The Reconstruction Period
Reconstruction was a vital era to the development of the modern United States. The period lasted for 12 years, from 1865 to 1877, and followed the American Civil War. Throughout the years of the Reconstruction, various attempts at integrating African Americans into the society were made, in the effort to rectify the damage done during the years of slavery. While there are differing opinions on the era, from the less sympathetic viewing of it as the fastening of Black supremacy to the more agreeable description of it as an experiment in interracial democracy. Many people across the states felt strongly about the movement, and multiple counter-reconstruction forces emerged, protesting the changes (Reconstruction). Nevertheless, the period brought about changes unprecedented changes for African Americans and had a profound effect on the development of the country as it stands today.
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Why It Was Necessary
By the end of the Civil War, people started to make the effort to reintegrate the Southern states and the newly freed people into the US. With as many as four million African Americans needing social, economic, and political change to be accepted and supported in the American society, Reconstruction was essential. Johnson, the president at the start of the Reconstruction era, introduced “Black Codes,” welcoming slow changes into the lives of those in the former Confederate states (Reconstruction). However, more radical change was necessary to make the coexistence and co-living of the people from different socio-economic and ethnic groups possible. When the war ended, the need for social change became clear if the two sides were to lead fulfilling lives side by side.
Various Plans for Reconstruction
As mentioned above, the president at the time was Andrew Johnson. His plans, based in his strong beliefs in states’ rights, as well as Unionism, reflected that these principles. He believed in sovereignty of states, and hence diminished the power of the federal government. During his governing years, the land that had been confiscated by the Union Army and distributed to the former slaves was returned to the previous owners (Reconstruction). Furthermore, the abovementioned “Black Codes” were put in place in the southern states, putting limitations on the rights of African Americans. Eventually, Johnson’s leniency resulted in his impeachment in 1868, and the movement towards radical reconstruction, which sought equality for the formerly enslaved.
African American Aspirations and Gains During Reconstruction
Although the changes were slow and often resisted, important transitions were made during this era. For example, Southern Black people were elected to government and even US Congress. Furthermore, the South began establishing state-funded public schools, more equitable taxes, and laws against racial discrimination. The social changes were plenty, although they were not enough to rectify the years of slavery that preceded, and the discrimination Black Americans experienced every day.
The Counter-Reconstruction Movement and the End of Reconstruction
Nevertheless, there were people that protested the changes happening across the states. White supremacist groups such as the Ku Klux Klan started to emerge, attacking local Republican leaders, and any African Americans that posed a threat to white authority. By the late first half of the 1870s, the support for Reconstruction in the South began to fade, while the White supremacy groups started to gain more support (Reconstruction). After the economic depression that mostly affected the South, Republicans lost control of the former Confederate states. By 1876 the Republican Congress candidate Rutherford B. Hayes had to agree to a compromise that promised the Democrats full control of the South (Reconstruction). This Compromise marked the end of the Reconstruction but did not end the struggle of African Americans to become equal parts of the society.
“Reconstruction.” History, 2021.