Reconstruction in the Southern States

What were the most important political and social legacies of reconstruction in the southern states? The biggest issue of reconstruction was the question of how the government was going to deal with the north and south, and how it would rebuild its relationship after the north beat the south during the war. Dealing with the former slaves was also going to be a big part of reconstruction for the south. How would they treat them now? The South was beaten and its economy was in horrible shape.

The south was still furious and having the northern troops there didn’t make it any better. The madness was from the changes made for African Americans and the fact that they now had their “freedom”. Lincoln had a dream; he was trying to make a plan to give amnesty to those swearing an oath of allegiance. When the state got 10 percent of the vote for the allegiance, it could start building its state government again. Louisiana and Arkansas both got the 10 percent, but the radicals in congress wanted even more.

The radicals pushed a bill that would transform everything in the south, but Lincoln used his pocket veto to get rid of the bill. Congress made the thirteenth Amendment to abolish slavery all together and made the freedman’s Bureau to help with the slaves to become free. Another issue was that a lot of land had been abandoned and now they needed to redistribute it. The North was creating more tension between the South because they were giving some of the land to the free slaves. During the reconstruction president Lincoln was assassinated.

Andrew Johnson became the new president, a war Democrat from Tennessee. Andrew Johnson was even harder on the South than Lincoln was, not on the entire South but more on individuals, Johnson decided while congress was not in session to grant amnesty on most of the southerners. The people of the political elite and the richer land owners were not part of the pardon, but later on Johnson pardoned most of them. Johnson made temporary governors to start making new governments in the southern states.

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In December, Johnson was saying that “restoration” was virtually finished. A lifelong Democrat, Johnson sympathized with his fellow white southerners and was committed to white supremacy. Thaddeus Stevens and George Julian radicals sought to use federal power to remake the South just like the North. They advocated land redistribution to make former slaves landowners. Strict “Black Codes” where imposed that defined a permanent second-class citizenship for the ex-slaves and this made the Northerners very upset.

When Congress came back into session in December of 1865 it did not let the southern representatives be in there, they set up a special committee to hear testimony on the southern situation. Congress passed a Civil Rights bill to grant full citizenship upon African Americans and a bill to enlarge the scope of the Freedman’s Bureau. President Johnson vetoed both bills and Congress overrode the vetoes. This resulted in making congress a much more unified Republican Party. Not knowing that courts might declare the Civil Rights Act unconstitutional, Congress wrote the Fourteenth Amendment.

The Congressional elections of 1866 became very bitter between Congress and Johnson over the issue of Reconstruction and the amendment. Republicans won congressional elections and set about gaining control over the Reconstruction. The First Reconstruction Act of 1867 enfranchised blacks and divided the South into five military districts. During all of this Johnson and the Secretary of War Edwin Stanton did not agree on everything. In violation of the Tenure of Office Act, Johnson fired Stanton.

The House then impeached Johnson, and voted again to convict Johnson but fell one vote short of it. By 1868 eight of the southern states were back in the Union, three still were not. Republicans nominated Ulysses Grant for president. The Republicans attacked Democrats’ loyalties; Democrats exploited racism to gather votes and used terror in the South to keep Republicans from voting. Republicans won with less than 53 percent of the vote. The remaining unreconstructed states had to ratify both the Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendments to be admitted to the Union.

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