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Critical Period and the Reconstruction Era

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Published: Mon, 5 Dec 2016

Over the course of history, there have been many time periods that have been critical to the growth of the United States as a nation. These time periods include the two periods of the “Critical Period” and the “Reconstruction Era”. The economic, social, and political aspects of the nation were affected by these time periods in ways that most definitely would change the course of history. All these changes have brought the United States nation to where it is to day and without them, who knows where this nation would be?

        One of the important time periods includes the “Critical Period”. The “Critical Period” generally describes the period of time from 1781-1789, but as the ratification of the Articles of Confederation in 1781 is essentially the only main event relating to this time period from the first two years, the “Critical Period” is mainly stated as the period of time from the Treaty of Paris which brought an end to the American Revolution, to the ratification of the constitution by the final few states. Although this time after the revolution was supposed to be a time of economic growth and political development, this era was full of political turmoil and domestic problems. While The Treaty of Paris did establish the thirteen colonies as sovereign and free states, the states still owed debts to Britain and therefore America had not yet ridded itself from the British.

        There were many key events in this time period including Shay’s Rebellion, The Annapolis Convention, The Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia, George Washington’s Inauguration, and the Ratification of The Constitution. Shay’s Rebellion was a revolt of a group of poor farmers in Massachusetts who were angered by the fact that state legislature was foreclosing their properties because the farmers were unable to pay the high taxing due to Revolutionary War debts that the state needed to pay off. Because of this, farmers such as Daniel Shays, the leader of the rebellion, rose up against the state legislature and tried to forcefully close down courthouses, but they were quickly put down.

        The next major event that occurred was the Annapolis Convention held in Annapolis, Maryland in 1786. This convention was called to fix the defects of the Articles of Confederation such as trade and commerce in the states. But, this convention failed because there was not enough representation among the states.

The failure of the Annapolis Convention led the call for the Constitutional Convention of Philadelphia. This convention would be to finally address the problems in governing America by revising the Articles. The delegates were told that this convention was only to revise the Articles of Confederation, but James Madison, Alexander Hamilton, Edmund Randolph, and a few others delegates from Virginia had met prior to the convention and their purpose was to abolish the Articles and to instate a new government. The Virginia Plan, the idea of Madison presented by Virginia’s Governor Randolph, consisted of some ideas such as a government consisting of an Executive, Legislative, and Judicial branch and also the idea of representation in legislature being proportional to a state’s population. William Patterson of New Jersey proposed a counter plan that was based on equality among all the states. This sparked controversy among the states and so Roger Sherman of Connecticut proposed the Connecticut Compromise, which consisted of a two-branch legislature in which the first branch the house would have representation based on a state’s population and the second branch the Senate would have only one vote. This plan failed at first but was later accepted along with the Three-Fifths Compromise, to allow three-fifths of the population of slaves to count in the population, and a compromise to ban slave-trade after twenty years had passed. Once a Bill of Rights was added, the Constitution was drawn up and submitted to the states for ratification.

The Inauguration of George Washington was also an important event because he was the first president of the United States and was also the Commander of the Continental Army in the American Revolution. He is considered the “Founding Father” of the United States because of his fundamental part in development of the United States of America.

The last important event in the “Critical Era” was the ratification of the Constitution because this would ensure that the national government would change, creating an enhanced nation.

        During the “Critical Period” many political decisions were made that express the reason for this time period to have such a name. Although it may have seemed to be flawless at the time of its writing, and did seem to have everything needed, the Articles of Confederation was missing parts. Some parts missing from the Articles that made it faulty were that they lack an executive and judicial branch in government, meaning that someone was needed to punish the wrongdoings of people and someone was needed to take authority over the states. An example would be in Shay’s Rebellion because there was a need for some sort of establishment to respond and correct these uprisings. Another such example would include that the Federal Government was going bankrupt, but also had no means of gaining revenue because they did not have the power to tax the states. For these same reasons is why the Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia took place, in order to abolish the Articles of Confederation that left out most parts of government that would make it more structured and ratified the Constitution to better government for the entire nation. The name of the “Critical Period” fits entirely because it was crucial that a well-formed government be instated, because if not then America would crumple.

        The social perspective of the “Critical Period” included the rebellious attitude that spread from Massachusetts throughout the nation following the Shay’s Rebellion. It was a crucial time mainly for the farmers in the society because they were the ones at risk of losing their farms. Because the state wanted to pay off Revolutionary War debts in a time period of three years, tax on farms rose and thus angering the farmers. Although the efforts of Shay’s Rebellion were fruitless, their point was made to the governing body. The efforts of society were vital in order to show that there was a problem that needed fixing.

This time period describes the economic aspects of the era after the Revolutionary War, the economy was unstable. This was due mainly to war debts and restoration after the war. During this restoration, many farms were being foreclosed in order to pay off war debts to Europeans, which sparked the Daniel Shay’s rebellion. In the South, especially, new trade regulations enforced by the British outlawed the sale of most American crops in the British West Indies. Because this had been one of the primary customers for the South, they had to go out in search of new markets for their sales. During this time, it was essential that the economy be rebuilt and that there was a base for economic development in the future, hence the reason it is considered “Critical.”

The “Reconstruction Era” was also a major time period in the history of the United States. This was the period of time from 1865 to 1877, right after the Civil War ended. During this time period government was testing having freed slaves take part in government. Since the main argument of the Civil War was slavery, it was fascinating to see how an interracial democratic system would work into play. Because in the South the main form of labor was that of the slaves, there had to be some sort of new form of labor instated to substitute that of the slaves. The new conflict created after the Civil War during this era would be that of how to reunite the Northern and Southern states.

There were many important events that occurred during the “Reconstruction Era,” but the major events of the time include the formation of the Freedmen’s Bureau, ratification of the Thirteenth Amendment, the passing of the Civil Rights Act and Black Suffrage, ratification of the Fourteenth Amendment, passing of Reconstruction Acts, ratification of the Fifteenth Amendment, and the End of the Reconstruction. These are just the major events, meaning many things such as massacres against the African-Americans and formation of terrorist groups such as the Ku Klux Klan to try to regain white authority over minorities occurred in between these events.

        The importance of the formation of the Freedmen’s Bureau by Congress was to offer healthcare, education, and other assistance to freed slaves. The passing of the Civil Rights Act served a similar purpose as the Freedmen’s Bureau in that it was in assistance to freed slaves, but was passed in order to grant citizenship and equal rights between African-Americans and white Americans. The Black Suffrage passed by Congress, overriding President Andrew Johnson’s veto, was to grant the right to vote to African-American citizens in the District of Columbia. The Thirteenth Amendment banned slavery in the United States, an issue settled by the American Civil War. The Fourteenth Amendment was ratified to guarantee that no one is deprived of “life, liberty, or property, without a due process of law” meaning that no action or punishment can be imposed without a trial by jury. Reconstruction Acts were also passed during this era to ensure that African-Americans in the South were set free and were being ensured the full rights of American citizens. The ratification of the Fifteenth Amendment authorized for all male American citizens to have the right to vote no matter what race, color, or economic or former status. The last of the most important events during the “Reconstruction Era” is the end of the Reconstruction. This era ended with a deal made by Southern Democrats who told Rutherford B. Hayes, the Republican in the election, that he would become president as a trade for the removal of national troops from the South. Also, the Southern Democratic leaders told Hayes that he would have to stop the national efforts to defend the Civil Rights of African-Americans.

        Politics during the “Reconstruction Era” was chaos in the sense that chaos is what erupted from the first attempt of Congress to hold a meeting in 1865 after the Civil War ended because former Confederates returned to Congress but were denied their elected seats in office. President Johnson wanted for them to govern themselves without help and most Northern Democrats agreed with him. Republicans on the other hand decided to join the side of the radicals because they realized that the President did not have any intention of protecting the freed men in the South. This was when the Civil Rights Act was passed, although vetoed by President Johnson. During the next elections, the Republicans won three-fourths of the seats in both houses of Legislature which would allow for them to overrule all of Johnson’s vetoes. Republicans were working to reform the nation so that all men would be treated equally.

The social aspect of the “Reconstruction Era” was, in a sense, more intense then the political aspect of the time. This is because during this time is when segregation and discrimination began to play a large role in society. In society, for many people, the Reconstruction had a completely different meaning than that of the Republicans in Legislature. Many terrorist groups, the most common being the Ku Klux Klan, formed in order to restore “white” power in the nation and discriminated against all but whites. There were a great number of massacres that took place with the main target being the freed African-American slaves. Some of theses massacres included The Memphis Massacre in which white police and civilians killed forty-six African-Americans, The Opelousas Massacre in Louisiana in which two hundred to three hundred African-Americans were killed, and The Clinton Massacre in which more than twenty African-Americans in Clinton, Mississippi were killed. During this time equality was what the Republicans in Legislature wanted for the people, but in society this “Reconstruction” was not the same.

        The economy during this time period mainly involves how the South was struck with the difficult task of finding an alternative method to slave labor. This was a difficult time for farmers since they had to adjust to a new work life and it was a “Critical” time in that they needed to seek out a new means of labor because if not the economy in the south would decline drastically. Upon the end of the Civil War, freed slaves felt that they should own land after so many years of labor which was not repaid to them. Most freed slaves ended up renting land from white plantation owners or working for them for wages. Because of the conflicts with plantations, sharecropping became more popular in the South.


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