The Goals and Failures of the First and Second Reconstructions

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The Goals and Failures of the First and Second Reconstructions

Some people say we've got a lot of malice some say its a lot of nerve. But, I say we won't quit moving until we get what we deserve. We have been bucked and we have been conned. We have been treated bad, talked about as just bones. But just as it takes two eyes to eyes make a pair. Brother we won't quit until we get our share. Say it loud- I'm Black and I'm Proud.

James Brown

The First and Second Reconstructions held out the great promise of rectifying racial injustices in America. The First Reconstruction, emerging out of the chaos of the Civil War had as its goals equality for Blacks in voting, politics, and use of public facilities. The Second Reconstruction emerging out of the booming economy of the 1950's, had as its goals, integration, the end of Jim Crow and the more amorphous goal of making America a biracial democracy where, "the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave holders will be able to sit down together at the table of brotherhood." Even though both movements, were borne of high hopes they failed in bringing about their goals. Born in hope, they died in despair, as both movements saw many of their gains washed away. I propose to examine why they failed in realizing their goals. My thesis is that failure to incorporate economic justice for Blacks in both movements led to the failure of the First and Second Reconstruction.

The First Reconstruction came after the Civil War and lasted till 1877. The political, social, and economic conditions after the Civil War defined the goals of the First Reconstruction. At this time the Congress was divided politically on issues that grew out of the Civil War: Black equality, rebuilding the South, readmitting Southern states to Union, and deciding who would control government.1 Socially, the South was in chaos. Newly emancipated slaves wandered the South after having left their former masters, and the White population was spiritually devastated, uneasy about what lay ahead. Economically, the South was also devastated: plantations lay ruined, railroads torn up, the system of slave labor in shambles, and cities burnt down. The economic condition of ex-slaves after the Civil War was just as uncertain; many had left former masters and roamed the highways.2

Amid the post Civil War chaos, various political groups were scrambling to further their agendas. First, Southern Democrats, a party comprised of leaders of the confederacy and other wealthy Southern whites, sought to end what they perceived as Northern domination of the South. They also sought to institute Black Codes, by limiting the rights of Blacks to move, vote, travel, and change jobs,3 which like slavery, would provide an adequate and cheap labor supply for plantations. Second, Moderate Republicans wanted to pursue a policy of reconciliation between North and South, but at the same time ensure slavery was abolished.4 Third, Radical Republicans, comprised of Northern politicians, were strongly opposed to slavery, unsympathetic to the South, wanted to protect newly free slaves, and keep there majority in Congress.5 The fourth political element, at the end of the Civil War was President Andrew Johnson whose major goal was unifying the nation. The fifth element were various fringe groups such as, abolitionists and Quakers. Strongly motivated by principle and a belief in equality, they believed that Blacks needed equality in American society, although they differed on what the nature of that should be.6

The Northern Radical Republicans, with a majority in Congress, emerged as the political group that set the goals for Reconstruction which was to prevent slavery from rising again in the South. At first, the Radical Republicans thought this could be accomplished by outlawing slavery with the passage of the Thirteenth Amendment. But Southern Democrats in their quest to restore their rule in the South brought back slavery in all...
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