In the Spring of 1865, the Civil war was finally brought to an end. The five years of war was the nation’s most devastating and wrenching experience. Although the Union was saved and slavery had ended, the South being defeated and occupied by union forces was ruined and in a state of disaster. Public structures, private homes, and farm buildings had been burnt, rail road tracks uprooted, cotton gins wrecked, and the earth scorched in many sections of the defeated land. The nation’s next task was to rebuild the ruined South and the government’s plan to do this is known as Reconstruction.Order now
During this period was the Civil Rights Act, the Fourteenth Amendment, the Black codes and other important incidents. Reconstruction took place during the years 1865-1877 and was effective in reaching its goal which was to improve the South socially, politically and economically.
On Lincoln’s death, Vice President Andrew Johnson became President and held that Reconstruction was the job of the President, not Congress. Unlike Lincoln who knew how to Compromise, Johnson was a stubborn man. His policies were based on what he thought was Lincoln’s goals. They included charity toward the former Confederates and the creation of new government states.
These governments, Johnson said, must forbid slavery. They must also accept the supreme power of the federal government. With Johnson’s strong thoughts and views, Reconstruction started immediately.
Congress was not in session when Johnson took over as President and did not meet until December, which effected the South economically. During these eight months, nothing was progressing. For example, nothing was done about the black voting rights.
Some states also refused to ratify the Thirteenth Amendment which abolished slavery. Southern states started to pass laws, limiting the freedom of African Americans. These laws, called black codes, aimed to return former slaves to plantation labor. In Mississippi, one law said that each person had to have a written proof of employment. In some states, children could be forced to work by their former owners, without their parent’s approval. With Johnson as President and the Black codes in the southern states, Reconstruction wasn’t making a good start towards it’s goals in economic terms.
Opposition to the black codes came from the Freedmen’s Bureau. This federal agency had been set up near the end of the war to distribute clothes, food, and fuel to the poor of the South. It ran schools for the African American children. It was also in charge of land abandoned by Confederates or taken from them. It divided this land into 40-acre plots. These were to be rented to freedmen until the land could be sold.
However, all freedmen had to eventually give up their new farms. With Johnson’s help, pardoned Confederate landowners were able to regain their land. Freedmen, with their land gone, lost their best chance at economic freedom.
When Congress met in December 1865, representatives from the North were there to take their seats. Northern members of Congress were alarmed about conditions in the southern states. They asked: Had the Civil War been fought just to allow the southern states to return to its old ways? In both houses of Congress, Republicans outnumbered Democrats.
Most Republicans were Moderates and wanted to work with the President. They didn’t believe that the government could solve all of the south’s problems. The Radical Republicans felt differently. They had long urged the ending of slavery. They argued that a true republic should grant citizenship to all. The Republicans were eager to change the south politically, but not everyone thought the same way.
During the year of 1866, two important bills were passed by Congress. The Radical Republicans had two leaders, Thaddeus Stephens and Charles Sumner who were both active men. The Radicals hoped that the federal government would remake southern politics and society. Urged on by the Radicals, Congress did pass two bills in 1866. The first bill gave new powers to the Freedmen’s Bureau. Congress also passed a bill dealing with Civil rights.
This bill declared that everyone born in the United states were citizens. It clearly said that all citizens were entitled to equal rights, regardless of their race. Republicans were shocked when President Johnson vetoed .