did come together to make some very short-term changes for the better. The freedom for African Americans was a huge stepping stone, but the government did very little to aid those who had been slaves their entire lives and had nothing to show for the lifetime of work they had put in on farms and plantations. After being freed African Americans had to go back to working on the same farms as sharecroppers to support their families but could not afford to leave and start a new life. We did eventually allow some black men to participate in voting and other political actions over time, but shortly after terrorist groups such as the KKK came together to ensure blacks could not have any power in the American government. Overall, I believe that the reconstruction was a failure because we put so much time and effort into war and into putting the pieces back together only to let things fall apart again.

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