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Reconstruction After The Civil War Notes

History Notes > American History - 1863-1975 Notes

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AMERICAN HISTORY SINCE 1865 RECONSTRUCTION AFTER THE CIVIL WAR, 1863-1877 Why did Reconstruction fail to change the South after the Civil War?
- We are principally concerned with the reconstruction, under the direction of Washington, of the South's governments, economy, and society in the years following the end of Civil War.
- Radical Republicans sought to block the moderate approach to reconstruction desired by Johnson and Lincoln before him. They demanded more restrictive requirements regarding 'loyalty' and also wanted freedmen to gain economic and political rights. These two demands were strongly contested by the South.
- President Grant supported radical reconstruction, but whilst the Republicans had controlled most Southern States in the 1860s, by 1877 they were all once again in the hands of the resurgent Democrats.
- Reconstruction failed principally because the South was dependent on a labour intensive agricultural economy, something that was not changed in the years following the war. Further, reconstruction failed the freedmen because in order to support their economic model the Southern States used legal and coercive means to return black labour to the plantations and keep it there. State of the South after the war Congress
- The Radical Republican victory in the 1866 election gave them enough votes to override Jackson's vetoes and begin radical reconstruction. This included massive support for railroad construction in the North and South. Lincoln Johnson Grant Hayes Freedmen Southern Democrats Schools of thought Conclusion
- The Compromise of 1877 saw the end of army involvement in the South and the Democrats seized control of the last three remaining Southern State legislatures. White Southerners were then free to build on the Blacks Codes, and later institute the Jim Crow laws, disenfranchising freedmen and tying them to the land.
- By the 1870s reconstruction had provided freedmen with a degree of equality, and blacks were able to vote in most districts and some were beginning to take public offices. However, post-1874 a Democrat backlash supported by white paramilitary organisations drove out the Republicans and began to undo many of the elements of reconstruction.
- The 13th, 14th, and 15th Amendments formed the legal backbone of reconstruction, but they were not used to strike down discriminatory Southern laws until the 20th century.
- Two-fifths of the South's livestock had been destroyed in the war and a similar portion of its farming equipment. Transport infrastructure had been systematically destroyed by the union armies, hence the later emphasis on rebuilding railroad services.

- Because no compensation was paid post-emancipation, and due to the shortage of capital in the South, white plantation owners had limited capacity to pay freedmen for their work; sharecropping emerged from these circumstances.
- White income in the South collapsed from $125pa in 1857 to $80pa in 1879.
- The desires of Johnson and Lincoln to accelerate reconstruction meant that radical Republican hopes for a thoroughly reformed South were threatened.
- Post-1866, Congress temporarily suspended the voting rights of c10,000 Southerners who had been Confederate officers or senior officials.
- Most Northern States had limited the ability of their own black populations to vote. There was concern that if the vote was given to 4million blacks living in the South, then the region would gain additional representation at Congress.
- In 1880, illiteracy rates in the South were around 25%, three times the national average; among blacks illiteracy was far more prevalent.
- Post-war, a wholesale redistribution of land from plantation owners to freedmen did not occur. Along with the Black Codes, this kept blacks in a condition not dissimilar to slavery.
- The Black Codes abolished in 1866 with the passing of the Civil Rights Act which gave full legal equality to blacks, excepting the right to vote.
- The Freedmen's Bureau handled the legal affairs of freedmen.
- All eleven Southern States were readmitted between Jul 1866 and Jul 1870.
- By 1870, with Republican assistance, around 15% of Southern public office holders were black, including Mississippi's two senators.
- Taxes were raised significantly across the South to pay for physical reconstruction and the expansion of public services. Further, property taxes encouraged impoverished plantation owners to sell portions of their landholdings to avoid or meet tax bills, thereby allowing a redistribution of land to freedmen.
- Despite evidence of corruption in its administration, the railroad system in the South expanded from 11,000miles to 29,000miles between 1870 and 1890.
- Redemption:
- President Grant alienated large numbers of Republicans by using federal soldiers to prop-up Radical regimes in the Southern States' governments.
- He suppressed the KKK and racial violence, forcing Southern Democrats to negotiate for their future using political means; this encouraged a campaign on economic grounds, and many Southern landowners believed they could win the votes of freedmen on this basis.
- Economic depression in 1873, known as The Panic, hit the Southern economy particularly hard, collapsing produce prices. President Grant was blamed and the Republicans lost 96 seats nationwide at the 1874 elections; he was losing interest in Southern politics, which was gradually being reclaimed by the Democrats.
- The Compromise of 1877 was achieved following the disputed victory of President Hayes in

1876. Southern Democrats agreed to accept the result if federal troops were withdrawn from the South. The federal government withdrew troops, and with it the chance of freedmen to exercise their new found rights faded.


The Dunning School considered failure inevitable because they felt that taking the power away from Southern whites was a violation of republicanism.

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