Explain how and why Reconstruction policies changed over time.
Reconstruction began during the Civil War and ended in 1877, marking one of the most controversial periods of American history. Reconstruction was a means of answering the following problems raised by the Northern victory:
- What will happen to former slaves? What is their new status?
- What will replace slavery as a system of labor?
- How can the Confederacy and Union be reunited as a nation?
What followed was an active effort by former slaves to shape their new freedom and to step into their rights as American citizens. However, the Reconstruction plan of President Andrew Johnson in 1865 put these new freedoms at risk and gave rebels in the South dangerous levels of political power.
Congress created new laws between 1866 and 1869. These include the 14th and 15th amendments, which guaranteed civil rights for black individuals and the right to vote for black men.
However, the commitment to change did not last forever. The North eventually abandoned their efforts to protect the rights of the newly freed individuals. This resulted in the end of Reconstruction and the dawn of a new era for white supremacy in the South. Societies meant to suppress civil rights covertly started (including the Ku Klux Klan), marking a period of terrorism and violence.