Why does Frederick Douglass feel Reconstruction failed?

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

Political leader, writer, and abolitionist Frederick Douglass advocated for equal rights among all Americans, both black and white. He believed the Reconstruction period from 1865–1877 failed because the four million freed slaves in the South were not afforded the freedom and equality they rightly deserved. Freed black men were unsure...

Unlock
This Answer Now

Start your 48-hour free trial to unlock this answer and thousands more. Enjoy eNotes ad-free and cancel anytime.

Start your 48-Hour Free Trial

Political leader, writer, and abolitionist Frederick Douglass advocated for equal rights among all Americans, both black and white. He believed the Reconstruction period from 1865–1877 failed because the four million freed slaves in the South were not afforded the freedom and equality they rightly deserved. Freed black men were unsure of how to find their place in society, and many Southern white men remained hostile to them. With limited education and job opportunities, the majority of freed black men lived in poverty for decades after the war. This inequality angered Douglass, and he turned to politics in an effort to bring about change.

Douglass met with two US Presidents in an attempt to advance his political agenda. In 1863, when he was recruiting freed black men as Union soldiers, he met with President Abraham Lincoln at the White House to request the same pay and protection for black soldiers as white soldiers. Then, in 1866, he and a delegation of men met with President Andrew Johnson to support voting rights for African Americans. When President Johnson failed to address the oppression of black men, Douglass appealed to Congress.

Congress ratified the Thirteenth, Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendments to the Constitution during the Reconstruction period. These amendments abolished slavery, provided due process and equal protection to both black and whites, and gave African Americans the right to vote. However, it wasn’t until the Civil Rights Movement in the 1960s, 100 years later, when African Americans were properly granted these rights. Unfortunately, Frederick Douglass never witnessed the equality he fought so hard for.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

Douglass felt that Reconstruction failed because even though the United States abolished slavery, conditions were still very bad for most African Americans in the country. Douglass, a former slave, was a very prominent abolitionist voice before the war. He also sought full civil rights for African Americans. While the Fourteenth Amendment gave African Americans their American citizenship and the Fifteenth Amendment granted voting rights to African American males over the age of 21, many African Americans were denied the same rights as whites in the South. Many states passed laws demanding that African Americans show proof of employment or else they could be jailed for vagrancy. Poll taxes and literacy tests, not to mention physical intimidation, kept many African Americans away from the polls. This was especially true after Reconstruction officially ended in 1877. Douglass realized that Reconstruction was a step forward, but it did not do enough, as many African Americans still lived in poverty without a viable way to better themselves after Reconstruction ended.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

As the Civil War drew to a close, the Southern states were in shambles. Most of the battles had been fought in the South, so the Southerners' lands and property were in dire need of repair. Their economy was threatened, too, by the expense of war and the emancipation of the slaves. In his Proclamation of Amnesty and Reconstruction in 1863, President Lincoln pardoned most of the high-ranking Southern officials, explained how the states could re-join the Union, and made certain provisions for the newly freed slaves to integrate into society.

Frederick Douglass thought that Lincoln’s Reconstruction program didn’t do enough to help the former slaves succeed. Although they’d been granted freedom, they weren’t considered full U.S. citizens, and so they were denied the right to vote. Douglass became a suffragist. He was a skilled orator, and he toured the country giving speeches which inspired many others to join his cause.

In 1870, largely due to Douglass’s work, the 15th Amendment was added to the constitution:

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.

Of course, this didn’t erase the problems of racism and discrimination. Douglass was a strong proponent of civil rights throughout his political career, promoting equality for African Americans, women, and immigrants.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team