Reconstruction Era

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What were the effects of Reconstruction on the freed slaves?

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During Reconstruction, freed slaves faced an uphill battle as they struggled to find their place within a hostile society.

Even though slavery ended with the passing of the Thirteenth Amendment—the first of the Reconstruction Amendments—freed slaves were still victims of the cruelty of racial discrimination. From 1865 to 1866, many southern states passed "Black Codes" or "Jim Crow Laws" to limit the freedom of African Americans. Under these codes, some states placed restrictions on the type of property free blacks could own. Anyone who broke the labor contract was subject to beatings, arrest, and forced labor.

The Fourteenth Amendment was passed in 1868 by Congress to counteract the "Black Codes." In its first section, it states:

Nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.

The Fifteenth Amendment was the final Reconstruction Amendment, and it guaranteed a person's right to vote. In its first section, it states:

The right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of race, color, or previous condition of servitude.

These three amendments theoretically enabled African Americans to participate in social, economic, and political areas of society. For example, African American men served in public office, including the United States Senate and House of Representatives. However, the amendments also led to many whites' increased hostility toward black people.

White supremacists formed groups such as the Ku Klux Klan and terrorized those who opposed white authority. African Americans, Republican leaders, and white citizens were targets of the KKK. Segregation laws, disenfranchisement, and lynchings were predominant in the South.

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The freed slaves’ lives changed dramatically during the Reconstruction period.  However, it is not clear how much of the change was actually brought about by Reconstruction and how much was brought about by the simple fact that they were free.

To illustrate this, let us look at the social changes that came about in the South.  With freedom, African Americans now had the chance to set up their own families without fear of being forcibly separated.  They were able to set up their own churches because there were no longer any laws against meetings of African Americans.  They were able to set up schools because it was no longer against the law to educate an African American.  But how much did Reconstruction actually affect these things?  Of course, the coming of freedom made them possible, but that is not really the same things as Reconstruction.  Most of the schools for blacks were set up by the federal government during Reconstruction, but the government had very little to do with allowing blacks to have churches, families, and fraternal organizations.

Economically, it is hard to say if Reconstruction had an effect.  Blacks generally ended up poor and economically powerless by the end of Reconstruction.  But is this an effect of Reconstruction?  Reconstruction authorities did little to even try to empower blacks economically.  They tried to establish contracts between black workers and land owners, for example, but they failed to enforce these contracts.  So, is the poverty and powerlessness at the end of Reconstruction an effect of Reconstruction?  It depends on your definition.

There were certainly tremendous changes that came about in the years after the Civil War, but it is hard to say how much these changes were effects of Reconstruction.

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