The Civil War was one of the most difficult and trying times during American history. The war ended with the the Union and Confederate states torn apart over one major issue: slavery. With the end of the Civil War came the end of slavery in the United States.
Although the former black slaves were now free, they had no land and very few rights, and most did not even have family. Though out reconstruction, blacks were able to gain rights, but were continuously repressed by the white Southerners. The only way to truly enfranchise the former slaves was by effectively disenfranchising their former masters.
The reign the masters had over their former slaves disabled the slaves from trying to fulfill their lives as equal American citizens. In most cases, the blacks of American were granted certain freedoms and then were taken away or oppressed by the whites. The former plantation and slave owners were not receptive to treating the blacks as their fellow counterparts. As Reconstruction began to start in the United States, the question of how the Southern states would be welcomed back into the Union begged at the issue. Reconstruction started to become a struggle between the executive and legislative branches.
Radical Republicans, such as Thaddeus Stevens, wanted to approach Reconstruction from a military prospective because they were seeking revenge and felt the South needed to be taught a lesson because of the havoc and damage that they imposed on the Union (Document A). On the other hand, Andrew Johnson wanted to take a more moderate approach to reconstruction in order to quickly reincorporate the Southern states into the Union. To be allowed back into the Union, as per Andrew Johnson’s plan of reconstruction, the Southern states had to, among many other terms, agree to the 13th Constitutional Amendment that recognized the freedom of blacks.
Many blacks felt that they knew their previous masters best and argued that although the states would agree to the recognition of 13th amendment, it was only “lip deep” (Document C). They also argued that the only way to really make the Southerners see the blacks as their equals was with the assistance of the federal government to put military reconstruction into place (Document C). The first Reconstruction act was passed in March 2nd, 1867 and divided the South into five military districts, each under a major general (Document I).
In each of these districts, freed males slaves were granted suffrage. This act also offered readmission to the Union if the states ratified the Fourteenth Amendment, which would grant citizenship and civil liberties to all people born or naturalized in the United States. The Fourteenth Amendment was another step toward black equality and secured the rights of the former slaves (Document H). Although blacks were now allowed to vote, whites in the South would use severe intimidation tactics in order to oppress the newly acquired rights of the blacks.
Voting is one of the most basic rights of an American citizen, so it would seem that the right to vote for all would equate peace and happiness between the whites and blacks (Document F). The idea of a master seeing his former slave at the same voting polls was an belligerent concept. During this time period, it seemed that the only way for the blacks to have their rights without being oppressed was to disenfranchise the whites. Even though the blacks were released from slavery, the whites still used tactics to keep the blacks in order beneath them.
The Black Codes were created to make a cheap labor source for the South. Blacks would be arrested for vagrancy and judged by a jury that consisted of white men; blacks still could not serve on a jury at this time, still displaying that blacks did not receive full rights of white citizens. Thus, blacks would always be convicted by the jury of whites who wanted to ensure a labor force. Once convicted, the blacks were put on farms to work. Blacks would also have to pay a penalty if they were jumping contracts and moving from plantation to plantation; they could not leave the plantation.
The whites were basically creating a “legal” system of slavery, which undermined the blacks newly acquired rights as a free citizen. Andrew Johnson would soon prove to be the oppressor in the fight for black equality during the time of reconstruction in the United States. First, the distribution of land was being brought about by a reconstruction-made institution, known as the Freedmen’s Bureau. The Freedmen’s Bureau provided food, clothing, education, and land to the blacks. By June 1865, the Bureau had settled nearly 10,000 black families on their own land, which was abandoned plantations.
Just as the blacks were coming into and accepting their new freedom, the Southern white plantation owners were returning and demanding the return of their land. Andrew Johnson would support their demands and the government would eventually return all of the land. Just by this instance, it was proved that the whites in the South had tremendous control over the blacks and the government seemed to be supporting them. The North actually feared the potential power of the South in the most recent events of oppression (Document G). Andrew Johnson was also presented with the newly created Reconstruction Amendments, all of which he vetoed.
Although he was overridden by Congress, this shows how the “white men” has once again oppressed the blacks. Also, Andrew Johnson would soon pull the institution of the Freedmen’s Bureau. This was once again preventing the blacks from bettering themselves as individuals and accepting their new rights and freedoms as citizens of the United States. Tensions ran extremely high between the whites and blacks that it started to become deadly. Hate groups were beginning to form in order to undermine the blacks where they were the majority. The most prevalent hate group was the Ku Klux Klan.
These groups policed themselves in groups around voting polls in order to keep the blacks from exercising their rights given to them in the Fifteenth Amendment. The treatment these hate groups, including the Knights of the White Camellia, oppressed the blacks from exercising the most basic of their civil rights and began to return them to their previous way of life. The hatred and means to put the blacks down was beginning to become incredible because the whites did not want to see blacks become their equals and wanted no help or interaction with their former chattel (Document B).
Segregation in the South was becoming more relevant during the time of Reconstruction. At first, there were public areas, such as schools, that accepted both black and white children. Even with such established integrated public places, white Southerners still refused to send their children to school with black children. The court case Plessy v. Ferguson made the term “separate but equal” sanctified in Supreme Court. This means that black and white accommodations had to be equal, but permitted to be separated.
This case also established the Jim Crow Laws, which made the segregation of the races possible. In all reality, although Plessy v. Ferguson determined that black and white accommodations were separate but equal, the accommodations of the whites were of higher standards than those of the former slaves. The segregated and racist mindset of the whites in the South made it hard for the former slaves to make any progress because every step the African Americans took toward securing their civil liberties, the whites were there to take a stand against them by any means.
Fredrick Douglass believe that all people in the South could live together in peace if the South merely cooperated (Document D). The Election of 1876 would be the death of Radical Reconstruction. After a discrepancy with the votes in the election, a compromise was made that would make Republican Rutherford B. Hayes the presidential winner. The victory of the Republican party would then mean that the Union army must pull out of the five Southern regions. Thus, the Freedmen are now turned away from by the Radical Republicans and are left for the Southerners to handle.
The Southern whites will continue to oppress the former slaves and will try to take away every right they have come to gain. The only way for the Freemen to become rich with their civil rights and able to express them would be to take the opportunities away from the whites to oppress them. If the oppression of the blacks by the whites is continuously ignored, then it will be impossible for the blacks to even become completely equal with the whites among them.