How did Northerners feel about Reconstruction?

On the whole, Northerners were initially supportive of Reconstruction. Over time, however, they lose interest in the policy and wanted to move on. In due course, this led to the abandonment of African Americans in the South, who were then subjected to slavery in a new guise under the Jim Crow laws.

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When Reconstruction began after the end of the Civil War, most Northerners were in support of it. The war had been fought in large part in order to preserve the Union, and it was necessary that the former rebellious Southern states be brought back in.

However, ideas of how this should be done differed among Northerners. Some felt that clemency should be given and that the former Confederate states be brought back into the Union as seamlessly as possible. This approach was favored by President Andrew Johnson. Others, such as the Radical Republicans in Congress and abolitionists, wanted to completely remake the South and protect the newly won rights of the former slaves there. Throughout the Reconstruction period, these two approaches would be at constant odds with each other.

Although Northerners initially were in favor of one type of Reconstruction or the other, enthusiasm waned as time went on. By the 1870s, many people in the North were growing impatient with the process. Many did not care at all that the Black population in the South continued to be abused and felt that the continued presence of federal soldiers there was a waste of resources. To Northerners, the Civil War had been a costly and traumatic event. As time went on, they began to see Reconstruction as a painful and seemingly unnecessary continuation of the conflict. This change in attitudes led many Northerners to accept Reconstruction's end in 1877, despite its failure to secure protections for Black people in the South.

Last Updated by eNotes Editorial on February 23, 2021
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As a policy, Reconstruction was always heavily dependent for its success on the sustained application of political energy. In turn, this was dependent on the support of the people of the North. So long as they supported the policy, politicians would continue to devote time and energy to making sure that it worked as effectively as possible.

In the immediate aftermath of the Civil War, this wasn't a problem. Reconstruction enjoyed wide public support and was generally seen as a proportionate response to the challenges of the post-war years. The general consensus was that Reconstruction was necessary to stop the South from rising again and to protect the civil rights of the newly emancipated slaves.

Over time, however, support for Reconstruction began to wane among Northerners. Most of them wanted to move on from the war and felt that Reconstruction was a constant reminder of it. Also, many Northerners—white Northerners, to be precise—felt that enough had already been done to ensure that the freed slaves had been granted their civil rights. There was therefore no longer any need, they felt, for Reconstruction agencies and organizations such as the Freedmen's Bureau.

It should be noted that many white Northerners, like their Southern counterparts, were white supremacists. As such, they did not believe in substantive equality—in terms of employment, housing, and land ownership—between the races. As far as Northern opinion was concerned, African Americans were only entitled to formal, legal equality and nothing more.

As Northerners lost interest in Reconstruction, politicians took note. When it became obvious to the Republicans that the policy no longer commanded wide support, they quietly abandoned it. In doing so, they effectively abandoned African Americans in the South, leaving them at the mercy of white supremacists in the state legislatures. They proceeded to reintroduce the substance of slavery if not the form, in the shape of the notorious Jim Crow laws, which would keep African Americans in a state of subjection for the better part of a hundred years.

Last Updated by eNotes Editorial on February 23, 2021
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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.


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