The first drafting of the Reconstruction plan belongs to Abraham Lincoln, who was assassinated, as historians now believe when the full-fledged Reconstruction began. Lincoln’s plan was complex and took into account the political aspect, first of all, since Lincoln wanted to weaken the Confederacy. The period of Reconstruction, 1865 to 1877, is divided by historians into a political period (1865-1867) and a revolutionary period (1867-1877). Reconstruction had a significant impact on US citizens’ political and social life. Reconstruction revolved around the most important public issue that caused great resonance: voting. In addition, Reconstruction changed relations between the states, exposing some of the conflicts. Reconstruction had a severe impact on American society later on, and views on this period changed repeatedly. African Americans freed from slavery became freedmen and needed community support to integrate; they needed jobs and education. Reconstruction harmed the lives of the then-African Americans, but later showed how strongly society is ready to resist the new values of freedom from slavery.
The 14th Amendment to the Constitution enshrines the rights of US citizens to the same protection and the same rights by birth in the country. The adoption of this Amendment was facilitated by the passage of the Civil Rights Act. Congress passed this act, although then-President Andrew Johnson vetoed the act. This and Johnson’s other decisions negatively impacted his reputation and reduced his popularity and support. Johnson ignored the concerns of African Americans and viewed Reconstruction as a purely political process. While most popular politicians promoted Reconstruction for the sake of African American freedom and social change, Johnson prevented the development of social movements, one of which was the Freedmen’s Bureau (Rogowski 2018). Nevertheless, the 14th Amendment consolidated the equalizing principle of citizens and contributed to the resolution of the racial issue in the legislative field.
The Freedmen’s Bureau was established in 1865 after the Civil War. The heads of the Bureau were the military, who were engaged in social work (Sobnosky 2018). The Bureau’s purpose was to help African Americans in the period of transition from slavery to freedom and full integration into society. African Americans had to find work; their children had to go to school. Later research by Rogowski (2018) showed that “The Bureau’s geographic locations were associated with more favorable educational and economic outcomes and greater political influence for Black individuals” (24). Bureau workers built schools, churches, and universities and helped the poor Caucasian population.
Oliver Howard, preaching Christian values, created the Bureau and made legal support one of the aspects of helping African Americans. However, these aspirations were not successful, as the Bureau could not win the support of lawyers and judges. The Bureau tried to fight against sharecropping, but the court decisions were not in favor of African Americans. At the highest political level, African Americans could not get the promised lands: “After complication with President Johnson’s demands, much of the land given to freedmen was restored to whites” (Sobnosky 2018, 6) In addition, with each year of the development of the Bureau, the dissatisfaction and hostility of white southerners grew, which subsequently became radicalized.
The government refused to take responsibility for the refugees, although their numbers were huge. President Johnson saw the Bureau as a burden and was not interested in the issues. In his opinion, the workers and leaders of the Bureau were too sympathetic to African Americans. Rogowski (2018) postulates, “The Bureau was too successful in advancing the rights and status of freed Blacks such that northern whites were responsive to calls for its disbandment” (25). Meanwhile, workers were subjected to ridicule and violence from a hostile population. By 1872 the Bureau was closed, and some people accused the workers of corruption.
Success of Reconstruction
Reconstruction was a vibrant period that allowed African Americans to hold important positions, vote in elections, and voice their concerns. However, society could not abruptly accept such radical and total changes in all areas. Revolts of the disaffected rose and developed into organized social movements with a complex structure. One such movement was the Ku Klux Klan, responsible for murders and terrorist attacks (Virginia Museum of History & Culture 2022). Violence has always accompanied such organizations and racism, and accompanies it now: “These beliefs are still present through white violence and discrimination toward blacks” (Sobnosky 2018, 8). A century later, it seems evident that society will not accept such drastic changes, but the then rulers were hungry for reform and did not know, perhaps, how best to implement them. By the beginning of Reconstruction, the slave system was a wound on the whole of American society, and it seemed that it was necessary to act immediately; Reconstruction cannot be called a successful reform period. Still, it must be justified for several reasons, since many of the problems that prevented Reconstruction from flourishing were exposed only much later, in the 20th and 21st centuries.
Reconstruction, which lasted from 1865 to 1877, is a spectacular attempt to change traditional social patterns. With the help of passionate figures such as Abraham Lincoln and Oliver Howard, they took steps to free African Americans from the shackles of slavery. However, the work of integrating African-Americans into society turned out to be much harder than expected, and the Caucasian population was losing ground too quickly to which it had become accustomed. Congress adopted amendments and acts on civil rights at the political level, which, unfortunately, were not further developed. Far from prominent figures, the Freedmen’s Bureau lacked legal and financial support. People can analyze the success of Reconstruction in detail a century later. Against the background of the 20th and 21st centuries, this attempt seems to be one of the most important and striking.
Rogowski, Jon. 2018. “Reconstruction and the state: The political and economic consequences of the freedmen’s bureau.” In annual meeting of the American Political Science Association, Boston, MA.
Sobnosky, Jennifer. 2018. “The Bumpy Highway to Freedom: US Reconstruction and the Freedmen’s Bureau.” Line by Line: A Journal of Beginning Student Writing 5, no. 1.
Virginia Museum of History & Culture. “The Record of Murders and Outrages: Racial Violence and the Fight over Truth during Reconstruction”, YouTube Video, 1:01:10, Web.