The tumultuous period of American history which we now refer to Reconstruction began in 1863 when Abraham Lincoln first outlined his Reconstruction program, but its inevitable end and relative lack of success had been predetermined more than two centuries before, with the arrival of the first Europeans and their slaves in North America. To claim that Reconstruction failed solely as a result of one specific reason or another would be crude and unobservant, but the specter of racism clearly lay at the heart of all reasons imaginable.1 The horrible racism that eventually brought Reconstruction to its knees persisted during the 1860s and 1870s in a number of different forms. Two main racist influences combined in the late nineteenth century to destroy Reconstruction. The most important of these influences was the popular racism which had inherently existed in both northern and southern colonial America since the establishment of the institution of slavery in the seventeenth century. The second important influence was the standards of racism supported by the first Reconstruction president, Andrew Johnson.
Although the institution of slavery existed predominantly in the South before the Civil War, the morals and ethics perpetuated by the racism associated with it permeated all of American society–the North as well as the South. The only way that southern slaveholders maintained their status as such throughout the course of American history was through the societal indoctrination of certain religious, economic and moral principles which–the slaveholders argued–justified the institution of slavery. If generation after generation of Southerners had not been brainwashed into thinking that Blacks were inherently inferior to whites, slavery would not have perpetuated itself. The perennial inculcation of these racist values soon fused them with the very essence of the South itself. In effect, the end of Reconstruction was conceived as soon as slavery became a part of the Southern consciousness and way of life.