History 202, United States History from 1865 to the Present

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The Building of a New Nation
Following the Civil War, the United States was a country that had experienced great loss and had gone to great lengths to either maintain or abolish slavery. As a nation, they were given the difficult task of repairing the damaged country as a whole, but especially the south and its economy. Their job was to not only to restore the country, but to modernize it and make it stronger compared to other nations. The task presented to the United States, its president, and its government as a whole was one that probably seemed impossible, but it would only prove to be difficult, not so much impossible. The United States faced many challenges after the end of the Civil War. Few of which include the assassination of Lincoln, rebuilding the destroyed southern economy, the federal government’s role in helping the 4 million freed African Americans, how to treat the former states of the Confederacy, and conflict over which branch of government should decide on how to reconstruct the south. Reconstruction is the process of readmitting Confederate states to the Union, rebuilding the south, and granting or protecting the citizenship rights of African Americans. Before Lincoln was assassinated, his plan for reconstruction was to make it simple for the south. He believed the southern states did not technically secede because no state could leave the Union, and also that secession was the fault of a disloyal minority in the South. President Johnson clashed with Republicans over reconstructing the Union and liberating African American slaves. With the disfranchisement of all former Confederate leaders, office holders, and Confederates with over $20,000 in taxable property, Johnson kept Lincoln’s plan’s power to grant individual pardons to southerners. By the summer of 1865 all seven of the remaining Confederate states met Johnson’s reconstruction requirements, but none of the constitutions extended voting rights to African Americans. By the fall of 1865 Johnson had granted 13,000 pardons to many former Confederate leaders.

Many debates arose due to southern governments under presidential reconstruction limiting the rights of African Americans. Southern state legislatures passed “black codes” to limit the rights of African Americans, which prohibited blacks from testifying in court, renting land, or borrowing money to buy land. Work contracts also forced freedmen to work cotton fields under conditions similar to slavery. Black codes combined with Johnson’s reconstruction plan widened the rift between Johnson and Republicans in Congress. What resulted from this and the fact that Republicans were unhappy with Johnson’s “soft” treatment of the south, was Congressional Reconstruction. Congressional Reconstruction was meant to be harsher on southern states and more protective of African American rights. In 1867, the south was under military rule, and each state had to write a new constitution fulfilling Congressional requirements and elect new state governments. The Freedmen’s Bureau was created by Congress in March 1865. It was the Bureau of Refugees, Freedmen, and Abandoned Lands, and it acted as a type of early welfare agency providing food, shelter, and medical aid for blacks and whites in need after the Civil War. Originally it had the authority to resettle freedmen on confiscated Confederate land, but the resettlement power was removed when President Johnson pardoned Confederate land owners and the courts restored the lands to their original owners. The Freedmen’s Bureau’s greatest success was in education. It established 3,000 schools for African Americans, established black colleges, and taught an estimated 200,000 African Americans to read.

The Amnesty Act of 1872 removed restrictions on ex-confederates and allowed Democrats to retake control of state legislatures. By 1876 Congress had removed federal troops from all but three states: South Carolina, Florida, and Louisiana, and Democrats returned to power...
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