The Reconstruction period, though marking the end of the chaos and destruction of the Civil War, was not without its own set of issues. The Civil War freed the slaves, but the trauma of war was far from over, as the states' healing and reunification would take several decades. Reconstruction...
The Reconstruction period, though marking the end of the chaos and destruction of the Civil War, was not without its own set of issues. The Civil War freed the slaves, but the trauma of war was far from over, as the states' healing and reunification would take several decades. Reconstruction was to be a bridge between the pre-war South and a post-war nation.
The first major issue dealt with by Reconstruction policies was how to heal and reunite the nation. To answer this question, the critical aspect of the federal government's role in overseeing the southern states was extraordinarily contentious. Many argued for extensive penalties and regulations imposed on the Confederate states as both compensations for the expense of the war and as retribution for southern hostilities. Some historians refer to this as the beginning of federal plans to reign in southern discriminatory practices as Radical Reconstruction. The former states representing the Confederacy scoffed at the idea the federal government could legally impose severe penalties on states. State leaders and legislatures dismissed and flaunted their independence from the national efforts to bring the Confederate states in line with the other states.
Although the war ended without doubt about the fate of slavery in the United States, a new issue emerged. What was to become of ex-slaves now, and how were the freed slaves protected as they became full participants in shaping American society? Many historians argue the Reconstruction effort's success depended solely on how the federal government responded to this one question. The initial reconstruction proposal by President Andrew Johnson allowed the southern white majority to control and regulate the transition from slavery to becoming a citizen with the same rights as others in a free society. Johnson's policies proved disastrous, as the White majority rebranded slavery in the form of Black Codes. Johnson's plans were eventually rejected and replaced by strenuous government action in the form of Constitutional Amendments, sometimes referred to as the Reconstruction Amendments.
While the 13th, 14th, and 15th amendments went a long way to protect the rights of ex-slaves, the third issue left from Reconstruction was how the changes were to be enforced. While tragedies abound in the Reconstruction era, the tragic results of the federal government losing interest over time in aggressive enforcement of these amendments continue to haunt the United States's political system. Many historians and social scientists believe that by not taking a proactive approach to protecting African Americans' rights in the period immediately following the Civil War, the reconstruction system gave way to covert forms of institutionalized racism that continue to exist in many modern institutions.
The Reconstruction Amendments are the primary positive outcome to come from the era. Many historians believe corruption, government mismanagement, and racial discrimination doomed reform. Others take a different view. They think that while Reconstruction was not an immediate success, societal improvements seldom occur in a decade. The efforts to reunify the country and rebuild the economies of the south did result in several positive changes in the long run. Whatever side you take, it is clear the impacts from the Civil War and the Reconstruction Era continue to be a point of national debate and discussion.