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How did Reconstruction Change the United States after the Civil War? Essay

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Updated: Dec 16th, 2019

Introduction

Reconstruction Era in America is a period that that refers to the entire history of the United States covering the period from 1865 – 1877. It is the period following the civil war. Reconstruction can as well refer to a period in which the southern states were to be transformed with the aim of reintroducing them back to the union. The reconstruction plan was brought forward by President Abraham Lincoln (Richter, 2004).

The southern states were supporting confederacy, and the reconstruction was to make them support the United States. They were to free all the slaves after the reconstruction. However, this was not easy, and much did not change after the reconstruction. The aim of this paper is to analyze how reconstruction changed the United States after the civil war.

Reconstruction

Abraham Lincoln became the president of the United States in the year 1860. It was a time dominated by the crushes between the northern states and the southern states. Lincoln came with the plan of reconstruction. He was determined to make the southern states get back to the union, but he said he had no intention of opposing slavery. In his first inaugural statement, Lincoln said that he was not going to interfere with the institution of slavery since he had no legal right to that (Zinn 2005).

However, after the civil war, if the southern states rejoined the union it could mean that slavery would no longer be allowed. The southern states had to free all the slaves, and this was to be like a punishment to them for their attempt to split the nation into two. The president was assassinated in the year 1865, and his vice Andrew Johnson took over as the president of the US.

He came in with a different plan to forgive the southern states. Under President Johnson, the southern states were to be allowed back to the union after their governor approved the 13th amendment which was to free all the slaves. By the year 1870, the states had rejoined the union (Peacock, 2003).

Reconstruction helped reduce the mistreatment of the black people in America and especially in the south. Before reconstruction, the number of illiterate black Americans was unusually high. In fact, it is reported that 90% of the blacks were illiterate by the time slavery was abolished.

The number of the illiterate blacks reduced to less than 70 percent by the 1880. Illiteracy among the blacks continued to reduce further in the following 20 years, and by 1900, it was below 50%. This was a significant change that was achieved as a result of reconstruction. However, the number of literate black Americans was still far below the as compared to that of whites. It was an improvement from what it used to be before the reconstruction (Perman & Taylor, 2011).

In addition, the economic status of the blacks also improved after the reconstruction. Reconstruction is a period in which the slaves were to be freed. It allowed them to fight for increased wages in the plantations where they worked. According to Perman & Taylor (2011), slaves made up what was referred to as the ‘human capital’. After the freeing of the slaves, the capital ownership was transferred to the free slaves.

Before the emancipation of the slaves, they could only receive 22 percent of the income that was realized from the cotton plantations. The percentage increased to 56% after emancipation. Black people now received a larger share of the income. Their living conditions were better as their economic status had improved (Perman & Taylor, 2011).

Reconstruction also reversed the laws of the relationship between the wage earners and the landlords. There existed the Black codes which ensured that the black lived in dependency of their masters. This had worsened their economic status as well but was improved after reconstruction.

End of Reconstruction

Northern soldiers were sent to the southern states so as to enforce the reconstruction laws. The southerners were opposed to the laws and did not want the blacks to be given the rights to vote as well as other rights to go to school and get employment. They formed groups such as the Ku Klux Klan which were to make the lives of the black people hard. The northern soldiers started to withdraw from the south making the blacks be treated harshly by the southerners.

By the year, 1876, all the northern soldiers were removed from the South by President Rutherford B. Hayes, and this marked the end of reconstruction. Reconstruction was ended through the compromise of 1877 which also helped to settle the election disputes that saw Rutherford handed the white house office (Kennedy, Cohen & Piehl 2011).

By the time reconstruction came to an end in the year 1877, it had not achieved its main aim which had been to free the slaves from the oppression of the Southern elites. The Northern soldiers had given up on the bid to defend the blacks. They were forced out of the south with their mission not completed. This was due to the resilience of the Southern whites to oppose the freedom of the black people.

After Reconstruction

After the Northern soldiers were withdrawn from the South, the Southerners took full control of their states. They started to treat the black men harshly with no fear. Reconstruction did not help to change the way of thinking of the southerners, and they still believed that they are superior to the blacks and that the blacks should not be given the rights to vote.

After the civil war, the segregation of the black people was written into law. In addition, 19 out of 24 northern states denied the blacks the right to vote after the civil war. Discrimination was not written into law in the Northern states. However, it was believed that the practice of discrimination and racism was still there.

Negros oppression in the south was at its climax. They were given all mistreatment. As Zinn (2005) writes in his book, for the Negros in the south, it was a time of burning and hanging. It is described as the time when the blacks’ life in America was at its lowest point. They were denied education they claimed that the government had betrayed them, and they were also living in absolute poverty.

The Negros working in the Southern plantations were not paid at all. For those who got a pay for their labor, they could only get as low as 50 cents in a day. The blacks were tied in the plantations by debts whereby the plantation owners ensured the blacks were always in debts.

The economy of the United States had gone down in the year 1873. After the civil war, it was a time when the political leaders of the South together with those of the North decided to organize a march of economic growth. In this bid, during the period between the civil war and 1900, use of machinery in the plantations was introduced. Human labor was to be replaced by machines for improved production. Infrastructure began to be developed and transportation was made easier.

Labor force now came from Europe and china to America. During the same period, the United States gold reserves depleted. However, despite efforts to rebuild the economy of the nation, the government was still serving the interests of the rich people and settling their disputes so that they can control the poor people rebellion (Zinn 2005). When Grover Cleveland became president in the year 1884, his stand was different from that of the republicans whose candidate stand was from the wealthy class.

Conclusion

Reconstruction was a mission that was aimed at bringing the southern states back to the union and to end slavery. The Southern people were not ready to abandon slavery, and as a result, they opposed that idea. They formed organizations such as the Ku Klux Clan which were aimed at denying the blacks any form of freedom.

The blacks were given rights to vote and get an education but this did not last long. The resilience of the southern forced the Northern soldiers to give up on reconstruction, and blacks’ freedom continued to be denied. After the civil war, reconstruction did not achieve much change in America as it was intended.

References

Kennedy, D. M., Cohen, L., & Piehl, M. (2011). The brief American pageant: A history of the Republic. Boston, MA: Wadsworth Cengage Learning.

Peacock, J. (2003). Reconstruction: Rebuilding after the Civil War. Mankato, Minn: Bridgestone Books.

Perman, M., & Taylor, A. M. (2011). Major problems in the Civil War and Reconstruction: Documents and essays. Boston: Wadsworth, Cengage Learning.

Richter, W. L. (2004). Historical dictionary of the Civil War and Reconstruction. Lanham [u.a.: Scarecrow Press.

Zinn, H. (2005). A people’s history of the United States: 1492 – present. New York: Harper Perennial.

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