First and Second Reconstructions

The First and Second Reconstructions held out the great

promise of rectifying racial injustices in America. The First

Reconstruction, emerging out of the chaos of the Civil War had as its

goals equality for Blacks in voting, politics, and use of public

facilities. The Second Reconstruction emerging out of the booming

economy of the 1950\'s, had as its goals, integration, the end of Jim

Crow and the more amorphous goal of making America a biracial

democracy where, "the sons of former slaves and the sons of former

slave holders will be able to sit down together at the table of

brotherhood." Even though both movements, were borne of high hopes

they failed in bringing about their goals. Born in hope, they died in

despair, as both movements saw many of their gains washed away. I

propose to examine why they failed in realizing their goals. My thesis

is that failure to incorporate economic justice for Blacks in both

movements led to the failure of the First and Second Reconstruction.

The First Reconstruction came after the Civil War and lasted

till 1877. The political, social, and economic conditions after the

Civil War defined the goals of the First Reconstruction. At this time

the Congress was divided politically on issues that grew out of the

Civil War: Black equality, rebuilding the South, readmitting Southern

states to Union, and deciding who would control government.1 Socially,

the South was in chaos. Newly emancipated slaves wandered the South

after having left their former masters, and the White population was

spiritually devastated, uneasy about what lay ahead. Economically, the

South was also devastated: plantations lay ruined, railroads torn up,

the system of slave labor in shambles, and cities burnt down. The

economic condition of ex-slaves after the Civil War was just as

uncertain; many had left former masters and roamed the


Amid the post Civil War chaos, various political groups were

scrambling to further their agendas. First, Southern Democrats, a

party comprised of leaders of the confederacy and other wealthy

Southern whites, sought to end what they perceived as Northern

domination of the South. They also sought to institute Black Codes, by

limiting the rights of Blacks to move, vote, travel, and change jobs,3

which like slavery, would provide an adequate and cheap labor supply

for plantations. Second, Moderate Republicans wanted to pursue a

policy of reconciliation between North and South, but at the same time

ensure slavery was abolished.4 Third, Radical Republicans, comprised

of Northern politicians, were strongly opposed to slavery,

unsympathetic to the South, wanted to protect newly free slaves, and

keep there majority in Congress.5 The fourth political element, at the

end of the Civil War was President Andrew Johnson whose major goal was

unifying the nation. The fifth element were various fringe groups such

as, abolitionists and Quakers. Strongly motivated by principle and a

belief in equality, they believed that Blacks needed equality in

American society, although they differed on what the nature of that

should be.6

The Northern Radical Republicans, with a majority in Congress,

emerged as the political group that set the goals for Reconstruction

which was to prevent slavery from rising again in the South. At first,

the Radical Republicans thought this could be accomplished by

outlawing slavery with the passage of the Thirteenth Amendment. But

Southern Democrats in their quest to restore their rule in the South

brought back slavery in all but name, by passing Black Codes as early

as 1865. Both Moderate Republicans and Radical Republicans in Congress

reacted. Joining together in 1866, they passed a bill to extend the

life and responsibilities of the Freedmen\'s Bureau to protect newly

freed slaves against the various Black Codes. President Johnson vetoed

the bill, but Radical and Moderate Republicans eventually were able to

pass it.7

The Black Codes and President Johnson\'s veto of all

Reconstruction legislation that was unfavorable to the South caused

Moderate and Radical Republicans to change their goals from just

ending slavery to seeking political equality and voting rights

for Blacks.8 The new goals, were based on humanitarian and political

considerations. Northerners had grown increasingly sympathetic to the

plight of the Blacks in the South following numerous well publicized

incidents in which innocent Blacks were harassed, beaten, and killed.9

The extension of suffrage to Black males was a political move by