In the year 1865, marks the end of the civil war with a victory to the North and granted freedom to some 4 million slaves but also marked the start of reconstruction. It was a process to put the pieces that were broken during the war back together. However, this wasn’t an easy task, for there were a lot of uprising challenges.
In order to repair the nation there has to be a strong bond between the South accepting to be in the union and for freedmen to have rights but due to fear from the North who thought that it will lead to a race war and the South who believed that former slaves would come back to kill their slave masters it was nearly impossible. Reconstruction is a revolution because it was sudden, successfully caused a complete change and radicals in many ways wanted to change society.
The reconstruction era is a moment of violence, struggle, and most importantly progression with leaders, goals, accomplishments; such as the South accepting the 14th, and 15th amendments, but like all things in life, it did come to an end and labeled as a success and a failure, because women and Native Americans weren’t given the right to vote, and black people had to face black codes which limited their rights. Political activity during the reconstruction era (1865-1677) was geared toward the progression of rebuilding the South and reuniting the whole nation.
To reunite the South with the Union; Abraham Lincoln proposed his reconstruction plan also known as the 10th percent plan which required each Southern state to swear an oath of allegiance to the Union for readmission. Lincoln could make the South take an oath by passing the Emancipation Proclamation which freed slaves. The South’s economy would suffer if slaves weren’t working and that’s how the civil war would come to an end. However, even though the Emancipation proclamation was passed; Abraham Lincoln was killed, and the 10th percent plan wasn’t passed.
Radical Republicans took Lincoln’s role but they were mad at the South, and blamed them for causing the Civil War. They wanted the South to pay and be punished. Secondly, the Radical Republicans needed to protect 4 million freed slaves. That is why Thaddeus Stevens was a leading advocate of redistributing land to former slaves as part of the reconstruction.
As it is shown in the document “Thaddeus Stevens’s Land Confiscation Bill”, (1867) it mentions “on the 4th day of March A. D. 861, or since, shall have distributed to them as follows, namely: to each male person who is the head of a family, forty acres; to each adult male, whether the head of a family or not, forty acres; to each widow who is the head of a family, forty acres” (351). This would allow black people to have property, and use it for farming and for a home. The bill did give some black people land but Andrew Johnson didn’t allow that to happen because he believed it would lead to a race war.
As it is shown in the document “Andrew Johnson Says Black Suffrage Will Lead to Race War in the South” (1866) it mentions “I am not willing under either circumstance, to adapt a policy which I believe will only result in the sacrifice of his life and shedding of his blood…it will result in great injury to the white as well as to the colored man” (6). Johnson didn’t pay much attention to the major issue of giving former slaves rights, causing many radicals to be against his plan for reconstruction.
As of a result, congress stepped in and passed the reconstruction act which required troops to take up residence in confederate states of the South. It also required for any state that wanted to be back into the Union to agree to the 14th amendment which would later in 1870 give black men the right to vote. This plan reconstructed the nation by readmitting the South back to the Union and giving black people rights. As of a result of the civil war, the 13th amendment was passed ending slavery and freeing the 4 million slaves. Now that the slaves were free they really didn’t know how to survive all alone without the help of whites.
Many blacks had different interpretations for the meaning of freedom. As stated in the document “African Americans Talk About Their Personal Experiences of NewFound Freedom” (1865) it states “Soldiers, all of a sudden, was everywhere-coming in bunches, crossing and walking and riding. Everyone was a-singing. We was walking on golden clouds. Hallelujah” (1). This shows that the black people were so happy it felt as if they were walking over clouds and some people would leave to find freedom according to the document it mentions “but right off colored folks started on the move.
They seemed to want to get closer to freedom, so they’d know what it was-like it was a place or a city” (1). Other blacks believed that they would become rich because they were free as it is stated “We thought we was going to get rich like the white folks. We thought we was going to be richer than the white folks” (1). Overall, a lot of black people didn’t know what to do afterward being free. Some were struggling to survive to support their families. They couldn’t find jobs, making some of them go back to their former masters and sharecrop.
Sharecropping wasn’t good even though the black people were given a home and food by the whites, they were stuck in poverty. Many people saw that the blacks were going to struggle without help from white people. As it is stated in the document “Captain Charles Soule, Northern Army Officer, Lectures Ex-Slaves on the Responsibilities of Freedom” (1865) it mentions “You are now free, but you must know that the only difference you can feel yet, between slavery and freedom is that neither you nor your children can be bought or sold” (5).
However by reuniting the nation, the union made many advances in equality for blacks in voting and politics, but they also had to make sure how blacks would assimilate into a democratic society. A few amendments were passed to create more equality for blacks such as the 14 and 15th amendments. The 14th amendment states “all persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they reside.
No state shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States,” which grants citizenship to black people (12). The 15th amendment was very important to many because black people wanted to vote, and if they could get the right to vote. They probably need to have landed in order to vote. However, as the 15th amendment states “the rights of citizens of the Unites State to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of race, color, or previous condition of servitude” (15).
This was the very few first steps for achieving what blacks wanted, equality. It finally made a part of the American government realize that slavery was wrong and needed to be corrected. It showed that there were errors in their society that needed to be fixed. Even if reconstruction did not guarantee African Americans equality, it did mark the beginning of a revolution for them because it started the fight for civil rights. It might have seen like black people didn’t have such of a rough time during the reconstruction era, because they got rights, and they are free.
Even though they got the right to vote people from both the North and the South wanted their rights to be limited. What the South did was pass black codes which limited the rights of black people and what they could have done in their daily life. These black codes were in effect for a short period of time because it was repealed but people tried to put it in effect again. This does not change the fact that people did not want Black people to vote. Assimilating into American society was very hard for black people because some of them wanted to reunite with their families.
Some wanted to leave the South but couldn’t because Southerners could have killed or hurt blacks and it cost a lot to travel. Some blacks looked for jobs but didn’t find and were struggling to support themselves and their families. One common thing that former slaves did was go back to their masters where they established a system called sharecropping. In the eyes of black people it looked like a decent deal but in reality, it kept them in poverty. Women like Elizabeth Cady Stanton were mad at black people because they got to vote.
As it is mentioned in the document “From Article by Elizabeth Cady Stanton on Women’s Suffrage, The Revolution” (January 14, 1869) it mentions “for the best interest of the nation, that every type and shade of degraded, ignorant manhood should be enfranchised, before even the higher classes of womanhood should be admitted to the polls” (13). Women were mad because they believed that black people were on a lower level than them and that is why women like Elizabeth teamed up with the KKK to scare black people from voting. In addition, women were mad because they couldn’t vote and they really wanted to.
As it mentions in the same document “Tyranny on a Southern plantation is for more easily seen by white men at the North than the wrongs of the women of their own households” (12). Women weren’t the only people that the 14th and 15th amendments didn’t apply to but also Native Americans as it was clearly stated in the 14th amendment. As it states “Representatives shall be appointed among the several States according to their respective numbers, counting the whole number of person in each State, excluding Indians not taxed”.
In other words, since they aren’t taxed, then they aren’t counted for the house of representatives meaning they really aren’t citizens. Overall, the reconstruction era was a revolution mostly as what Gerrit Smith considers the “Negro’s hour” because they did get rights but then later Jim crows laws would be in effect as well as black codes. Reconstruction left a lot of things unfinished such as what the South consider the one cause that isn’t fixed which is states rights. It didn’t give women the right to vote and Native Americans didn’t get citizenship.
Black people had to face many cruelties such as the KKK and even the upper-class women. It just shows that the women think that since black people have rights that there is no such thing as racial discrimination but in reality, it still happens now. Some people in our Society might think that there isn’t such thing as racial discrimination because there are amendments and laws that disregard race and gender. However, there still is racial discrimination such as our President Trump who blames immigrants for being criminals and Muslims for being terrorist.