Following the Civil War came a period of regrowth and rebuilding known as Reconstruction. Reconstruction can be broken into different sections and types, one of which is Congressional, or Radical, Reconstruction. There are many scholarly debates about Congressional Reconstruction and its failures, successes, and its overall logistics. Another common debate concerning the Reconstruction period is its purpose and what the intentions of its instigators were. This paper will be discussing an article written by Frederick Douglass entitled Reconstruction.
In this article Douglass discusses the Congressional session taking place in 1866. He calls upon the Congressmen to undo the “blunders” of the previous session of Congress. Black suffrage was an issue of great importance at this particular time. The right of the black man to vote had to be established in order for him to be truly free, as well as for the benefit and unity of the nation.
With the end of the Civil War came an end to the established way of life in the South. President Johnson tried to shift the political and economic power from the plantation owner to small farmers through a process of disfranchisement.
His goals for Reconstruction were somewhat selfish. He was enacting these Reconstruction policies to get reelected, to keep power away from the elite and give it to the yeomen, for some form of reunification of the nation, and to keep blacks from power. During this time of Presidential Reconstruction, Southern states were brought back into the union and ratification of the 13th Amendment took place. This Amendment guaranteed the freedom of African Americans. However, several laws were also put into place limiting the civil rights of African Americans, known as black codes. It was these black codes the Radical Republicans fought to revoke during Congressional Reconstruction.
At this point in history the nation must face a massive reworking of government and redefining of society. It was “to this grand work of national regeneration and entire purification Congress must… address Itself, with full purpose”. During this period President Johnson continued his pardons and the 10% plan continued to readmit states to the union. Louisiana, Tennessee, and Virginia were a few of the 10% states readmitted. In opposition to Johnson’s readmission policies and his Reconstruction plan, Radicals began to refuse to allow Democrats to sit in Congress. Congress also passes the Tenure of Office Act inhibiting the power of the President.
Congress had to overcome the obstacles previously faced in order to see its goals fulfilled. The previous session left some large holes in the policies established. President Johnson had previously inhibited the acts of Congress and the Congressmen were reluctant to make such bold moves against him. One of the ultimate goals of Radical Reconstruction Essay was to achieve equality for all citizens, and to give a just definition of citizen as well. A first step toward this was the 14th Amendment.
The 14th Amendment became law in June of 1866.
This new law declared any person born in the Unites States a citizen, with rights undeniable by any state. It is this type of action Douglass desired in Congress and discusses in his article as only the beginning to the solution. “The Civil Rights Bill and the Freedman’s Bureau Bill and the proposed constitutional amendments…do not reach the difficulty, and cannot, unless the whole structure of the government is changed from a government by States to something like a despotic government”. In this time of crisis, the Radicals seemed to be the only unified group of men with a common ideal and purpose. “They knew exactly what the wanted to do, and were determined to do it”. The major concern of the Radicals was the condition of the freedmen.
Most of them had no homes, no income, and were uneducated. Congress established the Freedmen’s Bureau in 1865 to help the newly freed blacks.
Douglass too felt that the “true solution” to the troubles faced by the nation was “the right of the Negro”. The enfranchisement of the blacks after the war was a controversial issue. Most Southerners did not want the African Americans to have the vote, nor did they want to forfeit their land to be divided among the former slaves. Many also .