Reconstruction 1863-1877 Term Paper

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American History

The Defeated South

The confederacy was confronted by the defeat set upon them. This was a time to come to grips with the idea of a democracy and what it meant. Now was a time of uncertainty, no one was quite sure of how the now defeated states of the Confederacy would blend cohesively into the union preserving and maintaining the unity and power of America. Significant numbers of lives were lost, two-thirds of the region's wealth had been destroyed, and the slaves who counted for one third of the population were now free.

Inquires began to build regarding how could the North feel confident that it could reestablish a working independence dealing with citizens that could end up being defiant due to their ultimate defeat. Now was time for restructuring of the southern culture. Now was a need for race relations to be reworked, class conflicts addressed, these matters were considered of the highest importance not just regionally rather on a national level. For a large number of northerners the end of the war proposed the question of how to define democracy for freed men and how to insure that, in exercising their democratic rights at the national level, southerners still embracing confederate ways of thinking could end up complicating the process and this was a cause for concern with the enforced governance structure. (Smith, 1994, p. 92)

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Reconstruction brought about issues that were unique but deeply rooted in racism, compounded with class differences, making reform difficult. Now the north was obligated to re-introduce the south into the United States under the basis of full constitutional equality. Research suggests that the victory by the North's policy during reconstruction serves as more of an analogy than as a template for an understanding of the character of America. (Smith, 1994, p. 97) The battle was won, but there were still battles to be wagered to combine the north and the south together.

Lincoln's Plan

TOPIC: Term Paper on Reconstruction 1863-1877 Assignment

The initial step in the creation and development of Lincoln's plan for reconstruction came in the states of the Upper South and became known as his border state policy. The plan initiated with politics, Lincoln attempted to prevent any further breach of the Union. Southerners were on board and loyal, but they had been mislead by political leaders. All they needed were new leaders to follow and all would be back on board. It was stated that Lincoln gave very little thought to the concepts that principle and duty might actuate the South's Leaders and people. Therefore Lincoln's plan of reconstruction included the idea of installing a new governor under military auspice and with whatever popular support he could marshal. (Hiesseltine, 1960, p. 9)

Various aspects came together to create Lincoln's plan of reconstruction. The western counties of Virginia, from the Alleghenies to the Ohio River, had been unhappy for a long time, yoked to eastern Virginia Tidewater, Piedmont and Valley regions. In the west the Kanawha River drained a rich valley into the Ohio. North of it, counties adjacent to the Ohio looked away from Richmond. And if the "mystic chords" of sentiment did not bind the people to the Union, the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad tied their commerce to Chesapeake Bay, which if nothing else gave a reason for some amount of cohesion between the states. (Hiesseltine, 1960, p. 25)

The writing goes on to state that once the seating of the senators took place, the restored legislature set in motion the steps leading to a new state. During the winter of 1861 to 1862 a constitutional convention formed the instrument of government for West Virginia; however Lincoln remained only a passive observer of the movement. The division of Virginia became no precedent for reconstruction either during or after the war. But no one, social reformer, economic entrepreneur, or political manipulator, seriously proposed readjusting the historical boundaries of the Southern states. Instead, the Virginia contribution to the development of Lincoln's plan of reconstruction was consistent with the lessons learned from Maryland and Missouri. By the summer of 1861 the experiences of the Border States had given a basic outline to Lincoln's plan of reconstruction. To implement the movement he would use patronage to build a Unionist party. (Hiesseltine, 1960, p. 57)

Civil Rights Bill

The first permanent English colony in North America was founded at Jamestown, Virginia, in May 1607. Twelve years later, in 1619, a Dutch ship sailed into the harbor at Jamestown and sold twenty African slaves to the Virginia colonists. Thus did "slavery" and "involuntary servitude," as they are referred to in the United States Constitution, come to the American South. The flat farmlands, served by meandering Tidewater Rivers, were ideal for creating large plantations for growing cotton and other agricultural products. The African slaves provided a cheap and reliable source of agricultural and household labor for the emerging southern economy. (Humphrey, Rauh & Stewart, 1997, p. 1)

Any civil rights bill to come before the U.S. Senate would face a filibuster by a determined group of southern senators, and the filibuster could only be stopped by a "cloture vote," which required a two-thirds vote in the Senate. Thus, from the very beginning of the black civil rights movement, the Senate filibuster was regarded as the great obstacle -- and a successful cloture vote to stop a civil rights filibuster was the great goal. The Civil War Amendments "worked" but only for a short while. During a twelve-year period of "Reconstruction" in the South following the Civil War, blacks were allowed to vote and a number were elected to important state and national political offices. But, after the Civil War ended, white southern politicians and government officials went to work subverting and reducing the position of blacks in the American South. As early as 1865, the year the Civil War ended, a number of southern state legislatures began passing Black Codes, laws designed to put black citizens in a state of near slavery by limiting their rights and privileges. (Humphrey, Rauh & Stewart, 1997, p. 3)

The Republican majority in the United States Congress responded to the Black Codes with the Civil Rights Act of 1866, which made it illegal to deprive a person of his civil rights regardless of race, color, or previous servitude. Additional civil rights laws were passed by Congress in 1870, 1871, and 1875, all of them designed to have the national government in Washington, D.C., protect black Americans from white-dominated southern state governments, Throughout this period, the Republicans in Congress sought to "nationalize" the issue of black civil rights so that southern white-state legislatures could not undo the work of the Civil War. (Humphrey, Rauh & Stewart, 1997, p. 4)

Andrew Johnson's Presidency

On Apr. 15, 1865, following Lincoln's assassination, Johnson took the oath of office as President. His Reconstruction program (and he insisted that Reconstruction was an executive, not a legislative, function) was based on the theory that the Southern states had never been out of the Union. He therefore restored civil government in the ex-Confederate states as soon as it was feasible. Because he was not prepared to grant equal civil rights to blacks and because he did not press for the wholesale disqualification for office of Confederate leaders, he was roundly denounced by the radical Republicans, who, led by Thaddeus Stevens, set out to undo Johnson's work on the convening of the 39th Congress in Dec., 1865. ("Andrew Johnson, Presidency," 2007)

In Apr., 1866, Congress passed the Civil Rights Act over Johnson's veto, and his political power began to decline drastically. During the rest of his administration there was one humiliation after another. His "swing around the circle" in the congressional elections of 1866 was unsuccessful. On Mar. 2, 1867, the radicals passed over his veto the First Reconstruction Act and the Tenure of Office Act. When Johnson insisted upon his intention to force out of office his Secretary of War, Edwin M. Stanton, whom he rightly suspected of conspiring with the congressional leaders, the radical Republicans sought to remove the President. Their first attempt failed (Dec., 1867), but on Feb. 24, 1868, the House passed a resolution of impeachment against him even before it adopted (Mar. 2 -- 3) 11 articles detailing the reasons for it. Although the problems of Reconstruction dominated Johnson's administration, there were important achievements in foreign relations, notably the purchase (1867) of Alaska, negotiated by Secretary of State William H. Seward. Johnson's name figured in the balloting at the Democratic convention of 1868. In 1875, he died a few months after taking his seat. ("Andrew Johnson, Presidency," 2007, p. 4)

The Impeachment Crisis

At the core of the only presidential impeachment of a president of the United States lay the crisis of American Reconstruction after the Civil War. The danger of national disintegration had been all too valid, the sacrifices to avert it immense. When the war ended, Americans whom to this point had been loyal faced real traitors, people who had fought gallantly and bitterly to… [END OF PREVIEW] . . . READ MORE

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