I feel the Reconstruction was a time of success and failure for different economic, political and social reasons. From what I’ve read recently, I can’t say it was a complete failure or success because the Reconstruction has not really ended. It is a never ending process. The Reconstruction was a not an economic boom or failure because of differing policies.
Most of the opinions on the economic side of Reconstruction were after it ‘ended’ by historical records. In 1882, after the Reconstruction was ended, Fredrick Douglass, a former slave wrote: “The Negro after his emancipation was precisely in the state of destitution. Now, poverty [had] no chance against wealth, the landless against the landowner, the [uneducated] against the intelligent, the freedman was powerless.” From my research, I have found this position to be completely true. This was one of the worst failures of Reconstruction. The black codes, alluded to in Douglass’s quote (“the negro…was…in a state of destitution”) is because the Northerners were scrambling over how to do Reconstruction so the blacks stayed poor. Even with the Freedmen’s Bureau and other programs to help the South, “the [southern] states…passed laws that all but returned the Negro to slavery.” (James Munves, A Short Illustrated History of the United States, 1965.) Also, “less than $10 million [of economic aid went to] the South” (James Munves, A Short Illustrated History of the United States, 1965.) and most of the aid probably didn’t even go to blacks because of a racial backlash against blacks. However as historian Kenneth Stampp points out in his 1968 book, Era of Reconstruction (1865-77), “The period of Reconstruction succeeded economically, by consolidating the position of industrial capitalism.” This is true, but this ‘industrial capitalism didn’t occur in the South. It occurred in the North, hence the first class of millionaires ever in U.S. history was in the North, not the South which was agricultural still, not very industrialized (unlike the North) into the 20th Century. Politically, the Reconstruction achieved different goals.
Military districts of the South as outlined in the Reconstruction act 1867
In the long run politically, the Reconstruction was a success. According to Kenneth Stampp, it “produc[ed] the most democratic governments in the South [and] promot[ed] the promise of equal rights.” Both of those statements conveyed in the quote are correct, however, “as Southern whites regained political power, Southern blacks suffered [by being] prevented from enjoying [their freedom] by local laws…[The reconstruction] collapsed into a sinkhole of corruption and racism [and delayed] the struggle for [black] equality until the 20th century” according to federal government’s article on America.gov, Civil War and Post-War Reconstruction in2008. That is true, but the mention of the contribution of the Radical Republicans is missing from the puzzle. It is true that Southern whites (mostly Democrats) caused blacks to suffer. But, the Radical Republicans led to a Reconstruction plan where “for states to be re-admitted to the Union [they needed to] ratif[y] the 14th amendment [that included] universal suffrage guaranteeing that [blacks] would be given the right [as well as the] opportunity to vote and…the Fifteenth Amendment, guaranteeing equality for the freed slaves. (essortment.com).” These two amendments (the 14th and 15th Amendments) are some of the most controversial, but the most important in American history. They led to today’s fight to have people under the “equal protection of the laws” and making sure “the right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied…on account of race [or] color.” Despite this uplifting of spirit for blacks as they think back, people at the time were consumed because “it was a time of disorder and chaos [,] Southern whites rejected all forms of equality [and there were] frequent riots. (The History Connection).” Some blacks at the time doubted the effectiveness of the 14th and 15th amendments. Especially, Booker T. Washington, a former slave in his book, Up From Slavery in 1901: “I felt the Reconstruction policy was… artificial and forced…the [lack of knowledge of politics] of [blacks] was being used as a tool to help [get] white men into office.” I disagree with Mr. Washington because it was not artificial and forced reform. It was reform that would change the American landscape forever. He is right that blacks were excluded from the political process after the North declared Reconstruction over with the Compromise of 1877 and removed all Union troops. Socially, the Reconstruction was less successful than one might think.
Southerner weeping over a person who died because of Reconstruction
Arguably, many of the problems of Reconstruction can be related back to social concepts or those concepts of people. Some thought that the Reconstruction, “failed to secure civil, political and economic rights for southern blacks” as historian Eric Foner states in his 1985 book: America’s Unfinished Revolution (1863-77). I have to disagree with Mr. Foner. In social terms many changes that would lead to resurgence of the South in the early 20th century was because of changes between 1865 and 1877. “The first statewide public school systems in the South as well as hospitals, penitentiaries and asylum [were created]. The first black institutions of higher learning were founded…[and] institutional foundations of the modern black community were laid” according to Digital History: Online American History Textbook. Part of creation of the public school systems in the South was definitely because of the Freedmen’s Bureau which helped poor blacks and whites. Part of economic aid packages sent down by the North as well as Republican governments into the 1870s helped build up the Southern infrastructure and create higher learning institutions for blacks. However, according to historian William Dunning, “illiterate freedmen and corrupt northern carpetbaggers abused the rights southern whites and stole money from the state governments”, which I find hard to believe. Even if freedmen were illiterate, then they became literate with Republican social programs and pro-black governments. Northern carpetbaggers were not completely corrupt because they helped the suffering Southerners who had lost so much and they did not steal money from governments, they used it to better the cultural landscape of the American South. Southerners, looked at the social problems a much different way, with much scorn: “Every town, village and district was occupied rapidly by the Union troops and all civil government was ignored…The only government allowed was that under [Union] supervision…The social fabric of the people had been uprooted and turned upside down” (civilwarhome.com, Confederate Military History, Volume 12 was written after 1872). Although that seems plausible, I disagree with this Southerners’ point of view. Even if ‘civil government was ignored’, in the long run it benefited the people of the South and helped them build up again so they could return to their former glory. The scariest part of period after the Civil War was when “angry whites form[ed] the Ku Klux Klan (KKK) and other groups that terrorized blacks for years to come” (VOA News Making of A Nation (radio program). 2005). These terror groups still attack blacks and minorities today, but they have calmed down and taken a back stage with many Americans at this time.
The economic, political and social parts of the Reconstruction come together as not one success or one failure, but as numerous failures and successes put together. The Reconstruction, which goes on to this day has not been a success because there are still terror groups such as the KKK (which oddly enough endorsed Barack Obama as U.S. president in 2008) and blacks are not fully accepted. Hopefully the U.S. populace gets to the point of accepting all races and ethnicities. From 1865 to now, the Reconstruction has not been a failure because numerous groups have gained rights (Women, Blacks, American Indians and many other ethnicities). As a new generation of people, of what I call the “Young People Revolution” we need to be sure that all people of any race and ethnicity are respected and treated equally. In the end, it doesn’t matter what race or ethnicity you are it matters what your character is like and you should be judged on character.
- hermannview posted this