Was the Reconstruction Period a Failure

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Was Reconstruction a failure?
As the bloody Civil War drew to a close, the period of reconstruction began to take shape across the states. There were many questions aroused following the war regarding the physical re-building of the nation, demobilisation and most importantly what was to replace the pre-war norm of slavery? America’s position on the latter, was of course both vague, with differing opinions from the North to the South, these differences which should have been settled with the outcome of the Civil War meant the war on the battlefield had transgressed to one on a social and political level. However as Michael Les Benedict quite aptly states that ‘winning had been more important than figuring out what to do afterwards,’ which resulted in a sporadic reconstruction being forced by dissimilar motives. When looking at how successful the Reconstruction period was in America one should consider the intentions behind such Reconstructing, this poses the question therefore of whether the period was one of rebuilding relations between the North and the South or between the slaves and citizens? This essay will look at therefore the attempt at creating an increasingly harmonious nation with the interruption of unstoppable de facto discrimination that made reconstruction a void period. When discussing the reconstruction some decide to begin with the Emancipation Proclamation where Lincoln addressed the nation on 1st January 1863; “I do order and declare that all persons held as slaves within said designated States, and parts of States, are, and henceforward shall be free.’ This of course was the primary leap into the unknown, however as this was not passed through Congress and there only being a few states state’s emancipated renders 1863 as an ineffectual starting date for the Reconstruction period. However what was important during this time was the role of African American’s in the war which shaped their position in post-war America. ‘By the wars end, some 180,000 blacks had served in the Union Army.’ Although there was severe dissatisfaction over conscription, the opportunities offered in the army was the foundation for the move towards equality. Primarily it was an opportunity for Afro-Americans to prove their capability and ability to be disciplined; this allowed them to be seen as equals, as equal as possible as the time. ‘Although slavery was still legally intact, in the summer of 1862 General Butler began substituting a system of compensated labour,’ Butler’s recognition of military status of black soldiers was an example of the positive outcome of the war, and what impact It had on integration even though ‘most of the soldiers spoke scornfully of ‘niggers’’ there was an un-admitted truth that the war could not have been won without the help of the Negros. Learning from the military integration and flowing the passing of the 13th Amendment in 1865 saw the true beginning of the reconstruction period and as a result there was an increase of active participation of African-Americans in society. ‘Local leaders played such a variety of roles in schools, churches, and fraternal organizations that were bridges to the larger world of politics.’ The primary source of involvement was through the parishes however Afro-Americans were soon able to work their way further as in 1865 John S. Rock of Boston was the first black lawyer admitted to the bar of the Supreme Court, this showed that ‘slowly the North’s racial barriers began to fall.’ This positive change not only saw the increased integration of black’s within the judicial branch, however also in the executive, ‘among the ablest were Robert B. Elliott of South Carolina and John R. Lynch of Mississippi. Both were speakers of their state House of Representatives and were members of the U.S. Congress.’ However such was short lived due to the ever increasing violence from the Ku Klux Klan; this shows that the restoration was limited to the North.

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