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Successes And Failures Of Reconstruction Essay Dbq

Seth Cassel
January 2008


The Failure of Reconstruction

The American Civil War preserved the Union and freed the slaves. However, during Reconstruction, a lack of political focus on the effort failed to solve the sectional wounds, and the elimination of the freed slaves' newly gained civil liberties failed to bring about long-term racial integration.

After the war, the Union needed to effectively bring the South back into the country on equal footing, revive their economy, and rebuild their shattered landscape. Nevertheless, divisions in the federal government over Reconstruction caused a failure to achieve these goals. Lincoln first proposed the 10% plan, which offered a lenient way for Southern States to rejoin the Union. However, once Lincoln was assassinated, Andrew Johnson, a former owner of slaves, became president and initiated his own plan for Reconstruction. Although his plan initially worked, former Confederates eventually worked their way into the government and were elected to the United States Congress. The Republican dominated Congress refused to seat these Southerners. Furthermore, even the Republican Party itself was divided. Moderates and conservatives wanted the South to be readily admitted into the Union and Congress. These Republicans also wanted more reforms than those Johnson was providing. At the same time, radical Republicans wanted drastic change, desiring to "remake the South in the image of the North." These tensions within the Republican Party, and the seemingly Southern leaning president, led to little progress and even an impeachment trial of Andrew Johnson. The Northern disputes sidetracked the Union from real progress and did not help to bring the South back into the Union. Also, another cause of the lack of political focus during Reconstruction was the great economic prosperity in the North following the Civil War. For example, the first transcontinental railroad was completed, industrial inventions abounded, and industrial output skyrocketed. This Northern boom, in combination with a subsequent depression, "had the effect of drawing attention away from Reconstruction."

The failure of the North to effectively rebuild the South and bring it back into the Union during Reconstruction is evident after the time period. First, the unsuccessful nature of Reconstruction can be seen in 1880 when the "contrast between the South and the Northeast was similar to that between Russia (one of the poorest nations in Europe) and Germany (one of the wealthiest)." Also, "long into the 20th century, the South remained a one-party region under the control of a reactionary ruling elite" that harbored hatred against the North. In fact, until the 1940's, Tennessee was the only state of the former Confederacy to observe Lincoln's birthday as a legal holiday.

Another issue of Reconstruction, the integration of freed slaves into society, also shows the unsuccessful nature of Reconstruction. There were several promising times during Reconstruction when progress was made for freed African Americans. The first was the 13th, 14th, and 15th Amendments guaranteeing African Americans certain civil liberties. Also, 14 African Americans were elected to Congress and numerous others served in state and local governments. However, the rise of the Klu Klux Klan and other white supremacy groups, in combination with the Black Codes, began to intimidate freed slaves and push back their civil liberties. Also, in the Slaughterhouse Cases, U.S. v. Cruikshank, and U.S. v. Reese, the Supreme Court helped severely limit the rights of African Americans. In addition, the sharecropping system, especially the crop-lien system, placed many African Americans into positions of indebtedness, reminiscent of the dependence of slavery. Thus, there were hopes of freedom, but "the Yankees… let us [African Americans] be put back in slavery again." Partly due to the failure of Reconstruction to provide racial equality, African Americans would be free but oppressed, second-class citizens well into the 20th century.

Reconstruction after the Civil War was a failure. The North was at odds and distracted over how the effort should be addressed and thus did not effectively rebuild the South and bring it back into the Union. Also, although for a time it appeared as if the freed slaves would become equal with whites, racism was allowed to pervade into society. Therefore, as seen in the ineffective efforts to bring the South back into the Union as a healthy equal to the North, Reconstruction also failed to successfully integrate freed slaves into society.

There were many plus sides to the Civil War. Those plus sides were the abolishment of slavery, secession was refuted, and there was supremacy of national government. Yet, there was one difficulty which was that the Union had the challenge of figuring out what to do with free slaves. In 1867, Congress took control of Reconstruction to establish and protect citizenship rights. Congress had succeeded in many ways like having the Southern states ratify the Fourteenth Amendment to rid the military forces. But, by 1877 the Reconstruction had ended, all the work done failed, and everything reversed. Congress’ Reconstruction efforts to have equal rights for freedmen failed because the Ku Klux Klan intervened in wrong ways, freedmen were convinced to stop their actions, and editorial advocating was used as propaganda against freedmen.

The Ku Klux Klan (or KKK) was, and still is in some areas, a secret organization that used terrorist tactics in an attempt to restore white supremacy in Southern states. In document two, General Thomas discusses the KKK. The purpose of the KKK was to get rid of any African Americans so the whites could hold power. They even killed those who supported the African Americans, meaning the killed whites also. They would do anything in their power to hold the power they had. They had undermined Congress’ efforts for equal rights to all by doing exactly what they did. They would go around threatening people, burned houses down, burned crosses in lawns, and of course killed any Africans. That’s not what Congress wanted. They wanted everyone to have equal treatment. The African Americans did have much to be able to stop being invaded. If they did, they would have been killed anyway.

In document four, Atlanta News uses editorial advocating as propaganda. First off, editorial advocating is when the editorial representative of a newspaper or social media comes to an event in favor of a cause, or idea, and uses their position on it to further that cause. In the document the speaker states his view on the African Americans in the South. He wants the Northerners to go to the South and organize a way to rid the African’s of their rights.

Many Northerners tried to convince freedmen to stop voting. Also, they tried to stop them from taking part in politics. Dr. W. E. B. DuBois was an African American Historian and wrote a book about this. Document six is a excerpt of that book. The Northerners told the Southerners if they wanted a job they needed to keep their noses out of politics and if they wanted to be apart of politics well they better not have expected a job. Basically, shut up and stay quiet. Either way, they couldn’t win.

The African American didn’t have an easy life once Reconstruction ended. Everything Congress worked for reversed and the Northerners thought they had more power. Reconstruction failed for many reasons meanwhile it was supposed to be a rebuilding after the Civil War. Like many things that go on, everything doesn’t always go as planned.

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