Reconstruction and the New South chapter summary

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Reconstruction and the New South


From a military standpoint, the Civil War had a four-year history. It would take another dozen years—and more—to determine what the results of that war would be. The questions clearly settled by 1865 were significant: the nation was indivisible and slavery would end. But other complex questions with far-reaching implications remained: What would be the place of the freedmen in American society? How would the rebellious states be brought back into the Union? How would the North and South be reunited spiritually as well as politically? The victorious North was in a position to answer those questions—and to dominate the South. But Northern politicians were not united in either their answers or their resolve to see them through. President Lincoln’s murder one week after Lee’s surrender at Appomattox only added new sorrow and raised more questions. As late as 1867, there was no coherent Reconstruction policy. Congress and the new president, Andrew Johnson, struggled with each other, with Congress eventually gaining the upper hand. But the Radical Republicans did not long, if ever, control the process. As a result, the Reconstruction of the South was less than thorough and far from complete.

Southern blacks, who had made a good start on building new lives in the South, were now left to fend for themselves. Southern whites, who again took control of their politics, were almost as disunited as Northern Republicans. Was the New South to be an old one of cotton, rice, sugar, and tobacco plantations? Or was the New South to be an industrial South? Ultimately, Southern industrialists had little success, and the South remained a troubled agricultural region well after 1877. But Southern whites did agree on something: Southern blacks must be kept poor, disenfranchised, and wholly under the domination of whites. In pursuit of these goals, Jim Crow legislation would put into place a system of racial segregation that evaded the recently enacted Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendments. Looming over this process was white terror and violence. Mired by weak presidential leadership, political scandal, and an unwillingness to adequately stand against Southern whites on behalf of Southern blacks, the federal government, and the public at large, eventually turned away from this unfinished task. As a result, during the last quarter of the nineteenth century (and for many years beyond that), African Americans had good reason to wonder who had won the Civil War.


A thorough study of Chapter 15 should enable the student to understand:

1. The post-1865 conditions in the South that made any attempt at genuine reconstruction highly difficult

2. The differences between Conservative, Moderate, and Radical Republican Reconstruction, and the reasons for the brief success and ultimate failure of the Radicals

3. The reasons for the impeachment of Andrew Johnson and the significance of his acquittal for the future of Reconstruction

4. Radical Reconstruction in practice and Southern (black and white) reaction to it

5. The national problems facing President Ulysses S. Grant and the reasons for his failure

6. The diplomatic successes of the Johnson and Grant administrations and the role of the presidents and secretaries of state in achieving them

7. The “greenback” question and how it reflected postwar American financial problems

8. The election of 1876 and the effects of the so-called Compromise of 1877 on the South and the nation

9. The response of blacks to conditions in the South following Reconstruction and their efforts to build independent lives in the South

10. The attempts by the South to build a strong industrial economy after Reconstruction and reasons for their failure

11. The methods used by white Southerners to regain political control and the course of action chosen after that was accomplished

12. The origin and implementation of the Jim Crow system

13. The typical pattern of Southern agriculture in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries and the impact this had on the region and its people

1. That the defeat and devastation of the South presented the nation with severe social, economic, and political problems

2. How Radical Reconstruction changed the South, but fell short of securing equality for the freedmen

3. That the constitutional guarantees made to the freedmen during Reconstruction did not survive long into the post-Reconstruction period

4. How the policies of the Grant administration foreshadowed the economic issues of the late nineteenth century

5. How white leaders reestablished economic and political control of the South, while trying to modernize the region through industrialization

6. How concerns of race dominated Southern life

1. Describe the political, social, and economic conditions of the South following the Civil War. Describe the political, social, and economic issues facing Northern Republicans as they went about devising plans for Reconstruction.

2. What were the Black Codes? Discuss the controversy surrounding them. Were they a necessary and realistic response to the situation or a thinly disguised attempt to restore a version of slavery to the South?

3. Compare and contrast Lincoln’s plan for Reconstruction, the Wade-Davis Bill, Johnson’s plan, and Radical Reconstruction. Consider motives, goals, provisions, and results.

4. What was the crop-lien system, and why was it put in place? What were its consequences? Why might this system be described as a vicious circle?

5. Explain the process of impeaching a president. On what grounds was Andrew Johnson impeached? Were these charges the real reason he was impeached? Should he have been convicted?

6. How did those groups who lived through Reconstruction view their experiences? How would those views be reflected in subsequent historical debates?

7. Discuss the diplomatic triumphs of the Johnson and Grant administrations.

8. Why was the Grant administration so riddled with corruption? Why was corruption so likely to flourish at this time?

9. Why did the North abandon Reconstruction so rapidly? Why was the South “redeemed” so rapidly by white political leaders?

10. What was done to protect the freedmen? What more could have been done? Why was more not done?

11. Evaluate the successes and failures of Reconstruction. What were the successes? How might the failures have been avoided? What groundwork had been laid for the future?

12. What was the “greenback” question? What does the debate over this question reveal about the financial issues and problems of the 1870s?

13. Despite the efforts of New South advocates, why did the South remain a largely impoverished agricultural region of the country as of 1900? What did New South advocates hope to achieve? What changes did occur? Why were those changes not sufficient to bring the old Confederacy into the national mainstream?

14. How was the Southern white political establishment able to evade the spirit of the Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendments to the Constitution? What alternative paths of resistance and accommodation did black leaders devise?

15. What positions did Booker T. Washington take on the status of African Americans? Were his positions reasonable? Should he have adopted different ones? Why or why not?

16. Explain the Plessy v. Ferguson decision. What was its significance? How was it received by whites and blacks in the South? Where did it fit into the Jim Crow system?

1. Identify the states whose electoral votes went to the Republicans and those whose electoral votes went to the Democrats in 1876.


1. What forces delayed the reestablishment of conservative government in the other states? What episode symbolically marks the end of the Reconstruction Era?

2. In general, what areas of the country voted Republican? Why?

3. In general, what areas of the country voted Democratic? Why?

4. What cash crop was most common in the areas of heavy sharecropping? What forces led to the sharecropping alternative, and how did it work?

5. Why was sharecropping less common in some areas than others?

6. How did sharecropping and the crop-lien system go hand in hand?


These questions are based on the preceding map exercises. They are designed to test students’ knowledge of the geography of the area discussed in this chapter and of its historical development. Careful reading of the text will help students answer these questions.

1. Considering especially geographic, climatic, and economic as well as political factors, explain what forces worked for a quick reconstruction of the Union and what forces worked against it.

2. What significance did the changing pattern of agricultural residence in the South have for black family life?

3. What changes in land tenure in the South did the Civil War cause? What were the long-term consequences of these changes on Southern society?

4. What political realignment took place as a result of Reconstruction? What regions of the nation did not change their political party loyalty?

5. How did the South remain in somewhat of a colonial relationship with the Northeast and Midwest throughout the nineteenth century? What was the long-term significance of this sort of relationship?

Edward Ayers, The Promise of the New South (1992)

Mia Bay, The White Image in the Black Mind: African-American Ideas about White People, 1830-1925 (2000)

David W. Blight, Race and Reunion: The Civil War in American Memory (2000)

W. Fitzhugh Brundage, Lynching in the New South: Georgia and Virginia, 1880-1930 (1993)

Dan Carter, When the War Was Over: The Failure of Self-Reconstruction in the South, 1865-1867 (1987)

John W. Cell, The Highest Stage of White Supremacy: The Origins of Segregation in South Africa and the American South (1982)

Barbara Fields, Slavery and Freedom on the Middle Ground (1985)

Eric Foner, Reconstruction: America’s Unfinished Revolution, 1863-1877 (1988)

Louis R. Harlan, Booker T. Washington: The Making of a Black Leader, 1856-1901 (1972)

Peyton McCrary, Abraham Lincoln and Reconstruction (1978)

William McFeely, Grant (1981)

James M. McPherson, The Abolitionist Legacy: From Reconstruction to the NAACP (1975)

John Solomon Otto, Southern Agriculture During the Civil War Era, 1860-1880 (1994)

Howard Rabinowitz, The First New South, 1865-1920 (1992)

Brooks D. Simpson, Let Us Have Peace: Ulysses S. Grant and the Politics of War and Reconstruction, 1861-1868 (1991)

Amy Dru Stanley, From Bondage to Contract: Wage Labor, Marriage, and the Market in the Age of Slave Emancipation (1998)
For Internet resources, practice questions, references to additional books and films, and more, see this book’s Online Learning Center at

Brinkley 5e, IM, Ch 15 | of

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