What were the effects of Reconstruction for whites in the South?

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Most white people in the South felt threatened by the various reforms carried out under Reconstruction. Up until that time, they had everything their own way. They had a complete monopoly on political power and effectively controlled the lives of all African Americans, both slave and free. All of a...

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Most white people in the South felt threatened by the various reforms carried out under Reconstruction. Up until that time, they had everything their own way. They had a complete monopoly on political power and effectively controlled the lives of all African Americans, both slave and free. All of a sudden, they were now expected to accept that their fellow citizens of color had the same civil and political rights as they did—the right to vote, the right to stand for public office, and the right to serve on juries. It was a huge culture shock for Southern whites to have to concede that formal legal equality was now being promoted in the United States for the very first time.

It is fair to say that they never really got over the shock. Reconstruction turned the dominant worldview of Southern whites completely on its head; it seemed like the end of the world to many. Despite African Americans now being able to vote and run for public office, their equality as American citizens, both racial and civil, was completely rejected by the vast majority of Southern whites. The most disturbing manifestation of this implacable hostility was the founding of the Ku Klux Klan, a violent white supremacist organization determined to sow terror among African Americans and their white supporters.

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Reconstruction brought public education to many poor whites in the South; this was one of the greatest lasting legacies of the time period. Reconstruction also brought aid to many poor whites who lacked basic food and housing immediately after the war. The federal government also helped settle whites displaced by the lawlessness that was prevalent in much of the occupied South.

Whites had to get used to free blacks in the South. Poor whites often did not like the newly freed slaves, as they were competition for scarce jobs. Many poor whites and blacks alike turned to sharecropping. Some whites also joined the Ku Klux Klan. Whites who were part of the Confederate government were temporarily barred from holding political office, but this would change by the end of the period. Whites also struggled to memorialize the fallen Confederate dead, as the Union did not want to venerate fallen Confederates. This would ultimately lead to the "Lost Cause" myth that continues to hang on in some parts of the South today.

When the Redeemers took over in the South and helped end Reconstruction, whites had greater access to the polls than blacks. Whites were grandfathered into voting rolls, and their literacy tests were not rigorous when compared to the tests required of blacks. Poor whites often found their poll taxes prepaid—provided that they voted for the pro-Southern choice.

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Reconstruction had a significant effect on southern whites. There were many changes in the South as a result of Reconstruction. African-Americans got more freedoms. White southerners would no longer have total control over the African-Americans. With the passage of the 15th amendment, African-American males got the right to vote. This was difficult for many white southerners to accept. The Radical Republican plan also denied voting rights to ex-Confederate leaders.

The Republican Party got power in the South. Some white southerners refused to take part in the writing of the new state constitutions. As a result, the Republicans got control of many state governments, and some African-Americans got elected to office. Because the reconstruction process was directed by the Republicans, many white southerners voted for candidates from the  Democratic Party for years to come. Some white southerners also turned to a group like the Ku Klux Klan that tried to intimidate African-Americans into not exercising their rights. The Ku Klux Klan used scare tactics and threats against the African-Americans. This group was very active in the South for many years.

Reconstruction impacted white southerners because it imposed ideas and concepts that many white southerners had rejected for generations. They had to accept freedom for the former slaves. They had to accept African-American males voting in elections. They had to accept African-Americans becoming citizens. Creating, at least for a period of time, a more equal society in the South was very difficult for many white southerners to accept.

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