The following essay will analyze the economic, social and political successes and failures of the reconstruction period, after the United States’ civil war. In the presidential elections of 1860, Republicans led by Abraham Lincoln opposed the idea of slavery into United States’ territories. Although Lincoln had won the elections, by March 4, 1861, seven cotton plantation-based slave states formed the Confederacy. Lincoln’s first movements insisted that republicans would not initiate civil war, leading eight remaining slave states to reject immediate calls for secession.
There was an intention to prevent war, but a peace conference failed, and there were no arrangements done. While both sides prepared for war, the Confederates assumed that European countries were so dependent on “King Cotton” for its industry that they would intervene; none did and none recognized the new Confederate States of America, in this way the southern economy, which was dependent of the European cloth market, was now in a very difficult position. Hostilities began on April 12, 1861, when Confederate forces fired upon Union troops in South Carolina.
Lincoln called for a union army to retake it; meanwhile, four more slave states joined the Confederacy, bringing their total to eleven. The Union soon controlled the Border States and established a naval blockade that destroyed the southern economy. Meaning, the south could not trade with any foreign nation, in this way the cotton industry and its planters were totally crushed, therefore slavery was no more useful for southern states. On the other hand the north had a more advanced and industrialized economy which was well established and overwhelmed the southern one.
By 1865, the south was completely defeated, and not just in the military sense. The old political ideas of secession, state’s rights, and nullification, had been also crushed, the power of southern planters was not even near to the one before the war. The cotton plantation-based economy, was destroyed, there was no more international trade and Britain had already found new markets from which to buy cotton, as India. However southern whites were desperate to maintain power over the blacks and the freedmen were desperate to get rid of slavery and start a new era.
This situation was therefore a crisis, but also a great opportunity, as the north was motivated by Lincoln’s principles, and strength in his, while the confederacy was completely hopeless. The south was in some way ready for whatever changes the north imposed. However the north failed to understand the full strength of southern resentment to the freedmen, and president Johnson had vies thet seemed to represent the old south more than the new United States.
Although some progress was made, as the 13th, 14th and 15th amendments, success could have been much bigger, as although some of the aims were roughly fulfilled, as bringing the south back into the union, making the south yet again an integral part of the United States of America, requiring a major change in the south attitudes, which was clearly shown during the years of reconstruction that the old confederate ideas still remained in the head of the southerners.
Other aims of the reconstruction were to remodel the south along the northern lines of economic, social and political reforms by removing its dependence in crops such as cotton or tobacco and modernize the south with industrialization, improvements in infrastructure, and education. More over the north also wanted to destroy the power of the planters forever, and encourage a democracy in the south, also they aimed to free the African Americans, and ensure that they remained free to work, live prosper without being again enslaved.
Reconstruction achieved its aims as African American strength in the United States had been clearly asserted during 1861-1865. Therefore reconstruction was a success as it achieved its aims by officially recognizing this new role that Afro-Americans had, as citizens of the United States. They were four and a half million of them; they were a force to be reckoned with It was not only that their leaders, such as Frederick Douglas was energetic and articulate, nor that they had many powerful white friends among the abolitionists. They had won their freedom meritoriously and by their own efforts.
As a result of actions of reconstruction, there where new blacks who enrolled in the US army, and black leaders started arising in different states, which ratified the success. Also the south had to accept the rules of the US constitution, and this meant that they had to accept the 13th amendment which made slavery illegal in the southern states. Therefore the legal basis for continuing slavery was removed. Southern states were also forced to write new state constitutions, which would next be ratified by the voters and under which elections to the congress could be held in the autumn.
In this way reconstruction was successful as the power of the planters was now lowered, thanks to the new 13th amendment, they were not able to use a slavery system any more, in that way cotton plantation became much more unprofitable and in this way dependence of the south on cotton was also reduced, as now blacks had a wage. Finally Afro-Americans were now free by law, which was also one of the reconstruction aims Moreover blacks as citizens also received rights, they could legally marry, sue or be sued, testify against whites, own land, get paid for work, between others rights.
Therefore reconstruction achieved its aims, as now the blacks where US citizens and consequently they receive rights as the ones mentioned above. The fact that blacks were able to grow economically, through the ownership of terrains, and the earnings of wedges, showed that the reconstruction succeeded in giving Afro-Americans freedom, work, life, and the opportunity to prosper and therefore it achieved another aim.
Furthermore, black codes which said that blacks were forbidden to marriage a white person, leave their employment, or that if they were found with no work they would by arrested and fined, between other laws, were so racist that the northern whites began a campaign to stop them being used. As Earl Schurz said, with these codes “the blacks at large belong to the whites at large”. When Johnson realized that the matter had gone too far he send military commanders to nullify the codes in the south. Congress indignation provoked a joint committee of the two houses to propose a programme of congressional reconstruction.
It was prohibited that until such a programme was finished none of the south representatives and senators chosen under the Johnson sanctioned constitutions, would be allowed to take their seats. This shows that there was a political determination in the north to help Afro-Americans; therefore Reconstruction achieved its aims as the fact of such a decision taken by the congress demonstrated great interest in the coloured people’s rights. We can say that this was an achievement of this period as it clearly shows a change in in the major concerns of such an important power, as the one of the congress.
Additionally we also can say that it was a success of reconstructions, as after the actions of the congress they ensure that Afro-Americans remained free, and receive the same treatment at work as other; meaning that they were able to improve the coloured people’s working conditions/terms, and consequently their lives. After the Black Codes were nullified, huge republican majority in congress settled upon three measures. Firstly they decided to give more power to the freedmen’s bureau, the institution that fought to ease the transition from slavery to freedom for southern black.
Second, they established the civil rights, which said that citizen’s rights were to be enjoyed by all persons born in the US of every race and color. Third, they introduced a 14th amendment which prohibited state and local governments from depriving persons of life, liberty, or property without certain steps being taken to ensure fairness and the requirement in each state to provide equal protection under the law to all people within its jurisdiction. Therefore the reconstruction achieved aims as they provided blacks with legal protection.
This was a major improvement, as now black people were cover by the law, which ensured that they were going to remind free to work, live safely and prosper without being again enslaved. As companion, we can also say that is was an achievement as now Afro-Americans were considered US citizens with the same rights as whites, this was a huge step, which occurred thanks to reconstruction, in the race between blacks and whites for equality. At the same time, things had changed for the coloured people in the south.
They now seized control of their own lives, working for Afro-Americans was also running by different conditions as they now were paid wages, they worked less hours, and they obviously receive a better treatment. Although most of them kept working at the plantation as they knew nothing else, labor force was now from 9 to 10hs, and planters were earning much less money as they now had to pay wages, with less working hours, and had to provide workers with better working conditions. Over and above, countries like India and Egypt had developed in the cotton industry, so they were a huge competition for the ex-confederate states.
Therefore reconstruction achieved its aims as this was the starting of the remodelation of the south along the north lines, in economic terms, as now the plantation system was unprofitable and pointless, in this way the dependence of the south in cotton was reduce and the power of the planters was destroyed. Plus, this mean that there weren’t any longer huge rich planters, therefore, this was a success for the reconstruction period as now population in the south was not so polarized, and these encourage democracy.
Furthermore, life style of the Black had totally improve, they were now owners of their destiny, meaning that they had the opportunity of prospering without being again enslaved, therefore reconstruction achieved another of it aims. Moreover the congress was totally republican dominated, as southern states were not represented yet, it was strong, and it had the power to take drastic actions. One of them was the 15th amendment, which said “the right of citizens of the US to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the US or any state on account of race, color or previous conditions of servitude”.
Additionally in march 1867 the south was divided into five military districts, each to be governed by a general of the US army. These generals could enrolled any qualified voters and form constitutional conventions which would set up new acceptable state governments, to preside over the first elections. When the new government had ratified the 14th amendment and its constitution accepted by the congress, the military regime would fade away. Therefore this meant an achievement for the reconstruction as the 15th amendment introduced the coloured people even more in the US society as giving them the opportunity of voting.
Meaning that Afro- Americans had now the same rights as white citizens had, in this was it was a success for the reconstruction as the blacks could choose their representatives now therefore, this established even more their posture as US citizens. In relation to the military reconstruction acts, it was an achievement for the reconstruction as the north was now inside of the southern politics and in this way they were able to bring the south back into the union, and making the south yet again an integral part of the USA, by this measures the union was now able to introduce their economic, social, and political reforms in the south.
Within the reconstruction governments in the south, a vigorous programme of political education, of which was to teach the former ex-slaves how to vote. Black men were eagerly to support and they did everything they could to. As education started, across the country, between some coloured people, there were US representatives and even two US senators. Education for blacks was an achievement for the reconstruction. It made Afro-Americans more independent and really free, as they were now able to develop their abilities.
The fact that their where black people in such important jobs showed that the reconstruction was a success as blacks had now the opportunity to represent themselves and show that they can be part of an important role in the society. Finally, in the past years, planters never wanted to educate poor people blacks/whites, as they were easier to influence and dominate. Now with the public education for blacks and whites, society became more stable as the people in higher positions could not take advantage of the ones below them.
Concluding, we can say that reconstruction achieved its aims as in the economic sphere, the improvements of the working conditions, less our of working and the right to receive a wage for the blacks, removed the South’s dependence in crops such as cotton and in this way, it reduced the power of planters, therefore the economy in the south started changing and it was not any longer based in agriculture.
Also in political terms, Reconstruction was a success as the 13th, 14th and 15th amendments were introduced which gave a major role to Afro-Americans in the society, clearly asserted them as citizens of the USA, and ensured that blacks remained free. Finally, the social changes brought about by Reconstruction were also positive. Rights given to blacks during this period inserted them in a better position in the society. Although ideas in the south didn’t change much, they were now protected by the law.
Furthermore, public education for blacks and whites, broke the great distance between rich and poor, and they were now more independent, and able to take decisions for themselves. Concluding, the fact that planters lost power made the southern society less polarized, and more balanced. On the other hand reconstruction did not achieve its aims as due in part to Lincoln’s assassination, and replacement by President Johnson. We could clearly see that the new president had strong southern sympathies and was “slightly less flexible than granite”. Andrew Johnson’s views were the following.
The US constitution did in fact respect state’s rights, within some limits. Also once a southern state accepted the rules of the constitution it had to be allowed back into the union. Therefore the reconstruction was a failure as, by respecting the state’s rights in the south, ex-confederate could now use this against the central government in Washington, especially over the treatment of black people, as in this way they were allowed to introduce new rules which would discriminate coloured people (certain places only for whites, priority for white in different situations”.
Additionally, although the 13th amendment was part of the constitution, once the south had accepted it, there was nothing else the central government in Washington could do to make them treat the blacks fairly. One on the main aims of the reconstruction aims was to ensure that blacks remained free to work, live in equality and prosper without being again enslaved or segregated by the law, therefore as they did not comply with one of its main aims we can say that reconstruction was a failure as one of the key political figures charged with carrying out reconstruction was a southern sympathizer.
Simultaneously, Johnson wasted the North’s chance to remove old southern political leaders. He had been slow to issue pardons to leading rebels. Then suddenly he started issuing pardons by the hundred, more to escape embarrassment, it seemed, than for any other reason. Soon it was plain that, armed with their pardons former confederate leaders were re-entering politics in force.
Therefore reconstruction could not achieve its’ political aims as the presence of ex-confederates in politics caused that reconstruction took much more time because of the different confrontations or discussions that where held whenever the north dictated a new law or took decision for problems in the south. Otherwise if the leaders of the US would have been a hundred percent northerners, the reconstruction would have been faster and more effective, as no one would oppose the government’s actions.
Also the fact that there were rebel leaders re-entering politics, made the remodelation of the south along northern lines in what concerns economic, social and political factors almost impossible as these, still had the old ideas of aggressive secessionists, who still believed in planters, agriculture, and that whites where superior than blacks. Moreover reconstruction fail in achieving its aims as it was a huge task, which even with the support of southerners it would have been difficult to reconstruct an entire society and economy.
Freedmen and their white supporters in the south were too few to support the movement and new laws the union tried to impose. Also, southern hostility in the south was incredible. Black codes, violence against the blacks by organizations like the ku Klux Klan, and the legal resistance as for example by states like Mississippi or Louisiana who refused to ratify in the case of the first mentioned the 13th amendment and in the case of Louisiana all 13th,14th and 15th amendments. Furthermore the south also used strong propaganda, which said that blacks were lazy, stupid and did not deserve the further attention of the north.
These measures could have been avoided if the union would have been much more aggressive since the very beginning of reconstruction. The fact that Johnson still supported some of the southern ideas, and was not strict in imposing the northern ones gave the opportunity to the ex-confederate to re-establish their old ideas and system. Over and above reconstruction also failed as it would have taken many years to fulfill all of the aims of the period, and the north could not keep up the pressure as it also had other interests like industrialization, great new wealth being created and the development of the west between others.
Old radical northern leaders died and new politician followed this interests. Therefore the reconstruction failed to achieve its aims as it was not only the south, who tried with all of its will to impede the bringing of the confederacy back into the union, where, a major change in attitudes and a radical change in economy, and politics was necessary, but also the north intentions weren’t as strong as were required for such a process, as we can say that they had other concerns and were self-interest. Together with these other reasons, we have the image of the economic situation in the south.
Planters did not have slaves any more, which meant that the business was less profitable as now blacks had wages and less hours of working. However planters kept their land, therefore they were still powerful, although not as much as before; so instead they rented the land to poor whites and blacks. The system basically was landowners renting land and giving money to buy seed and equipment. Then the tenant farmers would pay a rent and gave a share of their crop production every year. After this, amazingly the cotton production greatly increased, but cotton depleted the soil, therefore farmers had to add the price of fertilizers.
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