Reconstruction: The Post Civil War Era
Friday April 12, 1861, America embarked into war with its biggest adversary; America! The American Civil War broke out, and what was believed to be a quick battle by the North, turned out to be a long bloody four years and left the country devastated. President Abraham Lincoln, the 16th president of the United States, successfully lead this country through its greatest constitutional, military and moral crisis. Everything he did was in the best interest in preserving this nation to what it is today. If President Lincoln task of preserving the union would have failed, our nation would be a split nation today. All the events of the Civil War are what truly shaped the face of America today. The President knew that if he wanted to preserve this nation as a whole, not only would he have to win the war, but he would have to have a plan in place to immediately fix the nation to help it move forward from war. During his time in the white house and towards the end of the war, when it was evident the North would prevail, he worked on a reconstruction plan to get the South up and moving. During the war, the northern armies had gone through the South destroying everything that would help the south to prevail in the war. The agricultural belt that was the strength of the was nothing more than ashes as the North marched his armies from Atlanta to the Sea, famously known as Sherman’s March, in which they destroyed everything from crops to railroads. After four long years of war, on April 10, 1865 General Lee surrendered, and the Civil War came to an end. Lincoln was preparing to move the nation forward in Reconstruction. The President, however, never saw his plans for Reconstruction in America because on April 14, 1865, he was assassinated, leaving Andrew Johnson to take over as President, and to lead forth Lincoln’s plan for Reconstruction.
There are many historical events that happened during the reconstruction era that helped shape the course of America today. The first of the two events would be the Civil Rights Act. The Civil Rights Act was put into place to counter the harsh “black codes” that the south had emplaced on the newly freed black Americans. Black codes were any law that defined and especially limited the rights of former slaves after the Civil War (Schultz, 2012). These codes were modeled on the slave codes that existed before the Civil War. The Civil Right Act was the very first law that ever passed over a presidential veto. This bill granted all citizens mandatory rights, regardless of racial considerations. The Civil Rights Act has affected our country today because there are more black Americans sitting in high political positions. It has enabled this country to elect its first black President in Barack Obama. The second major historical event that has an impact on America today is the right to vote as so put forth in the fifteenth amendment. The fifteenth amendment, which was ratified on February 3, 1870, prohibited any state from denying citizens the rights to vote on the grounds of race, color, or previous condition of servitude. In today American society, every man and woman has the right to vote and cannot be denied that right to vote based on those characteristics noted in the fifteenth amendment. The hardest time during the right to vote reconstruction period was how it was outlined. Since the wording of the newly ratified amendment did not speak of women voting or women rights, women (both black and white) had faced the hardest time when it came to voting.
The time reconstruction would have been much different if President Lincoln had not been assassinated. Andrew Johnson was believed to have no backbone or power against the reconstruction of the south was such a headache. Although they sought to do well, they did it in extreme ways and would not take no for an answer.They were very influential in getting many laws passed. The biggest law that had their influence was the Civil Rights Act. It was vetoed by the president, meaning, the president was stopping an official action by legislation. The radical republicans that were in the House and Senates saw to the two-thirds rule was put into good use. If Lincoln was still alive during this time, he would have made the time of reconstruction less violently too and would have ensured that the fourteenth and fifteenth amendments would have been appropriately written to include women as well. The former president was one to take every action into consideration and would have foreseen that women in America will play a vital role in the development of this nation as well.
During reconstruction, a new social order took shape in the south. With the demise of slavery and the spread of market relations in the upcountry produced new systems of labor and new class structures among both black and white southerners. With the new advent of republican rule in the south, it was able to accelerate out of the war torn capital-scarce region that lacked economic growth because of the war. Cotton, which was formerly cultivated on a limited extent, has increased rapidly over the years of reconstruction (Foner, 1988). Cotton was not only booming industry in the south. The railroad industry quickly grew back from the destruction of the war, spreading as far out as Texas and in abundance too. For black Americans during the industrial age of reconstruction, it was a hard time for them to get jobs working in the industrial market, mainly because it was slow to move forward in the south. Most black southerners had no choice but to work as agriculture wage labors for white landholders.
The federal and state courts handed down decisions to try and balance out all the already made decisions by congress. The Civil Rights Act of 1875 forbade radical discrimination in all public facilities, transportation lines, places of amusement and juries (Schultz, 2012). During reconstruction, the Supreme Court heard several suits alleging violations of the Civil Rights. After hearing many of these cases, the Court declared that the first two sections of the Civil Rights Act were unconstitutional because they were not authorized by the thirteenth and fourteenth amendments. Furthermore, as explained by Joseph P. Bradley, the thirteenth and fourteenth amendments do give the federal government power to protect against discrimination committed by private individuals or organizations (Foner, 1988). Instead it is the state governments that held that jurisdiction. A case example of violating Civil Rights to minorities was in the case of Robinson and wife vs. the Memphis & Charleston R.R. Company. It was held in the Circuit Court of the U.S. for the west district of Tennessee. The case purpose was to recover the penalty of five hundred dollars (given by the second section of the 1875 Civil Rights Act), and the gravamen was the refusal by the conductor of the rail company to allow the wife to ride in the ladies’ car for reason that she was a person of African descent.
The time of reconstruction was a vital period in where the federal government where devising ways to help not only the south, by the Nation as a whole to recover from the aftermath of the Civil War. Many politicians, both democratic and republican, believe that in all the attempts made to see the Nation forward, the ultimate plan for reconstruction failed. Blacks were free, yet still they were fighting for equality. Reconstruction did not meet the expectations that were originally sought, thus, it paved the way for the next few generations of industrialization, urbanization, and most importantly, Civil Rights for minorities and for women.
1.Bender, D.L., Leone, B., Dudley, W., Chalberg, J.C., & Stalcup, B. (1995) RECONSTRUCTION: Opposing Viewpoints. San Diego: Greenhaven Press.
2.Foner, E. (1988). RECONSTRUCTION: American’s Unfinished Revolution. New York: Harper and Row.
3.Schultz, K. M. (2012). History: Volume II. Mason: Cengage Learning.