The South was economically devastated and socially revolutionized by emancipation. As slave owners reluctantly confronted the end of slave labor, blacks took their first steps in freedom. Black churches and freedmen’s schools helped the former slaves begin to shape their own destiny.
The new President Andrew Johnson was politically inept and personally contentious, and attempted to implement a moderate plan of Reconstruction, along the lines originally suggested by Lincoln. Who fell victim to Southern whites’ severe treatment of blacks and his own political blunders.
Republicans imposed harsh military Reconstruction on the South after their gains in the 1866 congressional elections. The Southern states reentered the Union with new radical governments, which rested partly on the newly enfranchised blacks, but also had support from some sectors of southern society These governments were sometimes corrupt, but they also implemented important reforms, especially in education. For a time, acting from a mixture of idealism and political expediency, Republicans tried seriously to build a new Republican party in the South to guarantee black rights. But the divisions between moderate and radical Republicans meant that Reconstruction’s aims were often limited and confused, despite successful passage of the important Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendments guaranteeing black civil and voting rights.
Embittered whites hated the radical governments and mobilized reactionary terrorist organizations like the Ku Klux Klan to restore white supremacy. The radical Republican House of Representatives impeached Johnson, but the Senate failed narrowly to convict him. In the end, the inadequate Reconstruction policy, which never really addressed the deep...