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Reconstruction refers to the controversial period 1865 – 1877, following the American Civil War, and pertains to “the attempt to rebuild and reform the South politically, economically, and socially after the Civil War, and to refashion race relations throughout the…
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Reconstruction: Success and Failure. Reconstruction: Success and Failure. Reconstruction refers to the controversial period 1865 – 1877, following the American Civil War, and pertains to “the attempt to rebuild and reform the South politically, economically, and socially after the Civil War, and to refashion race relations throughout the nation.” 1 While the defeated white Southerners resisted any attempts at integrating African-Americans into society, the Republicans who 1controlled Congress enacted far-reaching legislation to facilitate inter-racial democracy. From this perspective, reconstruction may be considered both an achievement and a failure for the United States.
Reconstruction was a failure in the South, as the white Southerners placed several obstacles in the way of African-American political participation. With the abolition of slavery through the Thirteenth Amendment of 1865, African-Americans sought political participation. This was bitterly opposed by the white Southerners, who were granted the right by President Johnson to form new governments. They passed the Black Code, denying African-Americans the right to buy or lease land, to vote, to attend public schools, to testify against whites or serve on juries and continue to toil as servants for their former masters. Racial supremacists, like the Ku Klux Klan, resorted to violence and lynching of African-Americans. The race riots in Memphis and New Orleans in 1866 saw the blatant massacre of eighty-nine African-Americans. The radical Republican Congress, although it overrode President Johnson’s obstinate resistance to reconstruction, and resorted to the use of federal troops in the South, could not achieve its objectives due to the severe economic depression in the South, the racism inherent in generations of white Southerners and the electoral malpractices resorted to by them. 2
In the light of the new constitutional legislation enacted by the Republican Congress, the Reconstruction may be viewed as a success. The Fourteenth Amendment of 1868 guaranteed Blacks civil rights and equality before the law; the Fifteenth Amendment of 1870 mandated racially impartial voting rights; the Civil Rights Act of 1875 banned racial segregation. The Freedmen’s Bureau, whose powers were expanded by Congress, assisted former slaves to assert their rights. Several former slaves, including Oscar Dunn, Francis Cardozo, John Menard, Jasper White and Hiram Revels, held legislative office, and entered the Congress, the Senate and the judiciary. 3 Equal civil and political rights for African-Americans were ensured by such constitutional reforms. Former slaves succeeded in obtaining small family plots and a share in revenue through sharecropping. Socially, the African-Americans could now enjoy public conveniences, legalize their marriages and obtain educations. (Kousser, 4
Reconstruction was neither an unequivocal success nor a complete failure. In terms of practical gains, the Reconstruction was a failure. With the election of 1876, and the Democratic dominance of Congress, the Reconstruction came to an end. The African-Americans lost their right to vote and segregation was once again prevalent in the South. White supremacy again consigned African- Americans to political powerlessness and economic hardship. However, the new laws and constitutional amendments enacted during the Reconstruction changed the federal system and redefined American citizenship. “America’s first experiment with interracial democracy.” 5 laid the foundation for the future integration of American society. Reconstruction was the first blow for equality in American society.
Bibliography
Carr, F. L. 1998. “A Timeline of Reconstruction: 1865 – 1877.” History 122. George
Mason University. 22 June, 2012.
http://chnm.gmu.edu/courses/122/recon/chron.html
Foner, Eric and Olivia Mahoney. 2003. “America’s Reconstruction.” Digital
History. 22 June, 2012
http://www.digitalhistory.uh.edu/reconstruction/index.html
Kousser, Morgan. 2002. “Reconstruction.” From The Oxford Companion to United States History. Dictionary Entry. Pdf. 22 June, 2012.
http://www.hss.caltech.edu/~kousser/dictionary%20entries/reconstruction.pdf Read More
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