The time from 1865 – 1877 was called the Reconstruction period. Abraham Lincoln started planning for the reconstruction of the South during the Civil War, he wanted to bring the Nation back together as quickly as possible and in 1863 he offered his plan for Reconstruction which required that the States new constitutions prohibit slavery. In January 1865, Congress proposed an amendment to the Constitution, which would abolish slavery in the United States. On December 18, 1865, Congress ratified the Thirteenth Amendment formally abolishing slavery.
The freed slaves still didn’t have citizenship and wanted wages, real estate, and voting rights. Black codes were adopted to regulate or inhibit the migration of free African-Americans to the mid-west. Southern legislatures passed laws that restricted the civil rights of the emancipated former slaves. Other states quickly adopted their own versions of the codes, some of which were so restrictive that they resembled the old system of slavery such as forced labor for various offenses.
Congress passed an act in March 1865 to establish the Freedmen’s Bureau, which was organized to provide relief and assistance to the former slaves, including health services, educational services, and abandoned land services. In 1866, the Civil Rights Act was passed by Congress, which outlined a number of civil liberties including the right to make contracts, own and sell property and receive equal treatment under? the law. Congress passed the Fourteenth Amendment in 1867. The amendment was designed to provide citizenship and civil liberties to the recently freed slaves.
The first Reconstruction Act was passed by Congress in March 1867. Five military districts each under the leadership of a U. S. general were carved out in the south and new elections were held which allowed the vote to black males. In addition to the Reconstruction Acts, Congress also passed a series of bills in 1867 to limit President Johnson’s power, one of which was the Tenure of Office Act. The bill was to require consent for removal of any federal official. Johnson fired Edwin M. Stanton and replaced him with Ulysses S. Grant.
Congress was afraid Johnson would end Military Reconstruction, so they ordered him to reinstate Stanton. Johnson refused, but Grant resigned and Congress put Stanton back in office. Tired of presidential vetoes that blocked Military Reconstruction, the House Republicans impeached Johnson for violating the Tenure of Office Act, but Johnson was not convicted. If Congress had removed a president from office simply on the basis of a power struggle between the president and Congress, they might have endangered the system of separation of powers.
The Thirteenth and Fourteenth Amendments had abolished slavery and granted blacks citizenship, but blacks still did not have the right to vote. In 1869, Congress passed the Fifteenth Amendment, granting all American males the right to vote. Many women went to polls to test the Fourteenth Amendment the right to vote, but federal courts rejected women’s voting rights. The addition of a single word in the Fifteenth Amendment would have given women rights. The rights could have said “race, color, sex, or previous condition of servitude.
” Still the voting rights were obstructed of gender, literacy and the grandfather clause. Many freed blacks, previously forbidden to learn and write, wanted their children to receive the education that they themselves had been denied of. The Freemen’s Bureau succeeded in establishing schools for the blacks. Despite efforts by white landowners to force blacks back into wage labor on plantations, emancipation enabled southern blacks to rent their own plots of land, farm them, and provide for their families.
A system of sharecropping emerged in which many former plantation owners divided their lands and rented out each plot. Unfortunately, the economic prospects for blacks under the sharecropping system were usually poor. Many former slaves ended up sharecropping on land owned by their former masters, and the system kept blacks tied to their shares. In reaction to the Civil Rights Act of 1866, every southern legislature passed laws to restrict opportunities for blacks. These black codes outlawed everything from interracial marriage to loitering in public areas.
Despite the progress blacks made in the South after the Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendments, racism still existed, and angry whites resorted to violence to intimidate blacks. The most notorious of these initiatives was the Ku Klux Klan, a secret society of white supremacists formed in Tennessee in 1866 to terrorize blacks. The Klan often used these tactics to scare blacks away from the polls during elections and to punish those who did not obey their demands. The reconstruction after the Civil War was far from easy.
The Republicans in the North attempted in implement changes that would aid the black citizens in establishing a viable life style. The majority of Southern citizens were not supportive of the changes. Education, race relations, the labor system, and economic development were factors that prohibited the Congress during the era from reconstructing the nation to its fullest extent. The slaves were free, they had the Thirteenth, Fourteenth, and Fifteenth Amendments protecting their civil rights under the Constitution, but they did not have a shield to the discrimination and terror inflicted upon their community following their freedom.
Organizations such as the Freedman’s Bureau worked to bring education to the black communities, but the system was flawed from the beginning. By segregating the schools by race, black children were set as lower class citizens below their white counterparts. Starting such a practice at that age level in society led to further segregation in every other aspect of society. The South felt the Republican government was trying to enforce changes during the Reconstruction that went against their own rights.
This change caused hostility in the form of the Ku Klux Klan and other terror organizations that strove to put down the rights given to the black community. Terror and murder were used to hinder the black community from casting their votes. And with such a large community now out of servitude, the labor market grew exponentially. Some in the South took advantage of this and held black citizens as lower class citizens, only presenting them with labor and poor paid work. This process allowed for little leverage to gain standing in the Southern community for blacks.