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The Reconstruction Era in American history, which lasted from 1865 to 1877, was intended to rebuild the South after the Civil War and restore democracy to the former Confederate states. Still, it was fraught with corruption and ultimately considered a failure by historians. However, despite being considered a failure, some social reforms enacted during Reconstruction were important and long-lasting, such as the abolition of slavery and granting citizenship to freedmen (Stoner, 2019). At the same time, other policies, such as granting black men suffrage, were controversial and later reversed when southern white conservatives regained power through violence and political manipulation. While most historians view Reconstruction as a success, others see it as a failure since slaves were given no protection and many African Americans still experienced racial oppression to date. Still, I believe that era was a success due to the civil rights granted during the period.
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Why Historians Think the Reconstruction Era Was a Failure
Even though the slaves were given hope of freedom from the Southern States, no protection whatsoever was given to them by the state and federal governments. This treatment can result from negligence and passiveness from the then government which was not concerned with equipping the freed slaves with the economic resources necessary to free themselves from the dire states of poverty that they had experienced during slavery and after the Civil War (Cothran, 2021). Moreover, there was an inability by state Republican parties to maintain black-white voter alliances, which would have been necessary to champion and promote their individualistic political agendas and reforms. Therefore, the reconstruction era seems to have indirectly promoted white supremacy.
Another failure of the reconstruction period is that it did not ensure racial equality as promised in slavery times. Though blacks were now free, they were still segregated from whites because they had no say in what happened to their lives. They were limited in where they could live, eat, work and even go to school. These limitations contributed to many problems, such as poverty and discrimination. This mistake happened due to negligence when the whole country decided not to focus on the problem of racial prejudice even after the civil war. At the time, many thought this was only a problem facing the Southern states without realizing that it was a scourge to the entire nation, therefore, forgetting the core reasons for the Reconstruction (Cottrol, 2022). Such situations forced the freed African Americans to accept subservience positions within society during and after the Reconstruction era.
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Furthermore, many historians argue that the current state of American society evidences the failure of the Reconstruction era. They assert that the United States disappointed African Americans and that the failure led to the racial violence and oppression that the country is still fighting against today (Wurman, 2022). However, Reconstruction’s success could start with the conviction of the individuals who incited and fought against the North in the Civil War. This fact would have sent a message that no supremacy is acceptable within the lands of the United States and that no one is above the law.
The Reconstruction can be seen as an operation aimed at establishing the grounds for a general political and social change in the United States. The successes were remarkable considering the circumstances, especially the hostility from the Southerners and the low state of the economy after the Civil War. African Americans, who were perceived as mere slaves, also started occupying significant positions in the government. State governments also made some progress in addressing societal issues since, during the era, they made public education available to every citizen in the nation (Weaver, 2022). Furthermore, dismantling the plantation system resulted in a certain amount of land being redistributed. Most importantly, in the 20th century, African Americans got full civil rights thanks to the passage of the 14th and 15th Amendments (Jones & Schmick, 2022). Therefore, even within the notorious Southern states’ lands, freed slaves now had a feeling of hope that enabled them to have a sense of independence in society, despite the loss of ground that followed the end of the Reconstruction period.
The Reconstruction period can be judged from different perspectives as to whether it was a success or a failure. Some people believe that it was a huge failure. In contrast, some believe that the era played a critical part in the long journey toward the freedom of African Americans and equality. Nonetheless, the judgment on whether it was a success or a failure lies in oneself. Historians deem the era as a failure since it promoted white supremacy, slaves were given no protections, and many African Americans still experienced racial oppression up to date. Still, I believe the reconstruction period was a success due to the civil rights granted during the period.
- Belanger, E. (2022). Working-Class Mobility and Streetcar Politics in Reconstruction-era St. Louis. GeoHumanities, 8(1), 122-139.
- Cothran, B. (2021). Between Civilization and Savagery: How Reconstruction Era Federal Indian Policy Led to the Indian Wars. Western Historical Quarterly, 52(2), 167-188.
- Cottrol, R. J. (2022). The Journey to Separate but Equal: Madame DeCuir’s Quest for Racial Justice in the Reconstruction Era by Jack M. Beermann. Journal of Interdisciplinary History, 53(1), 162-164.
- Jones, D., & Schmick, E. (2022). Reconstruction-Era Education and Long-Run Black-White Inequality. SSRN. http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.4165983
- Weaver, P. (2022). Resurrecting a Nation Through Silk and Diplomacy: American Material Culture and Foreign Relations During the Reconstruction Era [Unpublished master’s thesis]. The University of South California. https://scholarcommons.sc.edu/etd/6855
- Wurman, I. (2022). Reconstructing Reconstruction-Era Rights. Virginia Law Review, Forthcoming. SSRN. https://ssrn.com/abstract=4098064