Explain the significance of Reconstruction for the nation's future.

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pholland14 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Reconstruction demonstrated that the federal government could get involved in civil rights.  Through the passage of the Thirteenth, Fourteenth, and Fifteenth Amendments, African Americans went from being slaves to citizens who could legally vote.  All of this took place over five years.  Reconstruction also demonstrated that the nation could put itself back together even after war had claimed over six hundred thousand of its most productive citizens.  Reconstruction also gave the United States the power to deliver direct aid to some of its most vulnerable citizens through the Freedmen's Bureau.  

Reconstruction also demonstrated that the nation still had problems.  The South did not honor African American voting and would not ratify new state constitutions without the military being stationed there.  After the army left in 1877, African American political participation fell dramatically as states put legal barriers in the way and groups such as the Ku Klux Klan sought to intimidate the newly enfranchised black voters.  The South still remained poor after Reconstruction, as there was little there to invite Northern investment capital.  While segregation happened in the North as well, the South instituted it on a larger scale; this forced separation would last for nearly another one hundred years.  

kgwrotethis | Student

Reconstruction was the period from 1863-1877 focused on readmitting the former rebel states back into the Union. In 1858, Abraham Lincoln stated that "a house divided against itself cannot stand" half free and half slave and thus came war in 1861 after the secession of 11 southern states. The readmittance of states began in 1863 with Tennessee and continued after the rebel surrender in 1865.

Reconstruction of that formerly divided house was not just bringing states back into the Union but also upholding the tenets of the Declaration of Independence and the U.S. Constitution for the newly freed enslaved persons. Reconstruction produced three Constitutional Amendments.

The 13th Amendment abolished slavery.

The 14th Amendment granted citizenship and equal protection of laws.

The 15th Amendment allowed universal male suffrage for men over 21 years old regardless of "race, color, or previous condition of servitude".

However, Reconstruction was a failure to achieve the progress desired by the Radical Republicans. Loss of interest in rebuilding a south resisting northern governance which meant making blacks equals to whites contributed to a deal which would end the federally controlled south. Some states in the Election of 1876 produced two slates of electors and deciding which to accept led to an electoral commission which made the Compromise of 1877 that gave the White House to the popular vote loser, the Republican Rutherford B. Hayes, and removed the federal political and troop presence in the South dominated by the Democratic Party. This would leave the South to govern themselves and stop the progress of the freedmen which would last essentially until 1968.

Reconstruction is significant to the nation's future because its failure would lead to the development of a segregated United States where blacks were treated as second class citizens. Black Americans in the South would lose newly gained rights and political power as the 14th and 15th Amendments are not upheld in the former rebel states. The Supreme Court would rule in Plessy v. Ferguson (1896) that states had the right to segregate public accommodations and transportation so long as they are "separate but equal".

By 1954 with Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka, Kansas, things would finally begin to change. The Civil Rights Movement, led by Martin Luther King Jr., began to fix what Reconstruction could not successfully implement, the protection of the rights of all its citizens.