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Chapter 22 - The Ordeal of Reconstruction, 1865-1877
I. The Problems of Peace
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 ?
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
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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
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).
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
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.
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.
However, Lincoln pocket-vetoed the bill by letting it expire, and the 10% Plan remained.
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
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
As Republicans gained control of Congress, they passed the bills into laws with a 2/3 vote and thus override Johnson’s veto.
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).
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
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.
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
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.
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.
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
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.
The 15th Amendment
, passed by Congress in 1869, gave Blacks their right to vote.
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.
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
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.”
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
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.
Black men also began to hold political offices, as men like Hiram Revels
and Blanche K. Bruce served in Congress (they represented Mississippi).
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.
One could note that Southern governments were somewhat corrupted during these times.
XIV. The Ku Klux Klan
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.
This radical group undermined much of what abolitionists sought to do.
XV. Johnson Walks the Impeachment Plank
Radical Republicans were angry with President Johnson, and they decided to try to get rid of him.
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).
However, when Johnson dismissed Stanton early in 1868, the Republicans impeached him.
XVI. A Not-Guilty Verdict for Johnson
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.
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).
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
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.”
Only later, when oil and gold were discovered, did Alaska prove to be a huge bargain.
XVIII. The Heritage of Reconstruction
Many Southerners regarded Reconstruction as worse than the war itself, as they resented the upending of their social and racial system.
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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