Reconstruction

Reconstruction was a process after the war to reconstruct the South and give
blacks their freedom. This was a key time in our nations history; it was also a
very controversial time in our history. It has been looked at as a success and
also as a failure. General Carl Schurz describes the Civil War as “ a
revolution but half- accomplished.” There have been other historians that have
said that the South had lost the war, but won the peace. I have to agree, I feel
that Reconstruction was a failure.

Blacks had won their freedom, but what definition of freedom had they won?
The conditions of former slaves had changed, but were they that much better? Was
the outcome of Reconstruction inevitable? How could Reconstruction have been
more successful? These are the questions that lead me to believe that
Reconstruction was indeed a failure.

The problem started from the very beginning of Reconstruction, when Congress
and President Lincoln could not agree on a solid program. Lincoln wanted
restoration of national unity with a speedy program that would forgive political
reconciliation. Though Congress wanted more assurance of white loyalty, and more
guarantees for the rights of blacks. The political part of Reconstruction was in
disagreement in the beginning and failed in the end because Democrats regained
power in the South.

Now lets look at how the conditions of former slaves had changed. Slave labor
and free labor wasn’t that much different. The blacks weren’t really “free”.
Blacks were not given their own land in the beginning of Reconstruction; they
still had to work on the plantations with the only difference being blacks would
receive wages and the outlawing of whipping. Some blacks that wanted to test out
the feeling of freedom would roam around the countryside, but would soon run out
of money and inevitably be forced to return to the plantation.

Later in Reconstruction blacks were able to rent farms, through
sharecropping, which was a process where the tenant would rent the land, and
work the land for a share of the proceeds. The hardships of sharecropping were
so overwhelming to impoverished sharecroppers that this rarely ever benefited
the sharecropper. This was better then slavery but still not freedom.
Sharecroppers were free, but free slaves.

Another hardship for blacks in the south and hurt Reconstruction was the
forming of the Ku Klux Klan, which was founded in Tennessee in the summer of
1866. They were a social club that would conduct whippings, hangings, shootings,
burnings, and throat cuttings in attempt to restore white supremacy.

With all this going the outcome of Reconstruction was inevitable. It never
had a true chance to fulfill the promises it held out to blacks at the end of
the war. Reconstruction could have been more successful if from the beginning it
had a strong plan with the President and Congress in agreement. Reconstruction
needed to give blacks real “freedom,” they should have been given there own
land where they had ownership and weren’t forced to work for a white owner or
get caught up in the difficulty of being a sharecropper.

Reconstruction proved that the Civil War was “a revolution but
half-accomplished,” it did end slavery which was in itself a step forward but
then during Reconstruction took a step back with the hardships and not true “freedom”
of black Americans in the south.

The failure of Reconstruction wasn’t without consequences. Close to a
century after the first reconstruction, our nation would go on a quest of a “second
reconstruction,” which was another attempt to fulfill the promises it offered
black Americans at the end of the war.

Category: History