The Political and Social Struggles During the Reconstruction Era in America

Reconstruction aroused violent controversy over constitutional powers of federal government to intervene in a states affairs. Northern democrats believed the constitution strictly limited federal power, anticipated that most southern whites would vote democratic, and had little sympathy for black aspirations. Northern democrats favored a rapid Reconstruction. Republicans took a broader view of federal power. The more radical of them believed that the secessionist states had forfeited their status and could treated by congress as territories. Republicans also thought that steps had to be taken to foretell future rebellions.

In addition, many felt that blacks were entitled to fundamental rights and hoped southern republicanism could be built with black support. During this time period there were two presidents, Lincoln and Johnson, and they shared different views on Reconstruction. Before Lincoln was assassinated he had devised his own plan for Reconstruction.

His plan was called the ten percent plan. On December 8, 1863 Lincoln announced his specific Reconstruction plan. It stated that all southerners (except high ranking confederate officials) could obtain a full pardon and restoration of rights after taking an oath that pledged future loyalty to the union and acknowledged the end of slavery.

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When ten percent of the voting population in a given state have taken his oath, the citizens could then vote in elections that would create new state constitutions. After a government was formed and a constitution recognizing the end of slavery was ratified, the state then would once gain be eligible for representation in congress.

Lincoln would then consider the state fully readmitted back into the union.

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However, Lincoln would never have enough time to carry out this plan for reconstruction before his assassination. In 1864, Congress passed the Wade-Davis act which stated that at least fifty percent of a states population had to sign a loyalty oath before the state could be re-admitted to the Union. After Lincolns assassination, the former Vice President Johnson, now President Johnson, had his own plans for reconstruction. He adopted the Wade-Davis Plan with some changes. Not allowing exceptions to wealthy or important people like Lincoln did, Johnson gave a pardon to anybody who would take an oath that they would be true to the union in the future. Enough ex-confederates signed these documents to immediately create the new government. Johnson let the slaves set up their own constitution about slavery.

This is what we know today as the thirteenth amendment to the constitution. By the end of 1865, all of the secessionists states but Texas has complied. In 1866, Congress passed the Freedmans Bureau Act to help freedmen get from slavery to anti-slavery and to promise them that they would be equal to the white man. But President Johnson shot down these measures, made himself equal with the southern democrats, and stated that the southern states were now able to be represented in congress. So now Johnson thought he could do whatever he wanted to, but Congress saw differently. Congress decided that they would get Johnson back in line. So congress responded to all this by not recognizing the legitimacy of the southern states and by passing laws over Johnsons vetoes. Also in 1866, Republicans proposed the fourteenth amendment to the constitution.

Which stated that blacks are and always will be citizens of the U.S. and it also denied states from discriminating against citizens or denying rights from citizens. The fourteenth amendment also denied any confederate leaders from holding office until Congress relieved this disclaimer. Economic independence, for blacks, relied on their ability to own and care for land. However, most blacks were not able to become property owners and remained as poor as those who ran to southern towns in search of better jobs. Most blacks were compelled to go to work on white owned farms and plantations. The most popular kind of farming in this time period was sharecropping for cotton. An agreement between blacks desire for work and whites desire for workers is basically how share cropping was back then. Share cropping allowed each black family to work on a certain area, with the crop divided between the worker and the owner at the year end. In many cases, big plantations fell to pieces and blacks were able to get land for very cheap, but blacks economic opportunities were held back by the whites control of credit and the price of agricultural foods.

During reconstruction, the Ku Klux Klan made their debut. The Klan was almost exclusively southern in its membership acceptances. Their objective was to perpetuate white supremacy following the conferral of civil and political rights on blacks, which is voting and participating in political affairs. The Klan was so powerful that even Ulysses S. Grant and Congress couldnt stop them from spewing bloodshed. Only a massive army could bring the Klan down, but the North was unwilling to help the South in these matters. By 1875, all but three southern states-South Carolina, Louisiana, and Florida- were back in the hands of southern democrats, who discounted most of the republican reforms and began to limit freedom of blacks. By 1869, Congress initiated the fifteenth amendment to the constitution. This amendment attempted to guarantee the continuation of black suffrage by outlawing the denial of voting rights on the grounds of race.

The defeat of a version with fewer loopholes provided additional proof that the influence of the Radicals was waning. Carpetbaggers was a term applied by the southern people mainly to government agents, politicians, business men, and adventurers from the Northern states who traveled to the South. The term was meant to be understood as that the Northern could stuff everything they wanted into a carpet bag. Some Carpetbaggers were representatives for reconstruction agencies; some were humanitarians, but one thing was for sure they all were opportunists looking to exploit the political and the financial problems of the South.

Since Congress had banned former confederate officers from holding office, Carpetbaggers were able to obtain a political office. Since not many people liked the Carpetbaggers the only people they associated with were the Scalawags, which were Southerners who were trying to be Northerners. The only way the Carpetbaggers and Scalawags were able to get in the positions they were in is because they knew important people in high places who shared the same beliefs that they did. During the early 1870s, violence became so bad in the South that president Ulysses S. Grant often sent troops to protect Republicans in their campaigns.

By the time of the 1876 presidential election, Northerners were tiring of the turmoil and they wanted a restoration of peace. There was some dispute concerning the electoral votes of the last three Republican states in the South which resulted in the election results being sent to a special commission. Rutherford B. Hays was ruled the winner by the commission. But before the decision Hays had let Southern Democrats know that he would not use troops to protect the Republicans in those states. Soon after, he withdrew troops and the last Republican governments fell. Reconstruction left a nasty legacy to future generations of Americans. Whites Southern felt wronged and for years perceived blacks as potentially dangerous political enemies. By failing to develop a fair Reconstruction, Northerners permitted the creation of a caste system in the South that deprived many black Americans and poor whites of basic rights. The effects of discrimination that developed during Reconstruction still persists to this day.


Updated: Dec 12, 2023
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The Political and Social Struggles During the Reconstruction Era in America. (2022, Dec 11). Retrieved from

The Political and Social Struggles During the Reconstruction Era in America essay
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