In the history of the United States, the Reconstruction era has two definitions, the first in reference to the entire nation in the period 1865-1877 following the Civil War, and the second to the transformation of the Southern United States from 1863 to 1877, with the reconstruction of state and society in the former Confederacy and the addition of three amendments to the Constitution. In the different states, reconstruction began and ended at different times; federal reconstruction policies were finally abandoned with the Compromise of 1877.[1]

Reconstruction policies were debated in the North when the war began, and commenced in earnest after the Emancipation Proclamation, issued on January 1, 1863. Reconstruction policies were implemented when a state that joined the Confederacy came under the control of federal troops. President Abraham Lincoln set up reconstructed governments in several southern states during the war, including Tennessee, Arkansas and Louisiana, and experimented with giving land to ex-slaves in South Carolina. President Andrew Johnson continued Lincoln's plans despite the widespread bitterness over Lincoln's assassination. He appointed new governors in the summer of 1865, and quickly declared the war goals of national unity and the end of slavery had been achieved, so that reconstruction was finished. Republicans in Congress refused to accept Johnson's lenient terms, rejected the new members of Congress selected by the South, and in 1865-66 broke with the president. A sweeping Republican victory in the 1866 Congressional elections in the North gave the Radical Republicans enough control of Congress that they over-rode Johnson's vetoes and began what is called "Radical reconstruction" in 1867.

Congress removed the civilian governments in the South[2] in 1867 and put the former Confederacy under the rule of the U.S. Army. The army then conducted new elections in which the freed slaves could vote while those who held leading positions under the Confederacy were denied the vote and could not run for office.

In ten states[3], coalitions of Freedmen, recent arrivals from the North (Carpetbaggers), and white Southerners who supported Reconstruction (Scalawags) cooperated to form Republican state governments, which introduced various reconstruction programs, offered massive aid to railroads, built public schools, and raised taxes. Conservative opponents charged that Republican regimes were marred by widespread corruption. Violent opposition emerged in numerous localities under the name of the Ku Klux Klan, which led to federal intervention by President Ulysses S. Grant in 1870 that closed down the Klan. Conservative Democrats calling themselves "Redeemers" regained control state by state, sometimes using fraud and violence to control state elections. A deep national economic depression following the Panic of 1873 led to Democratic gains in the North, the collapse of many railroad schemes in the South, and a growing sense of frustration in the North.

The end of Reconstruction was a staggered process, and the period of Republican control ended at different times in different states. With the Compromise of 1877, federal intervention in the South ceased and the last three Republican state governments in the South collapsed. This was followed by a period white Southerners labeled Redemption, which saw the enactment of Jim Crow laws and (after 1890) the disfranchisement of most blacks. The Democratic Party dominated the "Solid South" with few breaks into the 1960s, when the civil rights and voting rights of the blacks were restored by Congress.

The Reconstruction era can also be seen as reference point for other nations that face similiar challenges, such as Germany: After the fall of the Berlin wall in 1989 the former Soviet-controlled Eastern Germany and the free Western Germany needed to be integrated into one country after having been divided for 40 years. Although the formal reunification of the two countries was officially completed in 1990, the "inner reunification" is still an ongoing process.


Reconstruction addressed how the eleven seceding states would regain self-government and be reseated in Congress, the civil status of the former leaders of the Confederacy, and the Constitutional and legal status of freedmen, especially their civil rights and whether they should be given the right to vote. Violent controversy erupted throughout the South over these issues. [4]

The laws and constitutional amendments that laid the foundation for the most radical phase of Reconstruction were adopted from 1866 to 1871. By the 1870s, Reconstruction had officially provided Freedmen with equal rights under the law, and they were voting and taking political office. Republican legislatures, coalitions of whites and blacks, established the first public school systems in the South. Beginning in 1874, however, there was a rise in white paramilitary organizations, such as the White League and Red Shirts, whose political aim was to drive out the Republicans. They also disrupted organizing and terrorized blacks to bar them from the polls.[5] From 1873 to 1877, conservative white Democrats (calling themselves "Redeemers") regained power in the states.

In the 1860s and 1870s the terms "radical" and "conservative" had distinctive meanings. "Conservatism" in this context generally indicates the mindset of the ruling white elite, focused on white supremacy. Many leaders had been Whigs and were committed to modernization.[6] Most of the "radical" Republicans in the North were men who believed in free enterprise and industrialization; most were also modernizers and ex-Whigs.[7] The "Liberal Republicans" of 1872 shared the same outlook except they were especially opposed to the corruption they saw around President Grant, and believed that the goals had been achieved so that the federal intervention could now end.

Passage of the 13th, 14th, and 15th Amendments are constitutional legacies of Reconstruction. These Reconstruction Amendments established the rights which, through extensive litigation, led to Supreme Court rulings starting in the early 20th century that struck down discriminatory state laws. A "Second Reconstruction", sparked by the Civil Rights Movement, led to civil rights laws in 1964 and 1965 that ensured full civic rights of African Americans.

Restoring the South to the Union

A political cartoon of Andrew Johnson and Abraham Lincoln, 1865, entitled "The Rail Splitter At Work Repairing the Union." The caption reads (Johnson): Take it quietly Uncle Abe and I will draw it closer than ever. (Lincoln): A few more stitches Andy and the good old Union will be mended.

During the Civil War, the Radical Republican leaders argued that slavery and the Slave Power had to be permanently destroyed, and that all forms of Confederate nationalism had to be suppressed. Moderates said this could be easily accomplished as soon as Confederate armies surrendered and the Southern states repealed secession and accepted the 13th Amendment — most of which happened by December 1865.[8]

President Lincoln was the leader of the moderate Republicans and wanted to speed up Reconstruction and reunite the nation painlessly and quickly. Lincoln formally began Reconstruction in late 1863 with his Ten percent plan, which went into operation in several states but which Radicals opposed. Lincoln vetoed the Radical plan, the Wade–Davis Bill of 1864, which was much more strict than the Ten-Percent Plan.[9]

The opposing faction of Radical Republicans were skeptical of Southern intentions and demanded more stringent federal action. Congressman Thaddeus Stevens and Senator Charles Sumner led the Radical Republicans. Sumner argued that secession had destroyed statehood alone but the Constitution still extended its authority and its protection over individuals, as in the territories. Thaddeus Stevens and his followers viewed secession as having left the states in a status like new territories. The Republicans sought to prevent Southern politicians from "restoring the historic subordination of Negroes". Since slavery was abolished, the three-fifths compromise no longer applied to counting the population of blacks. After the 1870 census, the South would gain numerous additional representatives in Congress, based on the population of freedmen.[10] One Illinois Republican expressed a common fear that if the South were allowed to simply restore its previous established powers, that the "reward of treason will be an increased representation".[11]

Upon Lincoln's assassination in April 1865, Andrew Johnson of Tennessee, who had been elected with Lincoln in 1864 on the ticket of the National Union Party as the latter's vice president, became president. Johnson rejected the Radical program of harsh, lengthy Reconstruction and instead appointed his own governors and tried to finish reconstruction by the end of 1865. By early 1866, full-scale political warfare existed between Johnson (now allied with the Democrats) and the Radicals; he vetoed laws and issued orders that contradicted Congressional legislation.[12]

Congress rejected Johnson's argument that he had the war power to decide what to do, since the war was over. Congress decided it had the primary authority to decide how Reconstruction should proceed, because the Constitution stated the United States had to guarantee each state a republican form of government. The Radicals insisted that meant Congress decided how Reconstruction should be achieved. The issues were multiple: who should decide, Congress or the president? How should republicanism operate in the South? What was the status of the Confederate states? What was the citizenship status of men who had supported the Confederacy? What was the citizenship and suffrage status of freedmen?[13]

The election of 1866 decisively changed the balance of power, giving the Republicans two-thirds majorities in both houses of Congress, and enough votes to overcome Johnson's vetoes. They moved to impeach Johnson because of his constant attempts to thwart radical Reconstruction measures, by using the Tenure of Office Act. Johnson was acquitted by one vote, but he lost the influence to shape Reconstruction policy.[14]

The Republican Congress established military districts in the South and used Army personnel to administer the region until new governments loyal to the Union could be established. While Congress temporarily suspended the ability to vote of approximately 10,000 to 15,000 white men who had been Confederate officials or senior officers, constitutional amendments gave full citizenship and suffrage to former slaves.[15]

With the power to vote, freedmen started participating in politics. While many slaves were illiterate, educated blacks (including escaped slaves) moved down from the North to aid them, and natural leaders also stepped forward. They elected white and black men to represent them in constitutional conventions. A Republican coalition of freedmen, southerners supportive of the Union (derisively called scalawags by white Democrats), and northerners who had migrated to the South (derisively called carpetbaggers—some of whom were returning natives, but were mostly Union veterans), organized to create constitutional conventions. They created new state constitutions to set new directions for southern states.[16]


The issue of loyalty emerged in the debates over the Wade–Davis Bill of 1864. The bill required voters to take the "ironclad oath", swearing they had never supported the Confederacy or been one of its soldiers. Pursuing a policy of "malice toward none" announced in his second inaugural address, Lincoln asked voters only to support the Union.[17] The Radicals lost support following Lincoln's veto of the Wade–Davis Bill but regained strength after Lincoln's assassination in April 1865.


Monument in honor of the Grand Army of the Republic, organized after the war

Congress had to consider how to restore to full status and representation within the Union those southern states that had declared their independence from the United States and had withdrawn their representation. Suffrage for former Confederates was one of two main concerns. A decision needed to be made whether to allow just some or all former Confederates to vote (and to hold office). The moderates wanted virtually all of them to vote, but the Radicals resisted. They repeatedly tried to impose the ironclad oath, which would effectively have allowed no former Confederates to vote. Representative Thaddeus Stevens of Pennsylvania proposed, unsuccessfully, that all former Confederates lose the right to vote for five years. The compromise that was reached disenfranchised many former Confederate civil and military leaders. No one knows how many temporarily lost the vote, but one estimate was 10,000 to 15,000.[18]

Second, and closely related, was the issue of whether freedmen should be allowed to vote. The issue was how to receive the four-million former slaves as citizens. If they were to be fully counted as citizens, some sort of representation for apportionment of seats in Congress had to be determined. Before the war, the population of slaves had been counted as three-fifths of a comparable number of free whites. By now having the benefit of four million freedmen counted as full citizens, the South would gain additional seats in Congress. If blacks were denied the vote and the right to hold office, then only whites would represent them. Many conservatives, including most white southerners, northern Democrats, and some northern Republicans, opposed black voting. Some northern states that had referendums on the subject limited the ability of their own small populations of blacks to vote.

Lincoln had supported a middle position to allow some black men to vote, especially army veterans. Johnson also believed that such service should be rewarded with citizenship. Lincoln proposed giving the vote to "the very intelligent, and especially those who have fought gallantly in our ranks."[19] In 1864, Governor Johnson said, "The better class of them will go to work and sustain themselves, and that class ought to be allowed to vote, on the ground that a loyal negro is more worthy than a disloyal white man."[20] As President in 1865, Johnson wrote to the man he appointed as governor of Mississippi, recommending, "If you could extend the elective franchise to all persons of color who can read the Constitution in English and write their names, and to all persons of color who own real estate valued at at least two hundred and fifty dollars, and pay taxes thereon, you would completely disarm the adversary [Radicals in Congress], and set an example the other states will follow."[21]

Senators Charles Sumner of Massachusetts and Thaddeus Stevens, leaders of the Radical Republicans, were initially hesitant to enfranchise the largely illiterate former slave population. Sumner preferred at first impartial requirements that would have imposed literacy restrictions on blacks and whites. He believed, however, that he would not succeed in passing legislation to disfranchise illiterate whites who already had the vote.[22]

In the South, many poor whites were illiterate. In 1880, for example, the white illiteracy rate was about 25% in Tennessee, Kentucky, Alabama, South Carolina, and Georgia; and as high as 33% in North Carolina. This compares with the 9% national rate and a black rate of illiteracy that was over 70% in the South.[23] By 1900, with emphasis within the black community on education, however, the majority of blacks had achieved literacy.[24]

Sumner soon concluded that "there was no substantial protection for the freedman except in the franchise." This was necessary, he stated, "(1) For his own protection; (2) For the protection of the white Unionist; and (3) For the peace of the country. We put the musket in his hands because it was necessary; for the same reason we must give him the franchise." The support for voting rights was a compromise between moderate and Radical Republicans.[25]

The Republicans believed that the best way for men to get political experience was to be able to vote and to participate in the political system. They passed laws allowing all male freedmen to vote. In 1867, black men voted for the first time. Over the course of Reconstruction, more than 1,500 African Americans held public office in the South. They did not hold office in numbers representative of their proportion in the population, but often elected whites to represent them.[26] The question of women's suffrage was also debated but was rejected.[27]

From 1890 to 1908, southern states passed new constitutions and laws that disfranchised tens of thousands of poor whites and many blacks with new voter registration and electoral rules.[28]

Johnson's presidential Reconstruction

Northern anger over the assassination of Lincoln and the immense human cost of the war led to vengeful demands for harsh policies. Vice President Andrew Johnson had taken a hard line and spoke of hanging rebel Confederates, but when he succeeded Lincoln as President, Johnson took a much softer line, pardoning many Confederate leaders and former Confederates.[29] Jefferson Davis was held in prison for two years, but other Confederate leaders were not. There were no treason trials. Only one person—Captain Henry Wirz, the commandant of the prison camp in Andersonville, Georgia—was executed for war crimes.

In March 1865, Congress had established the Freedmen's Bureau. The Bureau provided food, clothing, and fuel to destitute former slaves and white refugees, and advice on negotiating labor contracts. It attempted to oversee new relations between freedmen and their former masters. It did not, as later myths said, promise 40 acres and a mule.[30]

Although resigned to the abolition of slavery, many former Confederates were not willing to accept the social changes nor political domination by former slaves. The defeated were unwilling to acknowledge that their society had changed. In the words of Benjamin F. Perry, President Johnson's choice as the provisional governor of South Carolina: "First, the Negro is to be invested with all political power, and then the antagonism of interest between capital and labor is to work out the result."[31]

The fears, however, of the mostly conservative planter elite and other leading white citizens were partly assuaged by the actions of President Johnson, who ensured that a wholesale land redistribution from the planters to the freedman did not occur. President Johnson ordered that confiscated or abandoned lands administered by the Freedman's Bureau would not be redistributed to the freedmen but be returned to pardoned owners. Land was returned that would have been forfeited under the Confiscation Acts passed by Congress in 1861 and 1862.

Freedmen and the enactment of Black Codes

A Harper's Magazine political cartoon alleging Ku Klux Klan and White League opposition to Reconstruction

Southern state governments quickly enacted the restrictive "black codes". However, they were abolished in 1866 and seldom had effect, because the Freedman's Bureau (not the local courts) handled the legal affairs of freedmen.

The Black Codes indicated the plans of the southern whites for the former slaves.[32] The freedmen would have more rights than did free blacks before the war, but they still had only a limited set of second-class civil rights, no voting rights, and, since they were not citizens, they could not own firearms, serve on a jury in a lawsuit involving whites or move about without employment.[33] The Black Codes would limit blacks' ability to control their own employment. The Black Codes outraged northern opinion. They were overthrown by the Civil Rights Act of 1866 that gave the Freedmen full legal equality (except for the right to vote).[34]

The freedmen rejected gang labor work patterns that had been used in slavery; with the strong backing of the Freedman's Bureau, they forced planters to bargain for their labor. Such bargaining soon led to the establishment of the system of sharecropping, which gave the freedmen greater economic independence and social autonomy than gang labor. However, because they lacked capital and the planters continued to own the means of production (tools, draft animals and land), the freedmen were forced into producing cash crops (mainly cotton) for the land-owners and merchants, and they entered into a crop-lien system. Widespread poverty, disruption to an agricultural economy too dependent on cotton, and the falling price of cotton, led within decades to the routine indebtedness of the majority of the freedmen, and poverty by many planters.[35]

Northern officials gave varying reports on conditions for the freedmen in the South. One harsh assessment came from Carl Schurz, who reported on the situation in the states along the Gulf Coast. His report documented dozens of extra-judicial killings and claimed that hundreds or thousands more African Americans were killed.[36]

The number of murders and assaults perpetrated upon Negroes is very great; we can form only an approximative estimate of what is going on in those parts of the South which are not closely garrisoned, and from which no regular reports are received, by what occurs under the very eyes of our military authorities. As to my personal experience, I will only mention that during my two days sojourn at Atlanta, one Negro was stabbed with fatal effect on the street, and three were poisoned, one of whom died. While I was at Montgomery, one negro was cut across the throat evidently with intent to kill, and another was shot, but both escaped with their lives. Several papers attached to this report give an account of the number of capital cases that occurred at certain places during a certain period of time. It is a sad fact that the perpetration of those acts is not confined to that class of people which might be called the rabble.

Carl Schurz, "Report on the Condition of the South", December 1865 (U.S. Senate Exec. Doc. No. 2, 39th Congress, 1st session).

The report included sworn testimony from soldiers and officials of the Freedman's Bureau. In Selma, Alabama, Major J.P. Houston noted that whites who killed 12 African Americans in his district never came to trial. Many more killings never became official cases. Captain Poillon described white patrols in southwestern Alabama "who board some of the boats; after the boats leave they hang, shoot, or drown the victims they may find on them, and all those found on the roads or coming down the rivers are almost invariably murdered. The bewildered and terrified freedmen know not what to do—to leave is death; to remain is to suffer the increased burden imposed upon them by the cruel taskmaster, whose only interest is their labor, wrung from them by every device an inhuman ingenuity can devise; hence the lash and murder is resorted to intimidate those whom fear of an awful death alone cause to remain, while patrols, Negro dogs and spies, disguised as Yankees, keep constant guard over these unfortunate people."

Moderate responses

In response to the Black codes and worrisome signs of Southern recalcitrance, the Radical Republicans blocked the readmission of the former rebellious states to the Congress in fall 1865. Congress also renewed the Freedman's Bureau, but Johnson vetoed the Freedmen's Bureau Bill in February 1866. Senator Lyman Trumbull of Illinois, leader of the moderate Republicans, took affront at the black codes. He proposed the first Civil Rights Law, because the abolition of slavery was empty if

laws are to be enacted and enforced depriving persons of African descent of privileges which are essential to freemen... A law that does not allow a colored person to go from one county to another, and one that does not allow him to hold property, to teach, to preach, are certainly laws in violation of the rights of a freeman... The purpose of this bill is to destroy all these discriminations.[37]

The key to the bill was the opening section:

All persons born in the United States ... are hereby declared to be citizens of the United States; and such citizens of every race and color, without regard to any previous condition of slavery ... shall have the same right in every State make and enforce contracts, to sue, be parties, and give evidence, to inherit, purchase, lease, sell, hold, and convey real and personal property, and to full and equal benefit of all laws and proceedings for the security of person and property, as is enjoyed by white citizens, and shall be subject to like punishment, pains, and penalties and to none other, any law, statute, ordinance, regulation, or custom to the Contrary notwithstanding.

Congress quickly passed the Civil Rights bill; the Senate on February 2 voted 33–12; the House on March 13 voted 111–38.

Johnson's vetoes

Although strongly urged by moderates in Congress to sign the Civil Rights bill, Johnson broke decisively with them by vetoing it on March 27, 1866. His veto message objected to the measure because it conferred citizenship on the Freedmen at a time when eleven out of thirty-six states were unrepresented and attempted to fix by Federal law "a perfect equality of the white and black races in every State of the Union." Johnson said it was an invasion by Federal authority of the rights of the States; it had no warrant in the Constitution and was contrary to all precedents. It was a "stride toward centralization and the concentration of all legislative power in the national government."[38]

The debate over reconstruction and the Freedman's Bureau was nationwide. This 1866 Pennsylvania election poster alleged that Freedman's Bureau money was being lavished on lazy freedmen at the expense of white workers.[39]

The Democratic Party, proclaiming itself the party of white men, north and south, supported Johnson.[40] However the Republicans in Congress overrode his veto (the Senate by the close vote of 33:15, the House by 122:41) and the Civil Rights bill became law. Congress also passed the Freedmen's Bureau Bill over Johnson's veto.

The last moderate proposal was the Fourteenth Amendment, whose principal drafter was Representative John Bingham. It was designed to put the key provisions of the Civil Rights Act into the Constitution, but it went much further. It extended citizenship to everyone born in the United States (except visitors and Indians on reservations), penalized states that did not give the vote to Freedmen, and most importantly, created new federal civil rights that could be protected by federal courts. It guaranteed the Federal war debt would be paid (and promised the Confederate debt would never be paid). Johnson used his influence to block the amendment in the states since three-fourths of the states were required for ratification (the amendment was later ratified.). The moderate effort to compromise with Johnson had failed, and a political fight broke out between the Republicans (both Radical and moderate) on one side, and on the other side, Johnson and his allies in the Democratic party in the North, and the conservative groupings (which used different names) in each southern state.

Congress imposes Radical Reconstruction

Republicans in Congress took control of Reconstruction policies after the election of 1866. Johnson ignored the policy mandate, and he openly encouraged southern states to deny to ratify the 14th Amendment (except for Tennessee, all former confederate states did so, as did the border states of Delaware, Maryland and Kentucky). Radical Republicans in Congress, led by Stevens and Sumner opened the way to suffrage for male freedmen. They were generally in control, although they had to compromise with the moderate Republicans (the Democrats in Congress had almost no power). Historians generally refer to this period as Radical Reconstruction.[41]

The South's white leaders, who held power in the immediate postwar era before the vote was granted to the freedmen, renounced secession and slavery, but not white supremacy. People who had previously held power were angered in 1867 when new elections were held. New Republican lawmakers were elected by a coalition of white Unionists, freedmen and northerners who had settled in the South. Some leaders in the South tried to accommodate to new conditions.

Constitutional amendments

Three new Constitutional amendments, known as the Reconstruction Amendments, were adopted. The 13th Amendment abolished slavery and was ratified in 1865. The 14th Amendment was proposed in 1866 and ratified in 1868, guaranteeing United States citizenship to all persons born or naturalized in the United States (except Native Americans), and granting them federal civil rights. The 15th Amendment, proposed in late February 1869 and passed in early February 1870, decreeing that the right to vote could not be denied because of "race, color, or previous condition of servitude". The amendment did not declare the vote an unconditional right and only prohibited these types of discrimination while specific electoral policies were deeply determined within each state.


Congress clarified the scope of the federal writ of habeas corpus to allow federal courts to vacate unlawful state court convictions or sentences in 1867 (28 U.S.C. §2254).

Military reconstruction

With the Radicals in control, Congress passed the Reconstruction Acts in 1867. The first Reconstruction Act placed ten Confederate states under military control, grouping them into five military districts:[42]

Tennessee was not made part of a military district (having already been readmitted to the Union), and therefore federal controls did not apply.

The ten Southern state governments were re-constituted under the direct control of the United States Army. One major purpose was to recognize and protect the right of African Americans to vote.[43] There was little or no combat, but rather a state of martial law in which the military closely supervised local government, supervised elections, and tried to protect office holders and freedmen from violence.[44] Blacks were enrolled as voters; former Confederate leaders were excluded for a limited period.[Foner 1988 p 274–5] No one state was entirely representative. Randolph Campbell describes what happened in Texas:[45]

The first critical step … was the registration of voters according to guidelines established by Congress and interpreted by Generals Sheridan and Charles Griffin. The Reconstruction Acts called for registering all adult males, white and black, except those who had ever sworn an oath to uphold the Constitution of the United States and then engaged in rebellion.… Sheridan interpreted these restrictions stringently, barring from registration not only all pre-1861 officials of state and local governments who had supported the Confederacy but also all city officeholders and even minor functionaries such as sextons of cemeteries. In May Griffin … appointed a three-man board of registrars for each county, making his choices on the advice of known scalawags and local Freedman's Bureau agents. In every county where practicable a freedman served as one of the three registrars.… Final registration amounted to approximately 59,633 whites and 49,479 blacks. It is impossible to say how many whites were rejected or refused to register (estimates vary from 7,500 to 12,000), but blacks, who constituted only about 30 percent of the state's population, were significantly overrepresented at 45 percent of all voters. [46]

All Southern states were readmitted to representation in Congress by the end of 1870, the last being Georgia. All but 500 top Confederate leaders were pardoned when President Grant signed the Amnesty Act of 1872.

Readmission to representation in Congress

African American officeholders

Republicans took control of all Southern state governorships and state legislatures, except for Virginia.[47] The Republican coalition elected numerous African-Americans to local, state, and national offices. About 137 black officeholders had lived outside the South before the Civil War. Some had escaped from slavery to the North and returned to help the South advance in the postwar era. Many of them had achieved education and positions of leadership elsewhere. Other African American men who served were leaders in their communities, including a number of preachers. As happened in white communities, all leadership did not depend on wealth and literacy.[48]

Race of delegates to 1867
state constitutional conventions
State White Black % White Statewide
(% in 1870)[49]
Virginia 80 25 76 58
North Carolina 107 13 89 63
South Carolina 48 76 39 41
Georgia 133 33 80 54
Florida 28 18 61 51
Alabama 92 16 85 52
Mississippi 68 17 80 46
Louisiana 25 44 36 50
Texas 81 9 90 69

Source: Rhodes (1920) v 6 p. 199; no report on Arkansas

There were few African Americans elected or appointed to national office. African Americans voted for white candidates and for blacks. The Fifteenth Amendment guaranteed the right to vote, but did not guarantee that the vote would be counted or the districts would be apportioned equally. As a result, even states with majority African American population often only had one or two African American representatives in Congress, except for South Carolina. At the end of Reconstruction, four of its five Congressmen were African American.

African Americans in Office 1870–1876
State State Legislators U.S. Senators U.S. Congressmen
Alabama 69 0 4
Arkansas 8 0 0
Florida 30 0
Georgia 41 0 1
Louisiana 87 0 1*
Mississippi 112 2 1
North Carolina 30 0 1
South Carolina 190 0 6
Tennessee 1 0 0
Texas 19 0 0
Virginia 46 0 0
Total 633 2 15
See E. Foner, Reconstruction: America's unfinished revolution, 1863–1877 (NY: Harper & Row, 1988), pp. 354–5.

A list of the 15 African American Representatives elected during Reconstruction

A list of the 2 African American Senators elected during Reconstruction

Public schools

W. E. B. Du Bois argued that the freedmen had a deep commitment to education and that African Americans in the Republican coalition played a critical role in establishing the principal of universal public education in state constitutions during congressional Reconstruction.[50] Some slaves learned to read from white playmates although formal education was not allowed by law; African Americans started "native schools" before the end of the war; Sabbath schools were another widespread means freedmen created for teaching literacy.[51] When they gained suffrage, black politicians took this commitment to public education to state constitutional conventions.

African Americans and white Republicans joined to build education at the state level. They created a system of public schools, which were segregated by race everywhere except New Orleans. Generally, elementary and a few secondary schools were built in most cities, and occasionally in the countryside, but the South had few cities.

In the rural areas the public school was often a one-room affair that attracted about half the younger children. The teachers were poorly paid, and their pay was often in arrears.[52] Conservatives contended the rural schools were too expensive and unnecessary for a region where the vast majority of people were cotton or tobacco farmers. They had no vision of a better future for their residents. One historian found that the schools were less effective than they might have been because of "poverty, the inability of the states to collect taxes, and inefficiency and corruption in many places prevented successful operation of the schools."[53]

1868 Republican cartoon identifies Democratic candidate Horatio Seymour (right panel) with KKK violence and with Confederate soldiers

Numerous private academies and colleges for Freedmen were established by northern missionaries. Every state created state colleges for Freedmen, such as Alcorn State University in Mississippi. The state colleges created generations of teachers who were critical in the education of African American children.

In 1890, the black state colleges started receiving federal funds as land grant schools.[54] They received state funds after Reconstruction ended because, as Lynch explains, "there are very many liberal, fair-minded and influential Democrats in the State who are strongly in favor of having the State provide for the liberal education of both races."[55] Before this period, however, planters had opposed public education for freedmen and underfunded schools.

Railroad subsidies and payoffs

Atlanta, Georgia shortly after the end of the American Civil War showing the city's railyard and roundhouse in ruins.

Every Southern state subsidized railroads, which modernizers felt could haul the South out of isolation and poverty. Millions of dollars in bonds and subsidies were fraudulently pocketed. One ring in North Carolina spent $200,000 in bribing the legislature and obtained millions in state money for its railroads. Instead of building new track, however, it used the funds to speculate in bonds, reward friends with extravagant fees, and enjoy lavish trips to Europe.[56] Taxes were quadrupled across the South to pay off the railroad bonds and the school costs. There were complaints among taxpayers, because taxes had historically been low, since there was so little commitment to public works or public education. Taxes historically had been much lower than in the North, reflecting a lack of public investment in the communities.[57] Nevertheless thousands of miles of lines were built as the Southern system expanded from 11,000 miles (17,700 km) in 1870 to 29,000 miles (46,700 km) in 1890. The lines were owned and directed overwhelmingly by Northerners. Railroads helped create a mechanically skilled group of craftsmen and broke the isolation of much of the region. Passengers were few, however, and apart from hauling the cotton crop when it was harvested, there was little freight traffic.[58] As Franklin explains, "numerous railroads fed at the public trough by bribing legislators...and through the use and misuse of state funds." The effect, according to one businessman, "was to drive capital from the State, paralyze industry, and demoralize labor."[59]

Taxation during Reconstruction

Reconstruction changed the tax structure of the South. In the U.S. from the earliest days until today, a major source of state revenue was the property tax. In the South, wealthy landowners were allowed to assess the value of their own land. These fraudulent assessments were almost valueless and pre-war property taxes collections were almost nothing. State revenues came from fees and from sales taxes on slave auctions.[60] Some states assessed property owners by a combination of land value and a capitation tax, a tax on each worker employed. This tax was often assessed in a way to discourage a free labor market, where a slave was assessed at 75 cents, while a free white was assessed at a dollar or more, and a free African American at $3 or more. Some revenue also came from poll taxes. These taxes were more than poor people could pay, with the designed and inevitable consequence that they did not vote.

During Reconstruction, new spending on schools and infrastructure, combined with fraudulent spending and a collapse in state credit because of huge deficits, forced the states to dramatically increase property tax rates. In places, the rate went up to ten times higher—despite the poverty of the region. The infrastructure of much of the South—roads, bridges, and railroads—scarce and deficient even before the war—had been destroyed during the war. In addition, there were other new expenditures, because pre-war southern states did not educate their citizens or build and maintain much infrastructure. In part, the new tax system was designed to force owners of large estates with huge tracts of uncultivated land either to sell or to have it confiscated for failure to pay taxes.[61] The taxes would serve as a market-based system for redistributing the land to the landless freedmen and white poor.

Here is a table of property tax rates for South Carolina and Mississippi. Note that many local town and county assessments effectively doubled the tax rates reported in the table. These taxes were still levied upon the landowners' own sworn testimony as to the value of their land, which remained the dubious and exploitable system used by wealthy landholders in the South well into the 20th century.

State Property Tax Rates during Reconstruction
Year South Carolina Mississippi
1869 5 mills (0.5 %) 1 mill (0.1 %) (lowest rate between 1822 and 1898)
1870 9 mills 5 mills
1871 7 mills 4 mills
1872 12 mills 8.5 mills
1873 12 mills 12.5 mills
1874 10.3-8 mills 14 mills (1.4%) "a rate which virtually amounted to confiscation" (highest rate between 1822 and 1898)
1875 11 mills
1876 7 mills
Source J. S. Reynolds, Reconstruction in South Carolina, 1865–1877, (Columbia, SC: The State Co., 1905) p. 329. J. H. Hollander,Studies in State Taxation with Particular Reference to the Southern States, (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins Press, 1900) p. 192.

Called upon to pay an actual tax on their property, angry plantation owners revolted. The conservatives shifted their focus away from race to taxes.[62] Former Congressman John R. Lynch, a black Republican leader from Mississippi, concluded,

The argument made by the taxpayers, however, was plausible and it may be conceded that, upon the whole, they were about right; for no doubt it would have been much easier upon the taxpayers to have increased at that time the interest-bearing debt of the State than to have increased the tax rate. The latter course, however, had been adopted and could not then be changed.[55]

Conservative reaction

The fact that their former slaves now held political and military power angered many whites. They formed new political parties (often with "Conservative" in the title) to contest elections, and supported or tolerated violent activist groups that intimidated both Black and White Republicans at election time. The party names varied, but by the late 1870s, the Conservatives had aligned with the national Democratic Party, which enthusiastically supported their cause even as the national Republican Party was losing interest in Southern affairs. Historian Walter Lynwood Fleming describes mounting anger of Southern whites:

The Negro troops, even at their best, were everywhere considered offensive by the native whites... The Negro soldier, impudent by reason of his new freedom, his new uniform, and his new gun, was more than Southern temper could tranquilly bear, and race conflicts were frequent.[63]

While the planter-business and the common farmer classes of the South opposed black suffrage, they did so for different reasons. These common farmers were competing economically with the recently freed blacks and wanted to keep them inferior. They opposed black suffrage for racial reasons. On the other hand, the planter-business class opposed black suffrage for economic reasons, not racial reasons. Giving a laboring class, no matter what race, universal suffrage could lead to an attack on the property that the planter class loved so much. These conservatives felt that their property interests were in danger because the laboring class was ignorant and would vote to raise taxes significantly. After being faced by these taxes, the planter-business class thought that by teaming up with the blacks they could lift the tariffs and further their own political agendas. The Democrats nominated blacks for political office and tried to steal other blacks from the Republican side. But when these attempts to combine with the blacks failed, the planters joined the common farmers in simply trying to displace the Republican governments.[64]

Fleming is a typical example of the White Supremacist interpretation of Reconstruction. His work defended some roles of the White Supremacist group the Ku Klux Klan (KKK) but denounced its violence. Fleming accepted as necessary the disenfranchisement of African Americans because he thought their votes were bought and sold. Fleming described the first results of the movement as "good" and the later ones as "both good and bad." According to Fleming (1907) the KKK

quieted the Negroes, made life and property safer, gave protection to women, stopped burnings, forced the Radical leaders to be more moderate, made the Negroes work better, drove the worst of the Radical leaders from the country and started the whites on the way to gain political supremacy.

The evil results, Fleming said, was that lawless elements

made use of the organization as a cloak to cover their misdeeds... the lynching habits of today [1907] are largely to conditions, social and legal, growing out of Reconstruction.[65]

Ellis Paxson Oberholtzer (a northern scholar) in 1917 explained:[66]

Outrages upon the former slaves in the South there were in plenty. Their sufferings were many. But white men, too, were victims of lawless violence, and in all portions of the North and the late "rebel" states. Not a political campaign passed without the exchange of bullets, the breaking of skulls with sticks and stones, the firing of rival club-houses. Republican clubs marched the streets of Philadelphia, amid revolver shots and brickbats, to save the negroes from the "rebel" savages in Alabama... The project to make voters out of black men was not so much for their social elevation as for the further punishment of the Southern white people—for the capture of offices for Radical scamps and the entrenchment of the Radical party in power for a long time to come in the South and in the country at large."

Reaction by conservatives included the formation of violent secret societies, especially the KKK. Violence occurred in cities and in the countryside between white former Confederates, Republicans, African-Americans, representatives of the federal government, and Republican-organized armed Loyal Leagues. The victims of this violence were overwhelmingly African American, though their white supporters were also attacked.

Redemption 1873–77

Republicans split nationally: election of 1872

As early as 1868 Supreme Court Chief Justice Salmon P. Chase, a leading Radical during the war, concluded that:

"Congress was right in not limiting, by its reconstruction acts, the right of suffrage to whites; but wrong in the exclusion from suffrage of certain classes of citizens and all unable to take its prescribed retrospective oath, and wrong also in the establishment of despotic military governments for the States and in authorizing military commissions for the trial of civilians in time of peace. There should have been as little military government as possible; no military commissions; no classes excluded from suffrage; and no oath except one of faithful obedience and support to the Constitution and laws, and of sincere attachment to the constitutional Government of the United States."[67]

By 1872, President Ulysses S. Grant had alienated large numbers of leading Republicans, including many Radicals by the corruption of his administration and his use of federal soldiers to prop up Radical state regimes in the South. The opponents, called "Liberal Republicans", included founders of the party who expressed dismay that the party had succumbed to corruption. They were further wearied by the continued insurgent violence of whites against blacks in the South, especially around every election cycle, which demonstrated the war was not over and changes were fragile. Leaders included editors of some of the nation's most powerful newspapers. Charles Sumner, embittered by the corruption of the Grant administration, joined the new party, which nominated editor Horace Greeley. The badly organized Democratic party also supported Greeley.

Grant made up for the defections by new gains among Union veterans and by strong support from the "Stalwart" faction of his party (which depended on his patronage), and the Southern Republican parties. Grant won a smashing landslide, as the Liberal Republican party vanished and many former supporters—even former abolitionists—abandoned the cause of Reconstruction.[68]

Republican coalition splinters in South

In the South, political–racial tensions built up inside the Republican party as they were attacked by the Democrats. In 1868, Georgia Democrats, with support from some Republicans, expelled all 28 black Republican members, arguing blacks were eligible to vote but not to hold office. In several states, the more conservative scalawags fought for control with the more radical carpetbaggers and usually lost. Thus, in Mississippi, the conservative faction led by scalawag James Lusk Alcorn was decisively defeated by the radical faction led by carpetbagger Adelbert Ames. The party lost support steadily as many scalawags left it; few recruits were acquired. Meanwhile, the freedmen were demanding a bigger share of the offices and patronage, thus squeezing out their carpetbagger allies.[69] Finally some of the more prosperous freedmen were joining the Democrats, as they were angered at the failure of the Republicans to help them acquire land.[70]

Although historians such as W. E. B. Du Bois looked for and celebrated a cross-racial coalition of poor whites and blacks, such coalitions rarely formed in these years. With long-term agricultural problems, there was an alliance later in the century between Populists and Republicans whose coalition won control in several states, especially in 1894. White Democrats reacted by creating more legislative and constitutional barriers to voter registration and voting by poor whites and blacks.[71]

Writing in 1915 and demonstrating contemporary biases about Reconstruction, Congressman Lynch explained that,

While the colored men did not look with favor upon a political alliance with the poor whites, it must be admitted that, with very few exceptions, that class of whites did not seek, and did not seem to desire such an alliance.

Lynch explained that poor whites resented the job competition from freedmen. Furthermore, the poor whites

with a few exceptions, were less efficient, less capable, and knew less about matters of state and governmental administration than many of the former slaves.… As a rule, therefore, the whites that came into the leadership of the Republican party between 1872 and 1875 were representatives of the most substantial families of the land.[72]

Thus, the Democrats encouraged the poor whites to ally with them over race. They became bitterly opposed to black Republicans. As is noted in Redeemers below, elite white Democrats subverted a coalition threat to their control by passage of statutes and new constitutions from 1890 to 1908 that effectively disfranchised most blacks and hundreds of thousands of poor whites.[73]

Democrats try a "New Departure"

A Republican Form of Government and No Domestic Violence
by Thomas Nast
A political cartoon about the (Wheeler) Compromise in Louisiana
published in Harper's Weekly
March 6, 1875

By 1870, the Democratic–Conservative leadership across the South decided it had to end its opposition to Reconstruction and black suffrage to survive and move on to new issues. The Grant administration had proven by its crackdown on the Ku Klux Klan that it would use as much federal power as necessary to suppress open anti-black violence. The Democrats in the North concurred. They wanted to fight the Republican Party on economic grounds rather than race. The New Departure offered the chance for a clean slate without having to re-fight the Civil War every election. Furthermore, many wealthy landowners thought they could control part of the newly enfranchised black electorate to their own advantage.

Not all Democrats agreed; an insurgent element continued to resist Reconstruction no matter what. Eventually, a group called "Redeemers" took control of the party in the Southern states.[74] They formed coalitions with conservative Republicans, including scalawags and carpetbaggers, emphasizing the need for economic modernization. Railroad building was seen as a panacea since northern capital was needed. The new tactics were a success in Virginia where William Mahone built a winning coalition. In Tennessee, the Redeemers formed a coalition with Republican governor DeWitt Senter. Across the South, some Democrats switched from the race issue to taxes and corruption, charging that Republican governments were corrupt and inefficient. With continuing decrease in cotton prices, taxes squeezed cash-poor farmers who rarely saw $20 in currency a year but had to pay taxes in currency or lose their farm.

In North Carolina, Republican Governor William Woods Holden used state troops against the Klan, but the prisoners were released by federal judges. Holden became the first governor in American history to be impeached and removed from office. Republican political disputes in Georgia split the party and enabled the Redeemers to take over.[75]

In the lower South, violence continued and new insurgent groups arose. The disputed election in Louisiana in 1872 found both Republican and Democratic candidates holding inaugural balls while returns were reviewed. Both certified their own slates for local parish offices in many places, causing local tensions to rise. Finally, Federal support helped certify the Republican as governor, but the Democrat Samuel D. McEnery in March 1873 brought his own militia to bear in New Orleans, the seat of government.

Slates for local offices were certified by each candidate. In rural Grant Parish in the Red River Valley, freedmen fearing a Democratic attempt to take over the parish government reinforced defenses at the Colfax courthouse in late March. White militias gathered from the area a few miles outside the settlement. Rumors and fears abounded on both sides. William Ward, an African-American Union veteran and militia captain, mustered his company in Colfax and went to the courthouse. On Easter Sunday, April 13, 1873, the whites attacked the defenders at the courthouse. There was confusion about who shot one of the white leaders after an offer by the defenders to surrender. It was a catalyst to mayhem. In the end, three whites died and 120–150 blacks were killed, some 50 while held as prisoners. The disproportionate numbers of black to white fatalities and documentation of brutalized bodies are why contemporary historians call it the Colfax Massacre rather than the Colfax Riot, as it is known locally.[76]

This marked the beginning of heightened insurgency and attacks on Republican officeholders and freedmen in Louisiana and other Deep South states. In Louisiana, Judge T.S. Crawford and District Attorney P.H. Harris of the 12th Judicial District were shot off their horses and killed from ambush October 8, 1873, while going to court. One widow wrote to the Department of Justice that her husband was killed because he was a Union man and "...of the efforts made to screen those who committed a crime..." {US Senate Journal January 13, 1875, pp. 106–107}.

In the North, a live-and-let-live attitude made elections more like a sporting contest. But in the Deep South, many white citizens had not reconciled with the defeat of the war or the granting of citizenship to freedmen. As an Alabama scalawag explained,

Our contest here is for life, for the right to earn our bread...for a decent and respectful consideration as human beings and members of society.[77]

Panic of 1873

The Panic of 1873 hit the Southern economy hard and disillusioned many Republicans who had gambled that railroads would pull the South out of its poverty. The price of cotton fell by half; many small landowners, local merchants and cotton factors (wholesalers) went bankrupt. Sharecropping for black and white farmers became more common as a way to spread the risk of owning land. The old abolitionist element in the North was aging away, or had lost interest, and was not replenished. Many carpetbaggers returned to the North or joined the Redeemers. Blacks had an increased voice in the Republican Party, but across the South it was divided by internal bickering and was rapidly losing its cohesion. Many local black leaders started emphasizing individual economic progress in cooperation with white elites, rather than racial political progress in opposition to them, a conservative attitude that foreshadowed Booker T. Washington.[78]

Nationally, President Grant took the blame for the depression; the Republican Party lost 96 seats in all parts of the country in the 1874 elections. The Bourbon Democrats took control of the House and were confident of electing Samuel J. Tilden president in 1876. President Grant was not running for re-election and seemed to be losing interest in the South. States fell to the Redeemers, with only four in Republican hands in 1873, Arkansas, Louisiana, Mississippi and South Carolina; Arkansas then fell after the Brooks–Baxter War in 1874.

Paramilitary groups allied with Democratic Party

Political violence had been endemic in Louisiana, but in 1874 the white militias coalesced into paramilitary organizations such as the White League, first in parishes of the Red River Valley. A new organization operated openly and had political goals: the violent overthrow of Republican rule and suppression of black voting. White League chapters soon rose in many rural parishes, receiving financing for advanced weaponry from wealthy men. In one example of local violence, the White League assassinated six white Republican officeholders and five to twenty black witnesses outside Coushatta, Red River Parish in 1874. Four of the white men were related to the Republican representative of the parish.[79]

Later in 1874 the White League mounted a serious attempt to unseat the Republican governor of Louisiana, in a dispute that had simmered since the 1872 election. It brought 5000 troops to New Orleans to engage and overwhelm forces of the Metropolitan Police and state militia to turn Republican Governor William P. Kellogg out of office and seat McEnery. The White League took over and held the state house and city hall, but they retreated before the arrival of reinforcing Federal troops. Kellogg had asked for reinforcements before, and Grant finally responded, sending additional troops to try to quell violence throughout plantation areas of the Red River Valley, although 2,000 troops were already in the state.[80]

Similarly, the Red Shirts, another paramilitary group, arose in 1875 in Mississippi and the Carolinas. Like the White League and White Liner rifle clubs, these groups operated as a "military arm of the Democratic Party", to restore white supremacy.[81]

Democrats and many northern Republicans agreed that Confederate nationalism and slavery were dead—the war goals were achieved—and further federal military interference was an undemocratic violation of historic Republican values. The victory of Rutherford Hayes in the hotly contested Ohio gubernatorial election of 1875 indicated his "let alone" policy toward the South would become Republican policy, as happened when he won the 1876 Republican nomination for president.

An explosion of violence accompanied the campaign for the Mississippi's 1875 election, in which Red Shirts and Democratic rifle clubs, operating in the open and without disguise, threatened or shot enough Republicans to decide the election for the Democrats. Republican Governor Adelbert Ames asked Grant for federal troops to fight back; Grant initially refused, saying public opinion was "tired out" of the perpetual troubles in the South. Ames fled the state as the Democrats took over Mississippi.[82]

This was not the end of the violence, however, as the campaigns and elections of 1876 were marked by additional murders and attacks on Republicans in Louisiana, North and South Carolina, and Florida. In South Carolina the campaign season of 1876 was marked by murderous outbreaks and fraud against freedmen. Red Shirts paraded with arms behind Democratic candidates; they killed blacks in the Hamburg and Ellenton SC massacres; and one historian estimated 150 blacks were killed in the weeks before the 1876 election across South Carolina. Red Shirts prevented almost all black voting in two majority-black counties.[83] The Red Shirts were also active in North Carolina.

Election of 1876

Reconstruction continued in South Carolina, Louisiana and Florida until 1877. The elections of 1876 were accompanied by heightened violence across the Deep South. A combination of ballot stuffing and intimidating blacks suppressed their vote even in majority black counties. The White League was active in Louisiana. After Republican Rutherford Hayes won the disputed U.S. Presidential election of 1876, the national Compromise of 1877 was reached.

The white Democrats in the South agreed to accept Hayes's victory if he withdrew the last Federal troops. By this point, the North was weary of insurgency. White Democrats controlled most of the Southern legislatures and armed militias controlled small towns and rural areas. With the white Democrats' passage of disfranchising constitutions and statutes, African Americans who wanted to exercise their legal rights were repeatedly thwarted by white Democrats for most of the next 75 years. They considered Reconstruction a failure because the Federal government withdrew from enforcing their ability to exercise their rights as citizens.[84]

Legacy and historiography

The interpretation of Reconstruction has swung back and forth several times. Nearly all historians hold that Reconstruction ended in failure. It is hard to see Reconstruction "as concluding in anything but failure" says Etcheson (2009)[85] Etcheson adds, "W. E. B. DuBois captured that failure well when he wrote in Black Reconstruction in America (1935): 'The slave went free; stood a brief moment in the sun; then moved back again toward slavery.'" Likewise Eric Foner concludes that from the black point of view, "Reconstruction must be judged a failure."[86]

Some of the repercussions of this failure could be felt all the way through the Civil Rights movement of the mid-20th century. The first wave of Northern historians believed that the former Confederates were traitors and Johnson was their ally who threatened to undo the Union's Constitutional achievements. By the 1880s Northern historians argued that Johnson and his allies were not traitors but blundered badly in rejecting the 14th Amendment and setting the stage for Radical Reconstruction.[87]

The black leader Booker T. Washington, who grew up in West Virginia during Reconstruction, concluded that, "the Reconstruction experiment in racial democracy failed because it began at the wrong end, emphasizing political means and civil rights acts rather than economic means and self-determination."[88] His solution was to concentrate on building the economic infrastructure of the black community, in part by his leadership of Tuskegee Institute. However, historians have discovered that Washington also used his significant resources and called on Northern allies to secretly provide financing and representation in numerous lawsuits that challenged Southern segregation restrictions and constitutional disfranchisement, as in Alabama's Giles v. Harris (1903) and Giles v. Teasley (1904).[89]

In popular literature two novels by Thomas DixonThe Clansman and The Leopard's Spots: A Romance of the White Man's Burden — 1865–1900—romanticized white resistance to Northern/black coercion, hailing vigilante action by the KKK. Other authors romanticized the benevolence of slavery and the happy world of the antebellum plantation. These sentiments were expressed on the screen in D.W. Griffith's anti-Republican 1915 movie The Birth of a Nation.

The Dunning School of scholars based at the history department of Columbia University analyzed Reconstruction as a failure, at least after 1866, for different reasons. They claimed that it took freedoms and rights from qualified whites and gave them to unqualified blacks who were being duped by corrupt carpetbaggers and scalawags. As one scholar notes, "Reconstruction was a battle between two extremes: the Democrats, as the group which included the vast majority of the whites, standing for decent government and racial supremacy, versus the Republicans, the Negroes, alien carpetbaggers, and renegade scalawags, standing for dishonest government and alien ideals. These historians wrote literally in terms of white and black."[90]

In the 1930s revisionism became popular among scholars. As disciples of Charles A. Beard, revisionists focused on economics, downplaying politics and constitutional issues. They argued that the Radical rhetoric of equal rights was mostly a smokescreen hiding the true motivation of Reconstruction's real backers. Howard K. Beale argued Reconstruction was primarily a successful attempt by financiers, railroad builders and industrialists in the Northeast, using the Republican Party, to control the national government for their own selfish economic ends. Those ends were to continue the wartime high protective tariff, the new network of national banks and to guarantee a sound currency. To succeed the business class had to remove the old ruling agrarian class of Southern planters and Midwestern farmers. This it did by inaugurating Reconstruction, which made the South Republican, and by selling its policies to the voters wrapped up in such attractive vote-getting packages as Northern patriotism or the bloody shirt. Historian William Hesseltine added the point that the Northeastern businessmen wanted to control the South economically, which they did through ownership of the railroads.[91] However, historians in the 1950s and 1960s refuted Beale's economic causation by demonstrating that Northern businessmen were widely divergent on monetary or tariff policy, and seldom paid attention to Reconstruction issues.[92]

The black scholar W. E. B. Du Bois, in his Black Reconstruction in America, 1860–1880, published in 1935, compared results across the states to show achievements by the Reconstruction legislatures and to refute claims about wholesale African-American control of governments. He showed black contributions, as in the establishment of universal public education, charitable and social institutions and universal suffrage as important results, and he noted their collaboration with whites. He also pointed out that whites benefited most by the financial deals made, and he put excesses in the perspective of the war's aftermath. He noted that despite complaints, several states kept their Reconstruction constitutions for nearly a quarter of a century. Despite receiving favorable reviews, his work was largely ignored by white historians.

In the 1960s neoabolitionist historians emerged, led by John Hope Franklin, Kenneth Stampp and Eric Foner. Influenced by the Civil Rights Movement, they rejected the Dunning school and found a great deal to praise in Radical Reconstruction. Foner, the primary advocate of this view, argued that it was never truly completed, and that a Second Reconstruction was needed in the late 20th century to complete the goal of full equality for African Americans. The neo-abolitionists followed the revisionists in minimizing the corruption and waste created by Republican state governments, saying it was no worse than Boss Tweed's ring in New York City.[93]

Instead they emphasized that suppression of the rights of African Americans was a worse scandal and a grave corruption of America's republican ideals. They argued that the tragedy of Reconstruction was not that it failed because blacks were incapable of governing, especially as they did not dominate any state government, but that it failed because whites raised an insurgent movement to restore white supremacy. White elite-dominated state legislatures passed disfranchising constitutions from 1890 to 1908 that effectively barred most blacks and many poor whites from voting. This disfranchisement affected millions of people for decades into the 20th century, and closed African Americans and poor whites out of the political process in the South.[94][95]

Re-establishment of white supremacy meant that within a decade people forgot that blacks were creating thriving middle classes in many states of the South. African Americans' lack of representation meant they were treated as second-class citizens, with schools and services consistently underfunded in segregated societies, no representation on juries or in law enforcement, and bias in other legislation. It was not until the Civil Rights Movement and the passage of Federal legislation that African Americans regained their suffrage and civil rights in the South, under what is sometimes referred to as the "Second Reconstruction."

More recent work by Nina Silber, David W. Blight, Cecelia O'Leary, Laura Edwards, LeeAnn Whites and Edward J. Blum, has encouraged greater attention to race, religion and issues of gender while at the same time pushing the end of Reconstruction to the end of the 19th century, while monographs by Charles Reagan Wilson, Gaines Foster, W. Scott Poole and Bruce Baker have offered new views of the Southern "Lost Cause".[96]

While 1877 is the usual date given for the end of Reconstruction, some historians extend the era to the 1890s.[97] Reconstruction is unanimously considered a failure, though the reason for this is a matter of controversy.

Reconstruction state-by-state – significant dates

Only Georgia has a separate article about its experiences under Reconstruction. The other state names below link to a specific section in the state history article about the Reconstruction era.

Article on Reconstruction in each State Seceded from Union Joined Confederacy Readmitted into Union Democratic Party Establishes Control
South Carolina December 20, 1860 February 4, 1861 July 9, 1868 April 11, 1877
Mississippi January 9, 1861 February 4, 1861 February 23, 1870 January 4, 1876
Florida January 10, 1861 February 4, 1861 June 25, 1868 January 2, 1877
Alabama January 11, 1861 February 4, 1861 July 14, 1868 November 16, 1874
Georgia January 19, 1861 February 4, 1861 July 15, 1870 November 1, 1871
Louisiana January 26, 1861 February 4, 1861 June 25 or July 9, 1868 January 2, 1877
Texas February 1, 1861 March 2, 1861 March 30, 1870 January 14, 1873
Virginia April 17, 1861 May 7, 1861 January 26, 1870 October 5, 1869
Arkansas May 6, 1861 May 18, 1861 June 22, 1868 November 10, 1874
North Carolina May 21, 1861 May 16, 1861 July 4, 1868 November 28, 1870
Tennessee June 8, 1861 May 16, 1861 July 24, 1866 October 4, 1869


  1. ^ In recent decades most historians follow Foner (1988) in dating the reconstruction of the South as starting in 1863 and ending in 1877.
  2. ^ Except in Tennessee.
  3. ^ Not including Virginia
  4. ^ A somewhat similar "reconstruction" process took place in the border states of Missouri and Kentucky, but they never left the Union and were never controlled by Congress.
  5. ^ Nicholas Lemann, Redemption: The Last Battle of the Civil War, (2007), pp 75–77
  6. ^ Thomas B. Alexander, "Persistent Whiggery in the Confederate South, 1860-1877," Journal of Southern History, Vol. 27, No. 3 (Aug., 1961), pp. 305-329 in JSTOR
  7. ^ Allen W. Trelease, "Republican Reconstruction in North Carolina: A Roll-Call Analysis of the State House of Representatives, 1866-1870", Journal of Southern History, Vol. XLII, No. 3 (Aug. 1976)
  8. ^ Donald, Civil War and Reconstruction (2001) ch 26
  9. ^ Eric Foner, "If Lincoln Hadn't Died," American Heritage (2009) Vol. 58, Issue 6; Simpson (2009); William C. Harris, With Charity for All: Lincoln and the Restoration of the Union (1999)
  10. ^ All blacks would be counted in 1870, whether or not they were citizens.
  11. ^ Valelly, Richard M. (2004). The Two Reconstructions: The struggle for black enfranchisement. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. p. 29. ISBN 0-226-84530-3.; Hans Trefouse, The Radical republicans (1975).
  12. ^ Donald, Civil War and Reconstruction (2001); Hans L. Trefousse, Andrew Johnson: A Biography (1998)
  13. ^ Donald, Civil War and Reconstruction (2001) ch 26–27
  14. ^ Donald, Civil War and Reconstruction (2001) ch 28–29
  15. ^ Donald, Civil War and Reconstruction (2001) ch 29
  16. ^ Donald, Civil War and Reconstruction (2001) ch 30
  17. ^ Harris, With Charity for All (1999)
  18. ^ Foner 1988 pp 273–6
  19. ^ William Gienapp, Abraham Lincoln and Civil War America (2002), p. 155
  20. ^ Patton p126
  21. ^ Johnson to Gov. William L. Sharkey, August 1865 quoted in Franklin (1961), p. 42
  22. ^ Donald, Charles Sumner pg. 201
  23. ^ Ayers pg. 418
  24. ^ James D. Anderson, The Education of Blacks in the South, 1860–1935, pp.244–245
  25. ^ Randall and Donald p. 581
  26. ^ Eric Foner, Freedom's lawmakers: a directory of Black officeholders during Reconstruction (1993)
  27. ^ Ellen DuBois, Feminism and suffrage: The emergence of an independent women's movement in America (1978)
  28. ^ Glenn Feldman, The Disfranchisement Myth: Poor Whites and Suffrage Restriction in Alabama, (2004), p.136.
  29. ^ Trefousse c1989
  30. ^ see
  31. ^ Barney, William L., The Passage of the Republic: An Interdisciplinary History of Nineteenth-Century America (1987), p. 245
  32. ^ Donald, Civil War and Reconstruction (2001) ch 31
  33. ^ Oberholtzer 1:128–9
  34. ^ Donald (2001) p. 527
  35. ^ Barney, The Passage of the Republic, p. 251, pp. 284–286
  36. ^ Report on the Condition of the South / Schurz, Carl, 1829–1906:
  37. ^ Rhodes, History 6:65–66
  38. ^ Rhodes, History 6:68
  39. ^ See [1] based America's Reconstruction: People and Politics After the Civil War, by Eric Foner and Olivia Mahoney. Online source is: [2]
  40. ^ Trefousse 1989
  41. ^ Fellman (2003) pp 301–310; Foner (1988) entitles his chapter 6, "The Making of Radical Reconstruction." Trefousse (1968) and Hyman (1967) put "Radical Republicans" in the title. Benedict (1974) argues the Radical Republicans were conservative on many other issues.
  42. ^ Foner 1988 ch 6
  43. ^ Gabriel J. Chin, "The 'Voting Rights Act of 1867': The Constitutionality of Federal Regulation of Suffrage During Reconstruction," 82 North Carolina Law Review 1581 (2004)
  44. ^ Foner 1988, ch 6–7
  45. ^ Randolph Campbell, Gone to Texas 2003 p. 276.
  46. ^ Rhodes (1920) v 6 p. 199
  47. ^ Georgia had a Republican governor and legislature, but the Republican hegemony was tenuous at best, and Democrats continued to win presidential elections there. See 1834 March 28 article in This Day in Georgia History compiled by Ed Jackson and Charles Pou; cf. Rufus Bullock.
  48. ^ Foner 1988 ch 7; Foner, Freedom's Lawmakers, introduction.
  49. ^ The statistics of the population of the United States, embracing the tables of race, nationality, sex, selected ages, and occupations. To which are added the statistics of school attendance and illiteracy, of schools, libraries, newspapers, periodicals, churches, pauperism and crime, and of areas, families, and dwellings Table 1. United States Census Bureau. Last Retrieved 2007-10-20
  50. ^ W. E. B. Du Bois, Black Reconstruction in America, 1860–1880. (1935)
  51. ^ James D. Anderson, The Education of Blacks in the South, 1860–1935. (1988), pp. 6–15
  52. ^ Foner 365–8
  53. ^ Franklin 139
  54. ^ McAfee 1998
  55. ^ a b Lynch 1913
  56. ^ Foner 387
  57. ^ Franklin pp 141–48; Summers 1984
  58. ^ Stover 1955
  59. ^ Franklin p147–8
  60. ^ Foner 375
  61. ^ Foner 376
  62. ^ Foner 415–16
  63. ^ Fleming online at
  64. ^ T. Harry Williams, An Analysis of Reconstruction Attitudes" Jstor
  65. ^ Walter Lynwood Fleming, Documentary History of the Reconstruction (Cleveland, 1907), II, pp. 328–9
  66. ^ Oberholtzer, vol 1 p 485
  67. ^ J. W. Schuckers, The Life and Public Services of Salmon Portland Chase, (1874). p. 585; letter of May 30, 1868 to August Belmont
  68. ^ McPherson 1975
  69. ^ Foner 537–41
  70. ^ Foner 374–5
  71. ^ Richard H. Pildes, "Democracy, Anti-Democracy, and the Canon", Constitutional Commentary, Vol.17, 2000, pp. 10 and 27, accessed 10 Mar 2008
  72. ^ Lynch 1915
  73. ^ Richard H. Pildes, "Democracy, Anti-Democracy, and the Canon", Constitutional Commentary, Vol.17, 2000, pp. 12–13, accessed 10 Mar 2008
  74. ^ Perman 1984, ch 3
  75. ^ Foner, ch 9
  76. ^ Nicholas Lemann, Redemption: The Last Battle of the Civil War, New York: Farrar, Strauss & Giroux, Pbk. 2007, pp. 15–21
  77. ^ Foner p 443
  78. ^ Foner p545–7
  79. ^ Danielle Alexander, "Forty Acres and a Mule: The Ruined Hope of Reconstruction", Humanities, January/February 2004, vol.25/No.1, accessed 14 Apr 2008
  80. ^ Foner 555–56
  81. ^ George C. Rable, But There Was No Peace: The Role of Violence in the Politics of Reconstruction, Athens: University of Georgia Press, 1984, p.132
  82. ^ Foner ch 11
  83. ^ Nicholas Lemann, Redemption: The Last Battle of the Civil War, New York: Farrar, Strauss & Giroux, paperback, 2007, p.174
  84. ^ Foner 604
  85. ^ Nicole Etcheson, "Reconstruction and the Making of a Free-Labor South," Reviews in American History, Volume 37, Number 2, June 2009
  86. ^ Foner, A Short History of Reconstruction (1990) p. 255. Foner adds, "What remains certain is that Reconstruction failed, and that for blacks its failure was a disaster whose magnitude cannot be obscured by the accomplishments that endured." p. 256
  87. ^ Fletcher M. Green, "Walter Lynwood Fleming: Historian of Reconstruction," The Journal of Southern History, Vol. 2, No. 4. (Nov., 1936), pp. 497–521.
  88. ^ Louis R. Harlan, Booker T. Washington in Perspective (1988) p. 164; A. A. Taylor, "Historians of the Reconstruction," The Journal of Negro History Vol. 23, No. 1. (Jan., 1938), pp. 16–34.
  89. ^ Richard H. Pildes, Democracy, Anti-Democracy, and the Canon, Constitutional Commentary, vol. 17, 2000, pp. 13–14 Accessed 10 Mar 2008
  90. ^ Williams 1946 p. 473; Green (1936).
  91. ^ Williams 1946 p470
  92. ^ Foner 1982; Montgomery, vii–ix)
  93. ^ Williams, 469; Foner p. xxii
  94. ^ Glenn Feldman, The Disfranchisement Myth: Poor Whites and Suffrage Restriction in Alabama, Athens: University of Georgia Press, 2004, pp. 135–136
  95. ^ Richard H. Pildes, "Democracy, Anti-Democracy, and the Canon", Constitutional Commentary, Vol.17, 2000, p.27, accessed 15 Mar 2008
  96. ^ Bruce E. Baker, What Reconstruction Meant: Historical Memory in the American South (2007); Thomas J. Brown, ed. Reconstructions: New Perspectives on the Postbellum United States (2008)
  97. ^ See, e.g., Orville Vernon Burton, The Age of Lincoln (2007), p. 312.
  98. ^ See Vernon Burton, "Civil War and Reconstruction," in William L. Barney, ed. A Companion to 19th-century America (2006) pp 54-56.


Secondary sources


Primary sources

Newspapers and magazines

Basic further reading

For much more detail see Reconstruction: Bibliography