Radical reconstruction after the American Civil War

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Introduction

The American Civil War was fought from 1861 to 1865 where The Union (United States of America) fought the Confederate States of America. In February 1861 seven Southern states formed the Confederates States of America after seceding from The Union. These Southern states were considered slave states. The Civil War, which broke out in April 1861 when The Union’s fortress at Fort Sumter was attacked by the Confederates, originated from disagreements on the issues of slavery. The Confederates wanted to expand slavery into the western territories while The Union pushed for Civil Rights for all including the slaves. The Civil War which lasted for four years claimed more than 600,000 thousand solders and destroyed much of the Southern states’ infrastructure. The Confederates States were defeated and over four millions slaves were freed mostly via Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation. The Reconstruction Era began from 1863 to 1877 and involved the granting of civil rights to the freed slaves, the restoration of national unity and the strengthening of the national government (Woodworth, 1996).

National Reconstruction, Integration and Reunification after the Civil War

In 1986, two years before the confederation states surrendered, reconstruction of The Union began with President Abraham Lincoln issuing the Proclamation of Amnesty and Reconstruction. In the Proclamation, President Lincoln outlined his Ten-percent plan which stipulated that the secessionists states had to redraft their constitutions and would only be allowed back to The Union after ten percent of its voters had pledged an oath of allegiance to the United States. Believing that President Lincolns plan was too lenient; Radical Republicans passed the Wade-Davis Bill in 1864 as an alternative. The bill stated that the secessionist States would only be allowed back to The Union only after 50% of eligible voters had pledged an oath of allegiance to the United States. Although President Lincoln was able to pocket-veto the bill, Congress did create the Freedmen’s bureau which gave food aid and land to the freed slaves (White, 1997).

With the assassination of President Lincoln on April 14, 1965, the then vice president Andrew Johnson became the President of United States. President Johnson continued readmitting the southern States using President Lincolns Ten-percent Plan. However, President Johnson did not involve Congress when approving new state constitutions from many secessionist states, many of which were written by ex-Confederates officials. He also had Freedmen’s Bureau return land that it had confiscated to the original owners. Furthermore, President Johnson declared reconstruction complete in December 1865. In 1866, Congress successfully overrode President Johnson’s veto and renewed Freedmen’s bureau charter. Congress also passed the civil Rights Act of 1866, which granted the liberated blacks several legal rights despite President Johnson vetoing this bill as well. The Radical Republicans who controlled Congress also passed both the thirteenth amendments which abolished slavery and the fourteenth amendments which made the freed Slaves, United States Citizens (Franklin, 2013).

In 1867 the First reconstruction act also known as the Military Reconstruction act was passed by a congress which was more radical than the previous one. The Military Reconstruction Act ruled that the secessionist states would be ruled by the military until the establishment of a new government. Such radical measures had the reconstruction termed as Radical Reconstruction. The congress also passed the fifteenth amendment which gave all American inclusive of the freed slaves the right to vote. In 1867 congress passed the Tenure of Office Act which required the president to consult with congress and senate before removing any cabinet ministers that were congressionally appointed. This was in a bid to protect the secretary of war Edwin M. Stanton who was a crucial figure in the Military Reconstruction being undertaken. However President Johnson ignored this act and dismissed Stanton which led to congress impeaching him. He was however acquitted by the senate (Schuknecht, 2002).

In 1868, Republican President Ulysses S. Grant assumed office to the delight of many Radical republicans. He however proved to be a liability as he became a ‘Yes’ President and most of his cabinet appointments were filled with incompetent and corrupt men. President Grant’s presidency was filled with scandal after scandal which culminated with the depression of 1873. Many Northerners tired of reconstruction and hoping to receive federal relief and hence alleviate the effects of depression, voted for the democrat nominated President, Samuel J. Tilden. With Tilden garnering 250,000 more popular votes than the Republican presidential nominee as well as 184 of the 185 electoral votes required to be President, the elections of 1876 hang in balance. This election threatened to divide the country but a compromise was reached. The compromise of 1877 was a deal that gave the Presidency to the Republicans and in return federal troops would be withdrawn from the south. President Hayes assumed office and withdrew troops from the south and therefore ended the reconstruction process (Foner & Mahoney, 1997).

The Histories of the emerging West and those of the Civil War are entangled from their origin. The threat of The Union and the demands of the war had the federal government paying greater attention to the west which saw the creation of new governments and the opening up of the American West with the building of railroads to make it quickly accessible. Furthermore it opened its farmlands to millions of families. The homestead act of 1862 granted unclaimed public land to any adult, including immigrants who had intentions of becoming American citizens. Many of the freed slaves moved into west to work in mines and exploit the vast farm lands that were unclaimed. The pacific Railroad Act provided both land and government loans for the construction of the first transcontinental rail line. This would open up the American West to the world (Franklin, 2013).

The Cattle drives that occurred between 1866 and 1886 were a major economic activity of the American west. Millions of cattle were herded from Texas into railroads situated in Kansas. They would later be shipped into Chicago and further east. The shipment of these cattle gave rise to towns called ‘cow towns’ where the riders and livestock would rest. The reconstruction had a major impact on the Native American Indians. Due to the expansion to the west, there was no more land in which the government could resettle the Indians through the reservation system. This led to the government into trying to bring the Native American Indians into the national community as they did with the freed slaves. They sought to convert the American Indians into Christians as well as turning into farmers. While the freed men were more agreeable to such programs the American Indians were more comfortable with their traditional life and therefore they resisted these changes. This led to clashes between the American Indians and the federal government. The Native American Indians were on the receiving end of a number of mistreatment from the government forces. The social injustices suffered by the American Indians as the government forcefully tried to integrate then into the national communities are chronicled by Helen Hunt in a book called a century of dishonor. Injustices suffered which included the killing of innocent American Indians were further compounded by the encroachment of greedy and ruthless white settlers into land reserved for Indians (White, 1997).

Final Analysis

The success of the Reconstruction was that America could once again be called the United States of America. The ratification of the thirteenth, fourteenth and fifteenth amendments saw an end to slavery. It also saw the end of the once thorny issue of the state versus federalism that has been ongoing since the 1790’s. However, the compromise of 1877 saw the removal of federal troops from the southern states. This ended the reconstruction and also saw the return to power of whites who returned to their old policies of the ‘Old South’. Most of the legislation passed in congress was rendered useless, the human rights gains achieved were reversed and it would not be until the 1960’s that blacks would regain support of the federal government through the civil rights movements (Josephy, 1993).

Americas West of the mid and late 19th century has always been viewed as an untamed one with terms like ‘the Wild-Wild West’ being used to describe it. Gun totting cowboys who shepherd large cattle drives is the picture that is used to depict this mythology. All this imagery is due to the large cattle drives that were common in those days compounded with the rush of all kinds of people to lay claim to vast farm lands as well as the gold rush that was made possible with the new railroads. With the American West having little or no government presence and with all property up for grabs, it was truly a ‘Wild World’. The idea that the American West was a world without rule is a myth that originated long ago and it is still believed by many today (Josephy, 1993).

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  1. Foner E., Mahoney O. (1997). America’s Reconstruction: People and Politics After the Civil War. New York, NY: LSU Press.
  2. Franklin, J. H. (2013). Reconstruction after the Civil War, Third Edition. London ,UK: University of Chicago Press.
  3. Josephy, A. M. (1993). The Civil War in the American West. New York, NY: Vintage Books.
  4. Schuknecht, R. (2002). The Abandonment of Radical Reconstruction after the American Civil War – A Northern Perspective. New York, NY: GRIN Verlag.
  5. White, J. (1997). Reconstruction After the American Civil War. New York, NY: Longman.
  6. Woodworth, S. E. (1996). The American Civil War: A Handbook of Literature and Research. London, UK: GreenWood Press.
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