The Era of Reconstruction
The era of Reconstruction is a period in the American history, which started in 1865, after the victory of the North in the Civil War and lasted until 1877. Abraham Lincoln laid preconditions for its development, having a vision of a unitary state, equal civil rights and protection of all its nationals. Since the President was a proponent of moderate policies towards the former Confederate States, he introduced the Proclamation of Amnesty and Reconstruction in 1863 (Norton et al., 2012). In order to understand this period in detail, it is necessary to analyze consequences of Abraham Lincoln’s assassination for reconstruction plans, growing dispute between whites and the former slaves in Southern states, as well as the impact of the halted Reconstruction.
During his presidency, Abraham Lincoln developed a ten-percent plan that enabled Southern states to reenter the Union providing an oath of allegiance to the United States was given by ten percent of their voters. Furthermore, he planned to grant forgiveness to all soldiers, except for military commanders of the highest rank (Norton et al., 2012). These intentions were supposed to unite the country. After the assassination of Abraham Lincoln, his successor, President Andrew Johnson, began to implement reconstruction plans. Unfortunately, his attempts were short-lived because being given the right to self-regulation, Southern states started to introduce the so-called ‘black codes,’ which significantly limited the rights of the black people to movement and employment. Since the Republican Party met it with strong dissatisfaction, it eventually led to the impeachment of Andrew Johnson. As a result, presidential reconstruction was substituted with radical one involving the refusal to the South to have representatives in the Congress, creation of the Freedmen’s Bureau, and the division of Southern states into five districts controlled by the North (Norton et al., 2012). Furthermore, the Congress passed the Civil Rights Act, which gave the status of nationals to all people born in the Union and guaranteed equal rights to all citizens. In addition, Republicans also approved the Fifteenth Amendment to the Constitution, preventing the restrictions of voting rights of citizens “on account of race, color, or previous condition of servitude” (U.S. Const. amend. XV). The implementation of these decisive measures had a controversial impact on the development of the United States. On the one hand, it led to the democratization of society and enabled black citizens to be elected to local governments and the Congress. It was supposed to ensure racial equality and the rule of law.
However, methods of reconstruction imposed by the Republicans were too strict for the South. Instead of uniting the country, they further increased the misunderstanding between the North and the South, as well as promoted racial discrimination because the change in the South was imposed by force rather than by attempts to change an attitude and outlook of people. Therefore, the conflict between the freed black population and the whites was growing. It resulted in reactionary activities of such organizations as Ku Klux Klan, which attacked both African Americans and white followers of the Republicans (Norton et al., 2012). In reaction to the actions of the Congress, Southern states issued ‘black codes,’ since they were afraid of the growing political influence of the former slaves.
The era of Reconstruction formally ended when Democrats and Republicans reached a compromise. Political consequences were that the former acknowledged the presidency of Rutherford B. Hayes, while the latter agreed to give control over the South to the Democrats. From the social perspective, it meant that the North was no longer interested in the promotion of reconstruction, and the delivery of civil rights granted to African Americans on the paper was not implemented in reality until the second half of the twentieth century. In economic terms, the South remained an agricultural region. After the abolition of slavery, most black people still did not have land and could not work for themselves (Foner, 2017). As a result, the majority of them was employed by the white population and received salaries or worked as sharecroppers.
In conclusion, the era of Reconstruction played an important role in the development of the modern United States and was crucial for the promotion of racial equality and civil rights. However, due to the assassination of Abraham Lincoln, the initial reconstruction plans were not implemented. It resulted in the growing tension between the black and the white populations, as well as in the economic underdevelopment of the Southern regions.
Foner, E. (2017, January 27). Reconstruction: United States history. In Encyclopedia Britannica. Retrieved from https://www.britannica.com/event/Reconstruction-United-States-history
Norton, M. B., Sheriff, C., Blight, D. W., Chudacoff, H. P., Logevall, F., & Bailey, B. (2012). A people and a nation: A history of the United States (9th ed.). Boston, MA: Cengage Learning.
U.S. Const. amend. XV.