Discuss the controversies related to the era of Reconstruction, 1865–1877. What were the various positions and reconstruction plans held by political leaders regarding the South's readmission to the Union? What efforts were made to protect Black rights? Was it just for the North to use coercion against the white South to protect Black rights? Why or why not? Was Reconstruction successful? Why or why not?

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The era of Reconstruction marked a time of radical attempts by abolitionists, left-wing politicians, and activists to advance Black rights and power throughout the South that were ultimately largely overturned through racist violence. It was also a turbulent political era as the United States government worked to bring Confederate states back into the Union and back under federal control.

In regard to the South's readmission into the Union, in 1863, Lincoln devised the Ten Percent Plan, in which at least ten percent of a state's citizens who were eligible to vote prior to the Civil War had to swear an oath of renewed loyalty to the United States. Many of the Republicans of congress believed the plan was far too lenient and, in 1864, introduced the Wade-Davis Bill. This bill would require every state to formally abolish slavery and require a majority of eligible citizens, rather than just ten percent, to swear loyalty to the Union. Lincoln vetoed the bill.

While Lincoln is known as the "Great Emancipator," he was, in fact, racist (linked is a speech by Lincoln that exemplifies his truly anti-Black positions) and pushed back against many radical Republicans and abolitionists of the time. In fact, after the Civil War ended, Lincoln addressed the question of Black voting rights by saying he supported only a limited amount of Black suffrage and specified that only "very intelligent" Black men should be allowed to vote. Lincoln's interests were far more aligned with reasserting federal control than assuring Black liberation. He was, at best, a political moderate of his time.

Land redistribution from plantation owners to newly freed Black people was initially rather successful in some areas across the South. Through General William Sherman's Special Field Order Number 15 of 1865, over 400,000 acres of abandoned or Union seized plantation land across several Southern states were redistributed to formally enslaved people. This land redistribution was one of the most radical actions of the Reconstruction era and allowed newly freed Black people to finally have some autonomy over their lives and communities.

The Freedman's Bureau was established by the Republican majority of Congress in 1865 to help ensure the protection and elevation of Black rights. Tragically, once Andrew Johnson became president in 1865, Sherman's order was reversed. After Andrew Johnson's rise to presidency, Black Codes were created and brutally enforced across the South, rendering the fourteenth and fifteenth amendments of Reconstruction practically useless under the reestablished white supremacist reign.

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