Effects of Reconstruction on African Americans
Reconstruction generally refers to the period in United States history immediately following the Civil War in which the federal government set the conditions that would allow the rebellious Southern states back into the Union. In 1862, Abraham Lincoln had appointed provisional military governors to re-establish governments in Southern states that were recaptured by the Union Army. The main condition for re-admittance was that at least ten percent of the voting population in 1860 had to take an oath of allegiance to the Union. Aware that the Presidential plan omitted any provision for social or economic reconstruction, the anti-slavery Congressmen in the Republican Party, known as the Radicals, criticized Lincoln’s leniency. The Radicals wanted to insure that newly freed blacks were protected and given their rights as Americans. After Lincoln’s assassination in April of 1865, President Andrew Johnson alienated Congress with his Reconstruction policy. He supported white supremacy in the South and favored pro-Union Southern political leaders who had aided the Confederacy once war had been declared.
Reconstruction of the South had positive and negative effects on both Southern Whites and African Americans. Some positive effects that Reconstruction had on African Americans were the 13th, 14th, and 15th amendments that were added to the constitution. The thirteenth amendment states that neither slavery or involuntary servitude, except as punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the U.S. or any place subject to their jurisdiction. The fourteenth amendment states all persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the state wherein they reside. No state shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any state deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws. Congressional Reconstruction, also known as Radical Reconstruction, began because the Southern states refused to ratify the fourteenth amendment. It was during this time when the Reconstruction Act of 1867 was passed. This act called for the South to be divided into military districts and it instituted martial laws.
It required Southern states to hold a new constitutional convention and made the Southern states write and new constitution that had to be approved by Congress. The fifteenth amendment granted African American men the right to vote by declaring that the “right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any state on account of race, color, or previous condition of servitude.” Although ratified on February 3, 1870, the promise of the 15th Amendment would not be fully realized for almost a century. Through the use of poll taxes, literacy tests and other means, Southern states were able to effectively disenfranchise African Americans. It would take the passage of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 before the majority of African Americans in the South were registered to vote. These amendments effected African Americans in a positive way because they freed blacks from slavery, protected their rights, and gave them the right to vote. The Freedman’s Bureau was another asset that effected African Americans in a Positive manner.
Congress established a Freedman’s Bureau to help protect the civil rights and provide for the welfare of former slaves and other refugees. The Freedman’s Bureau, established in march 1865 and led by major General oliver Howard, attempted to serve the displaced populations of the south. Howard introduced the concept of publicly funded education as a way for former slaves to cope with their new circumstances. He also used his tax-assessing authority under the Freedman’s act to build schools. Howard assumed that education would lead to opportunities that would best enable former slaves to integrate in the workforce. He also thought the Bureau could build trust between african-americans and whites by serving as an honest broker in labor negotiations. The Freedman’s Bureau did have some success in this area. some businesses and laborers initially came to agreements on wages, but ultimately, those wages were not sufficient for long-term economic growth.
With all the rights and freedom given to African Americans came more hatred from Southern Whites. The Klu Klux Klan, also known as the KKK, was introduced during this era and is one of the most famous social clubs in the history of the United States. The Klan was notorious for lynching blacks as well as burning down their homes, schools, and churches. Another negative effect of Reconstruction on African Americans were “Black Codes.” Black Codes were aimed to control freed men and women and to enable plantation owners to exploit African American workers. The Black Codes of each Southern state took away the rights of African Americans. Some laws allowed local officials to arrest and fine unemployed African Americans and make them work for white employers to pay off their fines. Other laws banned them from owning firearms and owning or renting farm land. One law even allowed whites to take orphaned African American children as unpaid apprentices. To freed men and women and many Northerners, the Black Codes reestablished slavery in disguise.
The Reconstruction era not only effected African Americans, it effected Southern Whites as well. The south faced two major economic problems. The end of slavery meant that southern planters had to contend with a new expense: labor costs. The second problem was the change in wealth and capital investment due to needs of war. The southern states incurred debts while they were part of the Confederacy that inhibited post-war reforms. Reconstruction policies assumed that economic development would help transform southern institutions. President Andrew Johnson’s reconstruction initiatives focused on this idea. His policies did not foresee that economic changes in southern life would quickly compound societal problems and prevent significant progress. The southern states also had a problem with banking infrastructure to finance rebuilding. The national Banking act of 1863 set monetary reserve limits for banks based on population density. This limited the number of banks available for southerners, such that even by 1893 there was only about one bank for every 58,000 residents of the south.
The lack of banks meant that outside investors only had limited abilities to invest in the region. During the reconstruction era, the economy of the south suffered from neglect and exploitation. A ruined infrastructure and low levels of capital investment caused southern states to fall behind their northern counterparts and created feelings of isolation and regionally focused identities. instead of helping them integrate into the larger national economy, these failed policies reinforced many southerners’ localized sentiments and loyalties.
It is safe to say that both African Americans and Southern whites were effected be Reconstruction and change. The disputed presidential election of 1876 effectively ended reconstruction by means of a backroom deal. Candidate Rutherford Hayes lost the popular vote, but voting returns in the south were contested. Southern congressional leaders agreed to back Hayes in the electoral College—if federal reconstruction ended. Hayes, a republican, was elected President with the understanding that there would be a new policy towards the southern states. The Compromise of 1877 was introduced and it stated that Hayes would be president, Democrats would name one cabinet member, Federal government would give economic assistance to the South, all federal troops would be withdrawn from the South, and Democrats would promise to uphold all civil and political rights of all African American. Unfortunately for the South and all African Americans, the federal government did not give economic assistance to the South and the Democrats did not uphold all civil and political rights of African Americans. The Compromise of 1877 marked the end of Reconstruction in the U.S. and the beginning of hardships for Southern Whites and African Americans.