Why could the period of Reconstruction 1865-1877 be considered a failure in the Unites States' attempts to improve social and political equality? Select and discuss the key social, economic, and political events that determined the fate of Reconstruction and led to the Jim Crow Era.
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The period of Reconstruction can be considered a failure in the United States’ attempts to improve social and political equality because African Americans came out of the Reconstruction Era not much better-off than they had been before Reconstruction began. If Reconstruction was meant to push African Americans towards equality, it failed.
Of course, African Americans did achieve one major thing—they achieved freedom from slavery. However, this was not really caused by Reconstruction. Instead, it was brought about by the Civil War. By the end of Reconstruction, African Americans were free, but they were nowhere near to achieving social and political equality.
The major reason Reconstruction failed was because the North did not care enough about African Americans to push hard for their equality. Northerners typically believed in white supremacy and did not think it was important to force the South to grant African Americans their rights. This attitude helped lead to the “Compromise of 1877” in which the Republican candidate for the presidency, Rutherford B. Hayes, was judged to have won the election in exchange for an end to Reconstruction.
Economically, Reconstruction failed because the US government did not have the will to give African Americans land of their own. At one point, African Americans had thought that they would get “40 acres and a mule” so that they could be self-sufficient. However, the national government was not willing to take land away from whites to give it to blacks. Because of this, the majority of African Americans ended up as sharecroppers or tenant farmers, a situation which made it very hard for them to get ahead.
Socially, Jim Crow was brought on because whites wanted to keep African Americans in “their place.” They had to accept that blacks were no longer enslaved, but they did not have to accept them as equals. Private rules enforcing segregation turned to state laws after the Supreme Court ruled in favor of segregation in the Civil Rights Cases (1883) and Plessy v. Ferguson (1896). More and more of these laws were enacted until the full system of segregation was in place.
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