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Chapter 22

The Ordeal of Reconstruction

1865-1877

 

The Problems of Peace

All rebel (Confederate) leaders were pardoned by President Johnson in 1868.

 

Freedmen Define Freedom

Emancipation took effect unevenly in different parts of the conquered Confederacy.  Some slaves resisted the liberating Union armies due to their loyalty to their masters. 

The church became the focus of black community life in the years following emancipation.  Blacks formed their own churches pastured by their own ministers.  Education also arose for the blacks due to the emancipation proclamation.  Blacks now had the opportunity to learn to read and write. 

 

The Freedmen's Bureau

Because many freedmen (those who were freed from slavery) were unskilled, unlettered, without property or money, and with little knowledge of how to survive as free people, Congress created the Freedmen's Bureau on March 3, 1865.  It was intended to provide clothing, medical care, food, and education to both freedmen and white refugees.  Union general Oliver O. Howard led the bureau.  The bureau's greatest success was teaching blacks to read.  Because it was despised by the President and by Southerners, the Freedmen's Bureau expired in 1872.

 

Johnson:  The Tailor President

Andrew Johnson was elected to Congress and refused to secede with his own state of Tennessee. 

Johnson was made Vice Democrat to Lincoln's Union Party in 1864 in order to gain support from the War Democrats and other pro-Southern elements.  Johnson was a strong supporter of state's rights and of the Constitution.  He was a Southerner who did not understand the North and a Democrat who had not been accepted by the Republicans.

 

Presidential Reconstruction

In 1863, Lincoln stated his "10 percent" Reconstruction plan which stated that a state could be reintegrated into the Union when 10% of its voters in the presidential election of 1860 had taken an oath of allegiance to the United States and pledged to abide by emancipation.  Then a formal state government would be constructed within the state, and the state would be re-admitted into the Union.

Due to Republican fears over the restoration of planter aristocracy and the possible re-enslavement of blacks, Congress passed the Wade-Davis Bill in 1864.  It required that 50% of a state's voters take the oath of allegiance and it demanded stronger safeguards for emancipation.  President Lincoln refused to sign the bill.

The disagreement between the President and Congress revealed differences in Republicans and two factions arose:  a majority that agreed with Lincoln and believed that the seceded states should be restored to the Union as quickly as possible, and a radical minority that felt the South should suffer greatly before its re-admittance - this minority wanted the South's social structure to be uprooted, the planters to be punished, and the newly-emancipated blacks protected by federal power.

President Johnson issued his own Reconstruction plan on May 29, 1865.  It called for special state conventions which were required to:  repeal the decrees of secession, repudiate all Confederate debts, and ratify the slave-freeing 13th Amendment.

 

The Baleful Black Codes

The Black Codes was a series of laws designed to regulate the affairs of the emancipated slaves.  Mississippi passed the first such law in November 1865

The Black Codes aimed to ensure a stable and subservient labor force. 

Blacks were forced to continue to work the plantations after their emancipation due to the system of "sharecropping."  Plantation owners would rent out pieces of their land to blacks and make the cost of rent higher than the return the land produced.  The renters of the land were bound by contract to continue to work the land until debts were repaid to the plantation owner.  Unable to repay the debts, blacks began to "jump" their contracts. 

The codes imposed harsh penalties on blacks who "jumped" their labor contracts, some of which usually forced the blacks to work for the same employer for one year.  The codes also sought to restore the pre-emancipation system of race relations.  The codes forbade a black to serve on a jury or to vote.  The Black Codes mocked the idea of freedom and imposed terrible hardships on the blacks who were struggling against mistreatment and poverty to make their way as free people.

The Republicans were strongly opposed to the Black Codes.

 

Congressional Reconstruction

In December 1865, Southern states represented themselves in Congress with former Confederate generals and colonels.  This infuriated the Republicans who were apprehensive about embracing their Confederate enemies in Congress. 

The Republicans had enjoyed their supreme rule in Congress during the time of the Civil War, but now there would be an opposing party.  This time, the South would have much more control in Congress due to the fact that slaves were now counted as a whole person, not just 3/5; giving the South a larger population.  Republicans feared that the South would take control of Congress.  

On December 4, 1865, Republicans shut the door in the face of the newly-elected Southern delegates.

President Johnson announced on December 6, 1865 that the Southern states had met his conditions and that the Union was now restored - this statement angered the Republicans. 

 

Johnson Clashes with Congress

The clash between President Johnson and Congress erupted in February 1866 when the president vetoed a bill extending the life of the controversial Freedmen's Bureau (later re-passed).  Congress (controlled by the Republicans) passed the Civil Rights Bill in March 1866, which gave blacks the privilege of American citizenship and struck at the Black Codes. 

Fearing that the Southerners might someday repeal the hated Civil Rights Law, Congress passed the 14th Amendment in 1866.  The amendment:  1- gave civil rights, including citizenship, to the freedmen; 2- reduced proportionately the representation of a state in Congress and in the Electoral College if it denied blacks on the ballot; 3- disqualified from federal and state offices former Confederates who, as federal officeholders, had once sworn to support the Constitution of the United States; and 4- guaranteed the federal debt, while the Union assumed all Confederate debts.

Congress began to develop into the dominant role in controlling the government.

All Republicans agreed that no state should be welcomed back into the Union without ratifying the 14th Amendment.

 

Swinging 'Round the Circle with Johnson

As President Johnson went on a tour of giving speeches denouncing the radical Republicans in Congress, his reputation dropped.

Over 2/3 of the ballots cast in the congressional elections of 1866 had gone to the Republicans.

 

Republicans Principles and Programs

Charles Sumner led the Republican radicals in the Senate for black freedom and racial equality.  Thaddeus Stevens led the radicals in the House of Representatives. 

The moderate Republicans, the majority in Congress, preferred policies that restrained the states from cutting citizens' rights, rather than policies that directly involved the federal government in individual lives.

 

Reconstruction by the Sword

On March 2, 1867, Congress passed the Reconstruction Act.  It divided the South into 5 military districts, each commanded by a union general and policed by Union soldiers.  It also required that states wishing to be re-admitted into the Union had to ratify the 14th Amendment, and that states' constitutions had to allow former adult male slaves to vote.  The moderate Republican goal was to create voters in Southern states that would vote those states back into the Union and thus free the federal government from direct responsibility for the protection of black rights.

The 15th Amendment was passed by Congress in 1869.  It granted black men the right to vote.

Military Reconstruction of the South took control of certain functions of the president, who was commander in chief, and set up a martial regime.

In 1877, the last federal arms were removed from Southern politics and the Democratic South was made.

 

No Women Voters

Feminists were angered that the 13th, 14th, and 15th Amendments gave rights to black males, but not to women.

 

The Realities of Radical Reconstruction in the South

After gaining the right to vote from the 15th Amendment, blacks began to organize politically.  They were strong participators in the Union League, originally a pro-Union organization.  Freedmen turned the Union League into a network of political clubs that educated members and campaigned for Republican candidates.  The League also took up building black churches and schools, representing black grievances before local employers and government, and recruiting militias to protect black communities from white retaliation.

From 1868-1876, blacks began to hold major offices in government (senator, congressmen).

"Scalawags" were Southerners who were accused of plundering the treasuries of the Southern states through their political influence in the radical governments.

"Carpetbaggers" were sleazy Northerners who had come to the South to seek power and profit.

 

The Ku Klux Klan

The "Invisible Empire of the South", otherwise known as the Ku Klux Klan, was founded in Tennessee in 1866.  It was formed by disgruntled white Southerners who were angered by the success of black legislators.  The group worked through intimidation.

Congress passed the Force Acts of 1870 and 1871 in response to the murders the Klan had committed.  They enabled Federal troops to stop the atrocities of the Ku Klux Klan.  The Acts came too late, though, after the intimidation of the Klan had already been accomplished.

 

Johnson Walk the Impeachment Plank

Congress passed the Tenure of Office Act in 1867.  It required the president to secure the consent of the Senate before he could remove his cabinet members once they had been approved by the Senate.  Its purpose was to keep the secretary of war, Edwin M. Stanton, in the president's cabinet.  When Johnson dismissed Stanton in 1868, the House of Representatives voted to impeach Johnson for "high crimes and misdemeanors."

 

A Not-Guilty Verdict for Johnson

The House of Representatives prosecuted the president, while the Senate served as the court to try Johnson on the impeachment charges.

President Johnson argued that the Tenure of Office Act was unconstitutional and that he had fired Stanton in order to bring a case before the Supreme Court so the Court could rule on the Act's constitutionality.

On May 16, 1868, the Senate voted the president "not guilty" by a margin of one vote.  The radical Republicans failed to gain the necessary 2/3 majority vote in the Senate to remove the president.

Fears of creating a poor precedent and opposition to abusing the checks and balances system caused Senators to vote "not guilty."  These Senators also considered his presidential replacement, Ben Wade.  Wade was disliked by many for his economic policies.

 

The Purchase of Alaska

In 1867, Secretary of State William Seward signed a treaty with Russia that gave Alaska to the United States for $7.2 million. 

Russia sold Alaska to the U.S. because it felt that it was over-expanded in North America.  Russia also wanted to strengthen the United States as a barrier against its enemy, Britain. 

Although the American people were concentrated on Reconstruction and anti-expansion, they supported the purchase of Alaska because they did not want to offend the Russians, who had helped them during the Civil War.

 

The Heritage of Reconstruction

Many white Southerners felt that Reconstruction was more of a painful process that the war itself.

The Republican Party wanted to protect the freed slaves and to promote the fortunes of the Republican Party.  In doing this, though, it extinguished itself in the South for nearly 100 years.

Despite good intentions by the Republicans, the Old South was in many ways more resurrected than reconstructed.

Thaddeus Stevens had a radical program of drastic economic reforms and heftier protection of political rights.  This program was never enacted.

 


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