Reconstruction is a period in US history that started with the emancipation of the South in 1863 and lasted until 1877 (Rorabaugh et al. 302). Reconstruction began as a wartime experiment when the Union army took control over thousands of slaves. After the end of the Civil War, ex-slaves got new freedoms and rights. However, without education, property, and protection from violence, their opportunities in the war-torn South were limited. While Reconstruction led to the unification of the South and North, it transformed the economic, social, and political life in the country.
Reconstruction had a positive impact on the African-American population of the country. Former slaves and free Blacks received political rights. The adoption of the Thirteenth, Fourteenth, and Fifteenth Amendments guaranteed a number of freedoms for African Americans. For example, they were allowed to vote, join political activities, acquire the land, get employed, and use public accommodations (Foner 159). By the 1870s, African Americans were employed as police officers, juries, and justices of the peace, ensuring that Whites were prosecuted for their crimes against former slaves. African Americans also began to work at schools and tax offices located in the plantation region, symbolizing the political revolution in the South (Foner 159). At the same time, the opponents of the emancipation of former slaves soon managed to limit the freedom of African Americans. After the end of Reconstruction, white Southerners managed to reestablish their influence over Blacks through the means of violence and discrimination.
Besides providing legal support for freed slaves, Reconstruction was aimed at the post-war rebuilding of the South, transformation of the Southern society heavily dependent on slaves, and restoration of the Union (Rorabaugh et al. 302). According to the plan, each Southern state had to pledge future loyalty to the United States and abolish slavery in new constitutions. However, the Radical Republicans insisted on more severe conditions for the Southern states. Particularly, they mentioned the necessity to completely transform the South and ensure that it would not try to revolt again. The Radical Republicans suggested establishing Unionist and pro-Republican governments in the South, limiting the rights of planter elites, and enfranchising Blacks.
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Reconstruction initiatives altered Southern politics and economy. The South suffered from the destruction of the infrastructure and had to increase expenditures to rebuild the destroyed facilities. The emancipation of slaves also required the transformation of the economy of the region. As planters made investments in slaves, they were not able to pay free workers for their services. In order to address this issue, planters introduced the system of sharecropping that included the division of large plantations into smaller shares and renting them out to freed slaves. Despite the goal of Reconstruction to make the South prosperous again, after the reforms the region had high poverty rates and was dependent on agriculture. Southern politics also changed during Reconstruction. As freed slaves required political representation, they asked their Northern counterparts for support. As a result, the Northerners moved to the South and influenced not only the decision-making process but also the composition of constituents of the Southern states.
In the Northern states, Reconstruction resulted in the industrial growth. Trade was promoted through the expansion of the transportation system based on the railroad network. At the same time, Reconstruction led to labor and political unrest. The factory system was introduced to the economy, involving many low-level workers. Thus, the exploitation of freed people continued under different conditions. In politics, women started to claim their rights and equality. While the African-American population of the country entered political institutions, women also wanted to have representation in the government and demanded basic political rights.
Despite the fact that the consequences of Reconstruction were ambiguous and even freed slaves did not receive full freedom, the reforms provided the unification of the North and South. At the end of Reconstruction, the nation was more centralized, and its citizens were more enfranchised than before the Civil War. The burning issue concerning the position of the African-American population was resolved.