Reconstruction, 1863-1877—Teaching Notes #4
I. The Meaning of Freedom
~Reconstruction: the period of the United States history in
which the nation tried to adjust to the new conditions created
by the Civil War
A. Breaking down Slavery
1. In 1865, the states ratified the Thirteenth Amendment to the
Constitution, thereby abolishing slavery.
2. During the Civil War, African Americans in the South often
simply stopped obeying their owners as soon as Union
troops were reported to be nearby; they had no doubt that
they were, or very soon be, legally declared free.
B. What Freedom Meant to African Americans
1. New African American Organizations
-Being labeled as “free” meant that African Americans
now had the liberty to move about and live wherever they
-Across the South, freed people withdrew from
congregations with both white and African American
members and formed their own churches.
-They also founded thousands of voluntary organizations,
including mutual aid societies, temperance clubs,
debating clubs, drama societies, and trade associations.
-Freedom also meant education for African Americans.
-In 1860, it is estimated by historians that up to 90% of
adult freed people were illiterate.
-Slave codes had often prohibited teaching enslaved
people to read and write.
-In 1862 a wealthy free African American woman from
Philadelphia named Charlotte Forten had gone to Port
Royal, South Carolina, to teach African Americans; she
later described the enthusiasm she found:
~I never before saw children so eager to learn…Coming to
school is a constant delight and recreation to them…Many of the grown people [also] are desirous of learning to read. It is wonderful how a people who have been so long crushed to the earth…can have so great a desire for knowledge, and such a capability for attaining it.
3. Political Involvement
-African Americans held state conventions and rallies;
they wanted the political rights of citizenship: to vote, to
hold office, to serve on juries.
4. Land Ownership
-Freedom also meant the right to own property, the
ability to pursue whatever line of work they chose, and
the power to determine what they produced.
-Freed people throughout the South also sought the
redistribution of land; they argued that they were entitled
to the land on which they lived, even though it belonged
to white people.
-General William Tecumseh Sherman and his forces
arrived in coastal South Carolina and Georgia in late
1864; therefore the land came under the military rule of
the U.S. Army.
-On January 16, 1865, General Sherman issued Special
Field Order No. 15, in which Sherman reserved the Sea
Islands of Georgia and a 30-mile-wide strip of coastal
land south of Charleston for eligible African American
-By June 1865, roughly 40,000 African Americans were
living on 400,000 acres of land that Sherman had set
aside for them.
C. The People of White Hall Plantation
1. The story of the Arnold family—Richard and Louisa and
their children—they owned a plantation near Savannah, Georgia.
-Richard moved the family North to Rhode Island, as he
did not favor secession, nor did he support the South.
-Richard sold While Hall to his son Thomas, who
supported the South.
-Because of Richard Arnold’s opposition to secession,
White Hall was declared exempt from Sherman’s Special
Field Order No. 15 (Sherman’s land redistribution order).
-The Arnold’s were lucky to have saved their plantation,
as most southern planters had lost everything.
2. A Postwar Plantation
-Upon his return to the plantation in Savannah, Thomas
found significant damage to the mansion, but even more
astounding, he found that the attitude of his former slaves
had changed drastically.
3. New Working Relationships
The revolution of our social fabric is too great, the entire upheaval and overthrow of all the foundations of our society too universal not to affect everybody. ~a Georgia doctor during Reconstruction
II. Three Plans for Reconstruction
A. Helping Freed People
1. Freedmen’s Bureau—established by Congress in March
1865, the purpose of the bureau was to provide aid to freed
people and help them make the adjustment to freedom
B. Lincoln’s Reconstruction Plan
1. Lincoln offered a pardon, an official forgiveness of a crime,
to any Confederate who would swear allegiance to the
Union and accept the end of slavery.
2. Confederate military and government officials and those
who had killed African American prisoners of war were
excluded from Lincoln’s offer.
-When 10% of those who had voted in the 1860 election
had taken the oath in their state, that state could hold a
-After the delegates had written a constitution endorsing
the Thirteenth Amendment, their state could be returned
to its proper place in the Union.
3. Some Radical Republicans wanted terms that would be
much more difficult for southern whites to accept.
-Radical Republicans passed the Wade-Davis Bill in July
1864—under this legislation, the terms a Confederate
state had to meet in order to return to the Union were
almost impossible to fulfill.
-Lincoln refused to sign this legislation, and because
Congress had closed for the session after passing the bill,
Lincoln’s refusal to sign it amounted to a veto of the bill.
*Think and consider* Why would the successful passage of this legislation be counter-productive? Why did Lincoln refuse to sign it?
-The point was to get the southern states that had seceded
back as a part of the Union, not to make it nearly
impossible for them to comply with the terms and not be
able to fulfill them. Hence the word Reconstruction…
C. Andrew Johnson’s Reconstruction Plan
1. April 1865, John Wilkes Booth shot President Lincoln in the
head in Ford’s Theater, killing him and turning over the
presidency to the former Vice President, Andrew Johnson. 2. Johnson is Moderate
-Johnson granted 13,000 pardons to former Confederates in
3. Southern defiance
-Once southern state governments were established, they
quickly worked to undermine Johnson’s terms for
-The southern states enacted black codes, which were laws
that severely restricted the rights of freed people.
D. The Radical Plan for Reconstruction
1. March 1866, Congress passed a Civil Rights Act in order to
ensure equal rights for African Americans in spite of black
codes, but President Johnson vetoed it.
-It then switched course and proposed the Fourteenth
Amendment to the Constitution, which became law two
2. Protecting Citizen’s Rights
-No state can…”deprive any person of life, liberty or
property, without due process of law, nor deny to any
person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the
laws…” ~Fourteenth Amendment
-The amendment also provided for the punishment of
states that did not permit African Americans to vote.
3. Controlling the South
-Military Reconstruction Act of 1867—legislation passed
by new Congress dividing the South into five military
districts that were to be governed by northern generals.
4. Controlling the President
-Congress also attempted to limit the power of President
-Congress passed the Tenure of Office Act, which dealt
with the President’s power to hire and fire officials.
-When the President tried to fire Secretary of War Edwin
Stanton, a Radical Republican, the House of
Representatives voted to impeach Johnson—to charge
him formally with wrongdoing in office.
-Under the Constitution, officials impeached by the
House are then tried by the Senate, which by a two-thirds
majority can convict the official and remove him or her
-Seven Radicals refused to vote for the conviction of
President Johnson—therefore, he was not impeached.
E. The Last Reconstruction Legislation
1. Fifteenth Amendment—proposed in February 1869 and
ratified in March 1870, it stated that no citizen could be
denied the right to vote “by the United States or by any State
on account of race, color, or previous condition of
III. Reconstruction in the South
A. Republican Support in the South
; Significant problems faced the Republican plan for
Reconstruction in the South.
1. White Republicans in the South
-carpetbaggers: northern Republicans who moved to the
South after the Civil War
-scalawags: a term that means “rascals,” referred to
southern whites who became Republicans
2. African Americans in Office
“Now that we are free men, now that we have been lifted
up by the providence of God to manhood, we have
resolved to come forward, and, like MEN, speak and act
for ourselves.” ~1865 African American state
convention addressed to the people of South Carolina
B. Republican Policies
1. Economic Development
-Republicans in the south worked to improve economic
conditions—specifically through land redistribution and
economic development through the emergence of more
railroads, banks and businesses.
2. Voter Anger
-Many of the policies enacted during the first years of
Reconstruction were ineffectual, and the state officials
from the North often accepted bribes.
-Worldwide demand for cotton was falling; in 1875,
cotton production was at the same level as that of 1859,
but the profits reaped from the crop were significantly
C. Changes in Southern Agriculture
1. Debt Peonage
-Southern white planters would sign former slaves to
labor contracts, loaning them money in exchange for a
written contract forming the basis for all debts to be paid
-sharecroppers: farmers who grew a crop on land owned
by someone else; in return for use of the land and
supplies, the farmer gave one third to one half of the
annual crop of the landowner.
-tenant farmers: farmers who paid cash for the rental of
D. Whites Attack Reconstruction
1. The Ku Klux Klan
-KKK—an organization that began as a social club in
Tennessee in 1866
-Leaders of the KKK included planters, merchants,
lawyers, and occasionally ministers
-each member took an oath in which they promised to
“defend the social and political superiority” of whites, to
vote for only white candidates, and to protect whites
against what the Klan called the “aggressions of an
2. The Compromise of 1877
-Rutherford B. Hayes became President in exchange for
promising to remove all federal troops from all southern
states; therefore, Southern Democrats would regain
complete control of the region.
IV. The Retreat from Reconstruction in the North
A. Becoming an Industrial Power
1. Industrial production in the United States rose by 75%
between 1865 and 1873.
2. In 1873, the U.S. reached a new milestone: it now had more
industrial workers than farmers.
3. The nation ranked second only to Great Britain as an
B. The Republicans Abandon Social Issues
1. African Americans Remain Powerless
2. The Postponement of Women’s Rights
-United States Sanitary Commission—formed in 1861,
coordinated local organizations dedicated to providing
medical aid and other assistance to soldiers; 200,000
northern women served in it
-After the war, close to 1,000 women went south to teach
“If I were to give free vent to all my pent-up wrath concerning
the subordination of women, I might frighten you…Suffice it, therefore, to say, either the theory of our government is false, or women have a right to vote.” ~Lydia Maria Child, to Charles Sumner in 1872
3. Unhappy Farmers and Working People
-Farmers and working people challenged Republicans to extend more rights to them; as a result of these feelings, strong protest movements arose in the late 1800s on the nation’s farms.
4. The Significance of Reconstruction
-By the year 1877, Reconstruction had essentially fizzled
out of the social and industrially-focused nation.
Word Count: 1,883