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America, as a country, has gone through many political changes since its independence from Britain in the late 18th century. Movements, ideology’s, and leaders come and go, all having their own beliefs and plans for future generations. But as history evolves, most, and almost all these revolutionary campaigns end up dying in that time. One of these movements is known today as Reconstruction. Reconstruction was a time in America where many accomplishments and goals were, and were not, met. Like many other movements, Reconstruction came to an end and is considered a success in some ways, and a failure in others.
Reconstruction began in 1865 right after the end of the Civil War. It was a time where a crippled America could get back up on its feet and rebuild to become a fully functioning country once again. With the immense casualties of the war still fresh on people’s mind, this was no easy task. Southern America was economically and politically non-existent after the War and over four million former slaves were freed, by the 13th Amendment, into the economy having no clue how to be self-sustaining. Politicians, especially in the South, were worried about the matter and knew something must be done. They all created their own idea of Reconstruction, some better than others. One of the better plans created was by the President of the time, Abraham Lincoln. Lincoln made it so that in order for the previous confederate states to rejoin the union they had to pass certain criteria. For a state to return to the union, it had to have at least ten percent of its voters to accept both loyalty to the union, and the emancipation of slaves, as well as all high-ranking officers in the state could not hold office unless they were approved by the president. Sadly, on the night of April 14th, 1865, while attending the play “Our American Cousin” at Ford’s Theatre, Abraham was assassinated before his plan even took place. After his death, numerous politicians, mainly Thaddeus Stevens, Charles Sumner, and former President Andrew Johnson, soon to be known as Radicals, came up with their own ambitions. These Republicans had two main goals: To get back at the Southerners and to help the freed slaves. They blamed the South for the war and insisted that they pay for what they did. They all also felt that the freed slaves needed help and protection. However, they all had their own different ways of achieving these similar goals. Thaddeus Stevens, a member of the House of Representatives, was mainly concerned with economic opportunity for the newly freed slaves. He believed that they should all enter the workforce and fend for themselves. Not to depend on former slave owners, as that could cause the re-instantiation of slavery.
Next, Charles Sumner, a Senator at the time, had a similar idea but different from Stevens’. He fought for citizenship for everybody, except women, because he firmly believed in the phrase “All men are created equal. ” Lastly, former President Andrew Johnson, who was President Lincoln’s vice president up until his assassination, had an idea of reconstruction that was most like Lincoln’s. Most Radicals did not approve of Johnson’s ideas of reconstruction because they felt that he could not make that decision. They felt Johnson was careless, with giving more than 13, 000 pardons, and wasn’t focused on the major issue of equaled rights for slaves. This hatred toward the President would later be the cause for his impeachment in 1868. With the all the differing plans and ideas from many different Republicans, Congress stepped in with their own idea of Reconstruction to end all the conflicts. Congress passed the Reconstruction Act that also had two main points. The first main point was that all previous confederate states must abide by the 14th Amendment; the amendment declaring that all men born in the United States were citizens of the United States and were guaranteed equal treatment by law. The second point was that troops were required to take up residency in the previous confederate states. Eventually, in the 1890s, black men were even given the right to vote in those state, of course not without certain prerequisites.
Now, on paper, the Reconstruction Act looked like it would solve all of the country’s issues and open the door for a future utopia. But of course, that was not the case. In the 1876 presidential election, two men ran; Republican Rutherford B. Hayes and Democrat Samuel Tilden. The election was so close that congress called up a group called the “commission, ” to decide who was going to be the president. As a result, the “Compromise of 1877” came in place. Democrats allowed Hayes to become president, if, and only if, military of the occupation of the southern states was put to an end. Both parties agreed, and Rutherford B. Hayes was declared as the 19th president of the United States. Of course, this cause issues in the future. As a result of that compromise and decision, the freed slaves of the southern states had nothing to keep previous slave owners from taking advantage of them once again. Of course, legally, southerners could do nothing to officially oppose federal law. But they found loop holes around the fact, putting in place their own restrictions or black codes to enforce segregation and prerequisites to vote for African Americans. And even though there were laws to prevent racism, there was absolutely no one to enforce them. Reconstruction ended and the laws that were put in place didn’t always work but worked enough for most Southerners to believe that the North did their job and can now leave them alone. Since then, determining whether Reconstruction was a success or failure has been difficult.
Personally, I believe that it was a success, but with some exceptions. Of course, it wasn’t a full outright total success, but it at least was a decision in the right direction. And even though strict laws were set up weren’t followed strictly, at least the laws were created to protect the rights of African Americans and not to diminish them. African Americans were given the right to vote and were now officially known as citizens of the United States of America. And even though that wasn’t a leap for mankind, it certainly was an important step towards equality for all in America. Without the Reconstruction act, 14th Amendment, and 15th Amendment, many other people would have never been able to look upon that even to give them courage for their own fight for their rights; like women. Many women looked at this point in history for African Americans, and it gave them hope that they, too, will eventually be recognized as equal citizens themselves. Was Reconstruction a success? Personally, I believe that it was successful, it just came with its exceptions.
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