American Reconstruction

Reconstruction: 1863-1877

The Reconstruction began at the end of the Civil War, when Robert E. Lee??™s men stacked their guns at Appomattox, the bloodiest war in American history ended. The south was defeated; they sustained both material and psychological wounds. By 1865 the south had lost much of its precious commodities, cotton and slaves were no longer measures of wealth and prestige. Retreating soldiers trying to prevent capture damaged most of the cotton during war, and what wasn??™t destroyed was confiscated as contraband of war. In 1860 the south held about 25% of the nations wealth, and only a decade later it held less than 12%. By late 1863 union victories had convinced President Lincoln of the need to make a plan for the reconstruction of the south. He planned to bring the succeeded states back into the Union as quickly as possible. The Proclamation of amnesty and reconstruction of 1863 offered a full pardon and restoration of property to southerners willing to swear an oath of allegiance to the United States and all laws including the Emancipation Proclamation. Lincoln proposed the Ten percent plan which would give them the right to establish a state government once the number of voters who took the oath reached 10 percent. Lincolns amnesty plan angered the Radical Republicans, those who advocated equal rights for freedmen and a tougher stance on white southern people. They proposed a harsher alternative to Lincolns ten percent plan, The Wade-Davis bill that required 50% of succeeded states male citizens to take an oath of loyalty before elections could take place. The Radical Republicans saw reconstruction as a chance to put forth a transformation of the south; they wanted to delay the process though until after the war to limit participation to a small amount of southern unionists. In January of 1865 William T. Sherman issued Field Order15, setting aside land off the Georgia cost for exclusive settlement for just freedmen. It proposed that each family would receive 40 acres and mules loaned from the army. Later that year in March (1865) congress established the Freedman??™s Bureau, which provided food, clothing, and fuel to destitute former slaves, this lasted for seven years. President Lincoln had been working hard on ending slavery and the reconstruction after the Civil War. On April 14 of 1865 Lincoln was attending the theater he was shot by John Wilkes Booth. At the time he was killed the Reconstruction plan was incomplete; its outline favored a speedy restoration of the southern states to the Union with minimal federal intervention. This plan now had to be finished out by a new president, Andrew Johnson of Tennessee, whose background put him at odds with Republicans in Congress. Johnson??™s plan for Reconstruction was to restore the Union as quickly as possible. He granted amnesty and pardon to all confederates who pledged loyalty to the union and support for the emancipation, but 14 classes of southerners, confederate officials and wealthy landowners, were excluded. Although these men could apply individually for pardons, Johnson pardoned nearly 90% of those who applied. By the fall of 1865 10 out of the 11 states had met Johnson??™s requirements for reentering the Union. Andrew Johnson had ambitions to be elected as president on his own in 1968, he hoped to build a new coalition composed mostly of Northern Democrats, conservative Republicans, and Southern Unionists. He was very committed to white supremacy; he opposed the political rights of freedmen. He was openly sympathetic for his fellow white southerners, against blacks, and had a determination to control Reconstruction, which placed him in a collision course with the Radical Republicans. The Radicals believed once free labor, education, and equal rights were implemented in the south, that region would share the North??™s material wealth and progress. The ???Black Codes??? in South Carolina, Mississippi, Louisiana, and several other states especially angered northern Republicans. These black codes were designed to limit the rights and freedom of African Americans to try to keep them as close to slaves as legally possible. If they left their job before contracts expired they would give up wages already earned and be subject to arrest by any white citizen. Some states even went so far as to try to ban African Americans from owning land; other laws denied them from equality with white people. These black codes showed an unwillingness of white southerners to accept the full meaning of freedom for African Americans. Growing numbers of northerners were growing suspicious of white southerners denial of political rights for freedmen. Congress concluded that not only were old Confederates back in power in the south, but also the black codes and violence required an increase in protection for the African Americans. In the spring of 1866 congress passed two bills, one of which being the Civil Rights bill under this bill African Americans acquired full and equal benefit of all laws. They also voted to enhance the Freedman??™s Bureau to build schools and pay teachers to teach in these schools. Also it established courts to prosecute those depriving African Americans of their rights. President Johnson was angry and vetoed both of these bills, but Radical Republicans successfully overrode the vetoes. In fear that the Civil Rights Act would be declared unconstitutional congress passed the fourteenth amendment. This amendment gave citizenship to ???all persons born or naturalized in the United States???. Southern states would have to ratify it as a condition of readmission into the Union. The Republicans took control of the Reconstruction and passed the Reconstruction Act over Johnson??™s veto. This act divided the south into five military districts subject to martial law. To achieve Reconstruction the south was required to draft new constitutions, guarantee African American voting rights, and ratify the fourteenth amendment in order to gain readmission into the Union. By the summer of 1868 seven of the former confederate states had reentered the Union.