Reconstruction After Civil War Term Paper

  • Length: 7 pages
  • Subject: American History
  • Type: Term Paper
  • Paper: #8260613

Excerpt from Term Paper :

Reconstruction After Civil War

The liberation declaration in 1863 freed African-Americans in rebel states, and after the Civil War, the Thirteenth Amendment liberated all U.S. slaves wherever they were. As a result, the mass of Southern blacks now faced the complicatedness which Northern blacks had confronted that of a free people bounded by many hostile whites. One freedman, Houston Hartsfield Holloway, wrote, "For we colored people did not know how to be free and the white people did not know how to have a free colored person about them."

Even after the liberation declaration proclamation, two more years of war, service by African-American troops, and the overwhelm of the confederacy, the nation was still unprepared to deal with the question of full citizenship for its newly at liberty black population. The reconstruction implemented by Congress, which lasted from 1866 to 1877, was aimed at reorganizing the Southern states after the Civil War, providing the means for at restructure the southern states. After the Civil War, providing the means for readmitting them into the union, and defining the means by which whites and blacks could live jointly in a no slave society. The South, however, saw reconstruction as a humiliating, even unforgiving burden and did not welcome it.

During the years after the war, black and white teachers from the North and South, missionary organizations, churches and schools worked diligently to give the liberated population the opportunity to learn. Former slaves of every age took benefit of the opportunity to become literate. Grandfathers and their grandchildren sat together in classrooms seeking to acquire the tools of freedom.

Reconstruction and its Weaknesses

After the Civil War, with the security of the thirteenth, fourteenth, and fifteenth amendments to the Constitution and the Civil Rights Act of 1866, African-Americans enjoyed a period when they were allowed to vote, enthusiastically participate in the political process, acquire the land of former owners, seek their own employment, and use public accommodations. Opponents of this progress, however, soon gathering against the former slaves' freedom and began to find means for eroding the gains for which many had shed their blood.

The aftermath of any war is thorny for the survivors. Those difficulties are usually even worse after a civil war. Such was definitely the case in the period after the American Civil War. Reconstruction was a period of political catastrophe and considerable violence. Most white southerners envisage a quick reunion in which white supremacy would remain integral in the South. In this vision, African-Americans, while in some sense free, would have few civil rights and no say in government. Many Northerners including President Andrew Johnson, who came to office after the assassination of Abraham Lincoln, shared these views. On the other hand, both black Southerners and the majority of Northern Republicans thought that before the Southern states were re-establish to their place in the Union. The federal government must secure the basic rights of former slaves.

In civil rights legislation and the Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendments to the U.S. Constitution, the Republican Congress inscribes this policy into law. They were attempting, for the first time in history, to create an actually interracial democracy. Faced with violent antagonism in the South and a retreat from the ideal of racial fairness in the North, Reconstruction proved short-lived. It would take another century for the nation to begin to live up to this era's promise of impartiality.

Reconstruction and the explicit addition of emancipated slaves as citizens posed new questions for the liberal state. The incorporation of the liberated slaves into the body politic seemed to monarch the kind of democratic "revolution" and limitless state which Tocqueville dreaded as a result of his experience in France -- an opening of social divisions and calls for a strong state to trounce them. Tocqueville's greatest fears went unrealized in Reconstruction: Virtually no one entertained at all seriously a demand for equality of condition for the liberated slaves. Most politicians of the Reconstruction era release the idea that the liberty of blacks called for the redistribution of land or wealth.

Still, economic, partisan and regional interests as well as sheer racism in jeopardy the easy consensus, which had subsist about the equal rights of citizens. The liberalism of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries had partial government in part by narrowly define the realm of what was politically relevant, focusing on the lowest common denominator compulsory for individuals to live together peacefully. This seemed to ensure peace in two ways: 1) government itself could not justifiably coerce one in the name of an elusive "higher" good; 2) many of the factors which had divided society, such as religion, lost their political relevance and force. Sectarians found their efforts to capture the state for their cause less successful and, no matter what their thoughts were about their neighbors' salvation, they were obligatory by the government to accord them certain rights. Political unity centering on the assumed common desires of life and liberty defused the potential for civil wars and the authoritarianism necessary to quell them.

However, this respect of others' "personhood" and the accordance of complementary rights is not necessarily automatic, and the problem that the federal government faced during Reconstruction was a determined gap between, on the one hand, the central government's ostensible goals and, on the other, local government and citizens' ideas about the rights which should be harmony to blacks. As Colonel Samuel Thomas, director of the Freedmen's Bureau in Mississippi reported, the basic problem, which faced the nation in 1865 was, that

" whites could not conceive of the Negro having any rights at all. . . . To kills a Negro they do not deem murder; to debauch a Negro woman they do not think fornication; to take property away from a negro they do not deem robbery." (Foner 140-150)

Most Americans of the nineteenth century, including most Republicans, discarded the notion of inherent racial equality. Nonetheless, most Republicans thought that emancipation complete civil and legal equality of all persons. Republicans in the 1860s largely adhered to the vocabulary of the antebellum era, which explain natural, civil, political and social rights. Natural rights included those which government cannot legitimately define without just cause, such as life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. Civil rights in the nineteenth century lexicon involved like treatment by courts and civil and criminal laws, which Republican consider as indispensable because without them, natural rights could not be guaranteed.( Belz 139-140)

Political rights concerned the franchise, which Republicans, Eric Foner squabble, considered a privilege more than a right. Finally, social rights concerned the choice of business and personal relationships, which most Americans viewed as a personal matter, outside the purview of government.(Foner 231)

Existing traditions and prejudices made equality before the law and its relationship to political and "social" rights challenging. Many Republicans believed that ignoring race and simply allowing blacks to go to the law to secure their rights would simply verify existing patterns of racial prejudice. Others, joined by Democrats, held that recognizing blacks as a separate class or introducing race into legislation even for preventing favoritism was contradictory with equality before the law. For the most part, Republicans seemed to combine around the definition of "equality before the law" offered by Representative Harlan: "All that can be necessary will be the application of just laws precisely as these laws are applied to members of the white race." (Congressional Globe)

That Reconstruction involved permanence and even conservatism, that states' rights nonstop to play a central role in national policy and those congressional policymakers time after time underestimated the scope of the racial challenge in the South cannot be deprived of. Yet these basics should not be stress at the expense of attention to the ways in which the liberal tradition's theoretical apparatus was able to include the federal protection of civil and political rights. When, for example, Alfred Kelly wrote in 1964 that, by "imposing only a series of legal- constitutional guarantees for Negro political and legal rights," the Republicans had protected and reinstated federalism and the Bill of Rights rather than displacing them, he provided an important corrective to the Dunningite school's portrayal of the Radicals as tyrannical Jacobins.( Hyman 446)

Reconstruction was unsuccessful but helped in the long run:

A. Reconstruction failed to alter the South's social structure or its distribution of wealth and power, which disadvantaged African-Americans.

B. Reconstruction left significant legacies, including the 14th and 15th amendments that would be used 100 years later to protect minority rights.

1. Attitude of white Southerners

White southerners were nervous to regain power over them and used the law in order to attain that objective. In 1865, southerners created Black Codes, which served as a way to control and inhibit the freedom of ex-slaves. Codes controlled almost all aspects of life and forbidden African-Americans from the freedoms that had been won.

Not only did whites want to control ex-slaves, but also they required laborers. While things could no longer be the same as in…

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