How did northerners feel about Reconstruction?

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jameadows eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The northern attitudes about Reconstruction changed over time. After the Civil War ended in 1865, many Northerners believed that they had to rebuild the South to make sure it was reformed. They pushed for the 13th, 14th, and 15th Amendments to, respectively, end slavery, confer citizenship on former slaves, and give all men the right to vote. In addition, the federal government established the Freedmen's Bureau in 1865 to help former slaves reunite with lost family members; over time, the Freedmen's Bureau tried to teach former slaves to read and write. However, Reconstruction did not generally involve providing most former slaves with land, and many southerners sought to overturn the gains that African-Americans had made during Reconstruction by instituting Black Codes. These laws often tied former slaves to plantations and did not permit them to work freely; the laws also limited the right of former slaves to vote and to exercise other rights.

In 1867, the federal government instituted Military Reconstruction, which carved the south (except Tennessee) into five military districts, each overseen by a Northern general. The southern states were required to pass the 14th Amendment and to create new state delegations and constitutions. The southern states were all permitted to rejoin the union by 1870.

By the 1870s, many northerners began to lose interest in Reconstruction for several reasons. First, some felt that they had done all they could to help former slaves with the passage of the 13th, 14th, and 15th Amendments and the establishment of the Freedman's Bureau and Military Reconstruction. Second, violence in the south conducted by the KKK and other forces was weakening the power of the Freedman's Bureau, which was terminated in the early 1870s. Finally, the Panic of 1873, a financial crisis, lessened northerners' interest in spending more federal funds to reconstruct the south. Reconstruction ended in 1877 with the election of President Hayes. The 1876 election, between the Democrat Samuel Tilden and the Republican Rutherford Hayes, was disputed. In exchange for allowing Hayes to be President, the Republicans agreed to withdraw federal troops from the south, ending Reconstruction. This agreement is known as the Compromise of 1877.