United States History I & II
United States History I & II

United States History I & II

Lead Author(s): Sara Eskridge

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Top Hat

Sara Eskridge, U.S. History I or II, Only One Edition Needed


Eric Foner, Give Me Liberty, 5th Edition


Roark, Johnson, Furstenberg, Stage, and Igo, The American Promise, 2 Volumes, 8th Edition


Keene, Cornell, and O’Donnell, Visions of America, 2013


Average price of textbook across most common format

Up to 40-60% more affordable

Lifetime access on any device


Hardcover print text only


Per volume


Digital only

Always up-to-date content, constantly revised by community of professors

Constantly revised and updated by a community of professors with the latest content

In-Book Interactivity

Includes embedded multi-media files and integrated software to enhance visual presentation of concepts directly in textbook

Only available with supplementary resources at additional cost

Only available with supplementary resources at additional cost

Only available with supplementary resources at additional cost


Ability to revise, adjust and adapt content to meet needs of course and instructor

All-in-one Platform

Access to additional questions, test banks, and slides available within one platform


Average price of textbook across most common format

Top Hat

Sara Eskridge, U.S. History I or II, Only One Edition Needed

Up to 40-60% more affordable

Lifetime access on any device


Eric Foner, Give Me Liberty, 5th Edition


Hardcover print text only


Roark, Johnson, Furstenberg, Stage, and Igo, The American Promise, 2 Volumes, 8th Edition


Per volume


Keene, Cornell, and O’Donnell, Visions of America, 2013


Digital only

Always up-to-date content, constantly revised by community of professors

Content meets standard for Introduction to Anatomy & Physiology course, and is updated with the latest content

Top Hat

Sara Eskridge, U.S. History I or II, Only One Edition Needed


Eric Foner, Give Me Liberty, 5th Edition


Case, Fair, Oster, The American Promise, 2 Volumes


McConnell et al., Visions of America, 2nd Edition

In-book Interactivity

Includes embedded multi-media files and integrated software to enhance visual presentation of concepts directly in textbook

Top Hat

Sara Eskridge, U.S. History I or II, Only One Edition Needed


Eric Foner, Give Me Liberty, 5th Edition


Case, Fair, Oster, The American Promise, 2 Volumes


McConnell et al., Visions of America, 2nd Edition


Ability to revise, adjust and adapt content to meet needs of course and instructor

Top Hat

Sara Eskridge, U.S. History I or II, Only One Edition Needed


Eric Foner, Give Me Liberty, 5th Edition


Case, Fair, Oster, The American Promise, 2 Volumes


McConnell et al., Visions of America, 2nd Edition

All-in-one Platform

Access to additional questions, test banks, and slides available within one platform

Top Hat

Sara Eskridge, U.S. History I or II, Only One Edition Needed


Eric Foner, Give Me Liberty, 5th Edition


Case, Fair, Oster, The American Promise, 2 Volumes


McConnell et al., Visions of America, 2nd Edition

About this textbook

Lead Authors

Sara Eskridge, Ph.DRandolph-Macon College, VA

Dr. Eskridge is a Professor of History at Western Governors University. She specializes in Civil Rights, Cold War, Southern, and Cultural History. She is the author of Rube Tube: CBS as Rural Comedy in the Sixties (University of Missouri Press, 2019) as well as several articles and book chapters on southern mediated images during the Civil Rights Movement and the Cold War.

Contributing Authors

Andrew WegmannLoyola University

Michael CarverCalifornia Polytechnic State University

Michael FrawleyUniversity of Texas of the Permian Basin

Linda ClemmonsIllinois State University

Angela HessCameron University

Sam NelsonRidgewater College

Volker JanssenCalifornia State University

Lance JandaCameron University

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Chapter 16: Reconstruction

Pre Chapter Discussion

Before reading the following text, consider what you know about Reconstruction. What prominent issues, figures, and themes come to mind?

Chapter Objectives

  • Understand the importance of Lincoln’s assassination
  • Comprehend the devastation wrought by the Civil War
  • Analyze the political, social, physical, and economic elements of Reconstruction for the American South
  • Be able to explain the difference between and the major accomplishments of Presidential and Congressional Reconstruction
  • Understand the challenges faced by African Americans during Reconstruction
  • Be able to discuss the political and social accomplishments and failures of the Reconstruction Era

Figure 16.1: A Currier and Ives lithograph from the Library of Congress depicting the assassination of President Abraham Lincoln by John Wilkes Booth. Though Major Henry Rathbone is shown attempting to stop the attack, he remained unaware of Booth’s approach until after the fatal shot was fired. [1]

The Death of a President

On April 14, 1865, only five days after the momentous news of Lee’s surrender at Appomattox, the nation plunged to new levels of despair and grief when John Wilkes Booth assassinated President Abraham Lincoln  at Ford’s Theater (Figure 16.1). The president, exhausted after four years of guiding the nation through an unparalleled cataclysm, had sought a brief escape from the pressures of his office by attending a production of “Our American Cousin” starring the acclaimed actress Laura Keene. He sat in a private box above the stage with his wife Mary, Major Henry Rathbone, and Rathbone’s fiancée Clara Harris. Shortly after 10 pm, Booth slipped quietly into the box and shot Lincoln in the back of the head at point blank range, then stabbed Rathbone in the shoulder when the army officer tried to subdue him. Booth leapt from the box to the stage below, breaking his leg and shouting “Sic simper tyrannis,” the Virginia state motto which meant “thus always to tyrants.” While the audience stared in shock, Booth hobbled out a back door and escaped on horseback, triggering one of the largest manhunts in American history. Soldiers took Lincoln (Figure 16.2) across the street and placed him in a bed. Doctors quickly pronounced his wound fatal, and he languished all night before dying the next morning with Vice President Andrew Johnson, his cabinet, and several close friends at his side. His wife Mary lay in the next room with her son Robert, prostrate with grief.

Figure 16.2: Henry F. Warren took this photograph of Lincoln at the White House on March 6, 1865. It is among the last known photos taken of the president prior to his assassination. [2]

More than 10,000 soldiers locked down the capital and fanned out across Maryland and Virginia in a relentless search for Booth, who died in a shootout with troops on April 26th. A Confederate sympathizer and relatively well known actor, Booth had originally hoped to kidnap Lincoln and negotiate his release in exchange for more favorable terms of surrender for the South. When Richmond fell and Lee surrendered, his plan became moot, and he and his conspirators elected to pursue a triple assassination instead. They hoped to kill Lincoln, Johnson, and Secretary of State William H. Seward and thereby throw the United States government into chaos. Booth succeeded in killing Lincoln, while Seward suffered numerous stab wounds but survived and the assassin charged with killing Johnson backed out at the last moment. Military courts eventually convicted eight people of conspiring with Booth and executed four of them, including Dr. Samuel Mudd and Mary Surratt, whose deaths were particularly controversial due to conflicting accounts of their guilt and prior knowledge of the planned assassination. Surratt became the first woman executed by the United States government.

Lincoln’s death on Good Friday struck many as deeply symbolic and Christ-like, coming as it did after his profound sacrifice and leadership while guiding the nation through the Civil War. He lost his son Willie to typhoid in 1862, battled depression, suffered through Mary’s bouts with mental instability, and faced the enormous pressures of waging a long, internal war with no precedent in American history and enduring myriad frustrations, defeats, and political crises along the way. Millions on both sides had also suffered during the war, of course, including Lincoln’s wife Mary. She had the grave misfortune to lose most of her family and then witness her husband’s execution in Ford’s Theatre. Yet the president’s death struck everyone forcefully in a way the death of no other single American could have, and his loss produced an enormous outpouring of emotion. General Ulysses S. Grant wept openly at his funeral, and thousands paid their respects when his body lay in state at the Capitol and by lining the tracks when a nine car train took his remains home to Illinois for burial. The train took a long, indirect route to Illinois, stopping in major cities so that Americans from all walks of life could pay their respects to the fallen President. More than 300,000 did so in Philadelphia, while 500,000 turned out in New York City and at least 200,000 honored him in Chicago. 

16.01 - Level 1

Who assassinated President Abraham Lincoln?


Dr. Samuel Mudd


Mary Surratt


Andrew Johnson


John Wilkes Booth

While Lincoln’s body slowly made its way to his final resting place, newly sworn-in President Johnson confronted the challenge of ending the war. Lee’s surrender of the Army of Northern Virginia had been crucial, but it took several weeks for the remaining Confederate armies to surrender and for Confederate President Jefferson Davis to be captured by Union cavalry in Georgia. Davis had urged his followers to continue to fight, but the vast majority followed Lee’s example and chose not to do so. General Richard Taylor surrendered his own Confederate forces on May 4, Union cavalry caught Jefferson Davis on May 10, and on May 26 General Edmund Kirby Smith surrendered the final major Confederate force in the field – the Trans Mississippi Army – in Galveston, Texas. The war was finally over.

Once the fighting stopped Union forces began making plans to demobilize so that soldiers could finally return to their loved ones. Before disbanding, however, the Army of the Potomac and William Tecumseh Sherman’s forces held a Grand Review in Washington, D.C. Over two days, May 23 and 24, the combined armies marched down Pennsylvania Avenue to the delight of thousands of spectators (Figure 16.3). The awe-inspiring demonstration of military power spoke volumes about the transformation of the nation wrought by the way, particularly when Sherman’s troops began singing “John Brown’s Body” on the second day, just as they had when they marched through the South. 

Figure 16.3: One of Mathew B. Brady’s many photographs of more than 200,000 Union soldiers marching through Washington D.C. as part of a Grand Review in May of 1865 celebrating the end of the Civil War. [3]

When the parade ended, the army quickly broke up. Within only a few months more than 600,000 soldiers were discharged, and by the end of 1865, the U.S. Navy shrank from 530 ships to only 117. Everyone, it seemed, was eager to leave the war behind them. Few could have realized in the midst of the joy over the end of the war that the challenges of the post-war era—putting the nation back together socially, politically, and economically—would prove in some ways as daunting.  

Question 16.02

16.02 - Level 5

What do you think were the most important questions facing the United States at the end of the Civil War? If you had been in charge of reconstructing the nation, what would you have done to solve some of these problems?

Click here to see the answer to Question 16.02.

16.03 - Level 1

What was the occupation of the man who assassinated President Lincoln?









The Wreckage of the Civil War

The devastation wrought by the Civil War is difficult to comprehend. An estimated 750,000 Americans were killed, while at least 476,000 were wounded and over 400,000 declared missing or captured. All told, the casualty rate exceeded 3 percent  of the population of approximately 30 million, a level of carnage no other war in American history even remotely approached. Exact numbers will never be known because records were often lost or inaccurate, particularly on the Confederate side, but it is known that 1 in 13 Civil War soldiers returned home missing one or more limbs. Union armies suffered the majority of the casualties, largely because they were usually on the offensive, while the South absorbed by far the most physical damage (Figure 16.4). 

Figure 16.4: George N. Barnard took this photograph of the ruins of the Charleston, South Carolina Railroad Station for the War Department in 1865. Many Southern cities suffered similar fates during the Civil War. [4]

Large swaths of the South, including two-thirds of all railroads, were destroyed and lay in ruin. Thousands of livestock and farm animals had been killed, while bridges, cities, factories, telegraph lines, and countless farms were reduced to rubble. Many were abandoned and eventually disappeared altogether. The absence of functioning government produced lawlessness in many areas and, after years of economic isolation caused by the Union naval blockade and the collapse of economic infrastructure, starvation and inflation went hand in hand. As late as 1870, the value of Southern property and livestock remained 30 percent lower than in 1860. Worst of all, as many as 260,000 men—more than 20 percent of the adult white male population in the South—died for the Confederacy, leaving their families adrift emotionally and without their primary means of economic support. One in three white Southern families lost at least one family member, and thousands of veterans were disabled. White Southerners who survived the disaster faced occupation by what most considered an enemy army and the complete loss of their pre-war way of life. The experience crushed many of them. As one Georgia girl put it, “The demoralization is complete. We are whipped, there is no doubt about it.”

 In spite of the desolation, very few Americans expected the government to do anything substantial. Instead, a commitment to a narrowly interpreted Constitution, to state sovereignty or rights, to laissez faire, to the existing political structure, and to racism all served to limit the ability and the willingness of the national government to deal forcefully with many of the issues left unsettled by the Civil War. Would Southern whites be punished? Would former slaves - often called freedmen - have their freedom guaranteed? What civil rights did the freedmen have? When and how would Southern states be readmitted to the Union? There were no easy answers to these questions, and no historical precedent to which political leaders could refer. They were forced to confront these challenges one at a time, and it is little wonder that their solutions were often found wanting.

16.04 - Level 1

Approximately how many Americans were killed during the Civil War?

Question 16.05

16.05 - Level 4

The Civil War left the nation with many lingering and challenging problems-did the conflict resolve any issues? If so, what were the problems and how were they solved?

Click here to see the answer to Question 16.05.

Question 16.06

16.06 - Level 2

Describe some of the economic, political, and social challenges the South faced after the Civil War.

Click here to see the Answer to Question 16.06.

Lincoln had anticipated many of these problems. He chose Andrew Johnson (Figure 16.5) to be his running mate as vice president in 1864 over the incumbent, Hannibal Hamlin, primarily because Johnson hailed from the South and the president wanted southerners to see one their own in a key position within the federal government when Reconstruction began. In 1863, he announced amnesty for rebels who regretted their decision to secede, and began working on plans to readmit southern states to the Union when only 10 percent of the eligible voters in each state in 1860 supported them. He favored a hard war and a soft peace, hoping to move past the Civil War with as little lingering resentment and bloodshed as possible . When he died in April of 1865 these plans died with him, and Johnson proved far less politically astute or persuasive in working with Congress than Lincoln might have been. Reconstruction efforts suffered accordingly.

Figure 16.5: President Andrew Johnson. A Southern native who remained loyal to the Union, Johnson battled with Congress over Reconstruction and became the first president to be impeached in 1868. [5]

16.07 - Level 1

What kind of reconstruction plan did Abraham Lincoln favor?


Heavily punitive


A soft peace


He didn't think reconstruction would be necessary


Jail time for all who served the Confederacy

Northern Approaches to Reconstruction

 A useful way to put into perspective the approach of many Americans towards Reconstruction is to consider their assumptions about the role of government and their fears regarding the changes wrought by the Civil War. No amendments to the Constitution had been ratified since 1804, and yet between 1865 and 1870 three new and sweeping amendments were adopted. The war dramatically increased the size and power of the federal government. Many Northerners feared Confederates might continue to resist or fight a guerilla war, while Southerners feared retribution from the victorious North. Would the North destroy the southern states, execute former Confederate leaders, demand repayment of the approximately $10 billion it had taken to destroy the Confederacy, distribute land to former slaves, or completely erase former state boundaries and redraw the map of the South? What of former slaves? Would they seek retribution for the crimes of slavery and launch a race war? Would they forcibly seize white lands? None of these fears came to fruition, because enough Americans had faith in current or former institutions to strengthen or rebuild them, and because they generally shared a desire for peace, but those shared values – which often crossed barriers of class or race – limited the solutions that all sides were willing to pursue in the Reconstruction debates.

 One set of ideas centered on the Constitution and the legal barriers between state and federal power. Most Americans retained the conviction that the states were the primary level of government, and that federal authority remained strictly confined to those powers specified in the Constitution. In 1865, for example, the federal government had very little power to act on individual citizens, no control over public education, could not outlaw discrimination of any kind, and could not intervene to protect public order without being asked to do so by the states. In that environment it is hardly surprising that very few Americans anticipated a need for a federal agency to assist with Reconstruction. The federal government simply demobilized most of the army and navy, offering veterans no help in finding jobs, homes, or education. Pensions were paid to initially only to those who were injured or to the families of soldiers and sailors who were killed fighting for the Union, but federal responsibility stopped there. When the war ended the government stopped placing orders for more military equipment and assumed no obligation to oversee a transition from a wartime to a peacetime economic footing. To the extent that government could address these challenges, the states were expected to take the lead.

The states could not meet the challenge. Southern states were largely destitute, and vast sums were needed simply to assist Confederate veterans. One fifth of all state spending in Mississippi in 1866, for example, went to pay for artificial limbs. Southerners lacked the physical resources to rebuild, and were forced to support the bonds of private companies that promised to do the reconstruction for them, often at exorbitant interest rates. Democrats in the South often charged that these arrangements, which handcuffed southern state economies in later years, were the product of corrupt Republicans or black politicians. The truth, however, is that in an environment in which resources and capital were lacking ,no other option seemed viable, and the rebuilding of the South proceeded slowly as a result.

Question 16.08

16.08 - Level 6

Imagine that you are a newly freed person in the American South. What would your first priority be? What would you want to do and what limitations do you think you would face? How do you think you could best maintain your newly acquired freedom?

Click here to see the answer to Question 16.08.

The South proved less adept, and less willing, to address the problems faced by freedmen. Thousands had fled toward Union armies during the war, creating vast refugee problems, and millions were left destitute by the fighting even as they celebrated their newfound freedom. Federal officials asked for private charities to help, but they could hardly meet the demand, and sentiment in the North gradually pushed for the creation of a federal agency to help. Congress subsequently passed The Freedman’s Bureau Act of March 3, 1865, establishing the Bureau of Refugees, Freedmen, and Abandoned Lands under the control of the War Department. The bureau, under the leadership of army general Oliver O. Howard, distributed food and clothing from army stores to thousands (white and black) throughout the South and helped freedmen find work (Figures 16.6, 16.7, and 16.8). It also made extensive contributions to education, cooperating with Northern aid societies to establish black schools, and in the realm of land allocation, where it built on the efforts of William T. Sherman, who had established black settlements for more than 40,000 blacks in the Sea Islands region of South Carolina in 1865. Sherman’s plan – aptly summarized with the famous phrase “Forty acres and a mule,” seemed a harbinger of revolutionary change for African Americans throughout the South. 

Yet the Freedman’s Bureau always faced chronic shortages of personnel, intense resentment among white Southerners, and uneven support from the federal government. In late 1865 President Johnson ordered the return of all southern lands seized from whites and allocated to the freedmen, which destroyed wartime attempts by the Union Army to provide for limited black economic independence and left thousands of former slaves feeling betrayed. During the next year Congress also passed the Southern Homestead Act of 1866, which attempted to open up lands for poor whites and former slaves in the same way that the original Homestead Act had opened up the West. The vast majority of the land went to whites, however, and the act mirrors the Freedman’s Bureau in that it represents a noble attempt to assist former slaves while also reflecting the limited commitment of most Americans in the 1860s to alter their assumptions about the role of government or to forcefully protect, or provide for, African Americans. 

Figure 16.6: The image from the November 1867 cover of Harper’s Weekly, held by the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill Library, showcases the promise of Reconstruction by portraying African Americans of various occupations voting. [6]​

Figure 16.7: A map of Freedman’s Bureaus and colleges for African Americans established before and after the Civil War. Note the concentration in states with the largest African American populations and those most heavily affected by Civil War fighting.​

Figure 16.8: Opposition to the Freedman’s Bureau took many forms, including this 1866 Democratic Party flyer from Pennsylvania. [7]

 Americans also clung to the idea of laissez-faire (French for “hands off,” or “let things alone”) and venerated protections for private property. That meant that no chance ever existed that Congress might support the proposals of radicals like Thaddeus Stevens (Figure 16.9) that all Southern farms of more than two hundred acres be seized and redistributed to former slaves. Even The New York Times criticized the idea, arguing that the idea “strikes at the root of all property rights in both sections. It concerns Massachusetts quite as much as Mississippi.” 

16.09 - Level 2

Why were Congress and the American people reluctant to embrace radical forms of Reconstruction in order to protect African Americans?


Fear of expanding federal power at the expense of the states


Lack of resources at the state level – especially in the South


A commitment to laissez faire

16.10 - Level 2

Click on the state where William T. Sherman undertook his “forty acres and a mule” project

Figure 16.9: Thaddeus Stevens of Pennsylvania, the leader of the Radical Republicans in the House of Representatives. Stevens fought for African American freedom and civil liberties throughout the Civil War and Reconstruction. [8]

The Impact of Emancipation on the South

Most politicians and experts in the North dreadfully underestimated the social and psychological impact the end of slavery had on many white Southerners, who had grown up in a society in which assumptions regarding the inferiority of African Americans and the permanent status of slavery as an institution were widespread. Many were so shocked by the end of slavery and they refused to adjust. Some that tried to accustom themselves to the reality of black freedom were limited by racism and could only think of blacks as forced labor, and negotiated unfair labor contracts as a result. 

In turn, many African Americans struggled to adapt to freedom after the joy of emancipation began to fade. They generally had no money, little or no property, and precious little experience living in a world where they had any kind of choice regarding what they might do or where they might live. Thousands scattered to find loved ones from whom they were separated prior to or during the war, while others moved away from the coastal regions to less damaged areas in Texas, or flocked to towns where Freedman’s Bureau offices were located. Virtually all former slaves initially refused to sign labor contracts with white land owners when the need for money forced them to seek work, partly out of understandable mistrust and in some cases because they hoped the United States government would eventually give them “forty acres and a mule” as it had done in the Sea Islands.

As hopes for land faded, most former slaves sought to legalize their marriages and establish official recognition that their children were legally theirs. These rights had been denied to them as slaves, and local Freedman’s Bureaus did much to strengthen black families by conducting marriage ceremonies and assisting with finding loved ones. Some southern states passed ordinances declaring that cohabitating black couples were legally man and wife and their children were legitimate, and over time many African Americans sought homes for their families and vowed never to return to the cramped, communal living conditions they had known in slave quarters.

Many African Americans also sought education for themselves and their children, and regular access to churches where they could develop their faith and find community with other former slaves. These freedoms had often been denied them as slaves, doled out on an extremely limited basis by their owners, or were simply unavailable in most areas and on most days of the week in predominantly white areas. The culture that flourished as a result is hard to measure or quantify because so many African Americans remained illiterate and their achievements were seldom recorded in newspapers, magazines, or books. But it is worth remembering that several of the most distinctively “American” art forms – jazz and the blues – came from the fusion of African and American culture prior to and after the Civil War. That fusion permanently altered church services in many denominations through the “call and response” pattern between ministers and their congregation, and though the profound impact slave spirituals and music had on Christian hymns. 

Spotlight on Primary Source

One of the most powerful and enduring expressions of African American culture to emerge from slavery is gospel music. The songs within this genre are sometimes referred to as Negro Spirituals, or Slave Spirituals, and most have been handed down from one generation to the next with no clear musical or lyrical author. Many have no doubt been lost over the many years since slaves from Africa were brought to the New World. Those that endure were generally sung in the fields by slaves as work songs, or in religious services of some kind before and after the Civil War. They often rely on powerful vocals and limited musical instruments, and connect with a time when hand clapping endured as a more common accompaniment than modern sound effects. Listen to the recording of “We Are Climbing Jacob’s Ladder,” and imagine it being sung in church during Reconstruction.​

Question 16.11

16.11 - Level 2

To what do you think the lyrics refer? Does the message seem hopeful? What does the fact that the music emerged from slavery and the difficulties of Reconstruction say about the resilience of slaves and their descendants?

Click here to see the answer to Question 16.11.

Many of these cultural changes were unknown to Southerners, but the migration of formers slaves was not. And that vast movement of African Americans frightened many whites, and confounded those who sought ways to produce crops on land they owned in a new economic world in which slavery was illegal and money was scarce. The system they gradually developed, one that African Americans assisted in forming, was called sharecropping. Though there were many variations, the system typically called for the division of harvested crops into three equal shares. One went to the landowner, usually white; one went to the laborer, usually but not always black; and the third went to the source of farming equipment, mules, seeds, and fertilizer. Astute landowners who provided those materials themselves thus could earn two thirds of every crop. The system had enormous advantages for landowners, who did not need to pay out cash except during the harvest. They kept general oversight of planting and cultivation, and found that sharecroppers had incentive to work hard because they earned more when the harvest was strong. African Americas and those whites who also became sharecroppers enjoyed some benefits as well. They could live with their own families in their own homes, work their own land, and earn more if the harvest was successful. Many, however, were eventually trapped in a cycle of debt peonage by their dependence on stores for their equipment and supplies, or by drought and bad harvests, but in 1865 and 1866 sharecropping seemed the most viable option to many in the South given the circumstances and was adopted accordingly.

The system led to dramatic changes on many Southern farms. Between 1860 and 1880 land holdings (which included both rented and owned property) in the South doubled, and their average size shrank from 365 to 157 acres as plantations and large farms were subdivided into smaller fields for sharecroppers. This did not mean that the sharecroppers owned the land. In fact, the number of land owners in the South actually shrank after the Civil War because wealthy Southerners bought more and more land and Northern investors flush with capital did the same. But it did mean that the Southern system of agriculture had been fundamentally altered (Figure 16.10). Sharecropping became the dominant way of life for poor Southerners of all racial backgrounds until the Second World War almost 100 years later.

16.12 - Level 1

Sharecroppers in the American South after 1865 usually kept a third of their harvest. Another third went to the source of their farming equipment, mules, seeds, and fertilizer. To whom did the final third go?


The state government


The land owner


The federal government


The Ku Klux Klan

16.13 - Level 3

Under the sharecropping system, if farm produced 900 bushels of wheat in a season, how much of it went to the sharecropper?

Figure 16.10: A map of the Barrow Plantation in Georgia from 1860 and 1881. Note the transition from centralized slave quarters to individual tenant farms. The map highlights the manner in which many landowners adjusted to the end of slavery.

Presidential Reconstruction

At the national level, Reconstruction created enormous tensions between the political parties, and between the president and Congress. Both parties sought supporters in the North and the South, and pursued political gain even while seeking what each believed to be in the best interests of the nation. For the Democrats that meant balancing support for the readmission of Southern states into the Union – which as a solidly Democratic region promised the party more seats in Congress and more say in national politics – with the need to move slowly for fear of seeming too pro-Southern and possibly disloyal to Northern voters. For Republicans, who enjoyed primacy at the national level throughout the Civil War, the challenge lay in balancing the desires of moderates who sought compromise with radicals who wanted to punish the South and provide some sort of compensation and protection for former slaves. Many Republicans were also fearful of previous factional disputes, and eager to put the Civil War behind them in a spirit of national reconciliation. 

Into the maelstrom of competing agendas moved President Andrew Johnson, who initiated his own plans for Reconstruction following Lincoln’s death. He did so primarily during the long summer of 1865, while Congress was out of session and he had the government largely to himself. Johnson, decidedly racist and pro-southern, worked with Democrats and argued that because secession was illegal the southern states had never left the Union and were therefore entitled to representation in Congress. He pardoned large numbers of former Confederates, allowed for a system of provisional state governments in the South, and called for southern elections in December of 1865 to elect new representatives and senators. 

It is likely that Johnson believed he was following Lincoln’s desire for a soft peace, but Johnson angered virtually all of the Republican Party. Radicals and Moderates were outraged by the December elections, which resulted in the election of a slew of former high-ranking Confederates to national office. Republicans, who deeply believed they had saved the Union, were also fearful of the results because they believed southern politicians would largely side with national Democrats. With slavery and the 3/5 compromise gone, African Americans would count towards representation in the House just like whites did even if they could not vote, giving Southerners approximately 15 more seats then they had before the war. In short, Republicans feared national political defeat as much as they were horrified by the moral shortcomings in the Johnson plan for Reconstruction. 

Many were also fearful of what might happen to the freedmen. Southern provisional legislatures elected in 1865-1866 universally avoided treating African Americans the same as they did whites. Instead, they adopted what came to be known as Black Codes. The codes, or laws, often recognized the right of freedmen to make contracts, to sue and be sued, and to hold property. But they all also featured draconian restrictions on civil liberties. Many stipulated that blacks could not own firearms or assemble after sunset, and that those considered idle were liable to face imprisonment. Mississippi barred blacks from renting or leasing lands except in incorporated towns, while South Carolina forbade them from practicing “the art, trade or business of an artisan, mechanic or shopkeeper, or any other trade, employment or business (other than husbandry or servant).” The laws clearly aimed to keep African Americans economically and socially inferior to whites in perpetuity, and laid the foundation for the Jim Crow laws and the doctrine of “separate but equal” that emerged later in the 19th century. 

16.14 - Level 1

The “Black Codes” generally served to preserve and protect the rights of African American citizens.





Congressional Reconstruction

Republicans expressed their dismay over Johnson’s plan by refusing to seat representatives from the South when Congress reconvened in December, 1865 and moving to adopt new plans of their own. These efforts mark the beginning of a period most historians refer to as Congressional Reconstruction. It marks the point at which a majority in Congress was willing to make policy with little or no regard for Johnson’s wishes, and is often remembered as coming in two phases. The first began with an extension and enlargement of the Freedman’s Bureau and passage of civil rights legislation in 1866 aimed at protecting the freedman. Johnson vetoed both measures. Republicans failed to overturn his Freedman’s Bureau veto—though later laws extended the life of the agency for two years—but did override his denial of the Civil Rights Act of 1866. The act became the first federal law to define citizenship and established the principle that laws apply to all Americans equally. Republicans considered the law so important that when it seemed as if it might be struck down as unconstitutional they responded by enshrining the same principles in the 14th Amendment and then, after the 14th Amendment was ratified, passing the law yet again as the Civil Rights Act of 1870.

Question 16.15

16.15 - Level 3

Given what you know about President Andrew Johnson and Presidential Reconstruction, why do you think he opposed extending the life of the Freedmen’s Bureau?

Click here to see the answer to Question 16.15.

Johnson’s vetoes created growing tension with Republicans in Congress, who used a newly formed Joint Committee on Reconstruction to begin forming new policies governing the readmission of southern states and the status of the freedmen. The committee included Moderates and Radicals, and found fault with Johnson’s argument that Southern states had never left the Union and the opposing extreme view—supported by Senator Charles Sumner of Massachusetts—that the Southern states had ceased to exist when they seceded and therefore all former Confederate territory belonged to the federal government and could be reallocated at the discretion of the United States. They compromised instead on the idea that the South should be held in the “grasp of war” for a limited time and brought back into the Union as quickly as possible. They hoped to restore the balance of power between the states and the national government and to accelerate rebuilding the ties between Southerners and the United States. 

The grasp of war concept, proposed most forcefully by Richard Henry Dana Jr., a constitutional lawyer from Massachusetts, gave the committee a framework on which to build policy and ultimately helped produce the 14th Amendment, which Congress passed in June 1866. The amendment had sweeping implications for American life. It clearly defined what it meant to be a citizen by stating that “All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they reside.” This opening statement drew universal support, and directly addressed the Supreme Court’s Dred Scott decision in 1857. Republicans also agreed with the provision that Confederate debts were invalid. Everything else in the amendment represented a compromise. Radicals had hoped to bar those who had voluntarily supported the Confederacy from voting until 1870, while Moderates favored returning political rights more quickly. 

The compromise in the amendment stipulated that high ranking Confederates could not hold office, but no voting rights were eliminated. In similar debates, Radicals hoped for an outright decree that the national government had the right and the duty to protect the freedom and civil liberties of the freedmen. Moderates wanted no such infringement on state power, and so crafted language that limited state powers without enlarging that of federal authorities. That portion of the amendment read, “No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges and immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.” These and other provisions were aimed at protecting the freedmen, though they had long term consequences for all minority groups in the United States that no one in 1866 could have foreseen. Johnson responded by encouraging states to reject the 14th Amendment and by attempting to forge a new political party which might support him and his policies. While his attempt at creating a new party failed, he did help persuade every former Confederate state save Tennessee to vote against the 14th Amendment, ending the first phase of Congressional Reconstruction

Meanwhile, voters elected an even larger Republican majority to Congress in the 1866 midterm elections. As a consequence, when Congress reassembled in December many Republicans were more committed than ever to pressing forward on Reconstruction without the help of the president. They were further motivated by reports of white mobs attacking freedmen in the South, including a September incident in New Orleans which left between 45 and 50 dead and more than 150 injured. What followed were months of debate between Radicals and Moderates and a growing pattern of southern violence against African Americans that finally culminated in passage of the Military Reconstruction Act of March 2, 1867. The act divided the ten former Confederate states that failed to ratify the 14th Amendment into five military districts (Figure 16.11), and required all ten to hold new state constitutional conventions in which blacks were allowed to vote. Each new constitution had to provide for black suffrage, and each of the ten states was required to ratify the 14th Amendment. When these steps were taken, each state could apply for readmission to the Union and send representatives to Congress. 

The act represented another compromise between Radicals and Moderates, and inaugurated the second phase of Congressional Reconstruction. Radicals like Thaddeus Stevens had hoped for more, arguing that without land, education, and an end to segregation that the freedmen had little hope of economic opportunity or equality. Moderates, again, were unwilling to encroach too much on the power of the states, though they did pass subsequent legislation empowering military commanders in each of the five districts to take the initiative in holding elections and registering voters. The South would not have done so otherwise. 

16.16 - Level 1

Which act divided ten former Confederate states into five military districts supervised by the United States Army?


The Military Reconstruction Act of 1865


The Military Reconstruction Act of 1867


The Enforcement Act of 1870


The Freedman’s Bureau Act of 1865

Over the next few years the army played a critical role in promoting equality, and served as the only reliable legal protection for the freedmen. By late 1867 more than one third of the United States Army policed the South, suppressing riots, chasing horse thieves, seizing moonshine, protecting civil courts, enforcing commercial law, guarding public schools, removing public officials, registering voters, holding elections, and battling vigilante groups like the Ku Klux Klan and the Knights of the White Camellia. The army served as the only real protector of African Americans, who could not rely on civilian law enforcement or local courts because they were generally dominated by racist whites. Yet military rule could not last forever, and it gradually ended as Southern states were re-admitted to the Union. By 1870 most of the Army troops, bitterly resented by many Southerners, were gone, and the South sank into a segregated social and political abyss that lasted for almost another century. 

Figure 16.11: The United States Army divided the South into five military districts after the Civil War.​​​

16.17 - Level 3
No correct answers: No correct answer has been set for this question

Click on the only military district to be comprised of a single state.

16.18 - Level 1

Place these events into chronological order


End of the Civil War


Congressional Reconstruction Begins


Passage of Military Reconstruction Act


Assassination of President Lincoln


Passage of Freedman’s Bureau Act


Presidential Reconstruction


Passage (not ratification) of 14th Amendment


Passage of Black Codes by Southern States

16.19 - Level 1

The Civil Rights Act of 1866 became the foundation for which constitutional amendment?










Relations between President Johnson and the Republicans in Congress deteriorated steadily throughout 1866 and 1867. Johnson regularly vetoed Congressional legislation, and Congress just as regularly overruled his vetoes, much to his chagrin. Distrust of the president, and fear that he might actively subvert Reconstruction, led Congress to pass laws requiring all military orders to the army to go through the hands of General Grant as well as the Tenure of Office Act, which mandated that the president secure the approval of the Senate when he removed federal officials from office. Both acts were questionable from a constitutional point of view, as they infringed on Johnson’s powers as commander-in-chief and as chief executive. They say a great deal, however, about the frustration and fear many Republicans in Congress had when it came to the president. Johnson exacerbated these problems when he suspended Secretary of War Edwin Stanton (Figure 16.12) from office in August, 1867. Stanton had cooperated with the Radicals for some time, and when Johnson decided to fire him he asked the Senate for their consent as required by the Tenure of Office Act. The Senate refused, Johnson fired Stanton anyway, and furious Republicans in the House almost immediately drew up impeachment charges against the president. 

Figure 16.12: A Library of Congress held photograph of Edwin M. Stanton, who served as the 27th United States Secretary of War from 1862-1868. [9]

The trial that followed held the attention of the nation and proved a test of wills between Radicals and Moderates as well as between the White House and Congress. Radicals were thrilled by the notion of convicting Johnson, but Moderates feared upsetting the balance of power between the legislative and executive branches and were not entirely convinced that Johnson’s actions amounted to “high crimes and misdemeanors,” the standard for impeachment imposed by the Constitution. In the end, the Radicals came up one vote short of the two-thirds majority required to convict, though it is likely that some Republicans who voted against the president to appease voters at home might have switched votes had Johnson been likely to be convicted. 

Impeachment proved a sad episode for everyone involved, sapping the energy of Congress and diverting national attention from the problems of Reconstruction. It symbolizes the great and divisive issues that Republicans and the American people faced at the time. The need for unity and the desire for stability produced compromise, which in turn forestalled any chance for truly revolutionary action by Congress and left both Radicals and Moderates, to say nothing of most Southerners, deeply frustrated. 

16.20 - Level 2

Match the following people with their role during Reconstruction.


Edwin Stanton


U.S. Senator from Massachusetts


Ulysses S. Grant


Secretary of War


Charles Sumner


An originator of the “grasp of war” concept


Thaddeus Stevens


President of the United States (1865-1869)


Richard Henry Dana


General of the Army and President of the United States (1869-1877)


Andrew Johnson


Congressman from Pennsylvania

Racism and Reconstruction

While compromise between Moderate and Radical Republicans and fears of destroying state powers are among the primary reasons Congress failed to act more forcibly during Reconstruction, another explanation for the reluctance of many Americans to embrace more radical action is simply racism, which exerted a powerful influence throughout the United States. For while Americans today often think of racism primarily in terms of black/white relations, it is important to remember that antagonism towards a wide array of other groups—Native Americans, Latinos, Asians, Irish and German immigrants, etc.—had also been a powerful force in American society and politics for decades prior to the Civil War. 

Such a climate existed because the majority of whites accepted the inferiority of all other races as a point of fact. Many intellectuals endorsed these views, with Louis Agassiz of Harvard going so far as to argue that “the negro race groped in barbarism and never originated a regular organization among themselves” throughout all of antiquity, a time when he said whites were developing advanced civilizations. These views were echoed by many who suggested African Americans were of a lower social order, and resistance to extending rights to the freedmen proved endemic in the North as well as the South. 

Only five northern states allowed full black suffrage in 1865, and change came slowly because many in the North feared an influx of African Americans if they advanced the cause of equality too far or too fast. Democratic newspapers portrayed Republicans as planning “miscegenation, amalgamation, and promiscuous intercourse between the races,” while President Johnson declared that “negroes have shown less capacity for self-government than any other race of people” and suggested that when left to themselves they “have shown an instant tendency to relapse into barbarism.” Even many Radical Republicans assumed that blacks were incapable of self-rule or full participation in a democracy, arguing that a principled stand against slavery in no way meant they believed in racial equality. Senator Timothy O. Howe of Wisconsin famously labeled the freedmen as “so much animal life,” while Congressional colleagues told Sumner that “God has made the negro inferior, and…laws cannot make him equal.”

To be sure, these views were held even more strongly in the South. Overt, virulent racism fills the pages of newspapers, diaries, and letters from the period, and those who held such views felt no compunction to disguise them. The Democratic Party of Louisiana spoke for many whites when party leaders declared in their 1865 party platform that “We hold this to be a Government of white people, made and to be perpetuated for the exclusive benefit of the white race; and…that people of African descent cannot be considered as citizens of the United States, and that there can, in no event, nor under any circumstances, be any equality between the white and other races.” 

Given these views, it is little wonder that the extreme Radical desire to promote equality met with so much resistance in the North, and so much outright defiance in the South. Most southerners hated the 14th Amendment because it made blacks legally equal to whites, and were stunned by the 1867 Military Reconstruction Act because it eventually involved the army in helping register blacks to vote and kept many whites out of office. The state governments elected by this new electorate – and it should be remembered that blacks formed a majority of voters in South Carolina, Florida, Louisiana, Mississippi, and Alabama – were often dominated by Republicans and included a number of African Americans, much to the horrified amazement of white Democrats. Most whites reacted with dismay to the new constitutions these governments enacted, seeing them as the corrupt result of foreign governments foisted on them by the United States.

Most of the new constitutions were modeled on their Northern counterparts, and promised all citizens equality before the law. They gave blacks the right to vote, reformed state finance systems, updated the judiciary, improved local government, and provided for state supported public education, which prior to the war had barely existed at all. Some whites might have supported at least some of these changes had they been enacted by all white legislatures, but given the fact of Republican control at the state level they generally resisted all of them. 

Still, with the help of the army, new governments were slowly created, and by June 1868 Congress admitted senators and representatives from Arkansas, Florida, Alabama, Louisiana, Georgia, South Carolina and North Carolina. By 1871 they were joined by members of Congress from Mississippi, Texas, and Virginia, and at long last all of the states of the Confederacy had rejoined the Union. 

 Angry whites called this period “Black Reconstruction,” and spun lurid tales of black incompetence and dominance in state governments. The truth was that none of them were dominated by African Americans. Most states elected a smaller percentage of African Americans than the percentage of blacks in the population, and only South Carolina elected a majority black state legislature. No African Americans were elected as governors, only two were elected to the United States Senate (Figure 16.13), and a mere fifteen made their way to the House of Representatives. 

Figure 16.13: Hiram Rhodes Revels became the first African American member of Congress when voters in Mississippi elected him to the United States Senate in 1870. During the Civil War he assisted in raising two regiments of African American soldiers and served as a chaplain in the Union Army. He eventually became president of Alcorn Agricultural and Mechanical College (now Alcorn State University). This photograph was taken by Mathew Brady and Levin Corbin Handy. [10]

In fact, most members of the Republican Party in the South were white, and they drew special hatred from Democrats for their perceived betrayal of the white race. Northern born Republicans were called “carpetbaggers” (Figure 16.14) and alleged to have traveled south after the war with all of their possessions crammed into a simple suitcase to exploit Southerners and grow rich while imposing black rule upon them. Southern-born Republicans were labeled “scalawags,” a word cattle drivers used to describe “the mean, lousy and filthy kine [cattle] that are not fit for butchers or dogs.” Both terms were used widely and indiscriminately. Racists used the term to describe back country whites who had long battled plantation owners and joined the Republicans for economic reasons, and against wealthier Republicans who like the party because it believed in tariffs and subsidies for railroads. And there were prominent Southerners, men like Confederate generals James Longstreet and Pierre G.T. Beauregard who joined the Republican Party for various reasons as well, only to earn the enmity of many of their former comrades during the Civil War.

Figure 16.14: An 1872 cartoon by Thomas Nast of Harper’s Weekly depicting Carl Christian Schurz, the first German-born American elected to the United States Senate, as a carpetbagger. Schurz had an extraordinary career as a German revolutionary, Prussian soldier, attorney, newspaper editor, U.S. ambassador to Spain, U.S. Secretary of the Interior, major general in the Union Army, and U.S. senator from Missouri, among other accomplishments. This cartoon is often used to illustrate Southern views of carpetbaggers. [11]

Democrats in the South also loudly and viciously attacked what they perceived as corruption and excess in the new state governments. Many of their charges were false but, in an era when corruption was rampant, enough of them were true to maintain a dominant narrative of Republican and African American incompetence. And, in any case, whites hated the meaningful work done by these governments. They complained about public spending on hospitals, jails, and other government institutions for African Americans, and bitterly attacked the new system of public schools. Many Southerners hated public education as a matter of principle, arguing it was not and never had been the job of government to educate children, and the thought of doing so through taxation on everyone which generated revenue that would be spent on black and white children at the same time threw many into a paroxysm of rage. 

Eventually, the righteous fury of angry whites found expression in many ways—in speeches, newspaper columns, and in the formation of vigilante hate groups like the Ku Klux Klan. Groups like the Klan—and there were many formed in the South after 1866, from the Red Shirts to the White League to all white militias and rifle clubs—terrorized African Americans and select white Republicans and sought to intimidate or terrorize them into submission and second class citizenship. Individuals active in politics drew special attention, as did African Americans who voted or registered others to vote, and anyone fighting for civil liberties or public education. Groups like the Klan styled themselves as modern knights protecting white children and women and the white way of life from African American barbarism, and proved popular throughout the South and, later, in a number of northern states as well. 

The Klan and its many imitators (like the Order of the White Camellia) were willing to accept defeat in the Civil War and the loss of slavery, but unwilling to consider whites and blacks as equals socially or politically. They murdered, lynched, raped, and destroyed property for decades to enforce white social and eventually political supremacy, and did so largely without interference from local law enforcement, which too often supported Klan activities. This pattern of violence often peaked during elections, and culminated on Easter Sunday of 1873 with the murder of Republican freedman and black militia in Colfax, Louisiana by white Democrats armed with small arms and cannon. Between 62 and 153 people were slaughtered, most of them after they had surrendered, by a group largely composed of Confederate veterans and Klansmen whipped into outrage by local newspapers that published false accounts of atrocities committed by African Americans. The incident stands as the bloodiest single example of racial violence during Reconstruction, but it was one of countless similar incidents and is unique only in the number of casualties. Only the United States Army generally took pains to fight the Klan, which enjoyed widespread support among most white Southerners, and it was too small to be everywhere at once. When the army eventually withdrew, African Americans had very little protection for themselves or their freedoms left.

Spotlight on Primary Source

For insight into the violence practiced by the Klan, click on this link to go to a copy of Proceedings of the Ku Klux Klan Trials at Columbia, South Carolina, published in 1871.

Question 16.21

16.21 - Level 2

Read the testimony of Gadsden Steel which starts on the bottom of the page (231). Steel was an African American who witnessed Klan attacks in South Carolina against blacks who owned firearms. His testimony ends on page 235. What does his account tell you about life as an African American in the Deep South after the Civil War?

Click here to see the answer to Question 16.21.

16.22 - Level 2

Who were “Scalawags”?


Northern Republicans


African American Republicans


Southern-born Republicans


White Southern Democrats

16.23 - Level 1

What derogatory term was used to describe northerners who migrated to the South during Reconstruction?






Jim Crows



Reconstruction Fades Away

Reconstruction slowly faded from the national spotlight throughout the late 1860s and 1870s. Many Northern voters wanted to forget about the problems of African Americans and focus on economic affairs, while Southerners were anxious to cement white dominance and self-government without interference from the federal government. The Republican Party sensed this mood, and nominated Ulysses S. Grant (Figure 16.15) for president in 1868 rather than any of the Radical Republicans who sought the nomination. Grant, a genuine war hero, had only recently entered the world of politics and was considered a safe, non-controversial candidate who would appeal to Americans of all political stripes due to his military record. Grant won a close election and embraced the opportunity to move beyond the Civil War, using his inaugural address to set the tone of new administration by saying “Let us have peace.”

The new president ultimately earned a mixed record on racial issues. He embraced the readmission of Virginia to the Union, and surprised many Republicans by supporting passage of the 15th Amendment, which guaranteed African Americans the right to vote and which Congress forced southern states to ratify as a final condition of readmission to the Union. Grant also aggressively battled the terrorism of the Ku Klux Klan and other vigilante groups. He persuaded Congress to pass the Military Enforcement Acts of 1870 and 1871, establishing martial law in nine South Carolina counties, where violence had been most endemic, and sending the army and federal marshals to arrest Klansmen in North Carolina and other states. The acts granted the president the power to use the armed forces to suppress organizations that deprived citizens of their 14th Amendment rights, to suspend habeas corpus, and to declare organizations whose members met under arms to be in open rebellion. These acts gradually eroded the power of the first Klan, but also sent southerners a signal that while open violence would not be tolerated, governments which could police their own people would not be harassed by the federal government.

16.24 - Level 3

The Military Enforcement Acts of 1870 and 1971 created martial law in nine counties of which state?

Figure 16.15: President Ulysses S. Grant. Perhaps the greatest general in American history, Grant served two terms as president and completed his famous memoirs shortly before dying of throat cancer in 1885. [12]​

Congress also passed the Civil Rights Act of 1875, which is sometimes called the Enforcement Act. It guaranteed African Americans equal treatment with regard to public transportation and accommodations, and outlawed their exclusion from jury duty. The act was another response to the growing and relentless pattern of southern attacks on African American civil liberties, and proved difficult to enforce. It was also one of the last attempts by radicals in the Senate (the bill was drafted by Charles Sumner) to enforce Reconstruction. No new civil rights bills were passed by Congress until 1957.

Southerners responded with a commitment to home rule, which they understood to mean Democratic control of their state governments. Open violence decreased for a time, with social and economic pressure taking its place and driving many Republicans out of the South for good. Blacks who were politically active risked losing jobs or credit, as did whites who supported them. White rifle clubs held target shooting practice near Republican political rallies, and many Republicans took the hint. In areas where Republicans tried to defend themselves violence often escalated and their leaders were usually slaughtered by better armed whites affiliated with the Democratic Party or the Klan. Republican governors appealed for more federal troops, but Grant usually refused, arguing that the nation had tired of the outbursts of violence in the South, and one by one Southerners gradually elected Democratic governments that abandoned any pretense of protecting black rights.

Question 16.25

16.25 - Level 5

What do you think of President Grant’s actions regarding Reconstruction? Consider his past experience from the Civil War and evaluate his options as well as the restrictions that he faced from both Northerners and Southerners.

Click here to see the answer to Question 16.25.

By 1876, only South Carolina and Louisiana still had Republican governments, and their fate became intertwined with the outcome of the 1876 presidential election. To say the election proved controversial would be an understatement. Samuel J. Tilden, the Democratic candidate, received a majority of the popular vote, though his opponent, Rutherford B. Hayes, lost thousands of votes because so many African Americans in the South were kept away from the polls by violence and threats of violence. Tilden remained one vote short of a majority in the Electoral College, in part because three states (South Carolina, Florida, and Louisiana) submitted conflicting sets of ballots and one state (Oregon) had difficulty determining the eligibility of one of its electors. 

When Congress met in December, 1876 the situation remained unresolved, and Republicans were faced with accepting the Democratic votes and putting Tilden in the White House or accepting the Republican electoral ballots and ignoring the will of the people. The situation was eventually settled through a very complicated compromise that included two key details. The first involved Congress creating a special electoral commission that awarded every contested electoral ballot to Hayes, thus making him the president. The second was that Hayes agreed (through representatives) to withdraw the remaining federal troops from the South and allow the overthrow of Republican governments in South Carolina and Louisiana. Other informal agreements were also reached, but most were eventually ignored and in the end it hardly mattered. Once Hayes took the oath of office as president, federal troops were withdrawn, and after South Carolina and Louisiana were back in the hands of Democrats Reconstruction had effectively ended. 


Over the next decade and a half, civil rights for African Americans were gradually eroded at the national level while the South tightened the grip of racism on political and social freedoms. The United States Supreme Court, composed predominantly of southern judges, ruled the Civil Rights Act of 1875 unconstitutional with an 8-1 vote in 1883. Racial discrimination in public accommodations, were not, the court said, in violation of the Constitution because the equal protection clause of the 14th Amendment only precluded state and local governments from discriminating. Private individuals and organizations, the court said, were under no such limitations. At the state level poll taxes kept many from voting, as did “eight box” laws that discriminated against the illiterate. Under that system ballots for each race were placed in separate boxes, requiring voters to bring multiple ballots rather than a single ballot marked in advance by the voter or by a literate friend. Election officials periodically changed the order of the boxes, making it even more difficult, and discarded ballots placed in the wrong boxes. These and other tactics, including the secret ballot, which also discriminated against the illiterate, hurt white voters too, but not in the same numbers as African Americans. 

In spite of these obstacles, and in spite of attacks by the Klan and other vigilante groups, African Americans continued to vote in large numbers. In states like Arkansas, Florida, and North Carolina more than 70% of eligible black voters turned out, and proved an enduring threat to white rule. Finally, in 1890 Southern states grew so openly racist they moved to deal with this threat by excluding blacks from politics completely. They did so by creating layers of multiple barriers to African American voting, from literacy tests to evaluations by racist white election officials that no African American would ever be allowed to pass. Mississippi, for example held a constitutional convention that required voters to be able to read and write and interpret the Constitution to the satisfaction of white officials, a standard very few African Americans could meet given the racist attitudes of most whites. Louisiana took matters a step further in 1898 when it required literacy tests for all voters except the sons and grandsons of people who had voted in the state before 1867, which effectively required all blacks and very few whites to take the test. Other southern states followed suit, and black civil rights effectively disappeared for the next 70 years. 

Question 16.26

16.26 - Level 5

After reading this chapter, do you agree with the critics who often rate Reconstruction as a failure? Consider what the goals of Reconstruction were and think about the social and cultural limitations at the time as you compose your answer.

Click here to see the answer to Question 16.26.

Pre-Class Discussion Questions

Class Discussion 16.01

Class Discussion 16.01 - Level 5

Is it fair to say the North won the Civil War and then lost the peace that followed? Why or why not?

Click here to see the answer to Class Discussion 16.01.

Class Discussion 16.02

Class Discussion 16.02 - Level 5

Would it have been possible for the United States to ensure civil liberties and economic opportunity for former slaves in the South after the Civil War? Why or why not? If it was possible, what would it have required the government to do? Would doing so have provoked a backlash in the South?

Click here to see the answer to Class Discussion 16.02.

Class Discussion 16.03

Class Discussion 16.03 - Level 5

Were Abraham Lincoln and Andrew Johnson correct in pursuing a “soft” peace with the Confederacy, or should Southerners have been punished more severely for rebelling?

Click here to see the answer to Class Discussion 16.03.

Class Discussion 16.04

Class Discussion 16.04 - Level 5

Did the South have the right legally under the Constitution to pass Black Codes and gradually move towards segregation? In other words, even if Southern states were immoral and unethical when discriminating, did the notion of state sovereignty allow them to do so?

Click here to see the answer to Class Discussion 16.04.

Class Discussion 16.05

Class Discussion 16.05 - Level 5

Does the commitment of the South to discriminate against African Americans strengthen the argument that the Civil War was fundamentally about slavery? And, given the persistent efforts of Southerners to oppress African Americans legislatively and through vigilantism, could Abraham Lincoln have achieved more justice for former slaves if he had lived?

Click here to see the answer to Class Discussion 16.05.

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Suggested Additional Material

Downs, Gregory P. After Appomattox: Military Occupation and the Ends of War. Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press, 2015.

Egerton, Douglas R. The Wars of Reconstruction: The Brief, Violent History of American’s Most Progressive Era. New York: Bloomsbury Press, 2015.

Foner, Eric. Reconstruction Updated Edition: America’s Unfinished Revolution. New York: Harper Perennial Modern Classics, Revised Ed., 2014.

Levine, Bruce. The Fall of the House of Dixie: The Civil War and the Social Revolution that Transformed the South. New York: Random House Trade Paperbacks, Reprint Edition, 2014.

Parsons, Elaine Frantz. Ku-Klux Klan: The Birth of the Klan During Reconstruction. Charlotte, North Carolina: University of North Carolina Press, 2016.

Answers to In-Chapter Discussion Questions

Answer to Question 16.02

The major questions facing the United States at the end of the Civil War included what do to with the states of the former Confederacy (Should they be readmitted? Did they ever really leave the Union?), what to do with Confederate soldiers and leaders (Should they be forgiven or punished?), how to rebuild the South physically, economically, and socially (Should the South pay for those efforts or would the Federal government contribute?), what to do with the Freedmen (Should they be guaranteed civil rights or land or economic opportunity, and if resources should be given to them, from whom would they come?), and whether to punish the South collectively for the Civil War or southern whites for slavery. Students can choose multiple angles from which to approach any of those questions, and should at least address the major themes. They can also answer the question of what they would have done in multiple ways. Ideally, they will at least thoughtfully address the moral/ethical need to address the needs of former slaves and contrast it with the reality that a majority of southern whites were not going to cooperate with any system that promoted true equality. The best responses will address the limits of Federal power and the resistance of southern whites in a thoughtful manner.

Click here to return to Question 16.02.

Answer to Question 16.05

Students should realize the Civil War forever ended slavery and settled the question of whether secession was legal. It also settled the question of whether the United States was a plural or a singular phrase. They might also argue it destroyed the pre-Civil War southern economy, or forced the South eventually to industrialize faster than it might have otherwise.

Click here to return to Question 16.05.

Answer to Question 16.06

The South faced a host of enormous challenges after losing the Civil War. Much of the region had ravaged by Union armies, especially the industry and infrastructure. Nearly one in five adult white men were killed during the course of the war, leaving behind devastated and impoverished wives and children, while innumerable others came back maimed or disabled. Moreover, the end of slavery completely upended the social order in the South, and created an entire new class of citizens who had never before experienced freedom. 

Click here to return to Question 16.06.

Answer to Question 16.08

For Freedman, the first priority was finding family and loved ones, then formalizing marriages and the custody of children through legal means. After that it was finding a place to live and means to make a living. The limitations faced by Freedmen were shaped by the oppressive racism in the South, so students should discuss Black Codes, white vigilante groups like the Ku Klux Klan, white violence directed against schools for Freedmen, and the difficulty most African Americans had voting or enjoying basic civil liberties. The best way to maintain some sense of economic freedom was probably to leave the South entirely, or, failing that, to acquire a necessary skill that paid reasonably well, or embrace sharecropping. Social freedom would have been harder to maintain. The best chance may have been to live in areas with a large African American population, stay close to Freedmen’s Bureaus or Army posts, and avoid antagonizing whites when possible.

Click here to return to Question 16.08.

Answer to Question 16.11

The lyrics in Climbing Jacob’s Ladder refer to working one’s way to heaven. They are eminently hopeful, and singing them in the midst of the hardship of slavery says a great deal about the resilience of the human spirit. Students should note the cadence of the song, which is a work song, meaning it was often sung in the midst of doing back-breaking labor. 

Click here to return to Question 16.11.

Answer to Question 16.15

A good answer here would mention the fact that Johnson was a southerner and a racist, that he believed in a limited government that had no long term responsibility to provide for the Freedmen, and that he thought that he was basically following the outlines Lincoln had laid out for Reconstruction prior to the end of the Civil War.

Click here to return to Question 16.15.

Answer to Question 16.21

Students should sense the everyday fear that Steele and other African Americans faced in the South after the Civil War. Any white person could threaten them in public, at work, or in their homes, and African Americans were threatened, intimidated, beaten, and killed if they embraced their civil liberties or violated any of a number of written and unwritten rules. Owning firearms, voting, saying anything that was perceived as disrespectful towards whites, or simply behaving in a manner that whites did not like could result in horrific beatings or even killings that law enforcement would neither stop nor investigate. 

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Answer to Question 16.25

Grant generally gets credit for fighting the Klan in South Carolina, and criticized for slowly pulling back from Reconstruction afterwards. Students should consider whether he could or should have ordered the Army to stay longer, whether Congress could or should have done more, or whether the Panic of 1873, widespread American racism, and general fatigue with Reconstruction meant that it was always destined to fade away without truly protecting African Americans for the long term. They might also consider the boundary between state and federal power. Given the political world of the 19th century, and the structure of the Constitution, did Grant do all he could?

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Answer to Question 16.26

There will be overlap with previous answers here. The main thing is for students to think about the world of the 1870s when they consider Reconstruction. They should not judge it based on the assumptions they have about government and society and equality in their own time. They should instead consider the past in context. Radical Republicans certainly thought Reconstruction failed, while Moderates celebrated its limited successes and southerners generally found it a giant evil foisted on them by the federal government. The best answers will list the achievements and failures of Reconstruction. They will also consider the limits of state and federal power, the racism of the period, and the difficulty in maintaining the Army in the South indefinitely, and weigh those issues against the evils of Black Codes, the KKK, and the subjugation of African Americans after the Civil War. 

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Answers to Pre-Class Discussion Questions

Answer to Class Discussion 16.01

Students should be able to discuss the achievements of Reconstruction, including ending slavery and passing the 13th, 14th, and 15th amendments, as well as the failures, emphasizing the inability of the U.S. government to fully protect civil liberties for African Americans.

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Answer to Class Discussion 16.02

Students should be able to consider whether the Federal Government could have protected political and economic rights for African Americans in the face of bitter resentment and violence on the part of the majority white population in the South, and the amount of money, time, and military power it would have required to do so. They should also be able to ponder whether the effort should have been undertaken in spite of its cost for moral or ethical reasons, and the degree to which racism in the North played a role in the gradual retreat from Reconstruction by the Federal Government.

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Answer to Class Discussion 16.03

Students should be able to discuss the merits of “hard” and soft peace, whether punishment would have inspired greater resistance in the South, and the extent to which all Southerners were responsible for choices made by their elected officials. They should also be able to consider the relative merits of the hard and soft peace arguments made by Moderate and Radical Republicans during Reconstruction.

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Answer to Class Discussion 16.04

Students should be able to discuss the notion of Federalism, the concept of state sovereignty under the Constitution, and limits of majority rule. Instructors should be able to foreshadow the incorporation doctrine of the twentieth century

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Answer to Class Discussion 16.05

Students should be able to discuss the various measures the South took to enforce second class status economically and politically on former slaves and whether that reflects the desire of so many Southerners to protect slavery prior to the Civil War. They should also be able to consider whether Lincoln, facing a divided Congress in his second term, might have achieved more than Andrew Johnson did.

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Image Credits

[1] Image courtesy of the Library of Congress's Prints and Photographs division in the Public Domain.

[2] Image courtesy of the Library of Congress's Prints and Photographs division in the Public Domain.

[3] Image courtesy of the  Library of Congress's Prints and Photographs division in the Public Domain.

[4] Image courtesy of U.S. National Archives and Records Administration ARC# 533434 in the Public Domain.

[5] Image courtesy of the United States Library of Congress's Prints and Photographs division in the Public Domain.

[6] Image courtesy of the Smithsonian Museum of America History in the Public Domain.

[7] Image courtesy of the Library of Congress Rare Book and Special Collections Division in the Public Domain.

[8] Image courtesy of the Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division in the Public Domain.

[9] Image courtesy of the Library of Congress Prints & Photographs Online Catalog in the public domain.

[10] Image courtesy of the Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division in the Public Domain.

[11] Image courtesy of Encyclopaedia Britannica in the Public Domain. 

[12] Image courtesy of the United States Library of Congress's Prints and Photographs division in the Public Domain.

[13] Image courtesy of the United States Census Bureau in the Public Domain.