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Chapter 22: The Ordeal of Reconstruction (1865-1877)

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Chapter Outline

I. The Problems of Peace

  1. After the war, there were many questions over what to do with the
    free Blacks, such as how to reintegrate the Southern states into the
    Union, what to do with Jefferson Davis, and who would be in charge of
    Reconstruction?
  2. The Southern way of life had been ruined, as crops and farms were
    destroyed, the slaves had been freed, the cities were burnt down, but
    still, and many Southerners remained defiant.

II. Freedmen Define Freedom

  1. At first, the freed Blacks faced a confusing situation, as many slave owners re-enslaved their slaves after Union troops left.
    • Other planters resisted emancipation through legal means, citing
      that emancipation wasn’t valid until local or state courts
      declared it.
  2. Some slaves loyally stuck to their owners while others let out
    their pent-up bitterness by pillaging their former masters’ land,
    property, and even whipping the old master.
  3. Eventually, even resisting plantation owners had to give up their
    slaves, and afterwards tens of thousands of Blacks took to the roads to
    find new work or look for lost loved ones.
  4. The church became the focus of the Black community life in the years following the war.
    • Emancipation also meant education for Blacks, but despite all the
      gains Blacks made, they still faced severe discrimination and would
      have to wait a century before truly attaining their rights.

III. The Freedman’s Bureau

  1. In order to train the unskilled and unlettered freed Blacks, the
    Freedman’s Bureau was set up on March 3, 1865. Union General
    Oliver O. Howard headed it.
  2. The bureau taught about 200,000 Blacks how to read (its greatest
    success), since most former slaves wanted to narrow the literary gap
    between them and Whites; the bureau also read the word of God.
  3. However, it wasn’t as effective as it could have been, as
    evidenced by the further discrimination of Blacks, and it expired in
    1872 after much criticism by racist Whites.

IV. Johnson: The Tailor President

  1. Andrew Johnson came from very poor and humble beginnings, and he
    served in Congress for many years (he was the only Confederate
    congressman not to leave Congress when the rest of the South seceded).
  2. He was feared for his reputation of having a short temper and being
    a great fighter, was a dogmatic champion of states’ rights and
    the Constitution, and he was a Tennessean who never earned the trust of
    the North and never regained the confidence of the South.

V. Presidential Reconstruction

  1. Since Abraham Lincoln believed that the South had never legally
    withdrawn from the Union, restoration was to be relatively simple. In
    his plan for restoring the union, the southern states could be
    reintegrated into the Union if and when they had only 10% of its voters
    pledge and taken an oath to the Union, and also acknowledge the
    emancipation of the slaves; it was appropriately called the Ten Percent
    Plan. Like the loving father who welcomed back the prodigal son,
    Lincoln’s plan was very forgiving to the South.
  2. The Radical Republicans felt punishment was due the South for all
    the years of strife. They feared that the leniency of the 10 %
    Plan would allow the Southerners to re-enslave the newly freed Blacks,
    so they rammed the Wade-Davis Bill through Congress. It required 50% of
    the states’ voters to take oaths of allegiance and demanded
    stronger safeguards for emancipation than the 10% Plan.
  3. However, Lincoln pocket-vetoed the bill by letting it expire, and the 10% Plan remained.
  4. It became clear that there were now two types of Republicans: the
    moderates, who shared the same views as Lincoln and the radicals, who
    believed the South should be harshly punished.

    • Sadly though, Lincoln was assassinated. This left the 10% Plan’s future in question.
    • When Andrew Johnson took power, the radicals thought that he would
      do what they wanted, but he soon proved them wrong by basically taking
      Lincoln’s policy and issuing his own Reconstruction proclamation:
      certain leading Confederates were disfranchised (right to vote
      removed), the Confederate debt was repudiated, and states had to ratify
      the 13th Amendment.

VI. The Baleful Black Codes

  1. In order to control the freed Blacks, many Southern states passed
    Black Codes, laws aimed at keeping the Black population in submission
    and workers in the fields; some were harsh, others were not as harsh.
  2. Blacks who “jumped” their labor contracts, or walked
    off their jobs, were subject to penalties and fines, and their wages
    were generally kept very low.
  3. The codes forbade Blacks from serving on a jury and some even
    barred Blacks from renting or leasing land, and Blacks could be
    punished for “idleness” by being subjected to working on a
    chain gang.
  4. Making a mockery out of the newly won freedom of the Blacks, the
    Black Codes made many abolitionists wonder if the price of the Civil
    War was worth it, since Blacks were hardly better after the war than
    before the war. They were not “slaves” on paper, but in
    reality, their lives were little different.

VII. Congressional Reconstruction

  1. In December, 1865, when many of the Southern states came to be
    reintegrated into the Union, among them were former Confederates and
    Democrats, and most Republicans were disgusted to see their former
    enemies on hand to reclaim seats in Congress.
  2. During the war, without the Democrats, the Republicans had passed
    legislation that had favored the North, such as the Morrill Tariff, the
    Pacific Railroad Act, and the Homestead Act, so now, many Republicans
    didn’t want to give up the power that they had gained in the war.
  3. Northerners now realized that the South would be stronger
    politically than before, since now, Blacks counted for a whole person
    instead of just 3/5 of one, and Republicans also feared that the
    Northern and Southern Democrats would join and take over Congress and
    the White House and institute their Black Codes over the nation,
    defeating all that the Civil War gained.
  4. On December 6, 1865, President Johnson declared that the South had
    satisfied all of the conditions needed, and that the Union was now
    restored.

VIII. Johnson Clashes with Congress

  1. Johnson repeatedly vetoed Republican-passed bills, such as a bill
    extending the life of the Freedman’s Bureau, and he also vetoed
    the Civil Rights Bill, which conferred on blacks the privilege of
    American citizenship and struck at the Black Codes.
  2. As Republicans gained control of Congress, they passed the bills
    into laws with a 2/3 vote and thus override Johnson’s veto.
  3. In the 14th Amendment, the Republicans sought to instill the same
    ideas of the Civil Rights Bill: (1) all Blacks were American citizens,
    (2) if a state denied citizenship to Blacks, then its representatives
    in the Electoral College were lowered, (3) former Confederates could
    not hold federal or state office, and (4) the federal debt was
    guaranteed while the Confederate one was repudiated (erased).
  4. The radicals were disappointed that Blacks weren’t given the
    right to vote, but all Republicans agreed that states wouldn’t be
    accepted back into the Union unless they ratified the 14th Amendment.

IX. Swinging ‘Round the Circle with Johnson

  1. In 1866, Republicans would not allow Reconstruction to be carried
    on without the 14th Amendment, and as election time approached, Johnson
    wanted to lower the amount of Republicans in Congress, so he began a
    series of ‘Round the Circle speeches.
  2. However, as he was heckled by the audience, he hurled back insults,
    gave “give ‘em hell” speeches, and generally
    denounced the radicals, and in the process, he gave Republicans more
    men in Congress than they had before—the opposite of his original
    intention.

X. Republican Principles and Programs

  1. By then, the Republicans had a veto-proof Congress and nearly
    unlimited control over Reconstruction, but moderates and radicals still
    couldn’t agree with one another.
  2. In the Senate, the leader of the radicals was Charles Sumner, long
    since recovered from his caning by Preston Brooks, and in the House,
    the radical leader was Thaddeus Stevens, an old, sour man who was an
    unswerving friend of the Blacks.
  3. The radicals wanted to keep the South out of the Union as long as
    possible and totally change its economy and the moderates wanted a
    quicker Reconstruction. What happened was a compromise between the two
    extremes.

XI. Reconstruction by Sword

  1. The Reconstruction Act of March 2, 1867 divided the South into five
    military zones, temporarily disfranchised tens of thousands of former
    Confederates, and laid down new guidelines for the readmission of
    states (Johnson had announced the Union restored, but Congress had not
    yet formally agreed on this).

    • All states had to approve the 14th Amendment, making all Blacks citizens.
    • All states had to guarantee full suffrage of all male former slaves.
  2. The 15th Amendment, passed by Congress in 1869, gave Blacks their right to vote.
  3. In the case Ex parte Milligan (1866), the Supreme Court ruled that
    military tribunals could not try civilians, even during wartime, if
    there were civil courts available.
  4. By 1870, all of the states had complied with the standards of
    Reconstruction, and in 1877, the last of the states were given their
    home rule back, and Reconstruction ended.

    • The end of Reconstruction was part of the Compromise of
      1877—the two presidential candidates were at a stalemate and the
      only way to break the stalemate was with a deal. In the deal, the North
      got their president (Rutherford B. Hayes) and the South got the
      military to pull-out (abandon?) the South and the former slaves, thus
      ending Reconstruction.

XII. No Women Voters

  1. Women suffrage advocates were disappointed by the 13th, 14th, and 15th Amendments, since they didn’t give women suffrage.
    • After all, women had gathered petitions and had helped Blacks gain their rights.
    • Frederick Douglass believed in the women’s movement, but believed that it was now “the Negro’s hour.”
  2. As a result, women advocates like Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan
    B. Anthony campaigned against the 14th and 15th
    Amendments—Amendments that inserted the word male into the
    Constitution for the first time ever.

XIII. The Realities of Radical Reconstruction in the South

  1. Blacks began to organize politically, and their main vehicle was the Union League.
    • It became a network of political clubs that educated members in
      their civic duties and campaigned for Republican candidates, and later
      even built Black churches and schools, represented Black grievances,
      and recruited militias to protect Blacks.
    • Black women attended the parades and rallies of Black communities.
  2. Black men also began to hold political offices, as men like Hiram
    Revels and Blanche K. Bruce served in Congress (they represented
    Mississippi).
  3. Southern Whites hated seeing their former slaves now ranking above
    them, and they also hated “scalawags,” Southerners who were
    accused of plundering Southern treasuries and selling out the
    Southerners, and “carpetbaggers,” Northerners accused of
    parasitically milking power and profit in a now-desolate South.
  4. One could note that Southern governments were somewhat corrupted during these times.

XIV. The Ku Klux Klan

  1. Extremely racist Whites who hated the Blacks founded the
    “Invisible Empire of the South,” or Ku Klux Klan, in
    Tennessee in 1866—an organization that scared Blacks into not
    voting or not seeking jobs, etc… and often resorted to violence
    against the Blacks in addition to terror.
  2. This radical group undermined much of what abolitionists sought to do.

XV. Johnson Walks the Impeachment Plank

  1. Radical Republicans were angry with President Johnson, and they decided to try to get rid of him.
  2. In 1867, Congress passed the Tenure of Office Act, which provided
    that the president had to secure the consent of the Senate before
    removing his appointees once they had been approved by the Senate (one
    reason was to keep Edwin M. Stanton, a Republican spy, in office).
  3. However, when Johnson dismissed Stanton early in 1868, the Republicans impeached him.

XVI. A Not-Guilty Verdict for Johnson

  1. Johnson was not allowed to testify by his lawyers, who argued that
    the Tenure of Office Act was unconstitutional and Johnson was acting
    under the Constitution, not the law.
  2. On May 16, 1868, Johnson was acquitted of all charges by a single
    vote, as seven Republican senators with consciences voted
    “not-guilty” (interestingly, those seven never secured a
    political office again afterwards).
  3. Die-hard radicals were infuriated by the acquittal, but many
    politicians feared establishing a precedence of removing the president
    through impeachment.

XVII. The Purchase of Alaska

  1. In 1867, Secretary of State William H. Seward bought Alaska from
    Russia to the United States for $7.2 million, but most of the public
    jeered his act as “Seward’s Folly” or
    “Seward’s Ice-box.”
  2. Only later, when oil and gold were discovered, did Alaska prove to be a huge bargain.

XVIII. The Heritage of Reconstruction

  1. Many Southerners regarded Reconstruction as worse than the war
    itself, as they resented the upending of their social and racial system.
  2. The Republicans, though with good intentions, failed to improve the
    South, and the fate of Blacks would remain poor for almost another
    century before the Civil Rights movement of the 1950s and 1960s secured
    Black privileges.

 

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