Was Reconstruction A Failure History Essay

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Reconstruction is a period marked by dominance of violence that defined the status of the South within the Union and the implication of freedom for former slaves. Soon after the civil war, the racial organization, Ku Klux Klan (KKK) was on a bloody rampage, burning, whipping and shooting blacks at their pleasure. The fate of slaves who had a great impact during the civil war was undefined. Racial discrimination was still rampant in the South regardless of the fact that the armies had stopped fighting. There was violence against former slaves from all sorts of directions including the government. Slaves had no right to own any economy generating property including land for farming. Racial segregation was the order of the day in public places and civil offices were dream places for black Americans. Slaves were neither allowed to vote in elections nor were they guaranteed federal protection. These and many more factors paved way for the reconstruction. The main aim of writing this paper is to highlight the changes initiated by the reconstruction that made it a success.

Land and labor

One of the major consequences of the reconstruction is the South's evolution from slavery to free labor. Many slaves became free workers as a result of reconstruction. A new labor code was established by federal troops along the Mississippi valley. It also eliminated whipping of slaves as a form of punishment. This code dictated that slaves become free workers and former slave holders sign contracts with ex-slaves and pay them for work done. The abolition of slavery was completely effected in 1865 by the thirteenth amendment to the constitution. Much as the ex-slaves became free workers, they were under obligation to work and become obedient to their employers. Those who refused to work were disciplined by the army as stipulated in the code. It is clear that the military leaders' aims were not to empower the ex-slaves socially or economically but to substitute plantation agriculture with wage labor (Roark 477). According to Roark, "this strategy either provided too little or too much of a break with the past" (477). Most slaves did not see these changes as a development because they did not have the liberty to own land. In March 1865, the Congress passed a bill that saw the establishment of Freedmen, abandoned lands and the Bureau of refugees. The role of the bureau was to ensure a seamless transition from slavery to freedom and distribute food and clothing to poor Southerners. The bill also saw the division of about 40-acre of abandoned and confiscated land to ex slaves. The program entailed renting the land to them and eventually selling it to them. Tens of thousands of freedmen benefited from this program.

The right to vote

Another issue debated at length soon after the end of the civil war was the right of ex-slaves to vote. According to the slaves, there was no point in freedom without the liberty to take part in election of leaders. White Southerners vehemently rejected attempts to give blacks the right to vote. The fourteenth amendment of the constitution at mid 1866 was the turning point for this form of discrimination. Roark noted that "the most important provisions of this complex amendment made all native-born or naturalized persons American citizens" (484). This amendment emphasized on equal protection of black Americans by the law and forbid states from depriving black Americans the right to live and the right to property without due process of law. The fourteenth amendment nevertheless gave black men the right to vote. Failure to comply with this was to lead to the slashing of white southerners' representation in Washington. This amendment did not however grant women the right to vote. The fifteenth amendment was passed in February 1869. It is the one that finally gave women a voice in the ballot. Roark stated that, "the fifteenth amendment to the constitution prohibited states from depriving any citizen of the right to vote because of race, color or previous condition of servitude" (488).

Plantation vs. sharecropping

Soon after the abolition of slavery, ex-slaves wanted the liberty to own land for farming as a way of breaking from white domination. The freedom alone was not enough because they were still obliged to go and work at the farms of the white people. They were economically unstable on their own hence the need to own farming land. A bill that the congress passed in 1865 solved this problem for the black farmers. Instead of going back to the slavery associated plantation kind of farming, sharecropping was devised. Roark observed that, "sharecropping was a compromise that offered both ex-masters and ex-slaves something but satisfied neither" (496). In this system, land owners divided their land into twenty-five to thirty pieces which they rented to ex-slaves farmers. The black farmers paid for the land they rented with a share of every year's crop (half of it). Sharecropping awarded more freedom to the blacks as compared to t he wage system and labor gangs. This is because they became free of the day-to-day supervision by their employers. Families of black people therefore abandoned the slave quarters they used to live in and settled within the plantations. Sharecropping made reconstruction a success.

Black segregation and discrimination

During the period of the reconstruction, the white community developed more hatred for the blacks. They looked down upon them every opportunity they got. "State governments across the South adopted a series of laws known as black codes, which made travesty of black freedom. The codes sought to keep ex-slaves subordinate to whites by subjecting them to every sort of discrimination" (Roark 481). Most states denied the blacks the right to own a gun. Mississippi and the surrounding states made abusive gestures and language by black Americans a criminal offense. The black Americans were barred by these codes from Jury duties in law courts irrespective of their education status. The Civil rights Act of 1875 put a stop to this. This act outlawed all forms of discrimination based on race in transportation, public accommodations and jury selection (Roark 489).

Reactions to the reconstruction

Reconstruction symbolizes an extraordinary moment in the history of America as far as politics is concerned. Black Americans and whites for the first time in America's history joined forces in the Republican Party in their quest for a political change. A majority of the Southern whites condemned reconstruction politics as unauthorized and did everything in their capacity to eliminate Republicanism. Atrocious institutional form was adopted by the whites in Tennessee in 1866: a social club of confederate veterans formed the Ku Klux Klan famously known as the KKK. The KKK soon transformed into a paramilitary organization that did everything in its capacity to support the Democrats. This organization was characterized by beastly acts of burning, hanging, shooting, whipping and cutting the throats of black Americans in their bid to restore white supremacy (Roark 491).

Reconstruction and Republican Rule

Elections for state delegates were held in the fall of 1867 in the Southern states as required by Reconstruction Acts. Feeling defranchised, about 40% of whites in the South boycotted the elections by staying at home. Republicans won by taking three quarter of the seats. 60 % of the elected delegates were white southerners, 25% were African Americans and 15% were Northerners who had moved south. Election of these delegates reflected "the mighty revolution that had taken place in America" (Roark 492). Roark noted that "the reconstruction constitutions introduced two broad categories of changes in the south: those that reduced aristocratic privilege and increased democratic equality and those that expanded the state's responsibility for the general welfare" (493). I can however be noted that the changes in the south did not trigger land confiscation and redistribution.


The reconstruction was not a failure as argued by some people. Even thought the Democrats re-strategized and won the election of 1876, most issues that were addressed by the reconstruction were still in effect. The most amazing thing about the reconstruction is the rate at which changes in the lives of African Americans took place as far as their civil rights are concerned. Notable achievements of the reconstruction lied in the Thirteenth, Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendments to the constitution (Roark 505). These amendments to the constitution "provided a legal foundation for a renewed commitment" (505).