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Drawing upon the historical lessons of the Reconstruction Era and cotemporary times, what should the role of government be in society - Essay Example

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The civil war had ended slavery and laws were passed defending the rights of black Americans for the first time – yet Jim Crow laws continued to…
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Drawing upon the historical lessons of the Reconstruction Era and cotemporary times, what should the role of government be in society
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The Reconstruction Era was a time of great polarization, a time of great promise that often went completely unfulfilled. The civil war had ended slavery and laws were passed defending the rights of black Americans for the first time – yet Jim Crow laws continued to proliferate for decades. The country remained unified, yet with a seditious and defeated half brought back only on their knees, to the point where Southern Separatism still exists in America today.1 The lessons from the reconstruction era demonstrate that the government should play a strong and vital role in defending the rights of minorities, and must take action to atone for the wrongs of its past (for instance, by not simply ending slavery but actively redressing its effects).; The problem, however, is that from both that time period and today show that the government cannot be fully trusted: it will always act in its own self-interest.
One of the most important lessons from the reconstruction era is that the government, to actually make societal changes for the better, must work to actively redress the crimes of its past – this is something that was simply not done enough during the reconstruction era, to the detriment of America today. Slavery was a crime committed by the various governments of the United States for almost 100 years – a crime that led to millions of people suffering and dying needlessly.2 America fought the civil war, at least in part, to atone for these crimes. The government also passed “constitutional amendments, [and] laws for racial equity” following the Civil war, believing simply outlawing their past crime was enough to make up for it.3 The problem, however, was that this did little to actually make up for the crimes of the past – black Americans were still widely discriminated against, and still relied on “privileged whites”4 for their work and sustenance – and if they tried to stand up against those whites they could be fired, deprived from work, otherwise harassed or even suffer violence.5 This led to black Americans having generation after generation of oppressed people, to the point where they still, more than one hundred and fifty years after the end of slavery, suffer from more societal ills such as poverty and crime. The United States government should have made a concerted effort to actually reverse the effect of the crime of slavery, not just stop committing that crime – if it had we might not need to be having debates about things like affirmative action today – and we would not have a large percentage of the American population still struggling under the weight of oppression.
The problem, however, is that governments will typically only act in their own self-interest – and this was as true during the civil war and the reconstruction era as it is now. In the years before the civil war, the US government made an active government to put down slave revolts, even hanging those involved.6 This only changed when it became apparent that some kind of conflict would eventually arise, either a revolution or a war, and that the consequences of a war would be significantly easier to manage.7 Likewise, America today chooses to continue to pander to the wealthy over the poor, and ignore the rights of aboriginal groups (including treaties that the United States government signed with those groups) because it better fascilitates self-interest.
The lessons from the reconstruction era show that one of the most important roles of a government is to actively correct for the mistakes and inequalities it had previously created – and all governments have created systems of inequality. The problem, however, is that governments will only make those changes when forced to do so by self-interest: thus it is incumbent on voters to make redressing these past mistakes in a governments interest, or we will send them out of office.
Works Cited
Reason Radio Network.
Roark, James L et al. The American Promise: History of the United States, Volume 1: to 1877. Bedford: St. Martins (2004
Zinn, Howard. A People’s History of the United States. New York: Harper’s Collins (2003). Read More
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