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Explain the policies and consequences of Reconstruction

Topics on the Page

"Freedmen Voting in New Orleans" 1867
"Freedmen Voting in New Orleans" 1867

Overview of Reconstruction
Reconstruction: Presidential and Congressional
Impeachment of President Johnson
Amendments: 13, 14, & 15
Reconstruction: Southern Whites' Opposition
  • Ulysses S. Grant
  • Formation of the Ku Klux Klan
  • The Memphis Riot
  • The Colfax Massacre
Radical Reconstruction: Accomplishments and Failures
  • The Freedman's Bureau
  • African American Sharecroppers
Presidential Election of 1876; End of Reconstruction
Jim Crow Laws
Supreme Court: Plessy v. Ferguson (1896)
Map_of_USA_MA.svg.pngFor more see AP United States History 12

Focus Question: What were the policies and consequences of Reconstruction?

Overview of Reconstruction

Biography icon for wiki.pngFor biographies of African Americans who served in Congress during Reconstruction, see the website Black Americans in Congress.

Test_hq3x.pngClick here for practice test questions on Reconstruction

external image Robert_Smalls.JPG
Rotating_globe-small.gifRobert Smalls from South Carolina who served five terms in the House of Representatives between 1868 and 1889.

See also Reconstruction in Mississippi, 1865-1876

A. Reconstruction

After the end of the Civil War, the North and South each experienced a number of problems politically, economically, and socially.
  • The South was devastated after the Civil War with tens of thousands of landless farmers and former slaves living in deep poverty. The Northern states were financially well off at the end of the conflict, but still had to deal with having lost hundreds of thousands of lives and with increasing economic inequality and social clashes between American citizens and immigrant groups within inner cities.
    • The question over how to organize the Reconstruction of the South would polarize American politics and have dramatic consequences on the history of the United States.
  • President Lincoln, a moderate republican, wanted the Southern States under military occupation to be reincorporated into the Union as fast as possible to reunite the Nation and help rebuild social ties lost during the war between the North and South.
    • Lincoln faced opposition from the "Radical" wing of the Republican Party who wanted the Southern leaders to be punished for the rebellion against the Union and to give the former slaves economic relief and full U.S. citizenship. The Radical Republican leadership felt the Lincoln was going to be soft on social and economic reforms now that the Civil War had ended.
  • President Lincoln, however, was assassinated on April 14, 1865 just days after the end of the war and was never able to implement of his plans for the Reconstruction. His successor Andrew Johnson, a Tennessee Conservative Democrat, would clash with the Radical Republicans in Congress over how the South should be reconstructed in the post-war era.

Multimedia.pngCrash Course on Reconstruction

Screen Shot 2016-10-28 at 12.13.15 PM.pngLesson Plan on Reconstruction


Presidential Reconstruction:

  • President Andrew Johnson believed in states rights. He believed that the South had never really seceded from the Union, and therefore they should rebuild their governments as they saw fit.
  • While Johnson originally thought that some wealthy, elite people who had ties to the Confederate cause should not be in power anymore, he gave many of them pardons. This meant that some ended up having economic and political power.
    • Under new Southern leadership, officials created Black Codes. These codes were an attempt to legalize practices that would keep African Americans at second class citizenship status.
  • Johnson announced that the United States was whole and in 1865, shortly before Congress reconvened in December, he considered Reconstruction to be "done".

Congressional/Radical Reconstruction:

  • There were several different factions in congress that disagreed strongly over what to do with reconstruction, but over all everyone agreed that much more needed to be done before reconstruction could be considered “done.” They launched a series of plans known as the 2nd Reconstruction or Radical Reconstruction (see below).
    • Congress did not want to allow southerners to be able to participate in government. They thought the southern states had, in essence, lost their status as states because of their participation in rebellion. Therefore, Congress thought that the Southern states needed to go through a process of rebuilding and recommitting to the union before they could be considered worthy of participating in government again.
      • Congress was concerned about the discrimination African Americans faced. It ratified the 14th Amendment to help secure rights for everyone (see below).
        • Link here to read more about Congressional Reconstruction.

B. Impeachment of President Andrew Johnson

Image from Frank Leslie's Illustrated Newspaper, 1868
Image from Frank Leslie's Illustrated Newspaper, 1868

In 1868, after years of frustration in dealing with the President over issues of reconstruction, the House of Representatives impeached Johnson on eleven charges, the most famous being his violation of the Tenure of Office Act.

(This act disallowed the president from dismissing any appointed government official that the senate had approved, without permission of the senate.)

The Army Act also prohibited the President from giving orders to the army except through the General of the Army.
  • But the impeachment was also in reaction to his opposition to the 14th Amendments to the U.S. constitution and other positions on Reconstruction.
    • The impeachment process failed by one vote from removing Johnson from office.

external image BalancaJustica.pngThe Impeachment of Andrew Johnson, from Famous Trials website

WhiteHouseSouthFacade.JPGAndrew Johnson grew up in extreme poverty. He learned the trade of a tailor, became a successful businessman, taught himself to read, and became a highly influential orator.
  • He was a southerner who opposed slave owners and was made military governor of Tennessee in 1862 and then Vice-President in 1864.
    • He was unable to lead effectively after Lincoln's death, leaving Reconstruction up to the southern states which led to his impeachment.
      • He was elected to the Senate after his presidency, the only former President to serve in the Senate.

For more background, see The Impeachment of Andrew Johnson from Eric Foner's book, Reconstruction: America's Unfinished Revolution, 1863-1877 (Harper and Row, 1988).

Rotating_globe-small.gifC. Amendments to the Constitution

Map shows the order of when states ratifying the 13th Amendment to the Constitution. Blue (1865), Green (1865-1870), Pink (Ratified after Rejecting, 1866- 1995), Gray (Not Yet States)
external image 200px-13th_amendment_ratification.svg.png
  • 13th Amendment (1865): Outlawed slavery and involuntary servitude except for a punishable crime.
  • 14th Amendment (1868): Comprised of five sections, the 14th Amendment broadly defines citizenship.
    • All people who are born in the United States are citizens. All citizens are entitled to due process of the law.
    • Each male citizen over 21 will have the right to vote and be represented.
    • No one will be able to run for any government office if he has been part of a rebellion against the government.
    • The South does not owe the government any money for losses during the war. The government does not owe the South any money for the loss of slaves.
    • Congress has the right to enforce the above.

Also, The Dred Scott Decision was overturned.
external image 15th-amendment-celebration-1870.jpg
  • 15th Amendment (1870): stated that the rights of citizens could not be denied based on “race, color or previous condition of servitude.”

(Remember that things such as voting rights, while “secured” in the 14th amendment, were not actually enforced for all citizens, namely black southerners, until nearly a century later. Women were also not included in this amendment. Do you think that the discrimination that was outlawed in the 15th Amendment has been enforced? Is it enforced today?)

Female_Rose.pngClick here for a closer look at Reconstruction and the battle for women's suffrage.


D. Opposition of Southern Whites to Reconstruction

Many, if not most, Southern whites resisted Northern attempts at reconstructing the South. Southerners felt threatened by readjusting to a life without being able to exercise legal control over other human beings. Many also harbored ill feelings against the North, which they had just spent years fighting and rebelling against. Their resistance manifested itself in many ways.
  • One such way was the creation of Black Codes (see above).

The KKK was (and is) a white supremacist hate group that discriminated against Blacks and other minority groups, including Jews, Catholics and foreign immigrants.
  • Throughout the 19th and 20th century, thousands of African Americans were murdered and terrorized by the Ku Klux Klan, and various other white supremacist hate groups.

Follow this link from the Southern Poverty Law Center to get more information on the history of hate groups in America.

Ulysses S. Grant

Ulysses S. Grant Served as president for two terms, 1869-1877.

primary_sources.PNGTranscripts of his Inaugural Speeches and State of the Union Addresses.

Grant's Civil Service Exam*
Grant's Civil Service Exam*
* Horace Greeley and an unknown person with a group of U. S. Senators, including Carl Schurz, Charles Sumner and Lyman Trumbull, all depicted as school children, watch Uncle Sam, as teacher, pose questions to a figity Ulysses S. Grant, also depicted as a school child, 1872

Harper's Weekly account of the 1866 Memphis Riot

multicultural.png The Memphis Riot occurred on April 30th-May 2nd of 1866.
  • The event was covered widely in the press and would help (along with the riot in New Orleans) to push Congress into action against President Johnson and usher in Radical Reconstruction.
    • A Congressional Committee called to examine the causes and outcomes of the riot detailed 46 blacks and 2 whites killed, 75 persons injured, over 100 persons robbed, 5 women raped, and 91 homes, 4 churches and 8 schools burned.
Freedman's Bureau's report of the Memphis Riot

Albert Harris: African American account of the Memphis Riot (6 pages)

Female_Rose.pngLavinia Goodell: African American woman's account of the death of her husband during the Memphis Riot (2 pages)

Rotating_globe-small.gifThe Colfax Massacre occurred on April 13, 1873 when white supremacists murdered 81 African American people in Colfax, Louisiana.
  • When the defendants were subsequently freed by a Supreme Court decision, racial violence was greatly increased and Reconstruction effectively ended in the South.
Multimedia.pngHere is a video describes what happened.

podcast icon.png"Eric Foner on Post-Civil War Disappointments" a comparison of President Obama and Lincoln in light of Reconstruction.

E. Radical Reconstruction

Radical Reconstruction refers to the Congressional efforts to redefine Reconstruction and reform Johnson’s form of Reconstruction. Under Radical Reconstruction, Congress:
  • Made the five southern state governments set up by Johnson illegitimate and divided the South into five military districts.
    • Ruled that for states to be readmitted to the Union they had to accept the fourteenth amendment and allow black men to vote.
      • Created the 15th Amendment (see above).

The Freedmen's Bureau

Harper's Weekly Freedman's Bureau 1868

The Freedmen's Bureau was established to support new freed African Americans and whites in the South make a transition from an economy based on slavery to one based on freedom for everyone.

primary_sources.PNGFor more read, W.E.B. DuBois 1901 essay.

external image 913198703.gif?365

African American Sharecroppers

The African American as Sharecroppers

Life After Slavery from African Americans, Kahn Academy

primary_sources.PNGWhen We Worked on Shares, We Could't Make Nothing: Henry Blake Talks About Sharecropping after the Civil War

How the American Civil War Built Egypt's Vaunted Cotton Industry and Changed the Country Forever

F. Election of 1876; End of Reconstruction

After many years of Reconstruction, Americans began to feel that it was time for it to come to a close. In 1876 Rutherford B. Hayes and Samuel J. Tilden ran against each other. Hayes won the presidency, even though Tilden got a majority of the popular vote.
  • The election was very close and controversial. Southerners opposed Hayes, but accepted him when he motioned to remove troops from the South, put a southerner in Congress, and called for an official end to Reconstruction. In addition, the desired direct effect of this election was to end Reconstruction, whether it be formal, congressional, or "radical".

Click here for more information about Election of 1876.

From NPR, "The Place Where Rutherford B. Hayes is a Really Big Deal." (Hint: It's in South America)

From the Smithsonian about the Election of 1876, "The Ugliest, Most Contentious Presidential Election Ever."

The Compromise of 1877 effectively ended northern occupation of the south and reconstruction but gave the presidency to a republican.The end of reconstruction led the way for the Jim Crow Laws in the South.

G. Jim Crow Laws

Jim Crow Drinking Fountain county courthouse lawn, Halifax, North Carolina, 1938
Jim Crow Drinking Fountain county courthouse lawn, Halifax, North Carolina, 1938

Rotating_globe-small.gifJim Crow laws were oppressive laws instituted by white southerners in an attempt to restrict the rights and opportunities of African Americans.
  • Jim Crow laws focused on segregating blacks and whites, with whites maintaining access to institutions of power and nicer facilities.
    • Whites in the South were unaccustomed to living side by side with African Americans who they could no longer legally enslave. Also, they were not accustomed, nor willing, to compete with them economically.
  • Jim Crow, then, was a way for Whites to maintain some level of economic and social control over African Americans despite the abolition of slavery.
    • Jim Crow laws increased after Plessy v. Ferguson (See below).

Jim Crow Laws started in 1876 and lasted all the way until 1965. They allowed segregation on the basis of "separate but equal" even though that was rarely the case. The remaining Jim Crow laws were eradicated in the "Civil Rights Act of 1964" and the "Voting Rights Act of 1965".
Jim Crow Era

external image OrteliusWorldMap.jpegClick here for an interactive map showing Jim Crow laws by state.

Before the Jim Crow laws were the Black Codes, created by White southerners to curtail the freedoms of former slaves. These regulations forced African Americans into agricultural labor and domestic work. Codes dictated the hours of labor, duties, and behavior. In some places, Blacks could not enter a town without permission.
primary_sources.PNGClick here for a Mississippi Black Code document (1866). Go here for Louisiana Black Code document (1865).
  1. Click here for more information about Jim Crow laws.

Screen Shot 2017-03-19 at 11.31.41 AM.pngH. Plessy v. Ferguson

John Marshall Harlan, sole dissenter in Plessy case
John Marshall Harlan, sole dissenter in Plessy case

Rotating_globe-small.gifPlessy v. Ferguson was 1896 Louisiana court case that established the legality of “separate but equal” accommodations for blacks and whites on interstate trains.
  • This law helped to solidify segregation.
    • People in power used this court case to keep blacks out of white areas. Because their motives were racist, they did not keep facilities “equal,” whether they were railroad cars, schools, or public restrooms.
      • Plessy v. Ferguson would prove to be detrimental for blacks and society as a whole for more than 50 years.
  • Justice John Marshall Harlan was the sole dissenter in the case.

primary_sources.PNGDocuments of the case

Plessy v. Ferguson: The Organizing History of the Case from the Zinn Education Project.

In 1954, Brown v Board of Education overturned Plessy by stating that racial segregation in public schools was illegal.

Multimedia.pngClick here to watch a video about Plessy v Ferguson Case.


http://www.law.cornell.edu/constitution/constitution.table.html#amendments (Amendments)
http://www.law.umkc.edu/faculty/projects/ftrials/impeach/imp_account2.html (impeachment)
(Black Codes)
Teacher’s guide for the PBS show American Experience: Reconstruction
details the rise of the KKK
describes the Hayes-Tilden election
printable presidential election maps 1789-2000


United States Constitution. Retrieved April 16, 2007, from Cornell Law School Legal Information Institute Web site: http://www.law.cornell.edu/constitution/constitution.table.html#amendments

Norton, et al, Mary Beth (1994). A People and a Nation. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company.

Supreme Court Collection. Retrieved April 16, 2007, from Cornell Law School Legal Information Web site:

Zimmerman, Thomas (1997). Plessy v. Ferguson. Retrieved April 16, 2007, from Bowling Green State University Web site: http://www.bgsu.edu/departments/acs/1890s/plessy/plessy.html

Gunderson, Joan R. and Smelser, Marshall (1994). American History at a Glance. New York: Harper Perennial.

Linder, Douglas O. (1999). The Impeachment Trial of Andrew Johnson Impeachment. Retrieved April 19, 2007, from University of Missouri-Kansas City School of Law Web site: http://www.law.umkc.edu/faculty/projects/ftrials/impeach/imp_account2.html

Picture of President Johnson from http://www.americanpresidents.org/classroom/overview.asp
Also includes lesson plan for unit on President Johnson