Reconstruction was the time period following the Civil War, which lasted from 1865 to 1877, in which the United States began to rebuild. The term can also refer to the process the federal government used to readmit the defeated Confederate states to the Union. While all aspects of Reconstruction were not successful, the main goal of the time period was carried out, making Reconstruction over all successful. During this time, the Confederate states were readmitted to the Union, the thirteenth, fourteenth, and fifteenth amendments were ratified, and African Americans were freed from slavery and able to start new lives.
One of the first goals of Reconstruction was to readmit the Confederate states into the Union, and during the debate in Congress over how to readmit the states, the Thirteenth, Fourteenth, and Fifteenth Amendments were ratified.
The United States had three different presidents between 1865 and 1877, who all had different opinions as to how the actions of readmitting the states should be carried out. President Lincoln devised the Ten Percent Plan in an effort to get the Confederate states to rejoin the Union. In Lincoln’s plan, all Confederates, other than high-ranking officials, would be pardoned if they would swear allegiance to the Union and promise to obey its laws. Once ten percent of the people on the 1860 voting lists took the oath of allegiance, the state would be free to form a state government, and would be readmitted to the Union. Many of the Republicans in Congress were angered by this plan, because they believed that it was too lenient. After President Lincoln was assassinated, Andrew Johnson assumed the presidency with a new plan, which became known as Presidential Reconstruction.
In Johnson’s plan, all of the Confederate states would be readmitted to the union if each state would declare its secession illegal, swear allegiance to the Union, and ratify the Thirteenth Amendment, which abolished slavery. To the Radical Republicans, Johnson’s plan seemed no better than Lincoln’s because it failed to address the needs of former slaves in three prominent areas: land, voting rights, and protection under the law. Confederates states, however, readily committed to the conditions put forth in the Presidential Reconstruction plan, and were readmitted to the Union. A few years later, the Reconstruction Act of 1867 was passed, which did not recognize the governments formed under Lincoln and Johnson’s plans. Through the Reconstruction Act, Tennessee was the only former Confederate State recognized as having been readmitted to the Union because it had ratified the Fourteenth Amendment. In order for the rest of the former Confederate states to be readmitted to the Union through the Reconstruction Act, each state had to ratify the Fourteenth Amendment, also.
The Republicans introduced the Fifteenth Amendment after the election of 1868 because they feared that Pro-Confederate Southern whites might try to place limits on black suffrage. In order to prevent this, the Fifteenth Amendment states that no one can be kept from voting because of “race, color, or previous condition of servitude.” Through the different plans that were proposed by the three different Presidents in office during the Reconstruction period, the Thirteenth, Fourteenth, and Fifteenth Amendments were passed, which were great successes of the Reconstruction period.
Reconstruction was also successful in helping to improve the lives of former slaves. After the Civil War, African Americans were allowed to make everyday decisions and take control of their lives. While in bondage, slaves were not allowed to travel without permission, attend school, marry legally, or live and work as they chose.
When slaves were first freed, they faced the decision of whether to stay where they were or not. The majority of African Americans took advantage of their freedom, but their reasons for moving were not simply because they were testing their freedom. Many former slaves were eager to leave the plantations because they associated them with the oppression of the slave system. Former slaves also decided to travel because of their desire to track down family members. Many African American families had been split apart because of slavery – spouses lived on different plantations, and children were separated from their parents. The Freedman’s Bureau worked to reunite families, and African Americans printed .