Postbellum Reconstruction: Essay
Immediate Success, Long Term Failure
Both the presidency and Congress passed several reforms to attempt to solve all of these problems, however the progress that was made during Reconstruction was for the most part shot down by the Compromise of 1877.
Outline of the Contents
II. Condition of the South Immediately Following the Civil War
III. The Presidential Reconstruction Plan
The Congressional Reconstruction Plan
V. Economic Reform
VI. Social Strife
When General Lee surrendered to the Union army in the Appomattox Courthouse on April 9, 1865, the period of Reconstruction began. The Civil War had settled the issue of slavery and the question of states rights, but several problems remained in the torn nation.
First, the Union had to be successfully reunited and control of the Southern states governments had to be nurtured back to the national consensus. Second, the South was in a social chaos. Southerners spirits had been broken by the war, and the pervasive issue of racism still had to be addressed. Newly emancipated slaves were without refuge, had little education, and their economic status was uncertain. Third, the South was in economic shambles: all of the wealth invested in slaves was gone, plantations lay in ruins, and railroads and cities were torn to shreds by the Union army. Both the presidency and Congress passed several reforms to attempt to solve all of these problems, however the progress that was made during Reconstruction was for the most part shot down by the Compromise of 1877.
The Civil War left the South in ruins. Once beautiful plantations were torn apart, and cities were burnt to the ground. Economic investment in banks, factories, or any other business were squandered, mostly due to General Shermans march. Transportation was completely disrupted, and the entire economy of the South essentially came to a halt. Most devastating to the Souths economic problems was the loss of billions in economic of slaves, which were wiped away by emancipation. Southerners were bitter, some were homeless, and Union troops occupied the South as it would a conquered territory.
Yet somehow, a feeling of loyalty to the Union had to be restored among Southerners.
President Lincoln made it his goal to restore the Union as quickly as possible. On December 9,1863, he proclaimed the war was a rebellion of individuals, and that the states had never actually seceded. Therefore, he offered pardon to any adherents of the Confederacy who would take the oath to support the Constitution of the United States, and the union of the States thereunder. Under the condition that ten percent of the voters in a rebelling state should take this oath and slavery be abolished, a state government could be established and it would be readmitted into the Union.
President Lincolns plan was very lenient towards the South, but it did ensure a quick restoration of the Union.
This plan, however, angered the radical Republicans, the majority in Congress. Radical Republicans were very unsympathetic toward the South, not only wanting the restoration of the Union and the abolition of slavery, but also guaranteed protection for the freedmen. They also aimed to retain their majority in Congress, and to punish the South for the havoc it created. Under the presidential plan, Southerners could vote Democratic and restore power to ex-Confederates and other wealthy Southern whites, therefore rendering the war meaningless to the radical Republicans.
To oppose the presidential plan, Congress passed the Wade-Davis bill on July 2, 1864. This bill called for significant reconstruction in the rebelling states by intrusting the reconstruction of a state not to a minority ready for future loyalty, but to a majority whose Unionism was a matter of past conduct.
Specifically, if a majority of voters swore allegiance to the Union, a convention of loyal persons would be responsible to draw up a new state constitution. However, no one who had held office or had fought under the Confederacy would be permitted to vote or serve as a delegate to a state constitutional convention. The new state constitution must abolish slavery (ratify the Thirteenth Amendment), discard the debts of the Confederacy, and entail that no ex-Confederate may vote or hold office.
Lincoln vetoed the Wade-Davis bill, but gave Southern states the option of selecting .