Reconstruction After the Civil War 1865 - 1877

Reconstruction of America after the Civil War started a political conflict and changes in the government. New laws and amendments to the Constitution changed the way the country was run before the war. It defined what citizenship was for blacks and whites.

Former slaves did not know how to make a living after being freed. They didn’t have money or an education that could help find jobs and buy land. Blacks hoped that the reconstruction in the south would bring them land and chances for education. Freed slaves also wanted to be able to vote and be elected into office. Under the new reconstruction acts blacks were allowed to vote, many blacks were elected into office but didn’t have a voice in the reconstruction plans. Although most southern whites accepted the abolition of slavery, they wanted to limit the blacks’ rights so much, that is was almost like slavery.

The Beginning of Reconstruction: Lincoln and Congress

During the Reconstruction of the United States, conflict built up between Lincoln and Congress. Lincoln’s plan of Reconstruction concerned the Proclamation of Amnesty and Reconstruction. This plan said that all southern whites would have to take an oath of loyalty to the United States. Then they would be granted amnesty, or a pardon from the United States. Once ten percent of southern whites had accomplished this, they were allowed to begin forming their own state constitutions. However, they had to recognize freedom of slaves in their state constitutions.

Another group of Northerners began forming a group called the Radical Republicans. This group supported the severe and low treatment of the South. They treated the South as a defeated enemy and only wanted to “stick it” to the South to show them that the Northerners were in control. They believed Lincoln’s plan was far too soft on the South. Instead, they began to build and form their own plans through their influence on Congress. The first plan made by Congress was close to Lincoln’s plan and not very close to the Radicals’ attitude; the Wade-Davis Bill. The Wade-Davis Bill said that all southern white men had to take an oath that they had never willing served the Confederacy. Then their state government had to abolish slavery. Then Congress would approve their government and they would be accepted into the Union. However, this plan was vetoed and Lincoln was assassinated before he could carry out his plan.

The Thirteenth Amendment

The Thirteenth Amendment was proposed in Congress and passed in January 1865 from the influence in Congress by the Radical Republicans. It said that all slavery was abolished. Many citizens had been concerned that slavery was not entirely wiped out and that it still existed in Northern states, Tennessee, and possibly secretly in the South. It was ratified on December 18, 1865.

14th Amendment

The 14th amendment stated that anyone born in the United States was a citizen of the United States (no discrimination against race) and that no one can give up life, liberty or property unless their is a government problem and the government comes to the person first. Also, everyone is entitled equal protection under laws.

In addition to all of the things above, states where slavery was still kept could lose Congressional Representation. All Confederate debts were considered to be illegal. People who participated in the rebellion against the Union could not hold public offices.

The purpose of the 14th amendment was basically to limit the freedom of the South even more after their defeat in the Civil War. The Radical Republicans in the North wanted to humiliate the South by treating blacks, who once were enslaved by the southern people, as equals to everyone else.

15th Amendment

The 15th amendment was actually one of the last of the Reconstruction Acts that was passed. It guaranteed voting rights for everyone with no discrimination against race. Previously, the responsibility of choosing the qualifications for voters had been left to the government to decide. Now, everyone was able to vote (except for the women, who wouldn't gain their right to vote for a while).

Before this amendment had been passed, whites, especially southern whites, would put certain voting qualifications on black voters so that very few, if not none, would be able to vote. The southerners felt that the blacks weren't equal to them.

Reconstruction: Johnson and Congress

Johnson replaced Lincoln as president after Lincoln’s assassination. The Radical Republicans expected Johnson to be a much firmer president as a result of his record. In his record, he was known for defending poor farmers such as himself against larger plantation owners. However, they were greatly disappointed when they found he had been greatly influenced by Lincoln’s ideas and plan of reconstruction. His plan was very close to that of Lincoln’s, and the Radical Republicans believed his plan to be too soft, just as Lincoln’s had.

Johnson’s plan of reconstruction said that southern whites would receive amnesty for an oath of utmost loyalty to the United States. However, certain southerners with $20,000 or who owned land would require a certain pardon. Also, they would hold state conventions which repealed their acts of seceding from the Union. They had to adopt the 13th amendment in their state constitutions. However, Congress and the Radical Republicans had a separate reaction to this. They were angry for Johnson creating his own plan without consulting Congress. They also thought that it did too little to help enforce the freedom of former slaves. They were angered to find that, as a result of Johnson’s ‘soft’ plan, many Confederate leaders were elected to Congress.

Congressional Reconstruction

Congressional Reconstruction was focused mostly upon helping the needy and freedmen in the South. This plan was the second plan proposed by Congress.

Congressional Reconstruction
After the war had ended congress had to do a lot of reconstruction for the people and for the country it’s self. Since the Emancipation Proclamation was put into effect congress had to change a lot of laws that were against slavery and make them equal to all men, even those of different colors. One of the first things that were changed by congress was the right for black men to vote and for them to become leaders. Congress called this change the Radical Reconstruction. This bill was pasted and the southern had to totally change their states constitutions. In no time black men were voting and taking places in office. Also southerners were making plans for the blacks for example, public schools, universal manhood suffrage, and established progressive tax structures. Now the government had black and white men in congress. Of course there was down falls with this plan. The congress couldn’t find a place was both black and whit people could vote, and other issues that were very similar.

Black men voting
Black men voting

The Freedmen's Bureau

The Freedmen's Bureau was started by the federal government in March 1865. It was started to help needy people in the south, mainly blacks. It started black schools, courts, drew up contracts and helped blacks build farms. A saying that often went with the Freedmen's Bureau was "40 acres and a mule" meaning that every person was promised they would receive what they needed to survive. The Bureau was the only direct step taken by the federal government to help the South and former slaves.

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The Bureau was not as successful as it was meant to be. Many people were not successful and still left needy. When people are used to being told what to do, how to do it, and exactly how to spend the day, they are not sure what to do when they are no longer being told to do and many end up spending their money and time in ways that were not helping them to succeed. This was a common case for former slaves in the south.

Presidential Reconstruction

Many people had different views about the confederacy and how to deal with them. Johnson said confederate states would need to create new government to agree with the union. Strong measures would be needed to settle all the disputes over everything for reconstructing the South would mean completely rebuilding the South’s economy. Such plans as the Freedmen’s Bureau helped blacks who were freed. Although strides were made to help blacks, many people and former slave owners still limited black’s rights in government.


Scalawags were Southerners(whites) that sided and believed in what the north was saying just to gain power. They were often favored by the radidical republicans.

Carpet baggers

Carpet baggers were northerners who moved to the South. Many northerners would be mad at them for turning away, but the south was pleased.

Southern Backlash

The South was not happy with the federal government, losing southern power to carpetbaggers, scalawags and former slaves, and the freedom former slaves were being handed. They had their own retaliations, which the federal government didn't do much about. First of all, the Ku Klux Klan was started. Also, the state governments started writing black codes.

Ku Klux Klan

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The Ku Klux Klan was started by southern whites who were upset about power taken from those in the South who deserved it. They acted violently towards carpetbaggers, scalawags and blacks who took southern power. This was NOT the same as the Ku Klux Klan of today. They were against whites who were taking southern power and former slaves who were being given government positions.They scared their victims, threatened them, blackmailed them and even killed some of them.

Black Codes

State governments in the South started to pass black codes to take away the rights of blacks. Some of these codes included:
  • Poll Taxes
  • Literacy Tests before voting
  • Blacks could not own property
  • Blacks could not own weapons
  • Blacks could not have jury trials
  • Blacks had travel limits
  • Sharecropping was instituted

Because all of their rights were being stripped from them, blacks were having a very difficult time in the South. There was a virtual return to slavery because of these laws. The federal government knew what was going on in the South, but they did not try to stop it because they were afraid to spark another war and everyone in the country was sick of war, so they let it slip, even though the state governments were being unjust and passing laws that were unconstitutional.

The good points of the south

Some say the reconstruction in the south went smoothly because people built bridges and roads. They also built more schools so children could have a place to learn, and hospitals so southern people with illnesses could be healed. In doing so of building more schools that improved education immensely in the south. The transportation in the south was also improved, southern people were even loaning money to the companies to build more railroads. And one thing that we might not think as help was how they gave hope and encouragement to the former slaves.

Even with all this help reconstruction wasn’t easy. It is never easy to start over especially after you lose. Some still say that this reconstruction was pointless but it was a major stepping stone to improve the south and also to prove that they can stick together.

Voter turnout chart for presidential elections.
Voter turnout chart for presidential elections.

Election of 1868

General Ulysses S. Grant became president by winning in 26 states with an electoral vote of 214. Grant also received 400,000 votes from blacks. In the north blacks had not be allowed to vote but the new state governments in the south had been forced to let blacks vote. The prejudice against blacks was stopped by the Fifteenth Amendment to the Constitution, which stated that no one could keep a person from voting because of skin color. This amendment was one that changed the way the country had been run before the war.

Most southern whites thought that the new state governments were being corrupt. Many people from the north and south were tired of the problems over reconstruction. In 1876, Rutherford B. Hayes from the republican party become a nominee for president the election votes were so close that the democrats made a deal with republicans in congress. The democrats would accept Hayes as president, if in return the north would remove federal soldiers from the south. This deal between the north and south ended reconstruction.

By the end of the reconstruction the south was apart of the union and the new state governments were under democratic power, this caused blacks to lose many of the rights they had been granted.
President Rutherford B. Hayes (1822 - 1893)

American Reconstruction after the Civil War

Reconstruction began during the Civil War and ended in 1877.
It was one of the most turbulent and controversial eras in American history. It attempted to resolve the issues of the American Civil War and address how the Southern states would return to the Union. It also addressed the civil status of the leaders of the Confederacy and the Constitutional and legal status of the Negro Freedman. Violent controversy erupted over how these issues would be resolved.


**__The End of Reconstruction__**

In 1872, Congress passed the Amnesty Act which gave the former Confederates full rights again except for a certain 500 which still seemed to support the act of secession and Confederate beliefs. Much of the South was still devastated by the Civil War and needed much more support and was in bad debt. The National Government went back and forth. It sometimes handed out big punishments to racial acts, but it also let some harsh things slide. Even though the country was recovering, it still had much to improve on.

The schools were still dominated by whites and blacks were very segregated. They weren't allowed to go to the same school as whites were, drink for the same drinking fountain or even go to the same bathroom. They had limited access too many public things such as restaurants and parks. They were also denied the right to vote.

Then there were the extremists. One of these groups was the Ku Klux Klan . They scared blacks in many ways, but the most famous way was burning a cross in their front lawn. It was very frightening for the blacks. The Klan wore all white with a cloak and a hood, a very intimidating outfit. They are still around, but not anything as powerful as they were before.

But everyday, things are getting better. The black community, as a whole, is improving. They have equal voting rights, equal schooling and housing and pretty much equal everything. Even this year, we have a black Presidential candidate, Barack Obama. The end of reconstruction is near.

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