Reconstruction (1865-1877)

"Think about it: We went into slavery pagans; we came out Christians. We went into slavery pieces of property; we came out American citizens. We went into slavery with chains clanking about our wrists; we came out with the American ballot in our hands ... Notwithstanding the cruelty and moral wrong of slavery, we are in a stronger and more hopeful condition, materially, intellectually, morally, and religiously, than is true of an equal number of black people in any other portion of the globe."
—Booker T. Washington, Up From Slavery

Reconstruction was a period in United States history, 1865—1877, that attempted to resolve the issues of the American Civil War when both the Confederacy and its system of slavery were destroyed. The period of Reconstruction addressed the return of the southern states that had seceded, the status of ex-Confederate leaders, and the integration of the African-American Freedmen into the legal, political, economic and social system. Violent controversy arose over how to accomplish those tasks.

Republican leaders agreed that slavery and the Slave Power had to be permanently destroyed, and all forms of Confederate nationalism had to be suppressed. Moderates said this could be easily accomplished as soon as Confederate armies surrendered and the southern states repealed secession and ratified the 13th Amendment — all of which happened by September 1865.

President Abraham Lincoln was the leader of the moderate Republicans and wanted to speed up Reconstruction and reunite the nation as soon as possible. Lincoln supported voting rights for Black Union army veterans. However, the opposing faction of Radical Republicans were much more skeptical of southern intentions and demanded far more stringent federal action. Congressman Thaddeus Stevens and Senator Charles Sumner led the Radical Republicans. Radical Republicans staunchly opposed Lincoln's 10% Plan. After Lincoln's assassination, President Andrew Johnson switched from the Radical to the moderate camp. He too favored voting rights for Black Union army veterans. By 1866, however, Johnson, with no party affiliation, broke with the moderate Republicans and aligned himself more with the Democrats who opposed equality and opposed the Fourteenth Amendment. Radicals attacked the policies of Johnson, especially his veto of the Civil Rights Bill for the Freedmen.

The election of 1866 decisively changed the balance of power, giving the Radicals control of Congress and enough votes to overcome Johnson's vetoes and even to try to impeach him. Johnson was acquitted by one vote, but remained almost powerless regarding Reconstruction policy. Radicals used the Army to take over the South and give the vote to black men, and took the vote away from an estimated 10,000 or 15,000 white men who had been Confederate officials or senior officers. The Radical stage lasted for varying lengths in the different states, where a Republican coalition of Freedmen, Scalawags and Carpetbaggers took control and promoted modernization through railroads and public schools. They were charged with corruption by their opponents, the conservative-Democratic coalition, calling themselves "Redeemers" after 1870. Violence sponsored by the Ku Klux Klan was overcome by federal intervention.

By 1877, however, Redeemers regained control of every state, and President Rutherford Hayes withdrew federal troops, causing the collapse of the remaining three Republican state governments. The 13th, 14th and 15th amendments were permanent legacies. Bitterness from the heated partisanship of the era lasts to this day.

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