History Term Paper Jack Conway Mr. Hilgendorf February 25, 2013 Word Count: 3234 Reconstruction: Rebuilding America The United States was founded on the belief that every man has “certain inalienable Rights. ” Not until ninety years later, however, when slavery was abolished did the United States actually offer these “Rights” to all of its citizens. The 19th century was turbulent time of stress and change for America. One of the most controversial dilemmas was the issue of slavery. Slavery was conceived by many to be morally wrong, and it undermined America’s most valued beliefs.
Despite this inconsistency, slavery was still widely supported and permitted out of economic necessity in the South. Slavery divided the nation in half. The economy of the South was primarily agricultural production on plantations. This form of economy made slavery vital to the state of the South. In the North, The economy was primarily industrial, which eliminated the dependency on slavery much earlier. Because of the vastly different economic bases of these two regions, their culture and views of the world begin to shift apart.
On top of economic dissimilarities, conflict between the North and the South grew because of cultural and political differences. After the first openly anti-slave president, Abraham Lincoln, was elected, the South eventually seceded from the Union launching the American Civil War. The South fought to become its own nation while the North fought to bring the nation back. Eventually, because of a significantly larger population, more supplies, and superior logistics, the North won and the South was forced back into the Union. Both sides were hurt badly by the war, losing a substantial number of people and resources.
The South was left in a state of total destruction ranging from lawlessness to austere military regimes, forcing it into economic hardship. The transition from slavery to free labor was far from smooth. The goal of Reconstruction was to restore the southern economy, government, and to give Blacks equal rights under the law. While reconstruction may not have been as successful as many would have hoped, the question remains: in hindsight, based on the economic and cultural conditions of the 19th century, could Reconstruction have been handled more successfully?
Reconstruction did very little for the people of the South. The economy was still in poor shape, racism and violence dramatically increased, and the standard of living for Blacks, who were legally free, was not any better than before. Even though Reconstruction pragmatically failed, given the circumstances of the time, there was no feasible way that it could have been done significantly better. The actual course of Reconstruction was complex and far from easy. After the South was forced back into the Union it had no political power.
All of the slaves were now free as a result of the Emancipation Proclamation. Former Confederates could no longer vote or run for political office. The victorious North then had to decide: Under what terms would the South rejoin the Union? Would plantations stay with their original owners or be divided up among southerners? What would the new role of Blacks be in this new society? How much power and what rights will the freed Blacks have? Lincoln’s plan was to give full amnesty and restoration of all rights “except as to slaves. This plan meant that former Confederates should be given all of their former belongings and rights except for their former slaves, who were now considered free. Lincoln felt that that the best way to deal with the former Confederates was to befriend them and thus eliminate hostilities: ”Am I not destroying my enemies when I make friends of them? ” Lincoln’s plan was considered to be too lenient by the Republican Congress. The eventual compromise was a “ten percent plan” that would allow all southern rights to be restored only after ten percent of the southern population swore an oath to the loyalty of the Union.
By the time each former Confederate state had passed the “ten percent” quota, the Thirteenth, Fourteenth, and Fifteenth Amendments had already passed in a Congress without southern representation. Clearly the North and federal government still held most of the power over the South. The most recalcitrant Confederate states underwent radical reconstruction enforced by a military regime. After Abraham Lincoln’s assassination, Andrew Johnson, his Vice President, replaced him. Johnson1, a southerner, shared Lincoln’s ideas on leniency when it came to reconstructing the South. He wanted minimal emands. At first Radical Republicans were unwilling to spread national power and felt that in order to properly reconstruct the South they had to maintain their authority. However, the centralization of power did not last long as violence grew in southern states and as the desire to preserve the federal system’s pre-war balance weighed heavily on the minds of leading Republicans. Republican Senator James W. Grimes once said in a letter, “We are gradually surrendering all rights of the states,” illustrating that the Union intended to transfer power back to the southern states.
Despite the turmoil caused during Reconstruction, there were some substantial accomplishments. The Thirteenth Amendment was the first of the “Reconstruction Amendments. ” This Amendment made slavery illegal in every part of the United States. The next was the Fourteenth Amendment that made Blacks citizens and prohibited any state from interfering with the “inalienable rights” of citizens. Lastly and possibly the most important accomplishment was the Fifteenth Amendment which gave Blacks, and any male citizen of the United States the right to vote.
Without the above three amendments to the U. S. Constitution, Blacks might still be slaves today and considered legally inferior to whites. Another large benefit of Reconstruction was public education was made available to Blacks for the first time in the South. Black access to education, even if it was underfunded and inferior to that of the whites, was still a huge step forward. Blacks had a tenacity to learn because they were deprived of that privilege for so long.
In 1850, the literacy rate among Blacks ranged from ten to twenty percent, but after 1890, when the public education system included Blacks, their literacy rate jumped to over eighty percent. For period of time after the war ended, Blacks could vote and former Confederates could not. Therefore, Blacks gained some political power in many of the southern states that had both large black and confederate populations. The southern economy began to industrialize taking advantage of local coal, oil, cheap labor, and steel although the industry in the South never was as productive or powerful as it was in the North.
As the “New South” began to develop and industrialize, it began to better train and take care of its newly freed black workers to prevent them from Unionizing. The South provided workers with schools, hospitals, recreational facilities, housing, and offered scholarships for Blacks to attend Booker T. Washington’s Tuskegee College. Even though the rationale for providing these benefits to Blacks was to prevent Unionization, these steps were significant achievements toward Reconstruction. From a purely legal standpoint, Reconstruction accomplished most of its goals; however, it was not without significant faults.
Even though Blacks obtained their rights under the law, the southern government was rebuilt, and the southern economy was redirected, most of those changes were short lived. The swift and radical Reconstruction efforts occurred during that short period in time when Blacks voted in the absence of white Confederates. In the end white Confederates regained power. By 1901 Blacks were left in the same basic position as before Reconstruction. According to Wendell Phillips, a lawyer and abolitionist, the Emancipation Proclamation and Reconstruction Amendments only “free[d] the slaves and ignore[d] the negro. When it came to actually improving the quality of life for freed Blacks, almost nothing was achieved. Even with their once insatiable desire to be free and educated, Blacks became fearful and submissive to whites after years of oppression, preventing them from pursuing their goals, and becoming independent of whites. Because of a surplus of workers and few jobs, Blacks had power under the law, but no real power due to insidious racism, and limited enforcement of the law. Blacks were often blocked from voting by terror and white supremacy groups.
The emergence of industrialization in the South, while economically beneficial, created a gap between the worker and the elite and caused former southern ideas of paternalism towards Blacks to slowly deteriorate. With a loss of compassion, working condition often became extremely harsh, mimicking those in the North. These conditions in factories, also known as “wage slavery,” were often compared to the conditions under slavery and were almost as horrendous. Another large part of the transition from free to paid labor was share cropping.
Large plantation owners rented out small tracts of land to several workers who would use the land for producing crops. These laborers were then given a percent of the crop that they grew. This type of farming is barely more beneficial than slavery. Workers were hardly given enough food to feed themselves after working a full day. Not only were Blacks still stuck in poverty with living conditions that rivaled those of slavery, but also they were now subjected to an exponential growth of race-related violence. After the Emancipation Proclamation, the war effort became more about freeing slaves than anything else.
Whites in both the North and South developed a deep hatred for Blacks that escalated into irrational acts of violence and prejudice. Before the war actually ended, many whites were thinking: “If we are got to be killed up for negroes than we kill everyone [negro] in this town. ” After the North won and the Reconstruction Amendments were passed, securing black rights and citizenship, many southern whites did everything they could to maintain social superiority. Radical political groups in former Confederate states reverted to complete guerilla warfare forming terrorist groups like the Klu Klux Klan.
These groups were meant to frighten Blacks from becoming independent and to make sure that they did not progress. These groups barred them from voting and restricted their freedom with threats of violence. As the following quote from the Maryland Convention Debates illustrates, the state of Blacks was of little concern to the majority of the government leaders including Andrew Johnson, who was more focused on revenge than on the welfare of the newly freed slaves: “There has been no expression… of regard for the negro…. ” This negligence left Blacks to fend for themselves.
Violence against Blacks also occurred in the North. With a surplus of workers and immigrants from Europe, many people in North also developed hatred toward Blacks. As the following quote illustrates, the fear that Blacks would immigrate to the North and steal scarce jobs instilled a deep sense of loathing and caused serious outbursts of violence against Blacks even in cities like New York. “The African race… were literally hunted like wild beasts. ” This kept most Blacks in life threatening fear of white violence and prevented them from advancing their social and economic status.
Thus, even by the end of Reconstruction, freed slaves were still dependent on whites for their well being and had little to no means of advancing or defending themselves. They were now slaves of fear and dependency. White hostility toward Blacks was not the only thing that stunted black advancement. The radical Democratic southern government also traumatized the black community. Towards the end of Reconstruction the Democratic party worked its way back into government power. Most of these politicians were anti black and enforced rules that undermined the legal and political gain of Blacks.
They instituted things like “Black Codes” that regulated black migration and restricted jobs. They also helped set up “separate but equal laws” in the case of Plessey vs Ferguson, essentially making Blacks second class citizens with access to inferior education and public services. Another large failure of Reconstruction was inadequate investment in the rebuilding of the southern economy. While the South did see some industrial growth, and it did restore many of its plantations, the economy was not even close to reaching its former glory and power.
Billions of dollars in slaves, confederate money, and ruined property were wiped out without any financial compensation from the North. The “Retreat” of the Republicans from Reconstruction in 1869 left the South in ruin and the freed slaves jobless. After the “Retreat” had little concern with the South and what happened to it. The overwhelming majority of federal funding was given to the North while less than ten percent was given to the South for Reconstruction. Other ways that the North took advantage of the South occurred in the compromise of 1877.
This controversial “compromise,” also known as “The Great Betrayal” required the South to acknowledge Hayes as the new president in return for economic help and railroad construction. The North did not even follow through with either of its promises. Most Republicans seemed more focused on revenge and politics than the actual course of Reconstruction or the well being of the freed slaves. Even Andrew Johnson exclaimed, “Damn the Negros, I am fighting those traitorous aristocrats, their masters. He was clearly more concerned with avenging the Union than with the welfare of Blacks or the Reconstruction of the South. Clearly from the beginning of Reconstruction, there was great ambivalence on how to proceed in rebuilding the South and repairing the country. At the end of the Civil War, two black leaders had emerged as advocates of reconstruction; however, their ideas and proposed methods were diametrically opposed. While both plans were good in theory, they were also rooted in the unique life experiences of each black leader. These two prominent black spokesmen were W. E. B Dubois and Booker T.
Washington. Dubois was a Radical for his time believing that Blacks should reach for the same status as whites right away. He believed that Blacks should attend liberal art colleges and that ten percent of this population should aspire to become professionals: teachers, lawyers, doctors, etc. Dubois referred to this ten percent as the “Talented Tenth. ” His thinking was that by securing power and prestige in society, Blacks will be able to better their situation using their own will and authority. For example, before the Thirteenth Amendment was passed, he argued the following to Booker T.
Washington: “The power of the ballot we need in self defense else, what shall save us from a second slavery. ” In contrast, Booker T. Washington believed that freed Blacks should start at the bottom with minimal rights and work their way up over generations. Booker thought that Blacks should give up most of their political power and rights for now and seek out more obtainable goals in technical careers like farming. He believed that with each generation of gradual change, Blacks would become more accepted by the whites and rise up in society.
And that becoming more economically independent was the key as this quote demonstrates “At the bottom of education, at the bottom of politics, even at the bottom of religion, there must be for our race economic independence. ” Booker was well liked by both Blacks and whites and had many influential supporters, including Fredrick Douglas who agreed with his stance on Reconstruction as this quotation illustrates, “What shall we do with the negro… nothing. ” As will be seen below, both Washington and Dubois were products of their up bringing and life experiences.
Dubois was born into a financially stable family in the northern United States. He was well educated is renowned as the first Black student to ever attend Harvard. Booker T. Washington, on the other hand, was born a slave in the South and worked his way up putting himself through school. These two vastly different life experiences are reflected in the respective views of Dubois and Washington on avenues to Reconstruction. As it turned out, the actual course of Reconstruction resembled more of Washington’s plan than that of Dubois. Blacks obtained their freedom and legal rights, but not much more than that.
Most Blacks pursued technical skills, but with increased industrialization in the South, those skills became rapidly outdated, leaving them jobless. In my opinion, the plan of Dubois, while it may be seem preferential in hindsight, would probably have failed as well. With Dubois’s plan not only a small percentage of Blacks would have been such prestigious jobs in 19th century cultural circumstances. Furthermore, in attempting to do so a much larger percentage would gave only enraged the whites, who were holding most of the authority and power.
This strategy would only have intensified the already horrendous violence inflicted against Blacks across the nation. In theory, a couple of strategies might have increased the success of Reconstruction. Eliminating the “Ten Percent” plan and making it harder for the South to rejoin the Union, would have given the North a longer period of time to secure black rights and plan for legal protections against violence. Also, more generous and sustained financial support for repairing the southern economy might have gone a long way towards increasing the economic independence of Blacks.
However, after the Civil War, both sides were exhausted financially, physically, and emotionally. This fatigue obviously caused a lack of energy for Reconstruction. This lack of energy was especially true for Northerners, who were not directly affected by Reconstruction efforts in the South and had little to gain from it. The strategy of prolonging the “Ten Percent” plan, while allowing the North to lay more ground rules in the South to help control violence and prohibit things like the “Black Codes,” would not have changed the racist culture and would only have intensified hostilities towards Blacks in the South.
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