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American Reconstruction US History Mid-term Paper
The American nation has seen many challenges on the way of its formation. Some of them were so significant that they touched every aspect of America’s social life ranging from personal relations to Constitution. Among such changes, one can name Reconstruction, which was the national struggle for peace and equal rights, putting the end to the difficult relationship of the South and the North. Moreover, the Civil War had seriously affected social and economic principles of American society, opening the way to reforms in the country.
These reforms required successful leaders able to bring them to life and make the nation prosper. However, the leaders of the South and the North had a different vision of Reconstruction. Thus, they used every possibility to fight for their moral and political beliefs. As a result, the process of Reconstruction was controversial as it faced different antagonistic forces of the social and political nature. Therefore, this paper investigates the difficulties that the American nation had on its way to racial equality and social agreement. Consequently, the efforts of people and political leaders protecting the human rights served as the basis for the further elimination of racial segregation in the USA.
America after the End of the Civil War
Despite the end of the Civil War in America, the social, economic, and political situation in the country required complex solutions to save the country from the crisis. In fact, society required the restoration of the mechanisms of the legislative, economic, and administrative regulation due to the fact that the war had broken their function. Devastated cities and thousands of killed people made it difficult for both sides of the war to start cooperating in a peaceful way. Moreover, some part of people that was unable to accept the fact of their defeat organized underground terroristic groups to fight for their beliefs. Furthermore, society had approximately four million of new citizens that were former slaves who had to find their niche in the social system. Numerous political leaders introduced their plans for Reconstruction discussing their ideas with society.
One of such plans that were highly appreciated by the citizens was the proposal of President Abraham Lincoln. The “Lincoln Plan” put several criteria before the Confederate states that allowed them to rejoin the Union of the states. In order to do that, the Confederate states had to have 10% of voters that swear the loyalty to the union and recognize the liberation of slaves. Moreover, the people that obtained high administrative positions in the Confederate states were prohibited from carrying out voting rights or preserving their positions. However, the assassination of Lincoln prevented him from putting the plan into action. More to say, it gave an opportunity to other political powers to fight for the possibility of taking the control over the country.
Moreover, during the war, enslaved African Americans achieved their freedom through escape to the Union. Furthermore, they joined combating troops to fight for the liberation of African Americans. For instance, they made up 40% of Tennessee’s Union troops (Van Zelm, n. d.). That is why among African Americans, the end of the war was associated as a hope for better life. The former slaves required the recognition of their rights at the legislative level, which could provide them complete freedom of life and activity. The political powers also used these intentions, as well as the intentions of radical white citizens, to achieve their goals. That is why the post-war period is characterized with the attempts of Democrats and Republicans to transform the legislative power into the one supporting or opposing racial segregation.
The Process of Reconstruction
The initiation of Reconstruction by Andrew Johnson is associated with the struggle for the legislation of freedom for slaves. The reason for the struggle was that the former vice president of Lincoln had completely different opinion on the situation with slavery in the country. Despite representing the Radical Republicans, who fought for the recognition of the rights of the slaves, he supported the passage of the “Black Codes.” As a result, Blacks were excluded from public schools, denied the rights to buy real estate, vote, testify against Whites, and so on. Thus, Du Bois and Lewis (1935) argue that these legislations were “a plain and indisputable attempt on the part of the Southern States to make Negroes slaves in everything but name” (p. 746).
Moreover, the introduction of Jim Crow laws enforced racial segregation in the Southern states. The separate but equal approach to these laws in the former Confederation officially supported educational, social, and economic disadvantages. Consequently, society and the Republicans were extremely dissatisfied with such attempts of the South to regain its power. Their opposing attempts were the provision of the extending of Freedmen’s Bureau and a Civil Rights Bill that faced a veto from the President Johnson. The latter provoked the social rejection of Johnson and negative attitude of society towards him, which later took the form of impeachment.
Additionally, the representatives of African Americans resisted the reemerging system of segregation. For instance, Ida B. Wells, a journalist, had launched a campaign against lynching. She investigated the social reasons behind the facts of the lynching of Blacks and argued that the motive for such action was not the economic but racial factor.
Furthermore, it is significant to denote that one of the most important achievements of Reconstruction is the Fourteen and the Fifteen Amendments. The first one constitutionalized civil rights and guaranteed the equality of Blacks and Whites before the law. Likewise, the Fifteen Amendment mandated the equal rights for all the citizens of the United States “to vote regardless of race, color or previous condition of servitude” (“15th Amendment”, n. d.). Furthermore, along with legal and political fights to influence the development of the country, there were numerous informal organizations that supported different beliefs.
Non-governmental Organizations of the North and the South
One has to note that the political struggle for the abolition of slavery and racial segregation reflected the same struggle among the citizens. Thus, the representatives of both social positions formed various organizations that supported their beliefs. For instance, around 2,000 African Americans held public office during Reconstruction (“Black Leaders during Reconstruction”, n. d.). Their positions ranged from the local level to the Senate of the US, although they never had adequate proportions in the government. The first two years of Reconstruction are associated with the organization of Equal Rights Leagues throughout the Southern states. They pursued the ratification of state and local conventions combating racial discrimination, demanding equality before the law, and suffrage.
One of the primary aims of such organizations was the opposition to the policies implemented by President Johnson. The Black community was dissatisfied with such measures because they understood that the President was not going to address the assurance of their rights. Consequently, the Black community used the opportunities that appeared with the guarantees of 14th and 15th Amendments to develop the political activism throughout the Southern states. As a result, for the first time in history, African Americans and white Americans represented similar political ideas. Scholars indicate that in the early years of Reconstruction, the church served as a center of black community (“Black Leaders during Reconstruction”, n. d.). That is why there is nothing unusual in the fact that the leaders of African Americans were mainly former churchmen.
Later, the Black workers formed labor unions to protect their rights. Sometimes these unions had mixed White and Black participants. However, Blacks were still dissatisfied with the wages and working conditions claiming that Whites had more possibilities. Moreover, political motivation seriously influenced the Black industrial action. For instance, in 1869, the Charleston Longshoremen’s Protective Union Association has two strikes that resulted in the rehiring of a White longshoreman fired for his involvement in the Republican Party (Campbell & Fraser, 2008). Thus, racial factor tended to be the major issue long after the amendment of civil rights and the abolition of slavery.
Furthermore, one has to note that the opponents of the Reconstruction movement were not that selective in the methods of their fight for their beliefs. The Southern White representatives were frustrated with the accepted amendments and thought they were deprived of rights to have slaves. Such frustration and hostility led to the formation of organizations that put terror before politics and social activism. As a result, one of the most active terroristic organizations emerged, which was The Ku Klux Klan. It targeted the opponents regardless of their gender or social status. Thus, among its victims were the Black officials and non-officials as well as local Republican leaders. The Ku Klux Klan was not a single organization, thus society had another challenge of defending the lives of the legislators of racial equality as well as the Black citizens. At the same time, African Americans had prominent leaders able to support their views with purely legal arguments.
Booker T. Washington Opposing Disfranchisements of African Americans in the South
Discussing American Reconstruction, one has to mention the figure of Booker T. Washington as a prominent leader of the Black community. Being an educator and orator, who was born into slavery, he became the voice of the ideas and concerns expressed by the former slaves. One presumes that he was not only a great orator but a strategist because his proposals aimed at long-term perspectives for the Black Americans of the South. Thus, the Atlanta Compromise proposed by him suggested two demands for Whites and Blacks. The latter were required not to aspire for the right to vote but would tolerate the cases of segregation. At the same time, the former had to allow Blacks to obtain a basic education.
On the one hand, one may state that this agreement was the betrayal of the ideas of the Civil War. However, Booker T. Washington had the aim of ceasing the conflict and preparing the basis for the next stage of the fight for the rights of the blacks. For instance, Brown and Stentiford (2014) argue that “Washington often completely opposed his professed public pronouncements. It is clear he rejected white racism” (p. 473). Moreover, he lobbied the positions for blacks in the federal government. Consequently, his strategy was a success after the 1950s. That is why the strategies of Booker T. Washington to assure the rights of the Black community during had after Reconstruction were one of the most successful ones.
Summarizing the presented information, the study concludes that American Reconstruction was one of the most difficult and important periods for the nation. The winners of the Civil War expected quick introduction of the new policies liberating the African Americans and establishing new society. However, the South continued its fight depriving the former slaves of their rights. Thus, the country has such constraints to the elimination of segregation as Black Codes, and Jim Crow laws. Nevertheless, the introduction of the 14th and 15th Amendments to the Constitution initiated the emergence of organizations defending the rights of Blacks. Moreover, there were numerous prominent political leaders supporting the abolishment of segregation. One of them was Booker T. Washington, who proposed Atlanta Compromise as a guarantee for the future elimination of segregation. Unfortunately, society viewed its result after the 1950s, but at that time, it was the best way to preserve peace and address the abolishment of segregation.