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Reconstruction Era After American Civil War Research Paper


Introduction

The Reconstruction Era (1865-1877) in the US refers to the period after the Union victory in the Civil War when slaves were freed and given the opportunity to change their future. A range of significant changes, programs, and obstacles was encountered by freedmen, among the most critical of which was a new way of thinking, an incredible desire to protect their dignity and culture, and aspiration for education and suffrage. But there was also severe opposition to African-American equality, such as the rise of the Ku Klux Klan and sharecropping labor, resulting in the Black Exodus. Like a moment in the sun, opportunities were missed, and the Reconstruction Era faded.

Breath of Freedom

The main question for the government to ponder and resolve was how to integrate freedmen in the southern states politically and economically. President Andrew Johnson should be noted for his attempts at reconstruction that focused on Unionism and the promotion of states’ rights. As a result of Johnson’s leniency, however, many southern states adopted the so-called “black codes” to restrict African Americans’ activity, thus suppressing them and trying to increase their dependence (Paddison 621).

These laws deprived former slaves of ownership of land and freedom of movement, speech, meetings, marriages with whites, etc. All this led to fears of the restoration of the old system of slavery. The conflict between Congress and President Johnson over the Tenure of Office Act almost led to his impeachment, but two senators voted against impeachment.

Many people comprising the “slavocracy,” including some former slave masters, politicians, ex-confederates, etc., still clung to their pro-slavery views. Nonetheless, essential changes in the country’s legislative system were made. With the adoption of the 14th Amendment to the US Constitution, Congress began to completely rebuild the nation’s political structure, and Black suffrage was declared a paramount goal (Anderson 330).

The above amendment also deprived the leaders of the Confederacy of the right to hold public office and gave ex-slaves equal rights. The first paragraph of the amendment stated that all persons born in the United States or having acquired citizenship are citizens of the country and citizens of the state they live in, and they may be deprived of the right to life, liberty, and property only by a court decision. This prohibited “black codes.”

In this context, African Americans started thinking politically as citizens of the US. They wanted to protect and promote their freedom, support themselves and their families, and become an integral part of the country. Education presented itself as one of the ways to prepare for the future. Many public schools and churches and several colleges, as well as a range of educational programs, were established for African Americans. The graduates of these programs and institutions changed the African American community for the better. For example, one may note Fisk University in Nashville, TN, or Morehouse College in Atlanta, GA.

Despite the end of enslavement, African Americans remained economically dependent on their former masters. According to Special Field Orders, No. 15, “the sole and exclusive management of affairs will be left to the freed people themselves, subject only to the United States military authority and the acts of Congress” (“Order by the Commander of the Military Division of the Mississippi”). Some African Americans moved to cities and started working there or tried to run their own businesses, while others had to stay on plantations and engage in sharecropping. Sharecropping, suggested by the Freedmen’s Bureau, implied labor contracts between plantation owners and workers.

In fact, this type of labor was close to slavery since it was the plantation owner who provided the land and equipment and determined the value of the work.

The reconstruction of Southern society also had traits of the radicals’ program. It included forcible democratization of life in the South supported by the army, but without unleashing terror and dictatorship. Everything was resolved legally: the 14th Amendment to the Constitution was supplemented by the 15th, which specifically stipulated that the right to vote in the United States cannot be limited by skin color, race, or ex-slave status. This was necessary because of terrorist organizations, including the infamous Ku Klux Klan, who brutally attacked defiant ex-slaves and White sympathizers. Intolerance and cold-blooded murder characterized Ku Klux Klan members.

Such harsh conditions forced many freedmen to leave their homes and seek a better life. During the Black Exodus, more than 25,000 freedmen traveled west, prompted by the Homestead Act passed in 1862 (West 205). According to the Homestead Act, the ownership of unoccupied western lands should be given to people free of charge. The election of Ulysses Grant, the commanding general of the Union Army, as president of the US marked the end of the Reconstruction Era.

Summary

The Reconstruction Era was the first breath of freedom for African Americans who experienced significant economic and political gains during this period. Most importantly, they identified themselves as free people having rights to their own lives. This awareness was supported by the government and expressed in increasing educational opportunities, the formation of communities, an extension of rights, and migration to cities. But African-Americans encountered strong and cruel opposition in the form of Ku Klux Klan terrorism, “black codes,” and the oppressive sharecropping labor system that postponed the actual emancipation of African Americans.

Works Cited

Anderson, James D. “Eleventh Annual Brown Lecture in Education Research: A Long Shadow: The American Pursuit of Political Justice and Education Equality.” Educational Researcher, vol. 44, no. 6, 2015, pp. 319-335.

Freedmen & Southern Society Project. 1865. Web.

Paddison, Joshua. “Freedom’s Frontier: California and the Struggle over Unfree Labor, Emancipation, and Reconstruction by Stacey L. Smith.” The Journal of the Civil War Era, vol. 4, no. 4, 2014, pp. 620-622.

West, Michael O. “Claiming Exodus: A Cultural History of Afro‐Atlantic Identity, 1774–1903 by Rhondda Robinson Thomas.” The Historian, vol. 77, no. 1, 2015, pp. 205-206.

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