Weeks 6-7: Ch. 15 Reconstruction

The Civil War and the Reconstruction period that followed represent one of the most crucial periods in American history.  The United States at the outbreak of the Civil War in 1861 was the largest and the last vestige of Western slavery.  With the defeat of the slavery based Confederacy, the South and the United States had to engage in one of the largest projects of reform and resettlement undertaken by a modern state. By the end of the 1860s the slaves were freed; its men had gained the right to vote, and they were being elected into political office for the first time. 
  • Lincoln's Ten-Percent Plan and Presidential Reconstruction
In his annual message to Congress on  December 8, 1863, Lincoln introduced his Proclamation of Amnesty and Reconstruction. It was the first draft proposal that anticipated a federal policy for the South after its anticipated defeat.  It's also known as the Ten-Percent Plan because it required a formula of ten percent of the voting population of a Southern state who would  take an oath of allegiance to the Union and establish a new government.  Once that ten percent had been identified, then the President would recognize that state and allow its full admission back into the United States.  This was the core of Lincoln's plan and he would later emphasize that Reconstruction must be as lenient and as expedient as possible and under Presidential authority.  Blacks were not included for suffrage under these initial plans.  
  • Andrew Johnson's Control of Presidential Reconstruction
Lincoln's death by assassination on April 15, 1865 ushered in Andrew Johnson as the new president.  Johnson was not a Republican and was an avowed racist who alienated the entire Republican Congress.  For the next 9 months until the new Congress of Radical Republicans took seat, Johnson disposed of Reconstruction by appointing former Confederates in various Southern States into positions of  power or allowing them to form their local governments.  Ultimately Johnson's intransigence, incompetence and outright defiance of Congress led to his impeachment and negotiated withdrawal from candidacy for reelection. For more on the politics of his impeachment and the trial (March to May 1868) and the cause of action used for violation of the Tenure of Office Act.
  • Congressional Reconstruction
Once the new Congress dominated by the Radical Republicans took power at the end of 1865, they were ready to act quickly to support a Congressional mandated project for Reconstruction.  They had the 2/3 majority needed to override the numerous vetoes of their bills that Johnson kept making.  Despite Johnson's resistance, the Congress implemented a major program of reform, the Freedmen's Bureau and passed significant Civil Rights legislation and the three important constitutional amendments of Reconstruction:  the 13th (ended slavery), the 14th granted citizenship to African Americans and all native born; and the 15th amendment which extended the right to vote to all males regardless of race.

14th Amendment to the Constitution (1868)
15th Amendment to the Constitution (1870)

Civil Rights Acts of 1866, 1870, 1871, and 1875

  1. Civil Rights Act of 1866, 14 Stat. 27 (1866).
  2. Civil Rights Act of 1870 (The Enforcement Act), 16 Stat. 140 (1870).
  3. Civil Rights Act of 1871, 17 Stat. 13 (1871).
  4. Civil Rights Act of 1875, 18 Stat. 335 (1875).
  • Freedmen's Bureau (The Bureau of Refugees, Freedmen, and Abandoned Lands) (operative 1865-1872)
Established by an act of Congress on March 3, 1865 and run by the War Department, the Bureau supervised all relief and educational activities relating to refugees and freedmen.   It issued rations, clothing and medicine. The Bureau also assumed custody of confiscated lands or property in the former Confederate States.  It was an unprecedented federal project for relief and despite its relative success, it was disbanded in 1872. A useful website with links to primary documents is the Freedmen and Southern Society Project.  A commercial genealogical research database also has some  documents.  The Africana Archives maintain another database of records.  On the success and extent of education reform in Georgia, see the Georgia Encylopedia entry.

Why was Reconstruction defeated?  Here are some points to consider and discuss
1.  White Violence and the making of a Southern apartheid

2.  Structural limits and administrative shortcomings in the funding and execution of the Freedmen's Bureau.   Limits and failure of achieving land reform and resultant conditions and prevalence of sharecropping.
3. Judicial intervention limiting the political and legal rights of Freed Blacks.   
4. Empire building and national expansion led to the political compromise of 1877 ending formal reconstruction.
5. Racism as a division of labor in which race functioned as a marker of caste was convenient to American capitalism.  
6. Limited advances of suffrage, that denied women the right to vote encumbered the possibility of hegemony and cooperation between women radicals and African American advocacy. 

Historiography and Reconstruction

The best overview is Eric Foner, Reconstruction: America's Unfinished Revolution, 1863-1877 (1988).  The following is a synopsis from Foner.  

The study of Reconstruction began early in the twentieth century with the so-called Dunning School.  The work of William Dunning, John Burgess and others provided a model for Reconstruction that consisted of the following:  
  1.        At the end of the Civil War Southern whites accepted defeat and were ready to emancipate their slaves, and wanted reintegration into the national system
  2.        Before his assassination Lincoln embarked on a course of sectional reconciliation
  3.        During Presidential Reconstruction (1865-1867) Andrew Johnson attempted to carry out Lincoln’s policies
  4.        Johnson’s efforts were opposed and blocked by Radical Republicans in Congress
  5.        Radical Republicans had a deep hatred of Southern rebels and wanted to consolidate their party’s national ascendancy.
  6.        Radical Republicans swept aside the Southern governments of Johnson and forced black suffrage on the South.  This ushered in the second phase known as Congressional Reconstruction
  7.        Congressional or Radical reconstruction ensued (1867-1877) a period of corruption with its synonomous carpetbaggers from the North and Southern white scalawags and ignorant freedmen. 
  8.        Ultimately the Southern whites banded together to overthrow these governments and restore “home rule” (a euphemism for white supremacy) (Foner, Reconstruction, xix)
The Dunning School based itself on racial theories of the incapacity of blacks and fears of negro rule.  Blacks were seen as manipulated by Northern whites or as having animal natures that threatened the stability of civilization.
William A. Dunning, Reconstruction, Political and Economic 1865-1877, (New York, 1907);  Walter L. Fleming, The Sequel of Appomattox (New Haven, 1919);  Claude G. Bowers, The Tragic Era, (1929); E. Merton Coulter, The South during Reconstruction 1865-1877, (1947)
During the 1920s and 1930s new studies of Johnson painted him in a more favourable light and as a defender of ideals of constitutional liberty.  Further the Progressive School arose and viewed political ideologies as masks for economic ends and in their histories  they undermined the Radicals reputation by portraying them as agents of Northern capitalism, who used the issue of black rights to enforce the economic subordination of the South.  John W. Burgess, Reconstruction and the Constitution 1866-1867, (1902);  Robert W. Winston, iAndrew  Johnson: Plebeian and Patriot (1926);  George Milton, The Age of Hate:  Andrew Johnson and the Radicals, (1930);  Howard K. Beale, The Critical Year:  a Study of Andrew Johnson and Reconstruciton, (1930)
Reconstruction received a shot in the arm with the appearance of W. E. B. Du Bois, Black Reconstruction in America, 1935.  Although Du Bois’ work was only later received, he attacked the racial bias of studies on Reconstruction.  He also depicted Reconstruction as an idealism that sought to build a democratic, interracial political order from the remains of slavery. He also saw it a as a phase of long struggle between capital and labor for control of the Southern economy.  He literally rewrote the official history of the Civil War and Reconstruction eras. Prior to Du Bois, it was commonly accepted that the Civil War was a tragic conflict that set brother against brother, but that slaves lacked any real historical agency or ability to partake as historical actors on their own behalf.  Before Du Bois the consensus view of Reconstruction was that of a disastrous period , caused by the “premature” granting of civil and political rights to African Americans. Du Bois deconstructed the myths of Reconstruction as found in three stereotypes propogated in white scholarship on the subject.

All Negroes were ignorant;
All Negroes were lazy, dishonest, and extravagant;
Negroes were responsible for bad government during Reconstruction. (711–12)

White racism and the open organization of the Ku Klux Klan surged in the 1920s and was reified in D.W. Griffin’s racist interpretation of the Civil War and Reconstruction in his film Birth of A Nation (1915).  W.E.B. Du Bois the African American scholar and activist for the NAACP responded through the creation of The Crisis, the first national journal for African Americans.  In his monthly editorials and columns during the period from 1916 to the early 20’s Du Bois critiqued the reality of institutionalized racial violence directed against African Americans and other minorities. 

Reconstruction and Jim Crow
UCSC library guide to American History
The Digital History project has the following collection of documents:
Chronology of Reconstruction 

The following documents are from the Fordham Internet Sourcebook
Documenting the American South 18th through 20th century

No comments:

Post a Comment