Reconstruction lecture notes

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  • 3 viewpoints (white Southerners, victorious Northerners, & African Americans):

    • white Southerners: say Reconstruction was a time when vindictive Northerners inflicted humiliation and revenge on a defeated south, and actually delayed the reconstruction of the Union

    • vindictive Northerners: defended Reconstruction policies because they were the only way to keep unrepentant confederates from restoring antebellum Southern society

    • African Americans: a critical first step in securing civil rights and economic power, even though Southerners’ reactions led to years of institutionalized racism

  • The South was devastated after the Civil War ended in 1865:

- homes burned,

- cities laid to waste,

- infrastructure destroyed,

- confederate bonds and currency was worthless, and

- there were no slaves anymore.

  • White southerners began to romanticize the “Lost Cause” of the Confederacy:

- women publicly mourned in daily ritual clothing and jewelry for 2 years

- heroes like Robt. E. Lee, Stonewall Jackson, and Jefferson Davis looked upon as

almost religious figures

  • 4 million Southern blacks emerged from bondage into an uncertain world

- unfamiliar with any kind of life other than plantation life

- many went to Northern cities

- many returned to plantations, not as slaves but as tenant farmers (sharecroppers)

  • competing notions of the term “freedom”:

    • for African Americans (via 13th, 14th, and 15th Amendments), freedom meant =

      • an end to slavery;

      • an end of humiliation and injustice;

      • an acquisition of same civil rights and protections as for whites;

      • a redistribution of economic resources, like land;

      • autonomous communities, with own churches and schools; and

      • federal protection and support via the Freedmens’ Bureau

    • for white Southerners, freedom meant =

      • ability to control own destiny w/o interference of North or feds

      • restoration of society as much as possible to antebellum status

  • Plans for Southern amnesty:

- In 1863, during the war, Lincoln came up with a moderate amnesty plan, whereby

- any Southerner who took oath of loyalty to the U.S. would be pardoned;

- any confederate state could form new government & constitution; and

- 10 percent of those who voted in election of 1860 had to take oath.

- After the Civil War ended, Lincoln’s 10 Percent Plan caused much dissent within the

Republican Party b/w “Radical” Republicans, & “Moderate” Republicans (radicals

thought the plan should punish the South more).

- Radicals Plan = Wade-Davis Bill, which required a majority (instead of 10 percent)

of a state’s 1860 voters in each Southern state to swear allegiance to the U.S. and

help draft a new slavery-free constitution; this passed through Congress, but

Lincoln vetoed bill; compromise met in passage of 13th Amendment, banning slavery.

  • Lincoln assassinated April 14, 1865 at Ford’s Theatre in Washington, D.C. by Southern sympathizer and conspirator John Wilkes Booth.

  • Vice President Andrew Johnson becomes 17th President, and his plan for Reconstruction resembles Lincoln’s 10 Percent Plan, and as a result, many antebellum societal norms are brought back via the Black Codes, which meant to keep blacks from being free:

    • Orphans forced to work as apprentices for former slave owners

    • No jobs other than farmer or servant

    • Plantation workers cannot leave grounds without permission

    • separate facilities, like schools, churches, neighborhoods, etc.

  • 13th Amendment: passed 1865, prohibits slavery in the U.S.

  • 14th Amendment: passed 1866, defined national citizenship (including blacks); permitted representation in Congress to be reduced if a state interfered with a citizen’s right to vote; denied former confederate officials the right to hold office; declared Confederate debts invalid; provided equal protection for all citizens; and expressly prohibited states from depriving any citizen of their life, liberty, or property without due process of law.

  • 15th Amendment: passed 1869, prohibits the denial of the right to vote because of race or previous condition of slavery.

  • Radical Republicans sweep Congress in 1866 mid-term election, so can now override President Andrew Johnson’s vetoes. Johnson accused of impeachable offenses, but survives the impeachment by one vote.

  • African Americans enter politics, with 16 elected to the House of Representatives, and 2 elected to the Senate in the 1870 election.

  • Many economic opportunities in the new South, and as always happens, many come to take advantage of the situation, engaging in governmental corruption, and generally angering many Southerners:

    • carpetbagger = a Northerner who went to the South after the Civil War for political or financial advantage

    • scalawag = a white Republican southerner who supported Reconstruction

  • Just after the Civil War ended, Union generals in the South set aside large areas of land for blacks. Each head of a family was to receive 40 acres and a mule, but most of the land was likely to be too dry, or underwater, or hard to get to.

  • It was common for many Southern blacks to have former plantation land rented to them in turn for a share between one-tenth and one-half of the crops grown on that land; credit was generously extended, and when drought or floods caused a loss of crops, most sharecroppers found they could never get out of debt.

  • White Southerners loyal to the ideals of the Confederacy dominated the Democratic party in the south. They promised to “redeem”, or recover the South, ignore the feds, and restore the idea of states’ rights.

    • targeted and intimidated black voters

    • instituted “poll taxes” to make it unaffordable for blacks to vote

    • secret societies, like the KKK, designed to maintain white supremacy by terrorizing and lynching black citizens (and whites who supported black rights)

  • The South’s refusal to accept Reconstruction wore down the North, and the government was unwilling to send enough federal troops to enforce the rights of black voters, or even ensure the safety of black citizens.

  • In the 1876 presidential election, Republican Rutherford Hayes ran against Democratic Samuel Tilden. Tilden won more popular votes, but was one vote shy of a majority of electoral votes. There were disputes about votes. A special commission was named and eventually struck a bargain, called the Compromise of 1877, in which the disputed votes were given to Hayes in return for the Republicans’ promise to remove all federal troops from the South, effectively leaving Southern blacks with no federal protection (no clear enforcement of the 13th, 14th, and 15th Amendments), and creating an environment that sanctioned, or allowed the institutional mistreatment of blacks.

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