|Ashley Smith Characteristics and Impacts of
The key goals of Reconstruction were to readmit the South into the Union
and to define the status of freedmen in American society. The Reconstruction era
was marked by political, not violent, conflict. Some historical myths are that
the South was victimized by Reconstruction, and that the various plans of
Reconstruction were corrupt and unjust. Actually, the plans were quite lenient,
enforcing military rule for only a short period of time, ignoring land reform,
and granting pardons easily. The task of Reconstruction was to re-integrate
America into a whole nation, securing the rights of each man and establishing
order once again. There were three major Reconstruction plans; Lincoln, Johnson,
and Congress each offered a strategy to unify the nation.
Lincolnís plan, in
1864, required ten percent of the voting population of each state who had voted
in the 1860 election to take an oath of allegiance to the Union and accept the
abolition of slavery. Then that ten percent could create a state government that
would be loyal to the Union. Confederate officials, army and naval officers, and
civil officers who had resigned from office were all required to apply for
presidential pardons (Boyer, 443). Lincolnís plan did not at all deal with
freedmenís civil rights, which is a definite weakness. Under his ten percent
rule, no freedmen could be part of a state government. Also, it did not address
land reform, an economic weakness of Lincolnís strategy. Finally, under
Lincolnís plan, no federal military occupation was required in Southern states.
This left the freedmen at the mercy of the states for protection. Congress
viewed this plan as far too lenient, and in 1864 passed the Wade-Davis bill.
This bill required the majority of voters in each Southern state to take an oath
of loyalty; only then could the state hold a convention to repeal secession and
abolish slavery. Although Lincolnís plan may have been too lenient, this bill
would have been far too harsh and delayed readmission to the Union for a very
long time. Lincoln did not sign the bill into law, or pocket-vetoed the bill,
and was soon assassinated. Therefore, he did not have a chance to implement his
plan of Reconstruction, and his goal was not met.
After Andrew Johnson
assumed the presidency following Lincolnís assassination in 1865, and he
introduced his plan of Reconstruction. Although Johnson claimed that his plan
mirrored Lincolnís, there were great differences. Under Johnsonís plan, fifty
percent of the voters in each Southern state who had voted in the 1860 election
had to take an oath of loyalty to the Union. Then, each state was required to
write new constitutions adopting the 13th amendment (Boyer, 444). Johnson
repudiated Confederate war debts, and he also supported Black Codes. Johnson
seemed sympathetic to Southern opinion at the expense of freedmenís rights. He
took steps to insure a dependant black work force for the South, and restricted
the rights of African-Americans . Freedmen were not allowed to marry
interracially, perform jury duty, or give testimony in court against whites.
Johnsonís plan was fatally flawed; his requirement that each state adopt the
13th amendment was practically useless as it only dealt with Federal elections.
State elections were more important to citizens during the Reconstruction era,
and unless Johnson guaranteed State voting rights to freedmen he was offering
them hardly anything at all. Also, Johnson supported Black Codes against
Northern public opinion, which damaged him politically in the North. Finally,
Johnson did not deal with land reform or economic aid, which was economically
unsound. In Congress, the Radicals and Moderates were forced to join forces to
overturn Johnsonís extremely lenient plan. Caught up in battles with Congress
and an impeachment scandal until he left office, Johnson did not achieve his
Congress finally implemented their plan in 1866. This
is viewed as the most prevalent plan of Reconstruction. Under this strategy, the
majority of each stateís voters had to take an oath of allegiance, and then the
state had to write a new constitution. Congress would then review the
constitutions and the applications for pardons from Confederate officers. The
states also had to accept the 13th, 14th, and 15th amendments. Finally, the
South would be divided into ten military districts and were to be under military
law (Boyer, 448). Although this plan was harsher than Johnsonís, it was still
fairly forgiving to the South. The military occupation was actually quite light
and did not last long. Also, the 13th, 14th, and 15th amendments dealt only with
Federal laws, and did not extend to state elections or private policy.
Congressís plan did nothing to aid freedmen or protect them from violence and
race riots. Like Lincoln and Johnsonís plans, it did not address land reform.
However, the goal of Congressís plan was reached, at least partly.
Congress did not succeed in guaranteeing black suffrage, which was one of its
original intentions during Reconstruction, it did begin the process of
rebuilding the South. Reconstruction modernized Southern law codes, created more
equal Congressional districts, a fairer tax system, and a public school system.
What it failed to do was give freedmen social or legal equality, and protect
them from white violence and oppression. By refusing to deal with land reform,
the plan helped the rise of the share-cropping system, and by failing to
guarantee state rights, it paved the way for segregation. However, the plan did
provide a sense of closure to the nation, relieving it of the so-called
ďSouthern questionĒ (Boyer, 470). By 1875, the North was tiring of
Reconstruction and devoted its focus to the Frontiers and Industrialization.
Reconstruction had a deep impact on the North, the South,
African-Americans, and the nation as a whole. A landmark case that also had deep
repercussions in America was the case of Plessy v. Ferguson, which ruled that
segregation was legal and could be enforced. Reconstruction led the North
into industrial growth, labor unrest, and created political unrest (Boyer, 462).
Due to the implementation of the factory system, the North was able to employ
low-level workers in droves. The black man became the common factory laborer; he
was paid the littlest and was the most expendable. Factory owners pitted
immigrants and freedmen against each other in order to pay as little possible
for workers. This led to labor unrest as the blacks were forced into ghettos
because of their poverty. Reconstruction also showed the North as the hypocrite
it was regarding race issues. Although the North had championed abolition and
was known as a respite for blacks, it still participated in de-facto segregation
and discriminated against blacks in hiring and wages. The turmoil of the Johnson
years and Congressís failure to win black suffrage left the North weary of
Reconstruction and longing to move on.
In the South, Reconstruction began
the process of physically rebuilding what the war had destroyed. Also,
Reconstruction modernized Southern law codes, created more equal congressional
districts, a fairer tax system, and a public school system. However,
Reconstruction also maintained the status quo in the South. By allowing Black
Codes and giving freedmen little protection, Reconstruction provided the South
with an ignorant and dependant work force much like slavery. Plessy v. Ferguson
reinforced racist Southern opinion by legalizing segregation and allowing for
its enforcement. This lead to more racist violence, many times in the form of
lynching and riots. Also, the decision forced blacks into the role of inferior
laborers once again.
To the freedman, Reconstruction was a virtual failure.
The Federal government failed to provide any real protection to blacks
physically or politically. Blacks were kept at the bottom of the social scale,
imprisoned as sharecroppers or factory laborers. Freedmen were never given
educational assistance, which meant that many blacks were illiterate, with no
wealth or business skills. The creation of Black Codes, vagrancy laws, and chain
gangs further demeaned blacks and established them as Americaís second class
citizens. Plessy v. Ferguson further oppressed blacks by upholding segregation
and denying them protection under the 13th, 14th, and 15th amendments. The
ruling institutionalized racism, and firmly established blacks as an inferior
class until the Civil Rights Movement of the 60s. However, freedmen did create
black institutions in response to Reconstruction; there was a cropping up of
black churches, schools, and higher education establishments (Boyer 458).
Reconstruction made the nation as a whole feel Ďreunitedí, but it was viewed
as a failure and waste immediately after its completion (Boyer, 471). It laid
the groundwork for the Civil Rights Movement by passing the 13, 14, and 15th
amendments, even though they would not be implemented to protect minority rights
for nearly a hundred years. Reconstruction also established a policy of treating
African-Americans as second-class citizens. The nation was taught that it was
alright to treat blacks as inferior people because the government would not even
guarantee them the right to vote in state elections. However, Reconstruction did
pave the way for share-cropping and the factory system, which would lead to an
economic boom as American expanded. Reconstruction threw America into upheaval,
and by 1875 the North had tired of the various plans and politics, and longed to
end Congressís plan (Boyer, 467).
Boyer, Clark, et.al.Enduring
Vision,Volume II: From 1865. Houghton Mifflin Company,