In 1865, when General Carl Schurz visited the South, he discovered "a revolution but half accomplished." How did Northern Republicans and black Southerners attempt to push the revolution along? What were their most significant achievements and why and how did the federal government retreat from defending African Americans's civil rights in the 1870s? What did the ultimate failure of Reconstruction mean for African Americans?

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General Carl Schurz (1829–1906) visited the South in the summer of 1865—just after the end of the Civil War—to investigate the conditions in the postwar South. He reported his findings to President Andrew Johnson. His long report indicated that Southerners remained defiant and determined. The South was intent on keeping...

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General Carl Schurz (1829–1906) visited the South in the summer of 1865—just after the end of the Civil War—to investigate the conditions in the postwar South. He reported his findings to President Andrew Johnson. His long report indicated that Southerners remained defiant and determined. The South was intent on keeping freedmen subordinate. President Johnson, eager to placate the South, shelved the report. Congressional Republicans, however, embraced the the findings and used them as a justification for a harsh postwar policy for the defeated South.

Johnson implemented his lenient plan for Reconstruction in the fall of 1865. Former Confederate states established new governments and accepted the Thirteenth Amendment. However, these new governments passed the Black Codes, which were designed to maintain the oppression of African Americans. The South also elected many ex-Confederates.

Northerners and Radical Republicans were incensed by Johnson's policies. By 1866, Johnson and Congress were at loggerheads over the shape of Reconstruction. Congress set up the Joint Committee on Reconstruction and claimed Reconstruction was a legislative—not executive—undertaking. Congress took steps to protect African Americans from the Black Codes. The Fourteenth Amendment was passed to bolster the status of black people in the South. Only Tennessee ratified the Fourteenth Amendment, and that defiance infuriated the Radical Republicans.

In 1867, Congress passed the Reconstruction Act, which placed the South under military occupation. Johnson and Congress continued to fight bitterly over Reconstruction. Johnson was impeached as a result: he survived by a single vote. In any event, Johnson had lost the battle with Congress over control of policy, and he did not win reelection.

Radical Republican governments in the South tried to help freedmen. Black people had access to education and were politically active in the South after 1866, but obstacles remained: The Ku Klux Klan, founded in 1866, terrorized black southerners. They achieved their goals through terror, whippings, and lynchings. They targeted black people, carpetbaggers (Northerners who lived in the South), and scalawags (Southern whites in the Republican party).

As long as the South was under military rule, black people enjoyed at least a modicum of protection and rights. By 1876, only Florida, South Carolina, and Louisiana remained under military rule. The North's will to enforce African American rights in the South had eroded over time. In 1877, the last occupying troops left the South. After that, black people found themselves in a sorry plight as Jim Crow laws proliferated in the South.

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