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The Implications of Reconstruction - Essay Example

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In 1865, with the ending of the Civil War, the Republican Party ruled almost with impunity, while the Democratic Party was in shambles. The country, under Lincoln and later Johnson, set out on a policy of reconstructing the South. The Republican goals of Reconstruction were to "remake the South in the image of the North", politically punish the Confederate leaders, and help the freed people transition to full citizenship (Nash et al…
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The Implications of Reconstruction In 1865, with the ending of the Civil War, the Republican Party ruled almost with impunity, while the Democratic Party was in shambles. The country, under Lincoln and later Johnson, set out on a policy of reconstructing the South. The Republican goals of Reconstruction were to "remake the South in the image of the North", politically punish the Confederate leaders, and help the freed people transition to full citizenship (Nash et al. 545).
Reconstruction was some success, as it was able to help many African-Americans in the South gain freedom and citizenship through the constitutional process, even in the face of extensive racism. The North was able to redraft the constitutions of the southern states to assure male suffrage (Nash et al. 562). Reconstruction's biggest failure was the backlash that was created when Northern Republicans attempted to rule the South. The backlash resulted in violent hate groups that disrupted the political system, and the lives of African-Americans for the next 100 years. The 13th, 14th, and 15th amendments were all passed during the era of reconstruction. These important amendments prohibited slavery, guaranteed the freed slaves citizenship, and granted them the right to vote, but were largely unenforceable in the South. However, these amendments would form the foundation for the Civil Rights movement 100 years later.
Reconstruction ended when the disputed election of 1876 saw the Republican Rutherford B Hayes gain the presidency, even though the electoral votes were in dispute. In return, Hayes agreed to remove the federal troops from the South and not oppose the newly formed Democratic governments there (Zuczek 171). This spelled an end to Reconstruction and another 100 years of racial violence, segregation, and discrimination.
The Significance of Plessy v. Ferguson (1896)
By the late 19th century, African-Americans had still not realized the American dream of liberty and the right to vote, or the constitutional guarantees that came with the 13th, 14th, and 15th amendments. The 'Jim Crow' laws had basically legalized segregation in the South, and local laws often prevented African-Americans from voting. However, it was the 1896 Supreme Court decision of Plessy v. Ferguson that upheld the segregationist laws, institutionalized discrimination, and "made it ever more possible to keep blacks permanently confined to agricultural and unskilled labor" (Nash et al. 600).
The Plessy v. Ferguson ruling found that the concept of separate but equal "facilities did not violate the equal protection clause of the Fourteenth Amendment because separation did not necessarily mean the inferiority of group" (Nash et al. 600). Blacks were systematically excluded from public places, restaurants, railroads, schools, and libraries. Though it was 'separate but equal', separate schools meant African-Americans were educationally isolated with inferior facilities, teachers, and resources.
In addition to being segregated geographically, the African-Americans were excluded from the trades and employment. According to Nash et al., "At the end of the Civil War, at least half of all skilled craftsmen in the South had been black", but by the 1890s, this number had dwindled to less than 10 percent (600). This legalized form of discrimination would stand until the 1954 ruling of Brown v. Board of Education, when the court found that 'separate' was inherently 'unequal'. The court overturned the Plessy v. Ferguson decision and opened the doors to equality in education for the African-Americans.
Works Cited
Nash, Gary B. et al. The American People: Creating a Nation and a Society. 6th ed. New York: Pearson Longman, 2004.
Zuczek, Richard. Encyclopedia of the Reconstruction Era. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 2006. Read More
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