Reconstruction Era

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What issues and attitudes ended the Reconstruction Era by 1877?

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By the time Reconstruction came to an end in 1877, the northern states had largely underwritten the rebuilding of the southern states as well as stationed federal troops throughout the South to ensure that slavery would not return. The stationing of troops was a particularly aggrieving measure to southerners but was needed due to the "black codes" that southern state governments introduced as a way to keep black people as second-class citizens.

Once the war ended, people did not just return to normal life. There were skirmishes between federal troops with southern insurgents for many years during Reconstruction. Rebuilding and ongoing occupation of the South also took its toll on the US economy as it was hit by the Panic of 1873 following the collapse of the railroad investment firm, Jay Cooke and Co. The depression lasted until 1879 and saw the closure of banks and factories throughout the country, hampering reconstruction efforts and overall economic growth.

Lastly, there was the Compromise of 1877, which finally brought Reconstruction to an end. The Democrats won a number of states in the midst of violence and accusations of intimidation of black voters. Republicans agreed to a compromise whereby the Democrats would not block the Republican candidate Rutherford B. Hayes becoming president in exchange for Union troops being pulled from the South.

Reconstruction was a complex time in US history. Although the North tired of reconstruction efforts, it is unfair to say that northerners did not care about the plight of black Americans, particularly as they had fought a civil war over the issue of slavery. By 1877, many in the North felt as though they had done enough and that the South would have to carry its own weight. The country was facing economic woes and war-fatigue that impacted everyone, not just those in the South. These, coupled with growing political tensions between southern Democrats and northern Republicans, hastened Reconstruction's end.

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The Reconstruction was focused on the South where most of the damage had occurred after the war. The rights extended to freed slaves after the war remained an issue in the South, and groups such as the Ku Klux Klan were formed to counter these freedoms.

President Grant came to power and continued with Radical Reconstruction and used the Enforcement Acts to counter the Ku Klux Klan. However, issues of corruption in President Grant’s administration led to the rise of Conservatives and provided an opportunity for the Democrats to hit back at the Republicans.

The Conservatives regained power in the South, and public support for Reconstruction took a downward trend. The voters were convinced that both the civil war and slavery were over. The Democrats were against Reconstruction, and they took advantage of the disputed 1876 presidential election to effectively bring an end to the Reconstruction efforts. Democrats forced Republicans to withdraw the federal troops from the South in exchange for an end to the election stalemate.

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There were two major types of issues and attitudes that led to the end of Reconstruction in 1877.

First, there were political issues.  By 1877, the United States in general, and the North in particular, had other things on its mind than Reconstruction.  The Grant administration had often been rocked by scandals such as the infamous “Whiskey Ring.”  This had made good government a major issue in the minds of many.  There had also been an economic crash, known as the Panic of 1873, which was still causing major economic disruption by 1877.  These issues took the spotlight off of Reconstruction.

Second, there were racial issues and attitudes towards democracy.  It was hard for Americans to continue to take the right to self-government away from other white Americans.  It goes against the grain of our national ethos.  Right after the Civil War, passions were high enough to allow this to happen.  By 1877, however, many Northern whites were tired of taking self-government from Southern whites largely for the benefit of African Americans.  They were not committed to the idea of black rights or equality.  Therefore, they were not very interested in continuing to reduce democracy for the sake of African Americans in the South.

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