Chapter 17

This chapter treats the Reconstruction Era as a conflict in three dimensions. The first dimension involved who was to conduct it, the executive or the legislative branch. This led to political battles between Johnson and the Radical Republicans. The second dimension was between Radical Republicans and a South still dominated by a planter elite that refused to be reconstructed. The third dimension of conflict was between black and white identified people of all social backgrounds, with the whites trying to diminish any gains of the former slaves by enacting Black Codes and condoning violence by groups such as the Ku Klux Klan. Eventually Reconstruction would fail because the Radical Republicans lacked the political power and the will to carry on the struggle, and because the Republican Party became closely identified with northern business interests that cared little for the needs of African Americans, finding it materially profitable to ally themselves with the old planter elite. A disputed election in 1877 ended in a convoluted political compromise that allowed Republican Rutherford Hayes to become president by promising to withdraw federal troops from the South.

After reading this chapter you should be able to:

Describe the problems of community in Hale County, Alabama as typical of the struggle in the South after the Civil War.

Compare the reconstruction plans of Lincoln and Johnson to the one put forward by the Radical Republicans, and explain how the feuding led to the impeachment of President Johnson. Discuss the issues of freedom for African Americans after the Civil War.

Summarize the problems in reconstructing the seceded states.

Trace the changes in the North and in the federal government that caused it to abandon Reconstruction efforts, including the Compromise of 1876–77.

Discuss the problems of restructuring southern society after the Civil War and the ending of slavery, in light of the historical development of the South up to that time. (Review Chapters 4, 11, and 15)

The Politics of Reconstruction

The end of the Civil War answered some questions about the nation’s future, but raised serious issues about dealing with the South and the 4 million ex-slaves. Disagreement arose between the plans of presidents Lincoln and Johnson versus those of Congress. The Radical Republicans succeeded in implementing their program, including constitutional amendments to guarantee the rights of African Americans.


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