In 1861 the bloodiest and one of the most important revolutions in American History began, The Civil War. Socially this war had been brewing since the beginning of slavery. This controversial subject had been the object of debate mainly because it required a balance between free and slave states. Slavery was also a big issue between the Democrats in the 1860 election because they could not agree on the issue of popular sovereignty. This eventually led to their splitting which opened up the doors for Lincoln to take office. After Lincoln was inaugurated in 1860 seven states ceded and later four more. The south believed they were within their constitutional right to cede. In South Carolina’s Declaration of Causes for Session the state says, “Powers not delegated to the United States by the constitution…are reserved to the states (Doc A).” This leaves Lincoln at a quandary over the age old constitutional issue of Nullification and session debated back in the day of the Virginia Kentucky resolutions and Hartford Convention. He resolves that it is not within the states power to cede and brings the nation to war. The eventual victory for the North would bring about one of the greatest changes in history; the Emancipation Proclamation that forever ended slavery and changed the southern way of life. With Slavery no more and a Southern society in ruins more changes had to be made in the Reconstruction revolution.
After Lincoln’s and Johnson’s plans for reconstruction failed, the Republicans who now controlled congress took the reigns. Socially there was the large issue of all these freedmen with nowhere to go, who are now demanding equality. In a petition written just after the war in 1865 from African Americans to the Tennessee Convention the blacks say, “If we are called to military duty…should we be denied the right to vote (Doc C).” That same year a letter to the Freedmen’s Bureau (a group dedicated to helping protect blacks and their rights), from a group of blacks was asking for homesteads so they may have the same rights as white land owners (Doc E). With the need to help these newly freed blacks and protect them from those endorsing things like the Black Codes, states had to develop a constitution with special specifications to black’s rights.
The constitutional changes that occurred not only to the state governments but to the national governments as well were the thirteenth amendment that ended slavery, the fourteenth that made blacks citizens, and the fifteenth that gave blacks the right to vote as illustrated in The First Vote (Doc G). The latter developments changed the south and America forever. The entire southern way of life was flipped upside down economically and socially. Sharecropping and the crop-lien system emerged to solve the labor shortages, blacks status increased, and education expanded; these are some of the main results of the Reconstruction Revolution.
The Final revolution of this time unfortunately was that of the Redeemers. Since the beginning the conservatives had been fighting reconstruction in the South. The South had always had people (the democrats) opposed to black suffrage. Gideon Wells said, “The Federal government has no right…to dictate the matter of suffrage (Doc D).” To resolve these conservatives would require literacy tests to vote, and reinstate property requirements. These methods were ways around the vague constitutional developments of the 15th amendment. Violence was also used as a means to control the black population in the South. The Klu Klux Klan and White League would use terrorist acts on blacks and lynch many innocent blacks to discourage them from voting as illustrated in (Doc I). Blacks were also segregated from whites, which after the Supreme Court case of Plessy v. Ferguson was deemed legal as long as they had equal opportunities; however, the blacks did not have equal opportunities but it still allowed the whites to avoid the 14th amendment.
Finally, in the Compromise of 1877 Rutherford B. Hayes was elected president and withdrew the troops from the south. The north believed that with the vote the blacks could take care of themselves and they also had their eyes focused on the West. However, with the soldiers gone the blacks became once again subject to the will of the whites. This is where history is debated on whether reconstruction was a success because the Redeemer revolution reverted the south back to a segregated area of tension once again. The façade that was America changed significantly from 1860 to 1877. The constitution had been written a century prior leaving out many key issues.
To address these issues revolutions took place and in the end change was made. The debate over slavery and cession led to finally freeing those who never deserved oppression. The end of the Civil War brought about the need for black rights and new ways of life. Opposition to these revolutions led to the reverting revolution that turned back the clock taking away once again what so many died for. The social and constitutional developments that helped fuel these revolutions are responsible for some of the nation’s greatest achievements like the 13th, 14th, and 15th amendments, and some of the worst like segregation.
Courtney from Study Moose
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