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Reconstruction Era of the United States Essay

By 1865, the Civil War ended with a victory for the Union over the secessionist southern states. But with every conclusion comes new beginnings, thus the start of a new chapter American History: The Reconstruction. 1865 through 1877 was known as the period of Reconstruction. During this time the Confederate States were reintegrated into the Union. Before the Confederate General Robert E. Lee surrendered his forces to the Union General, Ulysses Grant on April 9th, 1865 which actually ended the war, controversy raged throughout Congress and country concerning the terms under which the secessionist states would be allowed back into the Union. One prevalent concern was what role the federal government would play in the shaping of the political, economical, and social fabrics of the south.

Desegregating roughly 4 million recently freed slaves into life in the new south was a controversial issue. The issue of slavery is actually what caused the secession of the southern states in 1860 and 1861. This dispute is what led to the start of the civil war. The war had left the south dramatically altered. The newly freed slaves struggled to survive in this new economy all while trying to coincide with an often acrimonious and resentful white population. The nation was left bitterly divided. President Abraham Lincoln believed that the South had already been drastically punished. He favored the lenient approach of Reconstruction. Lincoln issued the Proclamation of Amnesty and Reconstruction; which in turn created the ten percent plan. Lincoln believed that the sooner the nation healed and moved forward, the better off everyone would be.

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The plan called for pardons to any Confederate who had not held civil office and would swear to support the Constitution and the Union. The states would be readmitted to the union once ten percent of their population took oath. Despite Lincoln did not adequately address how the newly freed slaves were to be accepted into Southern society. The Democrats and Republicans tended to favor more lenient policies for the south. A fraction of the Republican Party known as the ‘Radical Republicans’ pushed for harder programs that would punish the south and ensure that the newly freed black slaves would have total equality with the whites.

These Radicals passed the Wade-Davis Bill in 1864 that said states could be readmitted to the union only after 50 percent of voters took an oath; however, President Lincoln quickly vetoed this bill. The Freedmen’s Bureau was then created; this helped distribute food, supplies, and land to the freed slaves. On April 14, 1865, President Lincoln was famously shot in Ford’s Theatre in Washington, D.C. by a Confederate sympathizer, John Wilkes Boothe. He passed the following morning. His successor, Vice President Andrew Johnson was a very outspoken opponent of the rich slaveholders in the South. As a Southern Senator, he had refused to join the Confederacy.

He preferred to preserve the Union. Johnson said he planned to carry out Lincoln’s Reconstruction Policies, although he believed that the South should be punished for its role in the war. Johnson was welcomed by the Radical Republicans initially; they believed he would pursue harsher policies than his preceptor, Lincoln. However, once in office, Johnson adopted a more lenient policy than expected. He pardoned many Confederate leaders. He allowed commanding former Confederates to keep their land and official posts. He argued that it was the responsibility of the states to set policies dealing which rights would be denied to blacks. These were known as the ‘Black Codes’. They were enacted in the south and severely limited the rights of the freedmen.

Johnson’s plan or the “Presidential Reconstruction” was counted by the Radical Republicans in Congress. The Reconstruction policies became known as the Radical Reconstruction. The Radical Republicans argued that the main goal of Reconstruction should be to secure the same rights as white citizens for the newly freed slaves. They were enacted in the south and severely limited the rights of the freedmen. The advocates of the Radical Reconstruction included mostly Rapidly Reconstruction. He proposed a more lenient program of Reconstruction. This stemmed from his desires to heal the wounds of the war as quickly as possible. He wanted to put an end to the animosity between the North and South.

Under this plan, the federal government was to appoint governors to head secessionist states. He offered executive pardons to all southerners minus the high ranking Confederate officials. Johnson’s decisions guaranteed that blacks would be forced to struggle to gain equality with the Southern Whites. Being he did not enforce any government control of the southern lands, not much changed in terms of the treatment of the African Americans. As these conditions continued to fail at improvement for blacks, the moderates were more inclined to agree with the Radical Republicans.

The Congress in its new session and with its Republican majority, a stricter version of Reconstitution was passed. In 1867 The First Reconstruction Act was put into place; it separated the south into five districts that were to be governed by the U.S. military. It also said the south was to recognize and permit the former slaves before they could reenter the Union. To reassure that this order was followed the second Reconstruction Act was passed; this put the military in charge of southern voter registration. During this time the Fifth Amendment was also passed permitting all American men the right to vote, including the former slaves.

Congress knew Johnson would use all possible power to rule the reconstruction the way he thought it should. Therefore, trying to restrict his powers, in 1867 the Tenure of Office Act was passed; which required the president to join with the House and Senate before removing congressionally appointed cabinet members. Johnson didn’t abide to this act causing the Republicans to impeach him in 1868. This is when Ulysses S. Grant was brought into office.

Grant’s personality being inexperienced and extremely passive created many problems and a bad reputation for him. In 1872 his Vice President Schuyler Colfax was forced to step back from office; due to his involvement in the Credit Mobilier scandal. In addition to his Vice Presidents flaws his personal secretary assisted in the embezzlement of millions of dollars from the U.S. Treasury. These harmful acts and others drove the Republican Party to split apart; and resulting in the formation of Liberal Republicans who wanted to end reconstruction. The Liberal Republicans nominated Horace Greeley for their party’s’ presidential candidate. However, Grant still managed to beat him for the presidential position.

In 1873, a series of events including bad loans, and high expectations of the economy, lead the country into a destructive depression. The depression caused a plethora of lost jobs among the American people. In efforts to help end the depression and prevent inflation congress put an end to coining silver dollars and passed the Resumption Act of 1875. This act removed all paper money from the economy. The depressions economic issues were a major factor in the election of 1874. Many people betrayed on the Republican Party and voted Democrat because of the hard times they experienced during the depression. This change gave the Democratic Party control over the House of Representatives.

The radical republicans lost many members; therefore lessening their abilities to pass orders. The last legislative act they did pass was the Civil Rights Act of 1875, an effort to try and eliminate racial discrimination. The election putting Democrats in power kicked off the end of Radical Reconstruction. Court Cases such as the Slaughterhouse case which argued against the 14th Amendment; and the U.S. v. Cruikshank case which discussed issues dealing with the Ku Klux Klan; also assisted in the ending of the Radical Reconstruction.

There was a quarrel with the outcome of the election in 1876 between Democrat Tilden and Republican Hayes; this resulted in the Electoral count act in 1877.This act created a balanced, equal committee to recount votes. This committee concluded that Hayes won the presidency position. The democrats were outraged with the results of the election and the resulted in the Compromise of 1877. This compromise said that the Democrats would allow Hayes to become President if Federal troops were withdrawn from the south, republican agreed.

This removal of troops marked the end of the reconstruction era. The end of the Civil war created a period of time in which the U.S. had to deal with, governing issues, scandals, and economic hardships. The integration of former slaves with the whites was a task that seemed impossible to achieve. The views and wants of Political Parties’ and the Presidency position changed during this time. However the North and South were joined again at last.

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