Give Me Liberty

Based upon the reading and Chapter 15 in Give Me Liberty!, respond to the following

Was Reconstruction a noble experiment that failed, a vengeful Northern punishment of
the South, a weak effort that did not go far enough, or the best that could have been
expected under the circumstances? What is the historical legacy of Reconstruction?
(Consider particularly the 14th and 15th amendments.)
Answer the assigned question, Each response should be more than 3 sentences in length,
Use college level writing skills and should be spell checked.
Put some thought into your response.
•Your responses must not only answer the questions, but they must also be insightful, analytical and
include relevant references from the readings.

Readings to do before writing the response:
Chapter 15 in “Give Me Liberty!”
This reading
1 The Ordeal of Reconstruction: Race, Revenge and the Marketplace. For many years
the time period following the Civil War through 1877 was viewed by historians as a
period of failure, corruption and crisis, especially with regard to rebuilding the South
after the war. The years of Reconstruction were depicted as a time when Northern
opportunists (referred to as carpetbaggers by white southerners) and southern Union
sympathizers (referred to as scalawags by their white neighbors) joined free southern
blacks to hold the South at the mercy of a corrupt regime bent on dispossessing good
white southerners of their hard earned property and profit. Only when valiant white
southerners rose up and seized control of southern governments in the 1870s did the
horrible ordeal of Reconstruction end. This version of Reconstruction was taught and
schools and supported in popular culture throughout the early 20th Century. In the 19-
teens the director D.W. Griffith immortalized this view of Reconstruction in the first
blockbuster film in American History, Birth of a Nation. Griffith presented the previous
stereotypes to a more than willing audience. The films ends with the Ku Klux 2 Klan
bravely taking back the South. President Woodrow Wilson, the first southern president
since the Civil War, was given a private screening and commented later that it was
“History written in lightening!” With the exception of a few alternative histories (the most
notable was W.E.B. DuBois’ study of the period) this portrayal of Reconstruction held
firm in American History books up until the social activism of the 1960s. Since the ‘60s
historians have begun to reexamine the period anew in an attempt to shed a more
objective light on perhaps the most significant period of our history with regard to the
subject of race in the South and American society as a whole. With the end of the Civil
War in April of 1865, the federal government faced a tremendous challenge. Although
the South had been defeated, Lincoln was confronted with three main problems: 1. How
do you reconnect the South the Union politically, socially, economically and culturally?
2. In addition to reconnecting the South there was a desire to bring industry to the
region. Many Northern politicians felt that slavery retarded the economic growth of the region and now that the institution was gone industry would flourish if a functioning
wage labor system could be introduced. 3. Over 3 million slaves were now free. The
government now had to determine what role to take in dealing with the recently freed
population, especially with regard to race relations in the region. Lincoln began planning
Reconstruction long before the end of the war in 1865. In 1863, when the outcome of
the war still seemed uncertain, Lincoln introduced his plan for the postwar South.
Referred to as Moderate or Presidential Reconstruction, the plan 3 promised any
Confederate if they took an oath of allegiance to the Union and accepted the end of
slavery. Once 10% of voters in a southern state took the oath a new state government
could be formed and political representation at the federal level would be reinstated.
Lincoln constructed such a lenient Reconstruction plan for the following reasons: 1. He
wished to more quickly incorporate the South back into the Union for the sake of
economic health. 2. He felt the war had been punishment enough on the South as most
of the destruction took place in Confederate territory. 3. He hoped that by introducing
such a plan in 1863 he could convince southern border states to come back into the
Union under more agreeable terms. The assassination of Lincoln changed everything.
Andrew Johnson, Lincoln’s Vice President, did not share the president’s conciliatory
stance toward the Confederacy. Johnson, a pro-Union politician from Tennessee,
blamed the southern planter gentry for the war and sought to exclude Confederate
politicians and military officers from participating in the governing of Southern states as
they were admitted back into the Union. Initially Republicans in Congress welcomed
Johnson’s stance as they too wished to exact a level of revenge on those who led the
South into war, but they soon learned that Johnson was not as committed to
maintaining his pledge. Johnson had shown a penchant for pardoning Confederate
officials who showed him deference. At the same time, white southerners were
attempting to reinstate slavery in all but name through the use of black codes in the
south. These codes sought to restrict southern freed blacks in a variety of ways; from
denying them the right to testify against whites in court to forcing 4 blacks into work
gangs if they were found to be unattached to any plantation. It was becoming
increasingly clear that although Andrew Johnson may have resented the wealthy
southern planter elite, it did not translate into a desire to lift up southern blacks socially,
economically or politically. In late 1866 things would change in the federal government.
During the Congressional elections of that year the Republicans won a 3 to 1 majority
which would allow them to overturn any presidential veto of legislation and effectively
take over control of Reconstruction efforts and the federal government (Republicans
would attempt to use their newly gained power to remove Johnson from office using the
impeachment process in 1868, but fall one vote short although due to the Republican
majority he becomes more of a figurehead president). Radical Republicans led the
charge for a much more aggressive Reconstruction policy with regard to Southern
reform. Their agenda included the following (some of which had been passed prior to the 1866 election): 1. 13th Amendment (ratified in 1865): abolished slavery 2. 14th
Amendment (ratified in 1868): provided the rights of citizenship including equality under
the law to African Americans 3. 15th Amendment (ratified in 1870): established that
citizens could not be denied the right to vote based upon race, color or “previous
condition of servitude”. 4. Creation of the Freedman’s Bureau (1865): Provided
medicine, schools, wage contracts, and a separate court system for freed blacks. 5.
Through the passage of the Reconstruction Act (1867) the south was divided into five
separate military districts while readmission into the Union was made much 5 more
difficult. Among other restrictions, southern states were now required to recognize the
right of suffrage for black males. The motivations for Radical Reconstruction (1867-
1877) were numerous. Certainly revenge played a role in the more punitive plan of the
Republicans in Congress, but that is only part of the reason. Personal animosity for
Johnson certainly contributed, as did a desire to remake the South economically as a
region of wage labor and individual economic competition in contrast to the paternalistic
slave society which existed prior to the Civil War. Also important to Republicans were
the political ramifications of elevating the status of Southern blacks. By granting the right
to vote to black men the Republican Party hoped to garner political support in a region
in which there was little love for the party of Lincoln. Lastly, if southern blacks could be
elevated to some semblance of economic, political and social equality there would be
less motivation to leave the region and stream into Northern urban centers looking for
employment and housing, which would further exacerbate class friction which elevated
to urban riots during the Civil War. The most committed Radical Republicans also were
driven by a strong sense of a moral obligation to the freed slaves that they be elevated
in Southern society, but they were just a small percentage of the total number of
Republicans in Congress. It is not surprising that freed blacks quickly moved to create a
life independent of their previous owners. Throughout the South the former slaves
created separate churches and colleges away from the prying eyes of whites (Fisk,
Howard and the Hampton Institute were all created during the period of Reconstruction).
They also sought to possess those things which were forbidden under slavery such as
guns, dogs, and liquor. 6 Perhaps the most dramatic change was the presence of
thousands of freed slaves walking the roads of the South looking to reconnect with
separated families. African Americans resisted attempts to put them back to work on
plantations in gangs, preferring to farm independently and provide a percentage of their
crop to the landowner as payment for the usage of the land (sharecropping). Politically
freed blacks mobilized quickly at both the state and federal levels. During
Reconstruction African Americans would serve in both houses of Congress (2 in the
Senate and 14 in the House of Representatives). Unfortunately, the rising success of
African Americans only fueled a growing resentment by Southern whites, specifically a
group which referred to themselves as “Southern Redeemers.” Although the desire of
Republicans to see the reforms of Radical Reconstruction carried out was strong during the early years, that intensity began to fade throughout the 1870s. Increasingly Americans grew tired of a program which, next to waging war against the Confederacy, was the most expensive federal expenditure in American History to that point. The
notion of paying taxes for a federal policy which seemed to only benefit the South
became increasingly hard to stomach for many Americans, especially in the wake of a
massive depression in 1873. Claims of rampant corruption in Reconstruction
governments were constant and although some were based in fact, the corruption was
no worse than what transpired under the presidential administration of Ulysses S. Grant
at the national level. A group which referred to themselves as “Southern Redeemers”
argued that the problems which plagued the South stemmed from governments made of
self-interested Northern Republicans and ignorant southern black politicians, and
although largely inaccurate, they found receptive ears at the national 7 level.
Redeemers were largely made up of southern professionals who sought to remake
Southern society: first, they strongly advocated the industrialization of the South feeling
that the reason why they had lost the Civil War was due to a lack of industrial might
rather than a lack of will; secondly, they wished to return African-Americans to a position
of subservience to whites economically, politically and socially. These circumstances
set the stage for one of the most tumultuous presidential elections in American History,
the election of 1876. By the time of the 1876 election life for Southern blacks had
deteriorated significantly since the beginning of Reconstruction in the 1860s. Violence
toward African Americans and southern Republicans had increased with each year as
the federal increasingly chose not to intervene. As the election of 1876 transpired, black
voters were turned away from the polls in large numbers with violence and intimidation.
The election pitted Republican Rutherford B. Hayes against Democrat Samuel Tilden
and drew one of the largest voter turnouts in American history (82% of registered voters
voted; by contrast only 50.4% of registered voters voted in 2000, 59% in 2004). When
the election ended the results of three southern states (Florida, Louisiana, and South
Carolina) were disputed by both parties with the winner of those states becoming the
next president although Tilden had won the popular vote by almost 300,000 votes. A
fifteen-member Electoral Commission, in which Republicans were in control with an 8-7
majority, decided that Hayes won the contested states and thus the presidency.
Democrats were outraged by the result (see image below), and demanded satisfaction
over the results. Even as the commission was meeting to decide the fate of election,
leading Democrats 8 and Republican met to discuss a possible compromise over the
election. In the end what historians call The Compromise of 1877 included the following:
1. Democrats would not dispute the election of Hayes and promised to respect the civil
and political rights of blacks. (A promise which had already been violated and would
continue to be violated with greater degree in the late 19th Century). 2. Hayes would
place a southerner in the cabinet position of postmaster general. 3. Hayes would work
to fund a transcontinental railroad route through the South. 4. Most significantly, the federal government would recognize Democratic control of the south. For better or worse, Reconstruction had ended with a return of Democratic control of the region and the status of African Americans placed in an extremely precarious situation.

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