American Civil War Reconstruction Term Paper

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Reconstruction Period

Reconstruction (1865-1877) was the period in American history which can be called a failure because it was marked by extreme racial segregation and futility of all acts concerning equality. This was the time when civil war had just ended and the black community was beginning to gain more rights and an equal place in the society. But it is argued that during reconstruction when rights for each group were being formulated and slavery in the South was dying, race relations in the country were not any better than they had been before the civil war. This was the time when Bill of Rights took shape and the radicals emerged in the country. Though reconstruction promised equal rights, "Be it enacted..., That all persons born in the United States and not subject to any foreign power, excluding Indians not taxed, are hereby declared to be citizens of the United States; and such citizens, of every race and color, without regard to any previous condition of slavery or involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall have the same right, in every State and Territory in the United States..." (Civil Rights Act, 1866), the act was in words only, no equality existed in spirit.

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Radicals were people who were opposed to President Lincoln's ideals as some of them felt that the plans made by the government would give rise to aristocratic gvernment, which was totally unacceptable. Lincoln had started the process of reconstruction even before the war had actually ended. Seeing that slavery was ending in the South he decided to build a strong Republican presence in those states and declared general amnesty to those areas of the Confederacy, which had been occupied by Union armies. Slaves had also been declared free citizens in the Amnesty and Reconstruction proclamation of 1863 and it was clearly stated that any decision taken by "state government in relation to the freed people of such state, which shall recognize and declare their permanent freedom, provide for their education... will not be objected to by the National Executive."

TOPIC: Term Paper on American Civil War Reconstruction Assignment

It was during this period that President Lincoln announced that any group would be given the government executive recognition if it were able to prove that it was in number equal to 10% of the total votes of that state in the presidential election of 1860. This resulted in huge uproar from a certain group within the congress, which was after termed as Radicals as they were of the view that this type of law would lead to old planter aristocracy. Anther Bill was passed in the Senate to counteract Lincoln's pan but Wade-Davis Bill never became a law because of pocket veto of the President.

At the time of President's death, it was clear that many of his plans for reconstruction were not approved by the Congress and therefore the need arose for someone who could end the stalemate. This end to deadlock came in the form of Andrew Johnson who succeeded Abraham Lincoln and he is known in the history as a moderate for he tried to bridge the gap between radicals and the Lincoln supporters. But while there are some absolute notions, which have been engraved in our minds regarding the history, some people are of the view that the truth was not essential parallel to the popular views. According to Eric Foner who is the professor of history at Columbia University, many of the views regarding the reconstruction period are based on pre-conceived notions of the historians and not necessarily the truth. He debunks the view that Radical Republicans were wrong just because they did not support the President and neither does he think that Andrew Johnson was a great moderator. Foner maintains that while Johnson was a staunch supporter of the reconstruction plan during the Lincoln era, he was essentially a racist himself because of some of his views, which the author has gathered, in his book. He also believes that since Johnson never really gave blacks their full rights, he was trying to severely limit the powers of the black community in the government. It was due to this that all states maintained a white supremacy in the government while blacks were supposedly being granted more rights than they previously enjoyed. The government wanted to remove the old planter aristocracy in the South by allocating more lands to farmers and artisans by it is believed that Johnson was himself contributing to racial segregation by passing such laws as the black codes which restricted the ability of blacks to own land.

Johnson was however later impeached by the House when his activities were seen by most as a threat to the reconstruction measures. By this time many of the moderates had also joined the radicals because the policies of Johnson were not approved by many of his own camp.

Eric Foner has presented many interesting views regarding the freedom movement as he goes on to dispel many old notions. He maintains that freedom of American was an evolutionary process; it was not something, which was attained with the Revolution of 1776 or with the Civil war. The author feels that there were many phases ion the history that drove the country towards better government and more racial integration.

Eric Foner also believes that Bill of Rights, which actually forms the very basis of our freedom and racial integration, was not really all that important during the Reconstruction period. He is of the view that the First Amendment was rarely paid any attention to while it is now considered to be the backbone of America's concept of liberty.

The reconstruction era was marked by violence in many states mostly notably the Southern states. Georgia was one place that witnessed extreme violence between whites and freedmen. In some primary documents of the time, we find clear evidence of the violence that had erupted in these areas and threat they posed to stability of the federation. In one such incident when violence broke out in Camilla Georgia, a letter was written by agent Brevet Major O.H. Howard to assistant inspector general for the Georgia Freedman's Bureau. In that letter, he spoke of the unrest in these words: "I wished to come up myself, but I dare not leave the freedmen here to themselves. If any one can prevent them from going to Camilla en masse I can do it, therefore, I remain here. Unless vigorous measures are instituted, and troops are stationed here for the protection of all parties, there will be much bloodshed. I cannot restrain the people."

Tourgee is another author who has talked at length about failure of reconstruction. He says that reconstruction was an effort to shift power and resources from aristocracy to the masses. And this shift wasn't easy and thus couldn't be achieved in a breeze. Tourgee sais that in 1868 in Reconstruction "for the first time [in North Carolina] the rights of the masses were regarded above the interest of any aristocracy, and manhood regarded as of more value than money."

Eric Foner is also of the view that slavery was ironically contributing to the development of the land. While slavery was severely condemned by the free Northern States, it was known in the South that slave plantations were playing a very major role in the progress of these states. The author shows how slavery was contributing to prosperity of the Southern states while on the whole the country was sharply divided over the issue of human oppression.

Nearly two and a half centuries had passed since twenty black men and women were landed in Virginia from a Dutch ship. From this tiny seed had grown the poisoned fruit of plantation slavery, which, in profound and contradictory ways, shaped the course of American development. Even as slavery mocked the ideals of a nation supposedly dedicated to liberty and equality, slave labor played an indispensable part in its rapid growth, expanding westward with the young republic, producing the cotton that fueled the early industrial revolution."

The failure of reconstruction had also been due to the lack of property rights to the newly freedmen. Time did work its changes on freedmen. Immobilized by share tenancy, terrorized by the Ku Klux Klan, dispirited by the failure of Reconstruction, blacks gradually settled back into behavior which whites found more acceptable. In 1866, De Bow's Review had printed a letter from an irate planter who complained that the hope for land of their own had produced "discontent, impatience, and insubordination" among freedmen. But land was denied them, and the keys to the corncrib and smokehouse remained in planters' hands. As the grandson of John C. Calhoun said years later, blacks "realized their true condition" and went to work. From her Virginia plantation, Ann Hairston reported in 1870, "I never saw even in the days of slavery as little passing about and what few I see look as humble as any slave I ever noticed."… [END OF PREVIEW] . . . READ MORE

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