American History the Defeated South Term Paper

  • Length: 10 pages
  • Sources: 10
  • Subject: American History
  • Type: Term Paper
  • Paper: #67883821

Excerpt from Term Paper :

To understand the spirit of the Reconstruction crisis, one must understand the reality of the civil war, recognize that the generation of Americans caught up in the web of Reconstruction actually lived, actually confronted a situation, today totally alien to us, where countrymen killed countrymen, where political power involved more than the simple control of administration. (Benedict, 1973, p. 1)

Americans were ill equipped to cope with the problem effectively. By 1865 most Northerners, particularly Republicans, had come to identify security for the Union with concrete, fundamental change in southern society, particularly in black & white relations. Most important, Republicans insisted upon protection for former slaves in their new freedom. Yet these same Northerners, including Republicans, displayed a remarkable reluctance to force these changes on the South through the power of the national government. At first many Republicans hoped Southerners themselves would inaugurate the necessary changes voluntarily, but it quickly became apparent that even modest change in southern society, beyond the eradication of slavery would require the national action so many Northerners wanted to avoid. But further complications arose in the person of the seventeenth president of the United States, Andrew Johnson. If the critical importance of Reconstruction for the security of the nation provided the kindling for the impeachment crisis, it was the torch of Andrew Johnson's personal character that ignited the flame. (Benedict, 1973, p. 3)

The Radical Republican Vision

The key issues of Reconstruction involved how the national government would define its relationship to the defeated Confederate states and the former slaves. The South had been thoroughly defeated and its economy lay in ruins. The presence of Union troops further embittered white Southerners. But the bitterest pill was the changed status of African-Americans whose freedom seemed an affront to white supremacy. ("The politics of Reconstruction," n.d., p. 89)

During his life, Lincoln had promoted a plan that authorized amnesty for those swearing an oath of allegiance. Once 10% of a Confederate state's voters registered their oaths they could establish a state government. Arkansas and Louisiana met this criterion, but congressional radicals pushed for a harsher stance. They pushed through a bill that would fundamentally transform southern society, though Lincoln killed it with a pocket veto. Redistribution of land posed another thorny issue. Many former slaves had worked on abandoned plantations, leased to northern investors. General Sherman had settled others on 40-acre plots. Congress had created the Freedman's Bureau to help with the transition to freedom and had passed the Thirteenth Amendment to abolish slavery. But an assassin's bullet ended Lincoln's role in Reconstruction. Andrew Johnson, the new president, was a War Democrat from Tennessee. He had used harsh language to describe southern "traitors" but blamed individuals rather than the entire South for secession. While Congress was not in session he granted amnesty to most Confederates. Initially, wealthy landholders and members of the political elite had been excluded. But Johnson pardoned most of them. Johnson appointed provisional governors who organized new governments. By December, Johnson claimed that "restoration" was virtually complete. A lifelong Democrat, Johnson sympathized with his fellow white southerners and was committed to white supremacy. ("The politics of Reconstruction," n.d., p. 89)


Carpetbaggers was a name given to those Northerners who went South during reconstruction, motivated in part by profit and/or idealism. The name refers to the clothing bags that were used by most to transport his or her goods. Despite the name there were many carpetbaggers that were sincere in wanting to aid in the freedom and education of previous slaves. Carpetbaggers came to Louisiana during the war and especially after the slaves had been declared free. Members of Union regiments who had served in the South were captivated by the glowing economic prospects of growing cotton. Cotton growth increasingly had provided the foundation for the southern economy before the war, and economic realities assured its continued dominance. The land would be worked and new crops planted. Antebellum creditors hoped to see their debts paid by new loans and new crops. (Ashkenazi, 1988, p. 27)

The well-educated, bourgeois carpetbaggers who sought to improve on the plantation economy as run by planters did not do any better. In contrast stands the community of Jewish rural merchants who succeeded without special interest in controlling land, an aim of the carpetbaggers. Merchants, with some exceptions, stuck to the business they knew, stocking a store with merchandise to be exchanged for cotton or a debt to be satisfied in the future through a cotton sale. Jewish merchants who did control land applied the capitalist practices of the merchant, not those of the feudal baron, to the running of plantations. To survive, Jewish merchants lived frugally and rarely aspired to the creature comforts desired by the carpetbaggers who appeared in Louisiana during and after the war. Country merchants became more important sources of credit and supply to planters and croppers through their own credit lines with New Orleans and New York. These ties diminished as the country merchant financed inventories on his own and accepted pledges of crops from growers. (Ashkenazi, 1988, p. 29)


Scalawags a derogatory term (originally describing worthless livestock) applied to native white Southerners who supported the federal reconstruction plan and cooperated with the blacks in order to achieve their ends. Some of the scalawags were entirely above board, having opposed the Confederacy in earlier times and later wanted a new South to emerge from the rubble. Others cooperated with or served in the Republican governments in order to avail themselves of money-making opportunities. Scalawags have had bad press in Alabama as well as in another place in the South. Alabama natives frequently have practiced amnesia in dealing with scalawags, preferring to forget those, whether direct ancestors or not or at least dismiss them as being guilty of a gross lapse of judgment in the turmoil of the post-Civil War years. Even historian Thomas M. Owen omitted scalawag governor William Hugh Smith from the biographical sketches in his four-volume History of Alabama and Dictionary of Alabama Biography, the only governor accorded such distinction. Although Willis Brewer and William Garrett bravely included prominent scalawags in their significant nineteenth-century biographical collections, someone has neatly sliced out the sketch of Alabama's other scalawag governor David P. Lewis from The University of Alabama's copy of Brewer Alabama. Over the tissue-paper patch a delicate Victorian hand has inscribed, "It seems that someone has removed the sketch of David P. Lewis which originally occupied this page; he was Alabama's second scalawag governor (1872-1874) (Wiggins, 1991, p. 1)

In the new General Assembly scalawags were the most numerous group, as they also were in the state executive and judicial branches. Of the one hundred members of the House of Representatives, three were Democrats. Among the ninety-seven Republicans were thirty-three Southerners, fourteen Northern men, and twenty-seven blacks. (Wiggins, 1991, p. 39)


Sharecropping developed after various other production schemes failed. By 1868, it was the predominant capital-labor arrangement throughout the South. In retrospect, the development of sharecropping seems a tragedy, because it is associated with the kind of static, hopeless poverty and debt cycles that afflicted the entire South well into the twentieth century. The freed men attained an economic status similar to peonage, in addition to having their hopes for political and social equality dashed. If the entire South suffered, it was the freedmen who paid the highest price. Ignorant and impoverished, they were easy targets for exploitation by landlords and merchants alike; moreover, their options were entirely curtailed by the intense racism in the South, by legal restrictions and partiality, and by the financial institutions in place after the war and resurgent plantation economies, which entrenched a powerful white elite. According to this retrospective viewpoint, sharecropping resulted from the intense explicit or implicit desire of white Southerners to keep blacks subservient to them. Whereas this viewpoint seems plausible and contains more than a few elements of truth, the viewpoint also overly simplifies a whole range of historical considerations. (Riddle, 1995)

Above all, share contracts were neither standardized nor one-sided. Black tenants had a strong voice in determining the terms of share-rent contracts. Sharecropping spelled the end of plantation economies and transformed the organic plantations into so many small farms and independent production units, notwithstanding concentration of land ownership From the planter's perspective, a problem with share tenancy agreements was that his principal means of control was to refuse to renew tenant leases, i.e., to threaten to evict or to actually evict at the end of an annual lease. The all-or-nothing alternatives limited planter interference and punitive flexibility and gave blacks unprecedented freedom and autonomy to organize time and labor. (Riddle, 1995)

Biography of President Andrew Johnson

From 1830 onward Johnson was almost continuously in public office, being alderman (1828 -- 30) and mayor (1830 -- 33) of Greeneville, state representative (1835 -- 37, 1839 -- 41), state senator (1841 -- 43), Congressman (1843 -- 53), governor of Tennessee (1853 -- 57), and U.S. Senator (1857…

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