Did Reconstruction help or hurt the South and why?  

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The answer to this question is not straightforward. In some ways, Reconstruction helped the South. By providing a path to reintegration with the Union, the former Confederate states partially moved beyond their rebellious past. Reconstruction allowed for clemency for former rebel leaders and soldiers. It provided a path to create...

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The answer to this question is not straightforward. In some ways, Reconstruction helped the South. By providing a path to reintegration with the Union, the former Confederate states partially moved beyond their rebellious past. Reconstruction allowed for clemency for former rebel leaders and soldiers. It provided a path to create state governments and draft state constitutions. In this sense, Reconstruction brought an end to the destructive rebellion.

Reconstruction also allowed for the rebuilding of the Southern economy. Industry had never before been much of a focus in the region. During Reconstruction, capital investments from the North and overseas led to the creation of a growing industrial sector. With more products being produced in the South, the railroad was expanded to more Southern cities. This helped fuel the Southern economy more by allowing farmers to transport their produce to distant markets. Some farmers received opportunities to expand as larger plantations were subdivided.

In other ways, Reconstruction hurt the South. The newly freed black population was not welcomed by most white southerners. This led to the rise of violent white supremacist groups which set out to re-subjugate newly freed slaves. Internal divisions heightened as questions of how to live in a free society went unanswered. Ill feelings towards the federal government were high as many saw its involvement in Reconstruction as a violation of the sovereignty that they had hoped to achieve in their failed rebellion. Southerners also harbored much resentment towards the northern carpetbaggers who came South.

Ultimately, Reconstruction failed to integrate the former slave population into the fabric of Southern society. When the efforts finally came to an end in 1877, most African Americans were left without any protections. This resulted in a century of legalized subjugation. It can be argued that Reconstruction's failure hurt the South because it failed to rectify a racially stratified society.

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Reconstruction refers a twelve year period after the Civil War, lasting from 1865-77. During this time the North implemented its plans to rebuild the newly conquered South, to reorganize it after the end of slavery, and to reintegrate into the United States.

In terms of reintegration of the eleven rebel states into the union, this was an unqualified success. The states were readmitted seamlessly and the country knit back together as a strong political whole. Legally, too, the period was successful in granting blacks full and equal citizenship under the law, including the Constitutional right for all black men to vote. The Constitution was also amended to bar slavery, except in prisons. These were extraordinarily important and decisive acts.

As long as the U.S. army had a presence in the Southern states, blacks were offered a measure of protection and, initially, were allowed to vote and be elected to government offices. This time period and its increased rights had a great impact in forwarding the movement to integrate black Americans as equal citizens.

However, when it came to reorganizing and rebuilding the Southern economy and ensuring that blacks would be able to exercise their newly won rights, coexisting as equals with whites, Reconstruction failed. It ended too soon, and ultimately, allowed "state's rights" to trump federal interests. Once the former southern slave-owning classes realized they could seize control of their legislatures and enact whatever laws they wanted, they worked aggressively to disenfranchise blacks and turn them into second class citizens little better than slaves. The lack of a strong industrial base due to decades of agriculture also meant that, to this day, some former rebel states remain among the very poorest in the nation.

The record, therefore, remains mixed: when the federal government acted cleanly and strongly, such as in fully reintegrating the southern states and granting former slaves full citizenship, Reconstruction was a success, but where it was weak in implementing its intentions, such as backing down after a strong start on enforcing black equality as more than a paper concept, Reconstruction failed.

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Depending on your point of view, Reconstruction can be viewed as harmful or helpful to the South. I will explain both points of view so you can then make a decision.

There are ways Reconstruction helped the South. Before the Civil War, the South’s economy was primarily agricultural. After the Civil War, the economy of the South became more diverse. New industries were built in the South. While the South still had a lot of farming, there were other kinds of jobs available as a result of Reconstruction. Another change is that the railroads expanded into the South as a result of Reconstruction. Before Reconstruction, most people traveled in the South by water. Most products were shipped by water. That changed after Reconstruction. African-Americans also got new freedoms and new rights. African-American males could vote, and some held political office. While some of these improvements were temporary, it was a step forward.

It could be argued that Reconstruction hurt the South. The South regressed after Reconstruction ended. The attitudes of many white southerners didn’t change. Many of the rights African-Americans had gained were eliminated or significantly curtailed. Reconstruction created a lot of resentment in the South. Many southerners believed that Reconstruction was forced upon them. They rebelled against the Republican Party and refused to vote for their candidates for many years. This led to the development of hate groups such as the KKK, which thrived in the South for a significant period of time. Some southerners believed the growth of industries ruined the southern way of life. The rural and relaxed atmosphere was changed to some degree by the expansion of industries into the South.

Now it is your turn to decide. Did Reconstruction help or hurt the South?

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