February 25, 2013
Word Count: 3234
Reconstruction: Rebuilding America
The United States was founded on the belief that every man has “certain inalienable Rights.” Not until ninety years later, however, when slavery was abolished did the United States actually offer these “Rights” to all of its citizens. The 19th century was turbulent time of stress and change for America. One of the most controversial dilemmas was the issue of slavery. Slavery was conceived by many to be morally wrong, and it undermined America’s most valued beliefs. Despite this inconsistency, slavery was still widely supported and permitted out of economic necessity in the South. Slavery divided the nation in half. The economy of the South was primarily agricultural production on plantations. This form of economy made slavery vital to the state of the South. In the North, The economy was primarily industrial, which eliminated the dependency on slavery much earlier. Because of the vastly different economic bases of these two regions, their culture and views of the world begin to shift apart. On top of economic dissimilarities, conflict between the North and the South grew because of cultural and political differences. After the first openly anti-slave president, Abraham Lincoln, was elected, the South eventually seceded from the Union launching the American Civil War. The South fought to become its own nation while the North fought to bring the nation back. Eventually, because of a significantly larger population, more supplies, and superior logistics, the North won and the South was forced back into the Union. Both sides were hurt badly by the war, losing a substantial number of people and resources. The South was left in a state of total destruction ranging from lawlessness to austere military regimes, forcing it into economic hardship. The transition from slavery to free labor was far from smooth. The goal of Reconstruction was to restore the southern economy, government, and to give Blacks equal rights under the law. While reconstruction may not have been as successful as many would have hoped, the question remains: in hindsight, based on the economic and cultural conditions of the 19th century, could Reconstruction have been handled more successfully? Reconstruction did very little for the people of the South. The economy was still in poor shape, racism and violence dramatically increased, and the standard of living for Blacks, who were legally free, was not any better than before. Even though Reconstruction pragmatically failed, given the circumstances of the time, there was no feasible way that it could have been done significantly better.
The actual course of Reconstruction was complex and far from easy. After the South was forced back into the Union it had no political power. All of the slaves were now free as a result of the Emancipation Proclamation. Former Confederates could no longer vote or run for political office. The victorious North then had to decide: Under what terms would the South rejoin the Union? Would plantations stay with their original owners or be divided up among southerners? What would the new role of Blacks be in this new society? How much power and what rights will the freed Blacks have? Lincoln’s plan was to give full amnesty and restoration of all rights “except as to slaves.” This plan meant that former Confederates should be given all of their former belongings and rights except for their former slaves, who were now considered free. Lincoln felt that that the best way to deal with the former Confederates was to befriend them and thus eliminate hostilities: ”Am I not destroying my enemies when I make friends of them?” Lincoln’s plan was considered to be too lenient by the Republican Congress. The eventual compromise was a “ten percent plan” that would allow all southern rights to be restored only after ten percent of the southern population swore...