Was Reconstruction a success or a failure? Or was it something in between?

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mkoren eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Determining if Reconstruction was successful depends if one looks at Reconstruction over the long run or the short run.  Being successful means most of the main goals of the actual, implemented plan for Reconstruction were met.  Conversely, failure would mean most of the main Reconstruction goals were not met.  Since Enotes prevents me from directly doing this assignment, I will list some ideas for you to consider in determining if you feel Reconstruction was or wasn’t successful or was something in between.

Reconstruction hoped to do several things. One goal was to provide a society that was equal and filled with freedom, rights, and opportunities for the former slaves. With the passage of the 13th, 14th, and 15th amendments, during Reconstruction, some conditions improved from the former slaves. Black males voted, ran for office, and were more involved in politics.  While this happened as long as the military was in the South, once the military left most of the improvements for the former slaves disappeared. Former slaves found themselves in near slavery-like conditions.  They were poor and often in debt. The Ku Klux Klan formed and began to threaten and terrorize black people. Restrictions were developed, such as the literacy tests and poll taxes, which were designed to keep black people from voting.  Segregation was legalized. This kept the races apart, maintaining an attitude of white superiority.  All of these things were supposed to be eliminated as a result of Reconstruction.

Another goal of Reconstruction was to bring the South and southerners back into the Union. With the South divided into five military districts, the Reconstruction process moved forward. By 1870, the southern states were back in the United States.  With the Amnesty Act, southerners were allowed back into the political scene in the South. Additionally, Reconstruction aimed at rebuilding the southern economy.  After the war, the South was rebuilt and there was more economic diversity. The South, which was mainly agricultural before the Civil War, had a more diversified economy after Reconstruction.

It is fair to say that the North was becoming tired of Reconstruction when it ended in 1877. Talk about Reconstruction had been going on since before the Civil War ended.  By 1877, discussion about or actual Reconstruction had been occurring for about thirteen years.  Northerners wanted it to end, as did southerners.  The southerners hated the military presence in the South.  People on both sides were glad to have Reconstruction behind them. However, the former slaves had every reason to be worried.

There are many topics to consider when developing your answer. I have highlighted some of the major ones for you.