At the end of the Civil War, all that remained of the divided country was ruins of once great towns, cities, factories, and homes. The people of the North and South were now living in a horrible time. The misery and misfortune would soon come to an end. For the reconstruction of the South, and the rebuilding of the North, was about to begin.
In 1865, United States President Abraham Lincoln came up with a plan to reconstruct the South. This plan would make Southerners take an oath supporting the United States, rather than the Confederacy. The Southern states rejoining the Union could no longer allow slavery because the Civil War was over, and their punishment for trying to split the country in two was that they had to free all slaves. The Southerners would be allowed to form new state governments as long as 10% of the state’s voters supported the Union. This meant 10% of a state’s voting population needed to take the oath. Most Northerners were still mad and hateful of the South and wanted higher voting requirements. They didn’t want Southern states to be just 10% loyal.
Next, the Congress took control because they felt Lincoln’s laws were too soft. They agreed on the oath but wanted 50% of each state’s voters to support the Union. Now, because of the disagreement, people questioned who should make the reconstruction decision (Congress or the President?)
This question was never answered because President Lincoln was assassinated on April 15, 1865. Vice President Andrew Johnson took over and started his own new plan in May, l865.
President Johnson was willing to forgive all Southerners except the main Confederate leaders and rich Southerners. These two groups would have to ask for a special pardon. Under President Johnson’s Reconstruction plan, conventions would be held to begin new Southern state governments. Each state would elect a governor. Once a state had approved the 13th Amendment, (to abolish slavery) only then would President Johnson let the state back into the United States.
The first of the Southern states to rejoin the Union was Tennessee. By 1870, all defeated Southern states had rejoined the United States. Along with rebuilding the state governments, the South also needed to rebuild homes, factories, and farms that had been destroyed with the Civil War. A good part of the South’s railway system was also destroyed, but little of the North had been destroyed because most of the battles took place in the South.
New Rights for Freed Slaves
When the war ended, the freed slaves were overwhelmed with their new rights. Black people were now United States citizens and they now could vote, go to school, and get jobs that paid money. Since black men were now able to vote, they were now able to run for sheriff and government positions. One of the first blacks honored by being elected to the Senate was Hiram Revals, Senator of Mississippi. Other blacks were also honored by being elected to positions like sheriff, mayor, and superintendent of education.
Northern soldiers were positioned in the South to enforce the Reconstruction laws. The soldiers were there to make sure blacks could vote in elections, be treated fairly in jobs and court, and go to school and also prevent attacks by southern whites.
In 1869, the Southern governments began to end control by the North in Tennessee and Virginia. The Southerners had regained some power to run their own state governments and the Northerners were having less influence on the Southern governments. Some Southerners had joined groups like the Ku Klux Klan because they did not want blacks to vote.
In 1865, the Ku Klux Klan was started in Tennessee to stop blacks from taking advantage of their new rights. Members would beat and murder blacks to keep them from having their rights. Therefore, it was necessary for the Northern soldiers to protect the black race and make sure Southerners gave them their rights to vote, run for office, be treated fairly in jobs and participate in court trials.
Many Southern whites were against the Reconstruction governments. Southerners could not accept the men who were once slaves as free black men who had the right to vote and participate in state government. Reconstruction was starting to die out. For example, the Black Codes were now being started by Southerners. These new laws were to make blacks’ lives harder and to prevent them from using their new rights. Some of these codes forced blacks to work for a year, be thrown into jail if they were unemployed, and let them be whipped by their bosses. Now that there were no longer any Northern soldiers positioned in the South to enforce the Reconstruction laws, blacks had to live under the harsh and unfair conditions caused by of the Black Codes. By 1870, the Northerners had lost interest in reconstructing the South.
In 1876, United States President Rutherford B. Hayes removed the remaining soldiers from the Reconstruction sites. This was the end of Reconstruction. Once the soldiers were gone, Southerners started mistreating the black people again with no fear of punishment because there were no soldiers to enforce the new laws. The new rights of the black people were taken away by the Southerners. Even though the United States Constitution said they could vote, blacks were not allowed to vote. Former slave owners were regaining control of their states.
The North tried to reconstruct the South and change the Southern attitude toward black people. This did not work because many Southerners were still racists and believed that the white race was superior to others. They thought blacks were not as good as Southern white men. Also, the Northerners lost interest in Reconstruction, allowing Southerners to gain control of their state governments again. Although reconstruction of buildings in the South (and North) took place between 1865 and 1877, it would be many years (even into the middle of the 20th century) before reconstruction of the Southern people’s way of thinking about black people would change.
Borrit, Gabor S. "Results of the War." World Book Encyclopedia, 200l.
Foner, Eric. "Reconstruction." World Book Encyclopedia, l995.
Mr. Payne and Mrs. Alspaugh’s Students. "Reconstruction." Free at Last: Civil Rights Movement in the United States. http://library.org/J0112391/reconstruction.htm Date Last Visited: 2/1/02.