The accomplishments and failures of Reconstruction

Can the period be evaluated as both a success and a failure?

The Reconstruction Era occurred from around 1868 to 1877. Preceding the Civil War, the South's industry and infrastructure was virtually left in ruins. It was in great need of help, and had to rely on the government that they had tried to stray away from. The Reconstruction can be evaluated as both a success and a failure of ideals chiefly because of the bills and laws that were passed, as well as the failures and step backs that were encountered. The restoration of all 11 ex-Confederate states to the Union, the Radical Republicans, and the Reconstruction Acts that were passed are all examples of accomplishments made during the time. The Black Codes, the belief in white supremacy, and the corruption in business and in government are among the many failures of the Reconstruction. Overall, the period was a time of corruption, greed, and discrimination.

To begin with, one of the greatest accomplishments of the Reconstruction was the restoration of all 11 ex-Confederate states to the Union. This was accomplished during the Lincoln and Johnson administrations. By 1868, they were successful in the readmission of South Carolina, Florida, Alabama, Louisiana, Arkansas, North Carolina, and Tennessee into the Union; and by 1877 the readmission of Mississippi, Georgia, Texas, and Virginia (Doc H). Another accomplishment would be the creation of a new agency called the Freedmen's Bureau. The Freedmen's Bureau offered shelter, food, and medical attention to anybody in need of it after the war. Many criticized the agency and accused it of "keep[ing] the negro in idleness at the expenses of the white man" (Doc D). Under General Oliver Howard, it was successful in the establishment of some 3,000 schools for freed blacks, which included several black colleges. Soon after, the Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendments were passed. The Fourteenth Amendment stated that "the first section prohibits the states from abridging the privileges and immunities of citizens of the United States, or unlawfully depriving them of life, liberty, or property, or denying to any person within their jurisdiction the 'equal' protection of the laws" (Doc C). Thaddeus Stevens, a Radical Republican, declared that the amendment "allows Congress to correct the unjust legislation of the States, so far that the law operated upon one man shall operate equally upon all" (Doc C). The supporters of the rights for freed blacks were called Radical Republicans. Among this group was a man named Benjamin Wade who endorsed the rights of women, northern blacks, and labor unions. African Americans were adjusting to their new freedom and branching out to do new things. Many joined Negro Baptist and African American Episcopal churches, and some migrated from the South to form new communities. A popular place they went was Kansas (Doc F). They also created colleges, like Howard and Fisk, which trained black ministers and teachers.

At the same time, many things were going wrong in the country. Sharecropping became very popular among freed African Americans trying to fulfill their dreams of owning their own farm and providing for their families. Unfortunately, the corrupt style in which these farms were run kept them in an unending cycle of debt. It was almost a new form of slavery. Meanwhile, Republican politicians in the South were beginning to take advantage of the kickbacks they received and took bribes. This illustrated a decline in people's morals. Black Codes were another failure of the Reconstruction. They were created to restrict the rights of freed blacks. One code stated, "Every laborer... shall not be allowed to leave his place of employment until the fulfillment of his contract" (Doc B). They restricted every right and movement of the freed blacks and subjected them to even more discrimination. Particularly corrupt was the idea of white supremacy that was growing in the South. Many men organized groups of "secret" societies to intimidate the freed African Americans and white reformers. One group in particular, the Ku Klux Klan (KKK), were especially famous for their burning of black's buildings and the murder of many freedmen to keep them from voting.

Simultaneously, there was the corruption in business and government that was distracting the North from the issues in the South. Spoilsmen, such as Conklin and Blaine, were politicians who unfairly displayed patronage on their supporters. The Credit Mobilier scandal was brought to the attention of the government. They had been giving stock to members of Congress so that they wouldn't investigate the profit they were making from government funding for the transcontinental railroad they were building. Another scandal involved Jay Gould and James Blaine who along with Grant's brother-in-law attempted to corner the gold market. They were discovered but Blaine had already gotten away with his own profits. The Whiskey Ring involved federal agents conspiring with liquor companies to take millions of taxes from the government. One man, William Tweed, may have profited the most from the money he stole from taxpayers. He was the one behind many plans to help himself to large quantities of graft. He was successful until a cartoonist from the New York Times, Thomas Nast, exposed him and led to his arrest. In time, the new president, Rutherford B. Hayes, agreed to a compromise. The Compromise of 1877 was mainly to end the support for Republicans in the South and to build a transcontinental railroad. Eventually Hayes withdrew the troops that were protecting the freedmen, and the Supreme Court repealed the Reconstruction laws that protected the blacks from being discriminated against.

In essence, the period can be evaluated as both a success and a failure of ideals. It just depends on how it is viewed. They did make many accomplishes in the rights for African Americans. They freed them, provided education for them, and allowed them to form black communities. On the whole, the Reconstruction was not a good thing. It was a failure, in a sense. Everything that had been accomplished were basically forgotten or taken back with the Compromise of 1877. It was a period of corruption in business, government, and in ethics. In the long run, the only thing that was a living accomplishment was the freedom of African Americans. More innovations were yet to come.

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