Key Figures and Groups During Reconstruction

Between police brutality, shootings, and false imprisonment, racism is alive and well in America. This modern-day racism can be found at its roots of slavery, and the failure to fully integrate African Americans into society. After hundreds of years and the bloodiest war the world has ever seen, slavery was finally abolished in American, and African Americans had the freedom they had dreamed of. However, their expectations were shattered during the Reconstruction post-Civil War. This Reconstruction was a complete failure for the former slaves of America, as instead of freedom, they were met with different kinds of societal slavery.

Though reasoning as to why the Reconstruction Era failed for African Americans runs high, the key individuals and groups that highlight this failure the most were Andrew Johnson, Fredrick Douglas, and politicians from the North and South.

After the devastating assassination of President Lincoln, it was his vice president Andrew Johnson who came into power. It was Johnson’s actions and changes to the government as president that contributed to the overall failure, as the questionable policies that he passed didn’t allow for full integration of slaves into American society.

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Following Lincoln’s assassination, the Republicans wanted Johnson to call Congress into special session, in order to make rules to deal with the South. However, Johnson held an ideology that he had the ability to resolve the matter on his own. The plan Johnson came up with was to present Congress with an already, in which Southern conventions ought to refuse to pay their war debts, nullify their ordinances of recession, and adopt the Thirteenth Amendment which freed slaves.

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The North might have considered these terms suitable, but Johnson didn’t make them requirements.

As a result, South Carolina repealed instead of nullifying its ordinance of secession, setting the precedent that states are allowed to secede. This lack of enforcement allowed Mississippi to refuse to adopt the Thirteenth amendment, and both South Carolina and Mississipi to refuse to repudiate their war debts. Additionally, when Congress conveyed, Johnson vetoed multiple attempts made to establish rights and freedom to the African American Population. For example, when Congress tried to pass the Civil Rights Act, which gave citizenship to African Americans, Johnson vetoed it. Ultimately, Johnson’s actions show how Reconstruction was a failure, as the policies he attempted to create were ineffective, allowing for Confederates to work their way into government and allowed for Southern states to keep African Americans out of society. Furthermore, he shows it was a failure through his attempts to shoot down bills that would benefit African Americans. All told, Johnson’s combative personality, lack of willingness to compromise and southern values set him at odds with congressional Republicans, and his career was a constant battle against Congress, leading to his impeachment in 1868.

Furthermore, the iconic Fredrick Douglas stands as a key example as to how Reconstruction failed African Americans. Fredrick Douglas directly shows and advocates for his beliefs on the failure of Reconstruction. Born into slavery from a young age, Fredricks ideas almost reflect that of most African Americans at the time. An avid writer and abolitionist, Douglas’ beliefs on the time period were no secret. After escaping slavery, Douglas welcomed the Civil War with open arms. It was to his belief that the civil war was a kind of reformation for black people in America. However, during the Reconstruction period, Douglas understood that black people weren’t getting the freedom they had strived for so long. In fact, he continuously spoke out against multiple issues that were happening to African Americans, that were overlooked by everyone else. During Reconstruction, Douglas continued to speak out against racism as he had done prior, working towards African American equality through civil rights. During 1881, President Garfield allowed Fredrick to hold office in the position of recorder of deeds. While a minor position, Douglas used this opportunity to speak out against issues the lynching of African Americans, growing segregation, and disenfranchisement. Douglas proves that Reconstruction was a failure first on his representation of black people in America. As a former slave, Douglas’ interpretation of Reconstruction is one most likely held by many former slaves. Furthermore, Douglas’ efforts to get equal rights led to no avail for years on end, it was until the civil rights movement that black people were actually able to get equality, after the Reconstruction period.

Next, the acts and effects of Radical Republicans was a key factor in the failure of Reconstruction for African Americans. During the era of Reconstruction, the Republican party dominated congress. Congress. However, the party as a whole was split into radical, moderate, and conservative Republicans. Specifically, the radical Republican party is what angered the South the most. These radical Republicans sought after a harsher version of Reconstruction for the South. They viewed the South less as old states and more as a conquered land. In fact, it was to their belief that Reconstruction was to shape the South in the North’s vision. This radical party was incredibly influential for the Reconstruction, as they almost entirely controlled the direction in which the Reconstruction went. They openly advocated for rights and liberties for freedmen, but there were numerous downsides of their actions. It is thought that intense racism and segregation brewed in the South as a result of this harsh treatment. The Southern people hated what they were being conformed to, and looked for something to blame. Unfortunately, this pent-up aggression took the form of racism in the south, not allowing former slaves to fully enter society. Thus, the actions of the radical republicans contributed to the failure of Reconstruction through brewing intense racism in the South.

Furthermore, politicians in the South is the most direct example of how Reconstruction failed for African Americans. This is first evident through the share-cropping system. After the Civil War, plantation owners need help working the lands slaves once did. As a result, plantation owners took advantage of former slave’s desire to own their own farms and allowed for former slaves to rent land and in return give a share of the crop that they produced to the landowner. This system of bolstered freedpeople’s ability to control their own lives and inevitably put them in a cycle of poverty. While they were legally free, many African American families became enslaved by their own powerlessness and poverty. All told, through sharecropping, African Americans were still in slavery, but under a new name. Secondly, the failure is shown through Black Codes. Black Codes was a group of laws enacted by local and state governments in the South during Reconstruction. What these laws did was spell out the rights that former slaves had in America by restricting their freedom and maintaining white supremacy.

These laws stated that African Americans could not marry whites, testify against whites, carry a weapon, assemble in large numbers, etc. Additionally, Black Codes made it so that African Americans couldn’t work any jobs they couldn’t work as slaves, as well as made sure that wages for African Americans remained low. This is because any black person asking for a wage higher than what their employer sees fit was sawn as a vagrant and was subject to penalties. Moreover, if freedmen wanted to work jobs other than laborers or housemaids, they were taxed heavily every year. As a result, these laws passed by politicians pushed African Americans back into the roles they once had when enslaved, by encouraging the same jobs they once had. Ultimately, these major acts passed by southern politicians prove to fail African Americans, because they by no means have equal rights to those around them. By putting African Americans in poverty, paying them low wages, and not allowing them to work the same jobs as they did as slaves, African Americans were evidently not free. Rather, they had just been enslaved in a new way.

Finally and most prominently, the formation and works of the KKK are perhaps the greatest examples for the Reconstruction’s failure. The Ku Klux Klan is a secret white supremacist organization founded in 1865 at the beginning of the Reconstruction. The primary goal was to terrorize Southern blacks, as well as some white Northerners who replaced white Southerners in government. The use of such terrorism and violence was to prevent blacks from exercising their newly found rights, specifically their right to vote. This formation is directly attributed to the reconstruction, as it was formed in response to blacks gaining rights. While the government was able to crack down on the Klan, they proved to be problematic in the long term, as they experienced a revival during the early and mid-90s. Thus, by instilling fear and preventing blacks from exercising their rights, the KKK proves that reconstruction was a failure, as the KKK was formed because of it.

All told, Reconstruction’s attempt at having equality between whites and blacks was a complete and utter failure. Through the presidency of a white supremacist and political change that brewed racism, Reconstruction failed the African Americans in every way. With Andrew Johnson, his way of trying to reconstruct the nation led to confederates in the government and laws to be passed in the South that limited the rights of blacks. Furthermore, the actions of the radical Republican party called for resentment against the North and blacks as a whole, while the southern politicians allowed laws that essentially kept blacks enslaved.This is shown through Fredrick Douglas, who represents the black community in this situation, with his public outcry for the oppression that came with the Reconstruction. It is because of this failure to African Americans, that we can see in the modern day that racism is still alive in America, and perhaps if this intergratoin was successful, this issue would be gone today.

Updated: Dec 23, 2021
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Key Figures and Groups During Reconstruction. (2021, Dec 23). Retrieved from

Key Figures and Groups During Reconstruction essay
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