Pre and Post Reconstruction Period
Some issues raised were: a) How would the former states of the Confederacy be integrated back into the Union? B) What type of labor arrangements would replace slavery in the South? C) Would southern politicians who had joined the Confederacy be excluded from politics, or an even more important question, would they even be welcomed back to Congress and state legislatures in the spirit of reconciliation? D) How would the South, which had suffered the greatest damage in the war, be rebuilt so that it could prosper economically? ) How would civil rights be defined for the four million slaves who became free during the war? ) What roles would African Americans be able to play or be welcomed in the political, social and economic environment of the post-war period? G) What additional measures would be taken to ensure that African Americans were treated fairly and justly? While there were no decisive answers to any of these questions, each drew a range of responses from different sectors of American society known as “The Reconstruction” and is widely viewed as a crucial time in American history.History shows that American politics, society and economics underwent major transformations during Reconstruction and ACH of them was met with main opposition; thus, both radical and conventional strains dominated the era. For instance, President Abraham Lincoln signing the Emancipation Proclamation (see figure 1) – (Library of Congress, The Sturbridge Lit.
Co. , Cincinnati. “Abraham Lincoln and his Emancipation Proclamation”, CLC 888). Was viewed as one of the most radical and revolutionary acts in American history as it officially freed slaves.Additionally, President Lincoln comprehensive agenda/administration was in favor of reconciling the nation as quickly as possible and enacted many statutes, policies and laws toward those efforts. Backed by some of the new policies, statutes and laws, African Americans in the South began to vote in election hold elected offices, gain education advancement, rebuild their families and were also given opportunities to reshape their communities.African American efforts were further supported by social welfare reforms passed by the new southern state governments; many of these reforms resulted in making government responsible for some basic needs and outlawing certain exploitative practices.
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On the other hand, the basic economic system of the South, with wealthy whites holding power over blacks ND traditional whites, remained largely unchanged; in many cases, this power/authority relationship even intensified.Although, amendments to the Constitution clearly stipulated civil rights rules and policies for blacks, the federal government remained uncommitted to enforcing them. President Lincoln also advocated the 10 Percent Plan, which allowed southern state governments to reassumes control after just one-tenth of the 1860 voting population swore an oath of allegiance to the United States. Upon succeeding President Lincoln in 1865, President Andrew Johnson adopted similarly conservative policies.President Johnson quickly exercised his presidential powers by pardoning rebel leaders, allowed many of them to return back into high office, returned plantation land to its original owners and ordered former slaves back to work. On the other hand, the southern elite struggled to regain political and economic power and had challenges with reinstating the South’s old class system by putting blacks back to work on plantations. Many northern politicians and industrialists supported President Johnny’s endeavors.
While President Johnny’s policies ensured that most of the southern land confiscated during the war was turned to its former owners, many northern entrepreneurs quickly bought up other large landholding in the South. In the hope of reviving southern economies, federal bureaucrats helped to provide the necessary labor force; in areas occupied by the Union army, soldiers limited the mobility of blacks, forcing them to return to plantation work. The Freedman’s Bureau also joined these efforts by negotiating labor contracts.Some of the new policies and the allowance of the elite to return back into politics enabled the enactment of a series of ‘Black Codes’ designed to strip blacks of their citizenship rights. Furthermore, the so-called ‘Black Codes,’ issued by southern governments in the rapid Reconstruction period, legally bound blacks to plantations under conditions much like slavery (Fran Kline 48-50). Therefore, a new era emerged called the “Radical Reconstruction”. Under Radical Reconstruction, a new cadre of Southern Republicans intent on reform emerged.
These leaders enacted sweeping legislation to create a system of public education, a democratic state and local governments and make state governments more responsible for the social welfare of their populations. The Southern Republicans also enacted an ambitious project of industrialization in an effort to integrate the region into the national economy. These measures represented a substantial departure from the system of the old South; yet few reforming politicians were not able to go as far and to have as much effect as they intended.In addition, white Southern Republicans, who outnumbered their black colleagues, gave only “window dressing” like support to black civil rights, preferring to court Southern Democrats through moderation on racial issues (Former 364-41 1 Although, the Radical Reconstruction efforts were intended to redirect the southern economy, to provide for social mobility and to halt the return to the old plantation system. Ultimately, however, these policies intensified the South’s dependence on cotton as a cash crop and solidified the class divisions in southern society.Condemning Andrew Johnson and early presidential Reconstruction, Radical Republicans hoped to reshape the South into a land of industry and diversified agriculture. To these ends, Republicans poured massive amounts of money into the South to build railways, create infrastructure and develop improved cultivation methods.
Ironically, these improvements bolstered the strength of the plantation system and swelled the ranks of the economically exploited lower classes. Railways allowed for the extension of cotton plantations into the upcountry and further west, onto lands occupied by subsistence farmers.Furthermore, new technology and the increasing efficiency of large-scale cultivation meant small farmers growing cotton for the market could not compete with plantation production. Falling deeply into debt, small farmers, both white and black, increasingly became wage laborers or tenant farmers working for large landowners. The industrialization of the South also brought large amounts of money into the hands of state politicians, which created many opportunities for corruption in state government.Ultimately, the outcry over this corruption and the ability of Southern Democrats to associate corruption with Southern Republicans undermined reform efforts. By the late sass, as the UK Klux Klan and other reactionary’ groups proliferated throughout the South, it was becoming clear that many changes Of the Reconstruction period would not endure (Treeless 49-92).
Under the administration of President Ulysses S. Grant, who was elected resident in the election of 1 868, support for Reconstruction began to diminish as the United States turned toward the problems of westward expansion and industrialization.In 1 875, the Whiskey Ring Scandal publicized widespread corruption in government and led to moral outrage. More and more, the idea of reforming the South in the face of violent resistance by the southern elite seemed a distraction from more pressing problems. Consequently, when President Rutherford B. Hayes assumed the presidency in 1 877, he withdrew confederate troops from the South, thereby formally ending Reconstruction. Across the South, leaders rejoiced and African Americans, meanwhile, were left to fend for themselves in the face of a resurgent movement for white supremacy led by members of the UK Klux Klan.
Similarly, poor whites remained on the lower end of a rigid economic hierarchy. It was only in subsequent decades-?as blacks built on the gains made during the Reconstruction years, as the Supreme Court revisited Reconstruction-era constitutional amendments and as the southern economy expanded with the help of Reconstruction-era industrialization that Americans began to see Reconstruction as an important period that laid the roundworm for subsequent change. Northern politicians still remained united in their desire to reconcile the country peacefully, but disagreed on the means.Industrialists hoped to rationalize the southern economy, while reformers wanted southern state governments to develop mechanisms for providing social welfare to their citizens. African Americans saw the end of the war and the granting of freedom as an opportunity to claim equal rights as American citizens, and they searched for allies among politicians and reformers. Most white southerners were in favor of a return the Pre-Reconstruction policies and opposed any federal intervention, movements toward reform or extension of civil rights for blacks.Many Of the social, economic and political reforms enacted in the South after the Civil War were repealed or rolled back following the end of the Reconstruction era.
The southern elite returned to power, African Americans remained within exploitative economic relationships and blacks and poor whites again found themselves not allowed to be engaged. Reconstruction’s focus on the rationalization of cotton production through the development and standardization of new techniques o make that industry more efficient and profitable, the spread of wage labor, and industrialization formed the basis for the South’s post-Reconstruction economy.Furthermore, many of the changes initiated during Reconstruction set important social precedents that would be revisited in ensuing years. For instance, African Americans drew upon lessons learned during Reconstruction to argue for increased civil rights in subsequent decades; similar lessons would be applied by those in the women’s rights movement, which had also been active during the Reconstruction era. Further, the deader government’s definition and view of citizenship rights would provide the foundation for the dramatic increase in federal power in the twentieth century.There were also some additional important economic changes that allowed for social mobility during Reconstruction. Especially in urban areas, blacks became professionals and businessmen, forming the nucleus of a small but emerging middle class.
Similarly, in railway centers and port towns, expanding economies created new opportunities for white merchants and businessmen. In rural areas, blacks and whites increasingly found work as sharecroppers.While sharecropping was exploitative and turned out to be economically unsustainable, for a period it did produce considerable levels of autonomy, thus providing a temporary improvement over previous labor arrangements; especially for blacks. While it would have been difficult to argue at the beginning of the twentieth century that Reconstruction resulted in a radical transformation of American society, by the end of the century it was clear that the period had laid the groundwork for such change.Nevertheless, the gains made during the Reconstruction era slowly but surely transformed southern society. In the years ahead, industrialization, wage labor, literacy, political participation, state social welfare and the exercise of black civil rights, all of which were built upon precedents established during Reconstruction, became features of the ‘New South’. To conclude, the Reconstruction era in American history may not have seen a radical transformation of the South, but it did lay the groundwork for planned change.