Reconstruction or Disfranchisement:

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AH 213 Olds 7
DBQ Essay

Reconstruction or Disfranchisement:

After the Civil War, the South’s economy was devastated and was filled with angry whites who were frustrated over the emancipation of slavery. They wished to change the social status of African Americans and suppress them once again. The post-war South was in a state of chaos. In hopes to solve this problem, Lincoln established a Reconstruction Plan. Reconstruction was meant to tackle the issues through the re-admittance of southern states into the Union while rebuilding the south’s economy, and giving equality to the newly freed African Americans. However, Congress’ Reconstruction plan failed due to political disharmony between the Democrats and the Radical Republicans. The Democrats felt superior to African Americans and did not want them to have equal rights while the Radical Republicans wanted to eliminate the power of the former slaveholders, give African Americans full citizenship and the right to vote. Lastly, the plan failed because of the prejudice against blacks by Southern whites. Therefore, instead of the South ensuring the rights to the freedmen; they not only successfully disfranchised them, but placed them in a class based on inferiority and discrimination. After the death of Abraham Lincoln, Andrew Johnson was faced with the problems that the four million, newly freed slaves had to face. Under Johnson’s Reconstruction policy, the Black Codes of 1866 were created which were regulations of freedom for former slaves of the South. These Black Codes granted blacks certain rights such as legalized marriage, but denied them the right to vote or acquire land in some states. The Black Codes varied in each state, and although slavery was ended, it did not mean that African Americans gained complete freedom or equal rights of the white man. The Black Codes were a violation of free labor principles because of the demands they placed on the freed slaves to sign yearly contracts and work for a minimal amount of pay. One reason for the failure of efforts to guarantee freedmen full citizenship rights after the end of slavery is clearly expressed by John McCoy in Document 7. John McCoy was a slave for 27 years and his recollection demonstrates how Johnson’s Reconstruction policy caused the North to oppose Johnson for his failure to ensure the emancipation of slavery in the South. John McCoy explains in his interview: “Freedom wasn’t no different I knows of. I works for Marse John just the same for a long time. He says one morning, “ John, you can go out in the field iffen you wants to or you can get our iffen you wants to, ‘cause the government say you is free. If you wants to work I’ll feed you and give you clothes, but you can’t pay no money. I ain’t gone none.” Humph, I didn’t know nothing what money was, nohow, but I knows I’ll git plenty victuals to eat, so I stays....”

Although slavery was abolished after the Civil War, for African Americans it was not completely accepted nor a reality for them , due to the continued discrimination against them by most Democrats and the white southerners. The opposition of most Democrats and moderate Republicans demonstrated the prejudiced view that most Southern whites held against the freedman. Although the Thirteenth Amendment freed the slaves, they did not feel that they should have the equal right to vote the same as whites. A speech given by Pennsylvania Congressman Benjamin Boyer expresses clearly the opposition of Democrats to the bill that Radical Republicans in Congress were trying to pass that would allow African-American men to vote in the District of Columbia. Boyer states: “It is common for the advocates of negro suffrage to assume that the color of the negro is the main obstacle to his admission to political equality.... But it is not the complexion of the negro that degrades him...[the Negro is] a race by nature inferior in mental caliber...the negroes are not...
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