Reconstruction: A missed opportunity? A time of tragedy? A time of hope?
Reconstruction can be viewed from many different angles. Some people would say it was a missed opportunity. Others would say it was a tragedy. Finally, it could be viewed as a time of hope. I will explain each viewpoint so you can make an informed decision.
Reconstruction can be viewed as a missed opportunity. After the Civil War ended, the time was excellent to bring about permanent, positive changes in the South. While some long lasting changes were made such as the ending of slavery, some of the key ideas that could have brought about lasting change were only temporary. When the southern states passed the Jim Crow Laws after Reconstruction ended, and when voting restrictions were put into effect denying African-Americans the opportunity to vote, a chance to bring about real change was missed.
Some people feel Reconstruction was a time of tragedy. Part of the reason for this belief was that an opportunity was missed to bring about permanent changes that would have significantly improved conditions in the South. By passing Jim Crow Laws, African-Americans would be treated again like second-class citizens. African-Americans were be threatened and intimidated. They wouldn’t have equal rights for nearly 100 years. Other southerners viewed Reconstruction as a time of tragedy because Reconstruction forever altered the way of life in the South. Some southerners believed in white, racial superiority. With the ending of slavery and with some of the other temporary changes that were made, the idea of whites controlling the freedom of blacks was gone forever. Even with the restrictions that were put in place, the seeds of freedom and equality were planted, and for some southerners, this wasn’t viewed in a positive manner. Some people also longed for the days when the South was almost exclusively an agricultural region. With Reconstruction, more industries developed. The development of industries changed the southern way of life to some degree.
Reconstruction can also be viewed as a time of hope. The changes that were made during Reconstruction gave people hope that there could be equality in the South in the future. When African-Americans were allowed to vote, this was a huge step. African-American males also won elections for political offices. There also were more job opportunities available for the African-Americans. Reconstruction showed our people that it was a possible to have a society where all races were treated as equals. This gave people hope that one day in the future an equal society would exist in the South. If equality was achieved temporarily, there was no reason why it couldn’t be achieved permanently.
Now that you have all of the viewpoints regarding Reconstruction, how do you view Reconstruction?
The Reconstruction Period (the years immediately following the American Civil War) could be seen as a missed opportunity, a time of tragedy, or a time of hope, depending on your perspective.
From the eyes of the conquered Confederacy, it was a time of tragedy. The victorious United States, after defeating the southern states and freeing the slaves, enacted a series of laws that were designed to protect blacks from persecution and manage the southern states. These states saw such laws as stripping them of their power and way of life.
From the eyes of the North, and especially in the eyes of the newly-freed slaves, the Reconstruction Period was one of hope: The power of the United States had ended the uprising and spread civil liberties to those who did not have them before.
In hindsight, though, the Reconstruction Period is largely seen as a missed opportunity. Newly-freed slaves still faced discrimination through Jim Crow Laws and were terrorized by the Ku Klux Klan.