History Thesis: Reconstruction Era

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After the Civil War, America was still amidst great turmoil and economic instability. During this time period, the ultimate goal for Americans was to seize the “American Dream”. This was defined by most as being able to support their family and live a comfortable life. Although some did achieve this, many faced social, political and economic hardships. Beginning with the unjust treatment of African-Americans, then the struggles of immigrants, and followed by the rise of big businesses, the challenges faced during this time of rebuilding varied among the classes.

Of all the groups, African-Americans, had the most treacherous economic ladder to climb. Immediately following the Civil War they had the freedoms necessary to obtain economic success. They were ready to take advantage of their newly found rights as Americans after the ratification of the Fourteenth Amendment. Many African-Americans began to find jobs away from the plantations or even re-negotiate deals with their previous masters. The photograph, “Hampton Institute, 1900”, depicted a painting of blacks working on a stair case. This is a metaphor to the way the ex-slaves had to start at the bottom and work their way up. They were complacent with this because they thought if they worked hard, it would be possible for them to seize the “American Dream”. By the turn of the decade, hundreds were elected to office, including two state-lieutenant governors and fifteen into the House of Representatives.

However, whites became displeased with the advancement of African-Americans and sought out to limit their ability of being independently successful. Once the reconstruction period ended and the south had control again, the government decided to implement laws that barred African-Americans of exercising their simple rights. The Grandfather Clause, was one of these laws passed that created new, more extraneous restrictions for voting. It was doctored-in, in order to limit the amount of African-Americans who could vote. Many of them could not pass these simple literacy tests required to register. They also had difficulty paying a poll tax that was just too expensive, while whites were exempted from these laws because their grandfather had previously voted. To further limit their abilities to succeed in America, the Klu Klux Klan was organized to intimidate and kill free blacks This was considerably the worst time in the history of America for African-Americans.

As they realized this the people started to form organizations so they could have formal representation on their behalf. By 1909, a well-educated, Harvard Graduate, W.E.B. Dubois founded the NAACP. The purpose of this organization was to actively seek better civil rights laws pertaining to minorities. Although these new civil rights groups were being formed, African-Americans still had a difficult time becoming successful and would have a long path ahead of them until they could gain full sovereignty.

Immigrants, on the other hand, came in huge waves. A diversified group of people, a few became rich, the rest were manipulated by Americans. The first wave mostly hailed from Northern Europe. These would turn out to be the most prosperous of the immigrants, the big businessmen, which will be touched on in the next topic.

The next wave, mixed more with Eastern Europeans and Chinese, who were not quite as buoyant. The supply of laborers flooded the market, which decreased wages dramatically. The high level of competition created difficult times, causing many cut backs on costs in anyway possible. For example, “Tenement Picture 2” depicts seven immigrants crammed in a room who were doing their best to work, ignoring lengthy shifts and dangerous working conditions. Between 1880 and 1900, more than 35,000 people were killed on the job.

Immigrants often offered to work for less than white males because of their needs to work by any means necessary. This instilled the view of...
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