The era from 1860 to 1877 was a time of reconstruction and revolution in America. Many constitutional developments aided the reform movement, such as the ratification of the 13th, 14th, and 15th Amendments, which granted African Americans voting and civil rights. Though these changes seemed like a step in the right direction, social values such as white supremacy didn’t allow things to go as planned. Despite the fact that African Americans were granted rights on paper, they still weren’t treated equally. Actions of violence from the Ku Klux Klan threatened African Americans. Although slavery was considered abolished, people became partially enslaves due to the Mississippi Black Codes and sharecropping.
During reconstruction there were many changes within the laws that granted African Americans rights that they hadn’t previously had. In 1865, many American citizens of African descent claimed that if they were able to be drafted, then they should have the right to vote as well (Doc. C). Soon after, the Civil Rights Act of 1866 provided citizenship to all former slaves and gave them equal rights, equal adherence to laws and rights to protect property. This was by far one of the most revolutionary transitions for slaves because it was a change in legislation (Doc. F). Furthermore, the addition of three new amendments also tremendously changed the lives of African Americans.
The 13th amendment abolished slavery, the 14th amendment granted black people citizenship and equal protection of the laws, and the 15th amendment presented universal suffrage. The first black man was reported voting on November 16, 1867 (Doc. G). In addition, the Force Act of 1870 also helped to reinforce the idea that former slaves were to be treated with respect. Anyone who acted against them, specifically forbidding African Americans to vote by threatening them, would be seen as guilty of felony. The Second Force Act of 1871 was a reiteration of the first act, but it expanded further than just voting rights, and anyone who violated the constitutional rights would be found guilty of a high crime. This act was mainly used to stop the actions of the Ku Klux Klan. Although all of the reinforcements were made to help African Americans, there were still many issues and disagreements upon the viewpoints of the American people.
The point of reconstruction was aimed at helping to preserve the Union. Staying united as a nation was the only way to go about the situation (Doc. B). If all the states separated, more problems would arise as there would be more tension among them. This being so, the union didn’t want to do anything that might cause the south to secede from the nation. They wanted to keep a balance between different areas of the nation. They had satisfied the North by abolishing slavery, but this upset the south as they lost their main source of labor. To deal with this issue, the federal government stated that they had no motive to dictate the matter of suffrage in any state because they didn’t want to upset the south any more, worried that they might secede (Doc. D). A couple years later, the ratification of three new amendments would change that, but at the time being the government didn’t want to risk anything.
Discrimination against African Americans was still very big issue in America. The installment of the Mississippi Black Codes created situations very similar to slavery. If someone was under eighteen years old, they would be put into apprentice ship where they would be under the title of a master. They could be persecuted or recaptured if they tried to run away. In addition, freed slaves who didn’t find a job within the year would be fined, and if they couldn’t afford to pay the fine they would be “lent” to those who could pay the fine. Another issue that came up was that the government didn’t carry out the promise that freed slaves that they would be able to purchase homesteads. Many former slaves argued that they are free men and deserve to have the same rights as anyone else (Doc. E).
Since a lot of former slaves were vagrants and couldn’t afford a homestead, they would follow the system of sharecropping. Tenants would use the landowner’s land to plant crops, and they would pay the owner by giving them a share of the crops. This often became a cycle where the tenant would continuously be in debt, not allowing them to leave the land, almost making them slaves in a certain aspect. Following the Black Codes, the initiation of Jim Crow Laws created segregation between black people and white people. Each race had their own separate facilities and they were not allowed to share or combine them.
There was separation in simple things such as water fountains and restrooms, to more intricate things such as federal workplaces and the US military. As well as segregation between the blacks and whites, there were also acts of violence from groups such as the Ku Klux Klan towards the African Americans. Although, the government did take action against members of the KKK, their actions were still brutal (Doc. H). A political cartoon by Thomas Nast that appeared in Harper’s Weekly on October 24, 1874 shows how the abuse from the KKK was considered to be worse than slavery (Doc. I).
Reconstruction was a time of revolution to a certain extent in terms of constitutional developments. The Civil Rights Act, the ratification of three new amendments, and the enforcement of the Force Acts all helped to give African Americans the equality that they deserved and protect them from potential harm. But in a social manner, African Americans weren’t treated as equals and were looked down upon. Instillations of the Black Codes and sharecropping put the recently freed slaves back in almost the same position as they were just recently. Jim Crow Laws created segregation between the two races, separating them with any given opportunity. Groups such as the KKK practiced acts of violence against the black people, seeing them as inferior. So although the ideas of reconstruction were revolutionary, the actions that followed them backfired the plan.
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