Reconstruction

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Was Reconstruction a success or failure?

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In the debate on whether Reconstruction was a success or failure, views diverge. Some assert it was largely a failure due to the South's resentment of the North's values imposition and punitive measures. However, others argue it was a success, citing the significant Constitutional Amendments 13, 14, and 15 that addressed Civil War issues and advanced racial discourse, shaping the nation's future trajectory.

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Reconstruction was largely a failure. The main reason is that there was resentment on the part of the South. The North's attempts to impose values were not well-received. They felt like they were being punished for losing the war.
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I think that one could argue both sides of it quite...

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passionately.  While it might not be a result of the Reconstruction Era, I would say that the passage of Amendments 13, 14 and 15 are extremely meaningful and, by themselves, could constitute Reconstruction as a success in my mind.  The very idea that the Constitution would have a voice about the nature of the Civil War and "speaking" to the end of preventing future conflicts like it would help to solidify its place as a success.  Additionally, the Civil Rights Amendments passed help to move the discussion of race as something viable and a discourse that would grip the nation even to the modern setting.  The fact that the government would be able to establish such elements through the Constitution is something quite impressive.

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I've spent half of my life living in the North and half living in the South.  As I grew up in the North, I never really thought about Reconstruction and would probably have said that it had eventually succeeded.  However, after living in the South and witnessing firsthand some of the remaining negative effects of Reconstruction, I have to admit that it failed.  Even though the South became part of the Union again, it still suffers from poor graduation rates (when compared to the North).  Many Southerners attribute this to Reconstruction because they feel that the devastated region was not "reconstructed" but rather that many of them were forced to submit to Northern ideals and greed instead of focusing on educational and skilled labor pursuits.

Worse than the education and economic ramifications of Reconstruction is the racial tension that remained and actually inflamed during Reconstruction resulting in Jim Crow laws and existing intangible barriers between ethnic groups in the South.

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In addition to what has been mentioned, Reconstruction also failed as what has been known as "carpetbaggers" came down from the North and took advantage of the devastated South both financially and politically Since anyone who had participated in the Confedercy was not allowed to hold public office, the businessmen, lawyers, newspaperment, etc., who came from the North placed men in office who could be manipulated by them.  Many "carpetbaggers" bought farms and mansions for only the back taxes, leaving the original residents homeless.  Exploitation abounded as "confidence men" like those portrayed by Mark Twain with the Duke and the King in "The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn" swindled the unsuspecting in their quest for making a profit from a defeated people.  In short, the South was treated worse than any country that the United States has defeated.

 It took years and years for Atlanta to recover structurally and economically from its burning and total destruction by General Sherman's men.  That the South was exploited by the carpetbaggers is documented by President Grant's ordering them out of the South.  And U.S. history also shows that the South has long been crippled as it has had need of federal aid.  It is only recently with its burgeoning auto industry and other manufacturing that has moved from the North that the South now shows real signs of prosperity.

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I very much agree with phonpei397's points but would like to comment on the idea that Reconstruction may be viewed as a success because

it did work.  At the end of Reconstruction, blacks were still free.  And by the end of that time, the Southern states were able to join the Union again.

Blacks were still legally free and equal, yes, but with the end of Reconstruction came a dramatic "rollback" of the important rights that had been extended to blacks, including voting rights and equal access to public facilities. The internet is rich in material covering the Jim Crow laws of the Southern and border states.

In the final analysis, at the risk of sounding too pessimistic, I think that Reconstruction failed to dismantle the racist structures in the South. That dismantling required a second forceful intervention of national government (including not another extended military occupation but certainly including some deployment of national troops) in the late 1950s and early 1960s.

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It really depends on how you define success or failure and it depends on how long of a time period you are looking at.

If you just look at the period of Reconstruction and right after it, Reconstruction clearly failed in my opinion.  Here, I am saying it failed because blacks were not equal to whites after Reconstruction (so that's my definition of failure here).  At the end of the period, blacks were still much poorer than whites and they (by late in the 1800s) were not able to vote and were subject to segregation.

Of course, if you define success differently, it did work.  At the end of Reconstruction, blacks were still free.  And by the end of that time, the Southern states were able to join the Union again.  So if that's how you define success, it did succeed.

Some scholars argue that Reconstruction did work, but you have to look longer after Reconstruction to see it.  They say that Reconstruction made black people start working for rights.  They say it succeeded because the black people eventually got all the same rights as whites.  They say that process started back in Reconstruction.

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Was the Reconstruction a success or a failure?  

I would probably be inclined to view Reconstruction as having a very mixed and complicated legacy. At best, I might call it a very partial success, but its failures are too severe to ignore.

In some ways, Reconstruction was an extremely ambitious and difficult project to implement (especially from the perspective of the Radical Republicans). Transforming a slave-based economy and society into one that was post-slavery was always going to face resistance from white Southerners, and while it certainly failed to live up to its full promise, the transformation remained profound nevertheless. With the 13th Amendment, slavery was outlawed across the country, and with the 14th Amendment, citizenship rights were expanded. The 15th Amendment expanded voting rights. Mr. Kirschner is correct when he says that ultimately, with the ending of Reconstruction, the United States betrayed their promise, but even so, the Amendments remained (even as the South worked to undermine them), and this effort to dismantle slavery remains an achievement that should not be underestimated. Nevertheless, we should not forget how the black population remained in a state of economic dependency and were denied their civil rights.

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Was the Reconstruction a success or a failure?  

Despite the early successes of the Reconstruction era, the movement should be considered a failure. The goals of Reconstruction were to rebuild the economy of the South while successfully integrating the newly freed slaves into the culture and marketplace of the United States. The effort failed on both parts. The gap in wealth between the North and South had widened even more by the turn of the Twentieth Century. Additionally, African-Americans were only slightly better off than before the Civil War.

Despite the best efforts of the Radical Republicans in Congress to protect the rights of the Freedman, Southern Democrats opposed any social change for the black people of the South. By the end of Reconstruction, the 13th, 14th, and 15th Amendments were not worth the paper they were written on. Black codes were established to deny basic civil liberties to the freedmen. A system of sharecropping and tenant farming kept the African-Americans on the plantations with little hope for upward social mobility. Schools and other social institutions were segregated. Due to poll taxes and terrorist organizations like the Ku Klux Klan, black people could not even secure the most basic of democratic rights: the ability to vote. Black Americans, while making significant political strides in the early 1870's, had lost everything with the Compromise of 1877.

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Was Reconstruction a failure or success?

One of the more disturbing observations that one can make about United States history with respect to the outcomes of the Civil War and the period of Reconstruction was the fact that institutionalized racial segregation and the struggle among African Americans for civil rights survived more than halfway into the 20th century. Legislation granting basic rights to African Americans was still being debated in the United States Congress a century after the end of the Civil War. That is a failure of Reconstruction.

Reconstruction was a process whereby the South, physically and mentally defeated, would essentially be rebuilt physically and politically to better mirror the North. It was a process of reuniting two very disparate entities. The war cemented the South’s unification with the North. Reconstruction was needed to maintain that unity by culturally and politically transforming the vestiges of the South—an effort that could be termed, to employ a World War II vernacular, as "a bridge too far." Reconstruction succeeded insofar as the adoption of state constitutions and legislatures more in-tune with the post-war mandate at eliminating slavery and incorporating newly-freed slaves into the nation’s fiber was achieved. Politically, in other words, Reconstruction could be viewed as a success. It was, in the broader sense, however, a failure in that the cultural transformations required to bring the South into alignment with the North did not occur. In fact, the notion of “carpetbagging” was born to symbolize a sense among Southerners of Northern imperialism being imposed upon a proud culture, however morally defective that culture remained regarding racial equality.

Because the South continued to resist, often militaristically in the form of white supremacist terrorists like the Ku Klux Klan, and politically in the form of Jim Crow laws, the advance of the United States as a nation more representative of the ideals upon which it was founded would be delayed for many tumultuous decades. That was a failure of Reconstruction.

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Was Reconstruction a failure or success?

On the whole, you'd have to say it was a failure. The whole purpose of Reconstruction was to change the structure of Southern politics and society so that the slave states could be reincorporated into the Union. The nation as a whole would become stronger, reducing the chances of another civil war, and the newly won constitutional rights of African Americans would be guaranteed. Despite an initial flurry of activity by Reconstruction's advocates, most of these objectives weren't achieved in the long run, especially the last one.

The main problem was that the policy dealt with the formal elements of Southern political life—representation in state legislatures, voting rights, and so on—instead of tackling the substantive issues that held back African Americans, such as white supremacy and a widespread belief in the inequality of the races. In other words, Reconstruction dealt with formal, rather than substantive equality. Although a number of African Americans were allowed to vote and elected to state legislatures for the very first time, the institutions of government still remained firmly in the hands of those implacably opposed to racial equality and civil rights.

A further fatal flaw with Reconstruction was that it was overly dependent on the concerted political will of the federal government to make it work. Inevitably, this was difficult to sustain for any appreciable length of time. Interest in Reconstruction waned substantially from the 1870s onwards, so that eventually, even a narrow, formalistic approach to the policy was abandoned. The abandonment of Reconstruction had a disastrous effect upon African Americans in the South, giving rise as it did to the construction of a whole new apparatus of legalized racial oppression, reducing former slaves to a status not too dissimilar from what they had endured prior to the passing of the Thirteenth Amendment.

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