Question of the Week: 2/8/15-2/14/16


Today’s question comes from Ryan Quint, who asks, “Why did Reconstruction fail?”

11 Responses to Question of the Week: 2/8/15-2/14/16

  1. Why did it fail? Let’s see…

    a) the President after Lincoln didn’t follow through on Lincoln’s plans
    b) said President wanted to “punish” the South, whereas Lincoln wanted to embrace all who fought against the US as brothers/comrades and welcome them back to the Union with no punishments whatsoever (other than they can’t take up arms against the US; other than that, no punishment, trial, court-martial, etc.)
    c) the South was bitter at losing and didn’t want any Northern “help”
    d) said South was angry and didn’t want the North there, period
    e) the South was bitter at losing their “way of life”, i.e. the master/slave way of life as all slaves became free and many left, leaving the reconstruction of the plantations to the former masters
    f) to the South, the Reconstruction wasn’t to “reconstruct” their way of life pre-war, the South was “rebuilt” according to Northern standards.

  2. There was simply no sustained Northern political or social commitment to equality (social, economic, and within a generation even political) for African-Americans. As long as the South was economically dependent on the North and their politicians were prevented from reasserting their old dominance of legislature and the Presidency, the Northern whites was content to reconcile with the Southern whites and let any “Radical” Reconstructive measures go unfunded, unenforced, un-achieved.

  3. The North was furious at the South for John Wilkes Booth and the killing of Lincoln, Booth’s plan backfired. It was not just President Johnson who wanted to punish the South, it was a large part of the government. Also, the people who went to the South as part of the reconstruction were not under government guidelines so there was no hope of making things right, and no one in the North seems to have cared.

  4. short answer to a long question.
    There were two types of
    1. Presidential Reconstruction a mild and lenient action taken by Pres. A Johnson.
    2 Congressional Reconstruction a vindictive anti-South actions of the Republican controlled Congress..
    If you throw this combination on to the just feeling of bitterness of the Southern people and well like gas on a fire. .
    Greed and self financial selfishness on the Northern people led to the policy’s failure. .

    1. Thomas:
      You obviously believe the propaganda fostered by the movies Gone with the Wind and Birth of a Nation. Here are the historical facts:

      1) Congressional Reconstruction was NOT vindictive nor anti-South. It was pro-civil rights for blacks who had been raped, tortured and otherwise brutalized by their Southern masters.

      2) Congressional Reconstruction was a relatively timid effort to lift blacks out of slavery and give them basic rights, .ie. the vote, education, jury duty, property rights, etc. This, the white South could not abide.

      3) Under Johnson, arguably our worst president, the post-war South was allowed to impose so-called Black Codes, another form of slavery. The North and Congress were rightly appalled by this psuedo-slavery and Congress reacted by attempting for force the South to give ex-slaves basic human rights.

      4) Southern whites reacted violently to these mild measures by murdering hundreds of blacks and white Republicans during a reign of terror by the KKK and other domestic terrorist groups.

      5) President Grant, in a few – very few – cases, assigned federal troops to try to stanch the bloodshed, but the white supremacy terrorism continued. The North, tiring of the huge cost of Reconstruction, ended it under President Hayes a little over a decade after the end of the Civil War. As we all know, domestic terrorism against blacks in the South continued through Jim Crow for another one hundred years.

      I am ending my family’s annual three-week winter vacation along the South Carolina coast. It is frustrating to discuss the Civil War with so many Lost Causers here who continue to deny slavery was the main cause for Southern secession and to lambaste Reconstruction. By the way, few of these Lost Causers have ever read SC’s secession ordinance, which repeatedly mentioned slavery as the main – and virtually only – cause of the state’s split from the United States.

      1. If only John Wilkes Booth had not murdered Lincoln, then what? We will never know how he would have dealt with the South and blacks. I find it sad that after the Civil War that blacks who should have had all the rights that whites did, didn’t have them until a century later. Even then, it was tough for whites to accept.

      2. Exactly! Part of the reason Lincoln needed not just a win, but a WIN in 1864 was that he needed the mandate necessary to push through a reasonable Reconstruction. Losing Lincoln was a tragedy for everyone.

  5. I am not sure that I agree with the premise that Reconstruction failed. By 1875 the seceding States were reincorporated into the constitutional structure so I suppose that was a success. From a freed slaves perspective they were no longer slaves and with the 13th, 14th amendments they had the rights of citizens. However, as a practical matter they were prevented from exercising those rights by the Black Codes so that would count as a failure. Reconstruction was a success for the North in the sense that the political order was restored and they were in good economic shape compared to the South. A tough question.

  6. Amy and Meg:
    There is a growing number of historians who think Lincoln would have eventually enacted something similar to the Congressional Reconstruction. Here’s their thinking, and it makes sense to me:

    Lincoln was one of the most flexible politicians of his day on many issues. He reacted to changing conditions. Also, his thoughts on blacks evolved during the war. During the antebellum period and early months of the war Lincoln believed – like most whites North and South at the time – that blacks were an inferior race. However, his feelings gradually shifted as he came into more and more contact with black leaders like Frederick Douglas and 200,000 blacks volunteered and fought bravely for the Union.

    True, at the end of the war, Lincoln wanted a go-easy policy toward the South. But that was before southern whites enacted the Black Codes, before they kept blacks from voting, from serving on juries, from owning property, etc. The easy presidential Reconstruction in the early years following the war allowed all these outrages to occur. Southern whites just didn’t understand that the Civil War had changed – or should have changed – the status of blacks.

    These historians believe Lincoln would have been as outraged as radical Republicans and others in the North by the vicious mistreatment of blacks by white southerners in the years just after the war. In the wake of these horrific acts in 1865-67 by southern whites, they speculate that Lincoln would have come down even harder on the South than the radical Republicans in Congress.

    Lincoln knew better than anyone the debt the North owed black soldiers and sailors, especially in the last year of the war when Union ranks were thinned by massive casualties and morale among many white troops sagged.

    Also, being the hard-nosed politician that he was, Lincoln would have appreciated the overwhelming support black voters in the South gave Republican candidates, once Congressional Reconstruction was instituted.

    Of course, we’ll never really know. Booth took care of that.

  7. I think there are three parts to this questions. The first is the deeply held belief in the South that their slaves really did not deserve the rights and no Northern occupation would change that. The heavy-handed imposition by the North of these new rights on an unwilling Southern leadership and citizenship led to resentment and intransigence. But the longer-term problem, which led to Jim Crow, was the withdrawal of Union forces as part of the deal for the corrupted 1876 Presidential election. The quid pro quo was the end of Reconstruction forces;once that happened, further reform was dead and there was a new type of slavery

  8. Thanks everyone for commenting. The era of Reconstruction is a bear to tackle– and unfortunately many don’t try to tackle it. As the events of Reconstruction unfold, expect some posts here at ECW detailing them– a continuation of the 150th Cycle.

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