The Restoration period followed the Civil War and aimed at reuniting Union and Confederate states, which had divided the nation in two. Deep disputes over Restoration policies helped to further polarize both factions. The Southern states, mainly affiliated with the Confederacy, had been severely defeated and damaged by the North-aligned United states during the Civil War. The abolition of slavery and the adoption of other Reconstruction policies laid the final nail in the coffin of a region dominated by white nationalist philosophies. Despite the fact that this period was meant to unite the world, it actually split it into two competing groups led by bitter political positions. Ultimately, the Reconstruction era failed to fulfilled promises of equality among Americans.
President Abraham Lincoln formulated conciliatory plans to restore all of the Confederate states into the Union states through the Proclamation of Amnesty and Reconstruction. The Union army had captured huge sections of the South leaving them with no choice but to accept the rebuilding offer. The proclamation issued by Lincoln contained three essential elements. First, a full pardon to all individuals who engaged in war with the exception of military and Confederate officials (Jenkins & Peck, 2016). Secondly, a new state would only be formed after ten percent of all eligible voters had sworn their oath of allegiance to the United States and lastly the Southern States were supposed to enact laws to free former slaves (Jenkins & Peck, 2016). The emancipation of the slaves was a bitter and impossible pill for the Confederates to swallow though they accepted it due to the presidents prestige and leadership style. The assassination of Lincoln days later threw everything into a spanner with the incoming president Andrew Johnson having heated debates with Congress after opposing elements in the proclamation.
Andrew Johnson Presidential Reconstruction was marred with reversing the previous gains made by Abraham Lincoln. Johnson, a Southerner, believed that Southern states should determine and decide their course and fate. Johnson also believed too much leniency was given to African Americans and they should be stripped of their right to vote. In one incident, Andrew Johnson suggested that African American should emigrate to their original countries. In addition, Johnson provided amnesty and pardon to Confederate officials and returned their property except their former slaves provided these states agreed to pass the 13th Amendment. Soon enough most of the former powerful Confederate officials previously imprisoned returned to power with some gaining Congressional seniority (Jenkins & Peck, 2016). Johnsons reign also saw increased brutal beatings of African Americans and passage of subjugate slave laws such as the Black Codes without any restrictions. In fact some states required written evidence of employment from the former slaves lest they be enrolled to work for free in white plantations. Extreme cases were noted in South Carolina where African Americans were required to pay special taxes to engage in economic activities. Ideally, African American became sidelined in all aspects of life.
Squabbles between the president and Congress resulted in poor implementation of the laws and institutions supposed to promote equality. Radical Republicans wanted the Declaration of Independence to be extended to all free men and instituted Congressional Reconstruction. The formation of the Freedman Bureau to cater for the rights of African American was passed in Congress as a move to reduce the veto powers of the Johnson. The president was opposed to such a move since it provided more opportunities to the blacks and at the same time took some power from the Southern States. Johnson watered down the Freedman Bureau by using vetoes powers resulting in its death by 1872 (Randall & Donald, 2016). The back and forth squabbling between the president and Congress ultimately led to the impeachment process, though the president decline to accept and recognize the entire process.
The election of 1868 failed to resolve the conflicts associated with the Reconstruction based policies. This election was largely based on issues surrounding Reconstruction and suffrage for the freed slaves. Struggles in the implementation of the Reconstruction policy saw the impeachment of Andrew Johnson and occupation of the military in Confederate states. The election was divided with the Republicans favoring implementation of civil rights liberties while the Democrats preferred the entrenchment of aspects associated with white supremacy. The Republican candidate Ulysses Grant beat the Democratic nominee Horatio Seymour in both the electoral and popular votes further splitting the units based on their preference or abolition of the Reconstruction policy (Randall & Donald, 2016). The right to vote emerged as a thorny issue as women demanded their 14th and 15th Amendment rights be respected (Randall & Donald, 2016). The women caucus was led by Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan Anthony and though they did not vote in the 1868 election, their voice was included in the subsequent elections.
A disrupted economy and end of the Civil war led to land based conflicts among the African Americans and white plantation owners. Former slaves expected forty acres of land as had been originally promised only to be included in a sharecropping system which African Americans would rent their small plots of land in return for crops on a yearly basis (Randall & Donald, 2016). In addition, land owners paid meagerly resulting in extreme incidences of poverty in the Southern States and more so among African Americans.
The reconstruction era was marked with some successes. The Union was reunified after four years of separation, the economy of the South and North expanded after the end of the war resulting in the rise of more business opportunities, and the creation of various laws including the 13th, 14th and 15th Amendments (Jenkins & Peck, 2016).. The 13th Amendment abolished slavery while the 14th Amendment provided citizenship to anyone born in the United States (Jenkins & Peck, 2016). The 15th Amendment gave all blacks an equal right to vote which had been denied earlier by the successive regimes (Jenkins & Peck, 2016). The Reconstruction era also saw the formation of the Freedman Bureau tasked with providing former slaves with adequate food, housing, education and employment. However, these gains were eroded by the constant conflicts between the opposing sides.
Reconstruction was marred by tremendous challenges largely due to white resistance. The early years after Reconstruction saw new states appoint incompetent and inexperienced leaders as heads of state government. Most of these leaders were driven by corruption and greed. Ultimately a new crop of white leaders who were quite uncooperative in passing legislations proposed by Yankees and blacks emerged. For example the Freedman Bureau remained had one of the most underfunded budgets leaving most of the former slaves uneducated and without adequate housing food and employment (Jenkins & Peck, 2016). In addition, there was minimal land despite the large number of slaves that were now free. Owning a farm would have made them more independent and successful within the society. This crop of white leaders together with others such as the Ku Klux Klan ensured white supremacy was maintained at all costs. Blacks and all their supporters were intimated from practicing some of their basic rights such as voting and employment. The Ku Klux Klan targeted Freedman and their allies, torching down house, places of employment, murdering Blacks and using violence as a method of maintaining white supremacy (Jenkins & Peck, 2016). No action was taken against such group resulting in increased violation of the newly acquired rights under the 13th, 14th and 15th Amendments.
During the entire Reconstruction period, the North gained heavily from industrial revolutions resulting in a growing economy envied by the South which was heavily dependent on Agriculture (Randall & Donald, 2016). In addition, the North is attributed in passing specific policies allowing for women suffrage movements. Generally, the North was running the Reconstruction processes and benefited from most of the programs.
The election of 1876 marked the end of the Reconstruction period after a contentious election process. The argumentative and divisive election pitted Republican Hayes and Democrat Samuel Tilden. The Democrat candidate won the popular vote though 19 Electoral College votes from Republican dominating areas remained disputed (Randall & Donald, 2016). The Supreme Court voted on party lines awarding the votes to Hayes and in the process declared Hayes the winner. The Southern states who were largely Democrats threatened to begin a rebellion resulting in the Compromise of 1877 (Randall & Donald, 2016). Hayes set the country on a reconciliation path uniting the North and South and removing the military troops from the South. This marked the end of Reconstruction though the complete dominance of the South by Democrats resulted in abolition of voting rights to blacks for some years.
The Reconstruction period failed to unite the North and South States in the United States due to bitter political wars. Ultimately, basic rights provided in the Declaration of Independence such as the right to vote were not adhered. White supremacist factions still dominated both faction resulting in increased inequalities especially among the African Americans. Women rights to vote, employment, and other basic rights were violated after the introduction of punitive laws. Thus, the Reconstruction period failed to provide some of rights enshrined under the United States constitution.
Jenkins, J. A., & Peck, J. (2016). Congress and Civil Rights: The Early Reconstruction Era, 1865-1871.
Randall, J. G., & Donald, D. (2016). The Civil War and Reconstruction. Pickle Partners Publishing.