Nov 19, 2020 in History

Reconstruction and Race Relations

Reconstruction and Race Relations



The Civil War marked the beginning of the new era in the American history. It became a crucial point in the development of the nations social structure. The Emancipation Proclamation of 1863 declared immediate and irreversible freedom for all slaves in the United States paving the way for the eventual abolition of American slavery. The freedom given to the black slaves by the 13th Amendment of the United States Constitution conditioned the development of the new U.S. social policy. The proclamation consisted of two orders. The first order of 1862 outlined the intent to abolish slavery within territories that affiliated the Confederate States of America and decided not to return to the Union by the end of 1862. The second order of 1863 specifically named states that applied the proclamation: Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina, Texas, and Virginia (McPherson, 1964).

Major supporters of the proclamation viewed it as an efficient military measure that would help to dispossess the Confederacy of slavery and bring more men into the Union Army. During the last two years of the Civil War, the Union Army numbered over 180 hundred of African-American soldiers making 10% of the Unions forces by the end of the war. The proclamation also revealed the Unions motives in this conflict. Foreign nations that have already abolished slavery such as France and Britain would support the Confederacy only if it dissolves the institution of slavery.

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The aftermath of the Civil War could be evaluated from two different perspectives. The Thirteenth Amendment brought confusion into the masses. Freed black people did not know what to do with their newly acquired freedom and were surrounded by white hostile people who did not know how to treat their former slaves. The Reconstruction implemented by Congress aimed at developing means for reorganizing the Southern states in order to provide conditions in which black and white people could live together peacefully. However, the South did not welcome the Reconstruction and perceived it rather like a vengeful mean to humiliate the Southern states. Therefore, the Southern Democrats and Conservatives did everything they could making the exercise of freedom challenging for former slaves.

Restraints on Freedom of Blacks

The battle for the right to set the terms of Reconstruction started between the President and Congress. After Lincolns assassination in April 1965, Andrew Johnson became the President. His attempt to take charge of Reconstruction was based on the plan by which new state constitutions should be written by the southern states that would allow them to re-enter the Union. This plan, though, did not provide for allowing any political rights to black people. The adoption of this plan and its results made a horrifying impression on the northern states. According to Johnsons plan, former Confederate leaders were elected to high positions. The new states developed Black Codes that put serious limitations on the freedom of black people and aimed at continuing slavery in any possible way.

The land remained owned mostly by the white people, and its redistribution was not the subject of discussion. Some of the Radical Republicans supported the idea of dividing the planters land in order to give some part of it to the freemen. However, the government did not plan this as it was too risky. Such radical action could dispose northern and southern property owners to hostile reaction and influence the desire to fight for equal rights. Such policy resulted in a controversial situation in the South: freed people did not have the land to feed themselves and had to continue working for the property owners in order to stay alive. This made them vulnerable to economic and political intimidation.

An important occurrence for the ending of slavery in America was an attempt to form Republican biracial state governments. However, conservative opponents claimed that republicans reconstruction programs were corrupted. Using this reason as a cover, the Conservatives formed a secret organization named Ku Klux Klan that instigated violence towards black people and those whites who supported Reconstruction.

Actions of Freed People against Limitations

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At the end of the Civil War, not many people supported the idea of allowing the freemen to vote. However, by 1866, the issue of equal political rights for African-Americans gained significant attention of the lawmakers. The 15th Amendment of 1870 granted the freemen suffrage after a long dispute. However, this step was only the beginning of the exhausting war for the equal rights. Democrats could not accept the fact that the African-Americans could vote; thus, two decades after the ratification of the 15th Amendment, several states under the Democrats governance developed ways to restrain African-American from voting. Through such means as poll taxes, gerrymandering, and property ownership legislation, the right to vote was taken away from the Southern freemen.

Most Republicans were black freemen who held conventions and created black churches that gave them unity and political self-confidence. They often were delegates to constitutional conventions and held office positions. Therefore, the Republican Radical Party received its major support from the black people. With the newly obtained right to vote, freemen could considerably influence politics and gain power that would help them to achieve status and equality they wanted.

The Reconstruction Act of 1867 was adopted by the new Congress regardless of President Johnsons veto. This document presented a different plan on the South that corresponded with the Radical Republicans ideas and views. The Act implied that delegates to constitutional conventions should be elected in accordance with the principle of Universal Male Suffrage. However, high Confederate officers and government officials could not be delegates to the new constitutional conventions. Accordingly to the Act, the state could re-enter the Union with two conditions. First, the states constitution must be accepted by the states voters and the Congress. Second, the state has to ratify the 14th Amendment that guaranteed the United States citizenship to anyone born or naturalized in America and equal protection of the laws to any U.S. citizen (Randall & Donald, 1961).

Post-Reconstruction Political and Social Climate

In 1876, only three Southern states were under the governance of Republicans: Florida, South Carolina, and Louisiana. Controversial Presidential election and compromise of 1877 made President Hayes pull the federal army from these three states, and Redeemers took control over them. The South was under the governance of conservative Democrats; that put an end to Reconstruction. The victory of Democrats and Reconstructions failure was the defeat of the freemen.

The end of Republican government marked the end of the Reconstruction. The white Democrat Southerners enacted Jim Crow laws and after 1890 disenfranchised most blacks and poor whites regardless of several constitutional amendments and electoral laws. This was a beginning of the system of white supremacy and second-class citizenship for black people, which is now known as the age of Jim Crow (Franklin,1961).

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Effects of the 19th Century Racial Tensions on the Modern American Society

Racism in the United States has a long history and is still present in the modern society. Today, it takes forms mostly of institutional racism such as healthcare inequality, educational and occupational disadvantages, and stereotypical images. For instance, healthcare inequality may imply the lack of insurance, inadequate insurance, poor service, and reluctance to seek care. Stereotypical images of black men often include criminal nuances such as the stereotype that black people are likely to be criminals.


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