Reconstruction Paper

This essay has a total of 1364 words and 7 pages.

Reconstruction



The Era of Reconstruction following the Civil War was a period marked by an intense
struggle to restore a worn-out and devastated society. The war, which was aimed at
confronting the national problem of slavery, only led to subsequent dilemmas over
emancipation and an undefined condition of freedom. Some had naively believed that ending
slavery would solve the problem of racial inequality, overlooking the prejudice and
uninviting atmosphere towards blacks. Questions over how to reinstate a disloyal
population with the fall of the Confederacy and restore a destroyed southern territory
rang throughout the nation. Although the former slaves were undeniably freed, the
foundations for a racial democracy were laid, and the country was once again united,
overall, Reconstruction was a period of political strife, shortcomings, and general
failure.

After the war, the South was left in a state of complete turmoil. Passing armies had
shattered the South’s agricultural economy with the burning of buildings, destroying
of crops, and killing of livestock. Southern industry was also badly hurt, as assets
needed to support loans were lost in the war. More importantly, the South, for the first
time ever, was without an easy profit economy based on slavery. Racial prejudice was as
strong as ever and many white southerners, with a feeling of superiority found it
difficult to adjust to the new way of life. To the dismay of many freedmen, President
Johnson returned to whites the plantations that the Union Army had given to blacks during
the war. Many freedmen were forced to endure sharecropping in which they rented land from
white planters and relinquished a portion of their harvest. As a result, poor farmers were
gradually pushed into extreme debt and became victims of a burdensome tenancy. The black
codes passed by the legislators of Southern states also suppressed blacks. Although the
codes allowed for minor legal rights, they also were geared to place blacks in an inferior
position. Interracial marriage was prohibited. In some areas freemen needed special
licenses to engage in specific trades and in others they were denied certain lands for
farming. The South was left in economic ruin filled with racial discrimination.

With the South in a state of desperation it was clear that the federal government needed
to take action. However, how to do so was greatly debated. Much of the failings of
Reconstruction were a result of the opposing views of President Andrew Johnson and
Congress. Johnson, a southerner and former slaveholder fully disagreed with the
Republican aims of strict southern reinstatement and racial equality and from the
beginning called such radicals his “adversaries.” Johnson’s Jacksonian
convictions for a truly united nation led him to insist on the speedy restoration of
Southern governments based on the prewar white electorate. High Confederate officials and
all those owning property valued at more than $20,000 were excluded from amnesty, but were
entitled to individual pardons granted directly by the president. Such pardons placed the
president in a position of great power and made reinstatement too easy. Provisional
governors were also appointed to call constitutional conventions, in which the states were
expected to ratify the Thirteenth Amendment abolishing slavery, nullify their secession
ordinances, and repudiate the Confederate debt. However, Johnson’s plan in practice
revealed that little had changed in the South. None of the states enfranchised even
literate blacks. Many declined to nullify the secession ordinances and repudiate their
debt. Furthermore, Mississippi even refused to ratify the Thirteenth Amendment. For the
most part, Johnson’s plan of reconstruction left the south in its prewar state.

Doubting Johnson’s program and concerned for the safety of the freedmen, the
Republican Congress opposed the president’s efforts and sought their own plan for
reordering the South. Upon meeting in December of 1865, the body refused to seat any of
the representatives from the seceded states. All maters pertaining to the restoration of
the South were to be reserved for the newly created Joint Committee of Fifteen on
Reconstruction. Congress, believing that emancipation was not enough and the rights of
former slaves were in need of protection, passed the Freedmen’s Bureau and Civil
Rights bills. It was contended that the agents of the formerly created Freedmen’s
Bureau would enforce the Civil Rights bill through their power to conduct courts and
settle injustices. Predictably, Johnson opposed both bills and declared them
unconstitutional. By vetoing them, the president marked his alienation from Congress and
set off a chain of events leading towards failure.

After overriding Johnson’s veto, congress began to develop its own Reconstruction
plan. Radicals of the Republican Party sought to frame a new amendment that could provide
Continues for 4 more pages >>