Study Guide

Reconstruction Analysis

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  • Law

    14th Amendment

    To preserve the constitutionality of the Civil Rights Bill, the Republican Congress passed the 14th Amendment in 1866, and it was ratified by the states in July 1868. 

    It declared that all persons born or naturalized in the U.S. are citizens. It based representative apportionment—the number of delegates a state could send to Congress—according to the whole number of persons in each state, thereby eradicating the three-fifths clause that had counted only a fraction of every slave for purposes of apportionment, which had given the white South power disproportionate to its number of voting citizens, and then denied slaves the ability to vote for their own representatives. 

    Representation was to be reduced accordingly if any male 21 or older was denied the vote—but this clause was never applied in practice, and instead Congress passed the 15th Amendment.

    Citizenship and Universal Male Suffrage, In Theory

    With the 14th Amendment, United States citizenship could no longer be denied on account of race. The word "male" was introduced into the Constitution with the section on voting, ensuring universal male suffrage for every American citizen, "excluding Indians not taxed," or those Native Americans who didn't pay taxes because they hadn't assimilated to Western society and its concepts of income and private property. 

    The federal government had empowered itself to prosecute any state that would abridge the privileges and immunities of citizens, deny anyone equal protection under the law, or deprive any person of life, liberty, or property without due process of law. This last "due-process clause" had far-reaching effects that were hardly recognized or foreseeable at the time. It subjected both state and federal power to the Bill of Rights, and in the late-19th century, the Supreme Court interpreted the term "person" in the due process clause as applicable to corporations, who were then shielded against "unreasonable" regulation by the states, protecting many 19th-century monopolies against trust-busting reforms. 

    Almost a century later, the Supreme Court ruled that abortion is constitutional in the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision, a majority opinion based largely on the right to privacy that the 14th Amendment guarantees. The 14th was—and remains—one of the most significant and far-reaching constitutional amendments in United States history.

    Johnson Objects

    President Johnson opposed the 14th Amendment partly because his racial prejudices led him to believe that Black people didn't deserve the rights of citizens, but also because he didn't want an extension of federal power. He thought of the Republicans as having engaged in an enormous usurpation of state authority, which was a radically new concept at the time. 

    Prior to the Civil War, the United States was referred to as a plural noun: "These United States," an association of state governments allied for the common good under a federal branch that supervised their interactions, but rarely if ever interfered in their laws or social practices. Ever since the American Revolution and its revolt against the English monarchy, a suspicion of centralized authority had prevailed in America, but the attempted secession of the states prompted a reevaluation of the balance of power in government, and suddenly, the federal authorities were viewed by many as the best—and perhaps the last—refuge of the most oppressed and impoverished citizens. These United States became the United States.

    Other, less far-reaching provisions of the 14th Amendment repudiated Confederate debt, guaranteed the Union debt, and specified that Congress had the power to pass laws in order to enforce the amendment.

  • Race

    Ku Klux Klan Organized

    The Klan has been described by historian Clarence E. Walker as one of the "original American terrorist organizations." 

    Most white Southerners viewed literacy, political equality, or any advancement for Blacks as a loss to whites. Terrorist groups like the Klan, the Knights of the White Camelia, the Red Shirts, and several others formed during Reconstruction to maintain the preexisting social order of white supremacy in the South.

    Membership and Activities

    After bribery failed, their members—led by merchants, Democratic politicians, and planters—used violent coercion to eliminate their competitors, white and Black. These groups recognized that Reconstruction had to be undermined so that the experiment would fail and that Blacks would never again receive such an opportunity. 

    When Klansmen kidnapped and whipped Georgia Representative Abram Colby in 1869, he claimed to know who they were. As Colby testified three years later to a Congressional Committee investigating the matter, some of the individuals involved were "first-class men in our town," doctors, lawyers, and farmers. They broke into his home, kidnapped him, took him to the woods and made him remove his clothes. They whipped him for at least three hours "with sticks and straps that had buckles on the ends of them," and then left him for dead. 

    Such cases weren't uncommon. White men would line up to whip and burn Black men who'd been made to strip and tied to rocks. White women participated by sewing the white robes and hoods that the Klansmen used as disguises.

    Unintended Consequences

    Ironically, the Klan helped to prolong the Reconstruction period that it formed to defeat. 

    Just as many Republicans were becoming reluctant to persist in their involvement with Southern society, the KKK campaign galvanized Congress. In response to the Reconstruction governments' pleas for assistance, Congress passed three Enforcement Acts in 1870 and 1871. By the spring of 1871, if states failed to do so, federal district attorneys could prosecute anyone who conspired to deprive citizens of the right to serve on juries, hold office, enjoy equal protection under the law, or vote. 

    In passing this legislation, the government entered uncharted territory and began to resemble a modern form.

    Federal Intervention and Its Limitations

    President Grant sent federal marshals into the South to arrest hundreds of Klansmen, and the ensuing trials effectively brought an end to organized terrorism in the South, at least until the end of the Reconstruction period. 

    But outbreaks of racial violence preceded and followed the formation of the KKK. Between 1868 and 1871, Klan members killed over 150 people in the plantation county of Jackson, in the Florida panhandle, including Black leaders and a Jewish merchant named Samuel Fleischman, who was a "scalawag" and was known for dealing fairly with Black customers.

    In 1871, the same year as the passage of the Enforcement Acts, 30 Blacks and a white Republican judge were murdered in Meridian, Mississippi. Two years later, the single most deadly attack occurred in Colfax, Louisiana, when whites stormed the entire town with a cannon and hundreds of freed people were murdered, including 50 Black militiamen who'd already surrendered.

    North of Slavery

    For all of its intractability on white supremacy and the forced subordination of Blacks, the white South hardly held a monopoly on widespread racist sentiments. 

    The North was the birthplace of segregation, particularly in its urban areas. Blacks were separated from whites in northern omnibuses, stagecoaches, railway cars, and steamboats, or they were excluded altogether. They couldn't sit alongside whites in theaters or lecture halls, and they could only enter restaurants or hotels as servants. In 1860, only five northern states allowed Blacks to vote on equal terms with whites, and each of those states contained very small Black populations. The entire region contained less than 10% of all African Americans in the United States. 

    Race riots took place five times in Philadelphia (1832–1849); in Cincinnati, where over half the Black inhabitants were driven out of town (1829); and sporadically in New York City, culminating in the infamous Draft Riots (1863), to name just a few. 

    Nonetheless, for all their similarities, Northerners during Reconstruction demanded that the white South recognize the fact of emancipation.

    The Demise of Reconstruction

    Reconstruction ended for a number of reasons. Although the government's refusal to redistribute land to freed people was long remembered as a betrayal with ominous repercussions, this failure wasn't the only cause of Reconstruction's demise. 

    Southern white terrorism and violence, intent on destroying Black leadership and coercing Black labor, was the principal cause of the collapse and the subsequent takeover by the so-called Redeemers. This counterrevolution was permitted through the lack of federal presence in the South, from the ever-decreasing troop levels to the understaffed Freedmen's Bureau. 

    Northerners lost interest in the cause of the freed people as the Reconstruction period extended to over a decade past the Confederate capitulation at Appomattox.

    Corruption and Class Warfare

    The multiple scandals and corruption charges that plagued several of the most high-ranking members of the Grant presidency, with the notable exception of Grant himself, disillusioned many Republicans and created an internal split within the party that led to the defection of the Liberal Republicans in 1872. 

    Northerners, who'd been developing an industrial base since the antebellum period, became preoccupied with the specter of class warfare represented by a rapidly mushrooming inequality of wealth and the emergence of a seemingly permanent working class of unskilled and impoverished workers. The National Labor Union (NLU) formed in 1866 to represent the grievances of skilled and unskilled workers, farmers, and reformers, and waged an unsuccessful campaign for an eight-hour workday. 

    The financial panic of 1873 helped to bring about the demise of the NLU, but economic hardship also turned public attention back toward home and the financial centers of the Northeast. In the summer 1877, railroad employees sparked a chain reaction down the tracks and mounted the first nationwide strike in the country's history. Ironically, the federal troops that had just been withdrawn from the South that same year were ordered by President Hayes to suppress the strikers, in the first such use of troops during a labor conflict.

    "New" Immigration and White Supremacy

    The postwar surge of immigration from Southern and Eastern Europe sparked bigoted fears of invasion by inferior hordes and Catholics, and prompted sympathy among many Anglo Northerners for the plight of the white Southerner amidst a "backwards" minority. 

    Even those Northerners who didn't subscribe to the increasingly popular pseudo-scientific racial theory tended to conclude that if Blacks couldn't succeed with the rights and liberties accorded them by the 13th, 14th, and 15th Amendments, then it must be a failure of Blacks themselves. 

    This view neglected to consider the difference between the rights and freedoms accorded in theory and those actually enjoyed in practice, but few wished to revisit the case after so many years of Southern white intractability and failed government attempts at policing the region and seeking to protect its minority inhabitants.

    "The Corrupt Bargain"

    By the presidential election of 1876, voting irregularities in Florida, South Carolina, and Louisiana led to the establishment of a Senate committee to determine the outcome. 

    By this time, the Republicans were ready to make a deal. Few Radicals were still alive, and the party had assumed the role of ally to the big business interests who were rapidly amassing power and capital while turning the country into the world's foremost industrial power by the turn of the century. Although Democrat Samuel J. Tilden had won the popular vote—itself a measure of Northern voters' will to put the conflict behind them—the Senate committee was stacked with one more Republican than Democrat, and when Rutherford B. Hayes emerged the victor by one electoral vote, he was ready and willing to make the infamous "Corrupt Bargain" (not to be confused with the first "Corrupt Bargain" of 1824, and also known as the "Compromise of 1877") that removed federal troops from the South in order to pacify the opposition. 

    The troops wouldn't return for another 80 years—a new record for durability of sectional compromises in world history. The end of Reconstruction signaled Northern complicity in allowing the South to dictate the shape and content of the period's history, in return for their acceptance of Republican dominance at the executive level and their cooperation in permitting and promoting new economic opportunities. All of these compromises were made at the expense of the Black population, who'd be increasingly disfranchised, economically marginalized, and socially persecuted in the decades that followed until the Civil Rights Movement.

  • Gender

    Women's Suffrage and Reconstruction

    Suffragettes had played a key role in the abolitionist movement that had worked for decades prior to the Civil War to bring about an end to slavery. Many Northern women, working out of their Christian convictions about morality and humanity, began by opposing slavery and subsequently sought the franchise because they'd become politically active, informed, and organized as a result of their efforts on behalf of abolitionism. 

    They understandably viewed the rapid social changes brought about by the Civil War as a golden opportunity to expand constitutional definitions of freedom and citizenship across boundaries of both race and sex. At the time, women's employment opportunities were strictly limited, they received unequal pay relative to men, and they couldn't usually obtain a divorce unless they could provide evidence of desertion, adultery, or extreme abuse. There were few laws protecting women against such abuse.

    Controversy Over the Constitutional Amendments

    In 1866, the founders of the American female suffrage movement—Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony—established the American Equal Rights Association, an organization for white and Black women and men dedicated to the goal of universal suffrage. 

    That year, Elizabeth Cady Stanton presented a petition to Congress demanding the vote for women. Stanton and Anthony also launched the feminist newspaper The Revolution. Yet when the 14th Amendment was ratified, it was the first in the Constitution to define "citizens" and "voters" as "male." 

    Subsequently, the 15th Amendment prohibited discrimination in voting in terms of race but not gender. This setback for women's suffrage led to a difficult period in which some white suffragettes became disenchanted, rather than encouraged, by universal male suffrage. They broke with their historical ties to the antislavery movement, and prominent leaders like Stanton and Anthony came out in opposition to the 15th Amendment because it didn't enfranchise women. 

    A few, including Stanton, made racist comments intended to disparage the minority groups who'd received the vote, to make light of what many white Americans viewed as a contradiction—that is, despite a long history of white supremacy in American society and culture, white women were denied suffrage while men from racial backgrounds that had been deemed inferior could now vote. But other feminists, like Abby Kelley, supported the amendments a step in the right direction.

    Split in the Suffrage Movement

    Due to disagreements over the 14th and 15th Amendments, in 1869, the female suffrage movement split in two. It formed the National Woman Suffrage Association (NWSA), a more radical organization based out of New York and run by Anthony and Stanton; and the American Women's Suffrage Association (AWSA), a more conservative, Boston-based group run by Henry Blackwell, Lucy Stone, and Julia Ward Howe. 

    Stanton and Anthony wanted to free women from all restrictions, including social ones like restrictions on divorce. This was too much for Lucy Stone, who worried that her group would lose valuable support if it challenged popular notions of genteel behavior. 

    For years, the two egged each other on. In 1890, putting ideology aside, they merged into one formidable group: the National American Women Suffrage Association. But in the Reconstruction period, the women's suffrage movement suffered from internal factioning and a lack of attention from government figures, who remained focused on granting and guaranteeing the vote for Black men. 

    In Minor v. Happersett (1874), the U.S. Supreme Court affirmed that states had the jurisdiction to decide whether women be allowed to vote. Meanwhile, in 1869 the United Kingdom granted women suffrage, but only in local elections and only for unmarried women until the law changed again in 1894.

    Women in the South

    In the South, which had historically been a much more traditional bastion of gender roles, women ironically had been assuming perhaps even more real power and responsibility than their Northern counterparts during the war. 

    White plantation mistresses suddenly found themselves in charge of the finances, slave discipline, and day-to-day operations as their husbands and sons marched off to war. These women, who'd been accustomed to performing very little manual labor of their own, were often shocked to find their stature rapidly diminished and their class status threatened if not wiped out by the decimation of the war and the emancipation of the slaves. 

    In 1870, in the Cotton Belt that stretched across the lower South, nearly all white wives (98%) defined their occupation as "keeping house," but many Black wives (40%) listed their job as "field laborer." Black women had long been forced to assume the dual roles of mothers and field laborers under slavery, and they often exercised considerable influence within the Black community. 

    Yet Black men also sought to reclaim their role as head-of-household and breadwinner, as 19th-century society deemed appropriate and respectable for the man. For many freedmen, this meant an attempt to keep their wives at home to tend to the household chores and raise the children. But such efforts rarely succeeded in the long term, as Southern Black families were forced into the debt peonage of sharecropping and both parents often had to work to eke out a living.

    The "Lost Cause" Becomes Mythologized

    18% of Confederates died in the war, and by 1873, some 80,000 white widows were applying for support. As one historian has commented, "in order to mourn the dead you have to enhance the cause." 

    So, the "Lost Cause" of the South, romanticized in songs, novels, and later in films like Birth of a Nation and Gone with the Wind, became less a story of losing the war, but a story of victory—a "redemption" of control over society and social values. 

    White women played a key role in erecting and preserving this legend of the Old South, for many of them stood to benefit from it both financially and in terms of their social stature.

    Woodhull and Claflin: The Radical Contingent

    At the same time, in the North, a handful of radical feminists were making their presence known. On January 19th, 1870, Woodhull, Claflin & Co., a brokerage house, opened for business. It was owned by Victoria Woodhull and Tennessee Claflin, two very unusual sisters from Ohio who worked as lecturers, journalists, publishers, and investors backed by wealthy railroad magnate Cornelius Vanderbilt. 

    They openly proclaimed the principles of free love, women's suffrage, spiritualism, and socialism. That spring, they published the first issue of Woodhull & Claflin's Weekly, which printed Karl Marx's Communist Manifesto in English for the first time. The following year, Woodhull delivered a lecture on free love—"The Principles of Social Freedom"—at New York's Steinway Hall.

    In 1872, the Equal Rights Party convention nominated Woodhull and former slave and abolitionist Frederick Douglass for president and vice president. Douglass declined the nomination, but Woodhull was the first woman to run for the office. But her name never appeared on the ballot because she was one year short of the constitutionally-mandated age of 35, and she spent election day in prison, having been arrested under the provisions of the recently passed Comstock Law that forbade the transmission of "obscene literature" through the mail. 

    That same year, Susan B. Anthony was arrested in Rochester, New York, for attempting to vote. Simultaneously, American abolitionist and freed slave Sojourner Truth appeared at a polling booth in Battle Creek, Michigan, demanding a ballot—she was turned away.

    Women's Education

    But these women remained exceptions to the vast majority, even in the North, where women exercised less radical and confrontational tactics. 

    Meanwhile, more women were obtaining a quality education: in 1875, Smith College opened in Northampton, Massachusetts, and Wellesley College opened in Wellesley, Massachusetts, both institutions for women. The University of California, Berkeley began to admit women in 1870, two years after receiving the school charter. 

    In the South, where Blacks were excluded from the dominant institutions, they formed their own. Bennett College in Greensboro, North Carolina (founded in 1873), began as a "normal school" dedicated to the education of freed slaves, and later became a women's college. And Spelman College of Atlanta, Georgia was established as a Baptist Female Seminary in 1881.

    But the vast majority of Black families could hardly afford to send any of their children, let alone their daughters, to college. After they ceased to function as "normal schools" for the basic education of freed slaves, these institutions served a small elite within the Black community.


    In 1874, a more mainstream organization was formed which played a key role in future women's movements: the Women's Christian Temperance Union (WCTU). 

    Emerging out of the Great Lakes region of upstate New York—an area known as the "Burned Over District" for its high level of religious fervor during the Second Great Awakening—the WCTU was led by prominent feminist Francis Willard. Chapters soon formed in Chicago, Canada, and eventually in cities throughout North America, including Argonia, Kansas, where WCTU member Susanna M. Salter became the first female mayor in the country. 

    As the WCTU grew in numbers and influence over the years, the organization became increasingly focused on the issue of women's suffrage, as well as the prohibition of alcohol. But the organization didn't initially accept Blacks, Jews, Catholics, or women who'd been born outside of North America. Its work would ultimately prove successful upon the passage of the 18th Amendment and the National Prohibition (or Volstead) Act in 1919. 

    Due to a number of coalitions and activists, women won the vote the very next year, with the passage of the 19th Amendment.

  • Society

    Land of the (Not) Free

    Blacks had labored for generations without pay in the 250 years of bondage that existed on North American soil. Yet the only reparations debate which occurred in Congress during and after the Civil War wasn't over whether the freedmen and women should be granted restitution. It was over whether slaveowners ought to receive compensation for their emancipated "property." Lincoln once thought that it would be more cost effective to buy the slaves from their owners than wage a war—his plan would've paid owners $400 per slave, which represented some $1.6 billion, or less than half the total estimated value of slave capital.

    As 1864 drew to a close, Union forces under the command of William Tecumseh Sherman completed their "March to the Sea" and captured Savannah, Georgia. This coastal region—together with nearby South Carolina—had formed some of the most fertile plantation land for the wealthiest slaveowners of the South. The wealthiest planters owned the largest numbers of slaves—50 or more per plantation. So, Sherman encountered a large Black population in this region along the Atlantic sea coast, and their leaders—church pastors and educated Blacks who'd been born free, among others—met with the general to appeal for land redistribution as a substantive means of realizing their newfound freedom. 

    Four days after the meeting, Sherman issued his Special Field Order 15, which allocated 40-acre plots of the region's confiscated land to Black families. He also provided them with old mules that had exhausted their usefulness to the army. The oral culture of the Black community and the rapid transfer of information via the rumor mill soon echoed the phrase "40 acres and a mule" across the South, and for generations to come. By that summer, some 40,000 freedmen and women had settled on the land, and thousands more found reason to hope that in their emancipation they could attain economic independence through land ownership.

    But as the freedmen and women worked the land they thought was theirs by order of the Union General, President Andrew Johnson was granting prominent white Southerners pardons by the thousands. He ordered all confiscated land, including that covered under Field Order 15, returned to planters. Oliver O. Howard, the head of the Freedmen's Bureau, was designated the difficult charge of announcing this decision to the Black inhabitants of the so-called "Sherman land." The freedmen were told to relinquish the property they'd been tending as their own. They had to return to their former places of work, relinquish the dream of economic independence and land ownership (since emancipated slaves had no capital with which to purchase the land), and accept subordination to white rule. 

    Some, like the freedmen of Edisto Island, South Carolina, attempted to resist by petitioning the president, writing, "We look to you [...] for protection and equal rights with the privilege of purchasing a homestead." But such appeals were of no avail. With no vocational training and little if any education, let alone financial resources, the only alternatives that remained for the vast majority of freed people were to work as sharecroppers, unskilled laborers, or—especially for the women—as domestics, launderers, and cooks. Very few could save enough money to rise from these impoverished ranks, as the jobs barely paid enough to get buy, let alone thrive. As a result, generations of Black families would be consigned to poverty and debt peonage.

    Private property was an inviolable concept throughout American history, and Reconstruction was no exception, but contradictions abounded within this supposedly straightforward issue. Despite the fact that the freedmen and women themselves had just been deemed "property" prior to emancipation, land was considered another matter altogether, even by most of the so-called "Radical" Republicans in Congress. Pennsylvania representative Thaddeus Stevens was a notable exception, though—he wanted to confiscate the land of disloyal planters and redistribute it to former slaves.

    This was also despite the fact that Congress saw no contradiction in delving out 160-acre homesteads to Western settlers under the Homestead Act of 1862. The difference? Those western lands were deemed "public," or government-owned, even though they'd been wrested from their original inhabitants, the Native Americans. Private property only applied, it appears, to western conceptions of land use and settlement. Additionally, although it was deemed acceptable to turn public resources over to railroad corporations and businesses, the nationalization of militarily seized land for the use of freed slaves wasn't considered along the same lines. Federal troops couldn't and shouldn't, so the argument went, be deployed indefinitely in the South, yet politicians and the public applauded their dispatch westward to battle Native Americans and clear western lands for settlement.

    The Black Codes

    Black Codes, passed by Southern state legislatures during the Presidential Reconstruction period, granted Blacks some rights—these varied from state to state but they often included the right to legalized marriage, limited access to the courts, and property ownership. 

    But they also imposed restrictions on Black citizens, particularly as an attempt to control their labor. Freedmen were prohibited from work except as field hands; interracial marriage was forbidden; unemployed Black men could be deemed "vagrants," seized, and auctioned off as laborers to pay the steep fines. Children could be placed under forced apprenticeships and masters could discipline them with corporal punishment. In some places, Blacks couldn't carry firearms without a license, and they were prohibited from owning farm lands in Mississippi. In South Carolina, they had to pay an annual tax of between $10 and $100 if they held any occupation other than farmer or servant—this was a serious setback for the substantial community of Blacks in Charleston who'd been free before the war, and for Blacks who'd been trained as artisans under slavery. Black children could be taken from their families and forced to work in the fields. 

    The ultimate effect of these measures has been described as "slavery without the chain."

    The intentions of the white lawmakers who enacted them during Presidential Reconstruction were so blatantly obvious that they outraged Northerners, who turned against Johnson and his lenient plan. Instead, they voted for the Republicans in overwhelming numbers during the congressional elections of 1866, ushering in a two-thirds majority and the commencement of the Congressional, or "Radical" Reconstruction period. 

    In their determination to discipline the white South and force them to recognize that the Union had won the Civil War, these Northerners inadvertently brought about major changes in the role, philosophy, and responsibilities of federal government. In other words, they'd just begun a process that would transform the entire country. This was demonstrated in part by the passage of the Civil Rights Bill in 1866, which wouldn't have been possible without the two-thirds majority to override Johnson's veto. That bill mandated equality of all citizens before the law, thereby outlawing the Black Codes or any future legislation that resembled them, as it discriminated against a specific race of citizens.

    Nothing New

    It should be noted that the southern states weren't the only part of the country to devise an elaborate system of laws that sought to control the mobility, behavior, and liberty of Black people, though the laws differed depending on the context. 

    In 1804, Ohio passed its own "Black Laws" that required all Blacks and mulattoes residing in the state to register and carry with them a court certificate attesting to their freedom and forbidding anyone from harboring runaway slaves. The state passed more stringent laws three years later, and Blacks entering Ohio had to post a $500 bond guaranteeing good behavior. For any American at the time, that sum was equivalent to a king's ransom. 

    Nearly every northern state considered passing legislation to prevent or restrict the immigration of Blacks, and a few—Illinois, Indiana, and Oregon—included such provisions in their state constitutions. They all did so within 20 years of the outbreak of Civil War.

    Carpetbaggers and Scalawags

    These two archetypal figures, "carpetbaggers" and "scalawags", assumed a vastly exaggerated and caricatured role in Reconstruction lore as it was shaped by Southern whites in the late-19th and early-20th centuries. The "carpetbagger" was a Northerner who came down to the South after the war—the term referred to the notion that he had packed up his possessions in a suitcase and headed to Dixie to capitalize on the human suffering and misery that the war had produced. 

    This phenomenon was perhaps most famously and notoriously portrayed in Margaret Mitchell's Gone with the Wind, the famous novel that was then turned into an Academy Award-winning film in 1939 (although the carpetbagger depicted in the film was in the South before the war, making him something of a carpetbagger-scalawag combo).

    In reality, most so-called carpetbaggers were investors in railroads or Union soldiers who remained in the region after the war was over. Some were attempting to reap financial gains, but they were doing so in a region that badly needed the infrastructure, especially since its principal labor system had just been radically transformed. Freedmen's Bureau agents operated in extremely difficult and hostile conditions to assist the freed slaves and bring stability to the region. Not all carpetbaggers were men, either—hundreds of very brave and idealistic Northern women went to the South to teach in the new public schools.

    "Scalawags" were white Southern Republicans, and they composed the majority of white Republicans in the South. They quickly emerged as the most despised group amidst the traditionally Democratic white majority, who branded them traitors to their region and to the white race for their willingness to participate in the Reconstruction governments. A few of the scalawags were prominent landowners, like Charles Hays, one of the largest planters in Alabama (who'd supported secession and fought in the Confederate Army, but joined the Republicans in 1867), and James L. Alcorn of Mississippi, who became the state's first Republican governor. Some of them, like Alcorn, saw in the Republican Party an opportunity to revolutionize Southern society by building factories and workshops—many of them fully expected whites to control the process and didn't express any concern for Black rights.

    Most scalawags were non-slaveholding white farmers from the upland region, as well as urban and small town artisans, who were wartime Unionists and who sought to prevent the rebels from reclaiming power. In the early Reconstruction period, the scalawags composed a substantial minority of the population in Arkansas, North Carolina, and Tennessee. Throughout the region, they composed an important if small group, because they were in many respects the swing vote between the almost equally divided Blacks—who voted overwhelmingly Republican—and the rest of the Southern whites, who were Democratic.

    But the scalawags experienced the same factionalism and corruption that plagued many political parties of the period, preventing them from creating an attractive alternative to the racist appeals of Southern whites. Their failure, along with the federal government withdrawal and the decline of Northern interest or sympathy, brought about not only the end of Reconstruction, but the beginning of a solidly Democratic Southern government that employed racial politics to maintain its firm grip on the electorate.

  • Politics

    A Clean Getaway

    Few losing sides in a war have ever come away with so little retribution as the former Confederacy after the Civil War. General Sherman and his force of 60,000 wreaked a path of destruction across Georgia and up through South Carolina, and the entire region and its infrastructure had been devastated by the conflict. But the political component of the victory was almost entirely aimed at reestablishing a united nation with two central conditions: 

    (1) the abolition of slavery
    (2) the repudiation of Confederate debt

    The important and politically powerful positions of postmaster, revenue assessor, and tax collector were supposed to be reserved for Southerners who took the so-called "Ironclad Oath" that they'd never voluntarily aided the Confederacy. Yet the Johnson administration quickly ignored this provision. Jefferson Davis was imprisoned for two years but never put on trial—he lived to the ripe old age of 81. Alexander H. Stephens, Vice President of the Confederacy, was in prison for less than half a year—upon his release, he was notoriously reelected to serve in Congress for the government he'd just committed treason against. Although the Republican majority refused to seat him, Stephens was elected again in 1873. Georgia voters provided further indication of Southern white recalcitrance when they subsequently elected Stephens as their governor. He died in office in 1883.

    The Amnesty Act of 1872 restored the right to hold office to almost all former Confederates who were still barred from doing so under the provisions of the 14th Amendment—yet President Grant had sought even more generous language than that which the bill contained. The very lack of trials for treason, let alone convictions, disproves the old historiographical claim—prevalent until the 1960s—that white Southerners "literally were put to torture" under Reconstruction. 

    If anything, it was the Black Southern population that was tortured: 156 Black officials were victimized by white terrorist groups across the South. 34 of them, including 12 legislators, were murdered.

    Lincoln's 10 Percent Plan

    In late 1863, Lincoln issued a Proclamation of Amnesty and Reconstruction, which came to be known as his 10 Percent Plan. Union forces were advancing into the South after the critical victories at Gettysburg and Vicksburg, and the government turned its attention to a plan that would resurrect the Union and ensure the loyalty of the former Confederacy. 

    Any rebel state could form a Union government if a number equal to 10% of its white males who'd voted in 1860 took an oath of allegiance to the Constitution and the Union and had received a presidential pardon. High-ranking members of the Confederacy were excluded from the pardon, and those participating also had to swear their support for laws and proclamations that addressed emancipation.

    Tennessee, Arkansas, and Louisiana all formed governments under this plan, but Congress never recognized them by representation or by electoral votes cast in 1864. Lincoln had claimed the right to direct the course of Reconstruction by virtue of his presidential pardon power, yet Republicans in Congress countered that the federal government's constitutional obligation to guarantee a republication government for each state implied that Reconstruction was the responsibility of the legislative branch.

    Wade-Davis Bill

    Passed by Congress in 1864 as a more stringent means of dealing with the South, the bill required that a majority of a state's white male citizens—as opposed to Lincoln's 10%—declare their allegiance to the Union. 

    Only those men who took the "Ironclad Oath" could vote or serve in the state constitutional convention. To be readmitted to the Union, the state convention would have to exclude high-ranking Confederacy members from office, abolish slavery, and repudiate all Confederate debts. Because Lincoln refused to sign the bill, it never became law.

    Lincoln issued a statement that he'd accept any state that chose to readmit itself under the terms of the bill, but this was highly unlikely, as Wade-Davis was much more disagreeable to most white Southerners than the 10 Percent Plan had been. The executive and legislative branches stood at this impasse when Lincoln was shot in April of 1865.

    Presidential Reconstruction

    Andrew Johnson was a "War Democrat" who'd spent most of his life in Tennessee, one of the few Southern members of the party who sided with the Union in the Civil War and who was selected as Lincoln's running mate in the 1864 election as a symbol of unity. 

    After he became president upon Lincoln's assassination in the spring of 1865, he called for general amnesty and restoration of property—except for slaves—to all Southerners who'd swear loyalty to the Union. But those whose pre-war property value exceeded $20,000—the equivalent of more than $400,000 in today's money—had to personally seek a pardon from the president.

    Initially, Congress and the public welcomed this provision of Johnson's plan as a sign that he was going to be more rigorous with the Confederate elite than his predecessor. But then, Johnson began issuing pardons by the hundreds over the summer of 1865—so many that the White House secretary office couldn't keep up in writing them all. When fall rolled around, the president had issued some 13,000 pardons, the southern states had held elections and drafted the notorious Black Codes in an attempt to return African Americans to a state of quasi-slavery, and it was becoming very apparent to Northerners and Republicans in Congress that Johnson's Reconstruction Plan was hardly a slap on the wrist for the unrepentant and defiant South.

    Why the Change of Heart?

    The reasons for Johnson's surprising complicity in granting the pardons remain something of a mystery, but Johnson may have had his own personal reasons. 

    He'd grown up a member of the impoverished non-slaveowning class of whites in North Carolina and Tennessee, and had learned to read as a teenager with the help of his wife. He shared the racial prejudices against Blacks that were held by most yeomen farmers—he told friends during the war, that he was siding with the Union against the slave masters, "those traitorous aristocrats" whom he'd so long resented for all of the accumulated wealth and power which they possessed at the expense of his own class. 

    Yet the sudden reversal of power brought about by the end of the war and his ascension to the presidency may have made Johnson much more forgiving when he enjoyed the perspective of the authority to whom the wealthy and powerful now appealed.

    Republicans Begin "Waving the Bloody Shirt"

    By the end of the year, more than 60 former Confederates arrived to take their seats in Congress, including four generals, four colonels, and six Confederate Cabinet officers—even Alexander H. Stephens, the former Vice President of the Confederacy. 

    To many Northerners, this represented a betrayal of everything their sons, husbands, and brothers had fought and died for on the battlefield. As one put it, the Southern representatives were "expecting to govern the union they had tried to destroy." 

    The Clerk of the House refused to include the Southern representatives in his roll call, and they were denied their elected seats. A Congressional Committee on Reconstruction concluded that Southern governments were incapable of keeping law and order. In the House of Representatives, Thaddeus Stevens commenced the effective Republican-Party tactic that came to be known as "waving the bloody shirt." To win public support for a more effective and aggressive Reconstruction policy, he reminded Northern voters of the sacrifices their men had made on the battlefield and the need to command the respect of the defeated Confederacy.

    Johnson's Unsuccessful Retort: The "Swing Around the Circle"

    As Republicans waved the bloody shirt in the summer and fall of 1866, Johnson commenced his "swing around the circle." With Congress demanding that southern states ratify the 14th Amendment to gain re-admittance to the Union, the president began a disastrous speaking tour of the North to gain public endorsement of his policies, most of which contrasted with Congress. 

    He compared himself to a Jesus figure being crucified on the cross of Radical Reconstruction—a pathetic image in the eyes of most Northerners. The passage of the notorious Black Codes and violent massacres of Blacks in Memphis and New Orleans in the months just before Johnson's campaign trip proved that Southern defiance was alive and thriving.

    The president's Reconstruction policies had clearly failed to bring about real postwar change in the defeated Confederacy, and may have—as many Radicals argued—actually served to bring about the miscarriages of justice that followed. Crowds heckled the president, and Johnson's furious responses hurt what was left of his popularity. The mid-term elections became a referendum on Presidential Reconstruction, and the Republicans obtained well over a majority of two-thirds in both houses. They could now push their own Reconstruction program forward without regard to the opposition of the president, whose vetoes they could easily override.

    Congressional, or "Radical" Reconstruction

    Toward the end of the Civil War, even Radical Republicans were primarily concerned with guaranteeing Blacks equality before the law, not suffrage or other rights. 

    But in the face of white Southern racial terror, opposition from President Johnson, and their commitment to ensuring a just resolution to the war they'd won militarily, even the moderate Republicans became more "radical," in 19th-century terms. That is, they became increasingly committed to the concept of Black social equality and of the government's responsibility to uphold and protect the newfound rights of the freed people.

    Civil Rights

    The Civil Rights Bill of April 1866 was the first major law to be passed over a presidential veto in the history of the United States. 

    It conferred citizenship upon Black Americans and guaranteed them equal rights with whites. It sought to imbue emancipation with more concrete and substantial meaning than simply an absence of slavery, and to ensure its perpetuity, Republicans went on to pass one of the most important amendments ever ratified: the 14th. 

    Additionally, the Republican Congress extended the life of the Freedmen's Bureau, an understaffed and underfunded but nonetheless pivotally important aspect of the federal presence in the postwar South, and a symbol of the government's commitment to safeguarding the freedoms of the emancipated slaves.

    The Reconstruction Acts

    In the spring of 1867, Republicans passed three laws of congressional Reconstruction over Johnson's veto. 

    The first of them stipulated the new terms under which Southern governments had to apply for readmission to the Union, essentially starting all over again after Johnson had tried to proclaim the Reconstruction process completed. Every southern state with the exception of Tennessee—which probably had more Unionists than any of the other ten Confederate states, and had already ratified the 14th Amendment—was to be divided into five military districts, each with a commanding officer empowered to protect the rights of persons and property and to keep order. These officers could use military tribunals instead of courts to achieve stability in the region. 

    This was actually a watered-down version of what true Radicals like Thaddeus Stevens had wanted. Initially, the Reconstruction Committee had recommended that the military commanders be granted ultimate control over law enforcement, and for an indefinite time period.

    Each state could hold a constitutional convention, provided that male citizens over the age of 21, of any race, color, or previous condition of servitude, could vote. A majority of voters had to ratify each constitution, and Congress had to accept it. Then the state legislature had to ratify the 14th Amendment—once that amendment became part of the Constitution, the states were entitled to congressional representation. Anyone barred from holding office under the proposed 14th Amendment couldn't participate in the process. 

    Subsequent Reconstruction Acts in March and July instructed the commanders to register all adult males who swore they were qualified for the vote, and then to go beyond the loyalty oath and determine who was actually eligible to take it. By the end of 1867, every state but Texas had adhered to the terms of Radical Reconstruction.

    Consolidating Republican Power

    The Radicals ensured that their Reconstruction program would endure by removing the power of the Supreme Court to review cases arising under the Habeas Corpus Act of 1867, and the Court accepted this restriction while affirming the inviolability of the union in Texas v. White

    At the same time, Congress also sought to restrain presidential opposition by commencing an impeachment trial against Johnson, claiming he'd violated the provisions of the recently passed Tenure of Office Act, which required Senate consent for the firing of any officials who'd required Senate confirmation in the first place. But the resulting Senate trial failed to convict Johnson, and may have diluted the level of popular support for the Radicals. Johnson nonetheless agreed to allow the Radical Reconstruction process to continue unabated, and the Senate set a precedent that presidents wouldn't be removed from office unless they'd committed the most serious offenses.

    Radical Reconstruction ended at different times in different states throughout the next decade. Although all three branches of the federal government had ultimately turned away when Blacks needed them most, in hindsight, the Radicals in Congress had tested the limits of federal commitment and power. In the end, the country was simply unprepared to commit itself to a vision of racial equality that most white citizens didn't believe in.

    The Freedmen's Bureau

    The Bureau was created in March 1865 to smooth the transition from slavery, providing some four million freed people with immediate shelter and medical services, help in negotiating labor contracts with landowners, disputes among the freed people, and more. 

    The Bureau was initially authorized for just one year, but thanks to legislative extensions that the Republican Congress passed over the president's veto, it remained in operation until 1872. The agents appointed by the Bureau were too few in number—fewer than 1,000 at the organization's peak, in a region of 12 million people—and their daunting tasks also entailed setting up schools (often with the help of missionary societies and Northern philanthropies), aiding the aged, and supervising trials involving Blacks, as well as the labor and land title disputes that took place within their own courts.

    Yet the Bureau entered into controversy where land and labor disputes were concerned. Bureau director Oliver O. Howard, a veteran of the war, was charged with the task of informing freed people in the South Carolina Sea Islands that President Johnson had pardoned the landowners who'd so recently been their slave masters. Upon being informed that they'd have to return their parcels of land, the Blacks reacted with anger, disbelief, and protest.

    Additionally, throughout the South, the Bureau attempted to solve labor disputes with the objective of getting freed people back to work, and they sometimes sided with white landowners to persuade Blacks to sign labor contracts. They nonetheless made some substantial achievements, establishing almost 3,000 schools in the South in four years. Over 150,000 students received an education because of the Bureau—this was the first public school system in most of the South, for whites and Blacks, although most of the education remained segregated because of the public opposition to integration. The Bureau took control of the region's hospitals and dispensed medicine and medical care to Blacks and whites.

    Black Leadership

    Some 2,000 African-Americans held public office during Reconstruction. After Reconstruction was over, many whites in the North and South portrayed the period as one of brutal Black dictatorship over a defenseless and war-torn white population, with illiterate, ignorant, and lustful Black men running roughshod over the once hallowed halls of state governments. But only in South Carolina—where the rich land had been owned by the wealthiest planters, who had the largest plantations and the highest numbers of slaves—did Blacks compose 60% of the population and form a majority in the state legislature.

    14 black men were elected to the House of Representatives, and two served in the Senate (both Hiram Revels and Blanche K. Bruce, a former slave, were elected from Mississippi). Pinckney B. S. Pinchback of Louisiana—the son of a free Black woman and a white planter—became the first Black governor when he served briefly from 1872 to 1873 after his predecessor was removed for corruption. It took over one hundred years for Americans to elect another Black governor, L. Douglas Wilder of Virginia, in 1989.

    Black leadership also extended beyond the realm of political office. The traditional pillars of the Black community were the religious figures, both prior to and after the widespread conversion of slaves to Christianity. Baptist and Methodist ministers, Episcopal preachers, and others often composed the heads of the community who met with Union Generals as they advanced through the South—they organized written appeals to the government for land and redress of grievances, and were frequently elected to office. About 180,000 Black men achieved a substantial measure of respect, dignity, and empowerment by donning the Union blue and serving in the military. The vast majority were from the South.

    The few African Americans who managed to obtain an education or a craft, like blacksmithing or carpentry, often eked out a small modicum of independence or savings and often emerged as figureheads after the war. The same was true for the small number of free Blacks in the South—about 250,000, or one-17th of the total Black population in the region—who often resided in urban centers like New Orleans and Charleston. Nearly half of the 22 Black men who served in Congress between 1869 and 1900 had been free before the Civil War. Yet these weren't uncomplicated relationships within the Black community—some free Blacks themselves had actually owned slaves, while others worked to save the money necessary to buy their loved ones out of slavery. And many of the Black men who served as soldiers were ordered to forcibly evict freed slaves from plantation land that had been returned to the former masters.

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