Reconstruction Act 0f 1867 Passed - History

Reconstruction Act 0f 1867 Passed - History

The end of the Civil War necessitated a decision specifying the terms by which the South could be readmitted to the Union. Both Lincoln and Johnson took the position that the South had never left the Union and therefore the question of readmission was moot. The Congress had other ideas and passed a series of laws imposing military control over the South.rst Black colleges.

Reconstruction Acts

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Reconstruction Acts, U.S. legislation enacted in 1867–68 that outlined the conditions under which the Southern states would be readmitted to the Union following the American Civil War (1861–65). The bills were largely written by the Radical Republicans in the U.S. Congress.

After the war ended in 1865, the debate intensified over how the former Confederate states would rejoin the United States. Pres. Andrew Johnson indicated that he would pursue even more lenient Reconstruction policies than those of his predecessor, Abraham Lincoln. However, he faced opposition from the Radical Republicans, a powerful antislavery faction within Congress that was committed to enfranchisement and equal rights for freed blacks. These politicians favoured more stringent measures, and they largely crafted the Reconstruction Acts. The first bill called for 10 of the “rebel States” to be divided into five districts under military control only Tennessee was excluded because it had already been readmitted. The states were also required to craft new constitutions, which had to include universal male suffrage and needed approval by the U.S. Congress. In addition, they had to ratify the Fourteenth Amendment, which granted citizenship and equal civil and legal rights to African Americans and former slaves. After completing the requirements, the states would be readmitted to the Union.

Congress approved the bill in February 1867, and then on March 2 it overrode Johnson’s veto. Three more acts were later enacted (two in 1867 and one in 1868), which concerned how the constitutions would be created and passed at the state level. A legal case (Ex Parte McCardle) arose over the constitutionality of military occupation in the South—thereby bringing into question the legality of the Reconstruction measures. The suit was brought under the Habeas Corpus Act of 1867, and the Radical Republicans responded by stripping the Supreme Court of its power to hear appeals involving that act. Congress again overrode Johnson’s veto, and in 1869 the court dismissed the case, stating that it lacked jurisdiction.

The former Confederate states began rejoining the Union in 1868, with Georgia being the last state to be readmitted, on July 15, 1870 it had rejoined the Union two years earlier but had been expelled in 1869 after removing African Americans from the state legislature.


Contents

A key addition of the Acts included the creation of five military districts in the South, each commanded by a general, which would serve as the acting government for the region. In addition, Congress required that each state draft a new state constitution, which would have to be approved by Congress. The states also were required to ratify the Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution and grant voting rights to black men. President Andrew Johnson's vetoes of these measures were overridden by Congress.

General George Meade (of the Third Military District) appointed Brig. General Thomas H. Ruger [3] to replace Governor of Georgia Charles J. Jenkins, who had been elected as the only candidate in 1865 to succeed James Johnson, who had been appointed by President Andrew Johnson.

After Ex parte McCardle (1869) came before the United States Supreme Court, Congress feared that the Court might strike the Reconstruction Acts down as unconstitutional. To prevent this, Congress repealed the Habeas Corpus Act 1867, eliminating the Supreme Court's jurisdiction over the case.


Contents

A key addition of the Acts included the creation of five military districts in the South, each commanded by a general, which would serve as the acting government for the region. In addition, Congress required that each state draft a new state constitution, which would have to be approved by Congress. The states also were required to ratify the Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution and grant voting rights to black men. President Andrew Johnson's vetoes of these measures were overridden by Congress.

General George Meade (of the Third Military District) appointed Brig. General Thomas H. Ruger [3] to replace Governor of Georgia Charles J. Jenkins, who had been elected as the only candidate in 1865 to succeed James Johnson, who had been appointed by President Andrew Johnson.

After Ex parte McCardle (1869) came before the United States Supreme Court, Congress feared that the Court might strike the Reconstruction Acts down as unconstitutional. To prevent this, Congress repealed the Habeas Corpus Act 1867, eliminating the Supreme Court's jurisdiction over the case.


In 1877, Hayes withdrew the last federal troops from the south, and the bayonet-backed Republican governments collapsed, thereby ending Reconstruction . Over the next three decades, the civil rights that blacks had been promised during Reconstruction crumbled under white rule in the south.

Reconstruction Acts , U.S. legislation enacted in 1867 –68 that outlined the conditions under which the Southern states would be readmitted to the Union following the American Civil War (1861–65). The bills were largely written by the Radical Republicans in the U.S. Congress.


The End of Reconstruction

President Rutherford B. Hayes oversaw the end of Reconstruction.

Universal History Archive/UIG/Getty images

April 24, 1877: Rutherford B. Hayes and the Compromise of 1877
Twelve years after the close of the Civil War, President Rutherford B. Hayes pulled federal troops from their posts surrounding the capitals of Louisiana and South Carolina—the last states occupied by the U.S. government. 

According Foner, Hayes didn’t withdraw the troops as widely believed, but the few that remained were of no consequence to the reemergence of a white political rule in these states. In what is widely known as the Compromise of 1877, Democrats accepted Hayes’ victory as long as he made concessions such as the troop withdrawal and naming a southerner to his cabinet. 𠇎very state in the South,” said a Black Louisianan, “had got into the hands of the very men that that held us as slaves.”


The Reconstruction Acts: 1867

Whereas no legal State governments or adequate protection for life or property now exists in the rebel States of Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, Mississippi, Alabama, Louisiana, Florida. Texas and Arkansas and whereas it is necessary that peace and good order should be enforced in said States until loyal and republican State governments can be legally established: Therefore,

Be it enacted by the Senate and House of Representatives of the United States of America in Congress assembled, That said rebel States shall be divided into military districts and made subject to the military authority of the United States as hereinafter prescribed, and for that purpose Virginia shall constitute the first district North Carolina and South Carolina the second district Georgia, Alabama and Florida the third district Mississippi and Arkansas the fourth district and Louisiana and Texas the fifth district.

Sec. 2 And be it further enacted, That it shall be the duty of the President to assign to the command of each of the said districts an officer of the army, not below the rank of brigadier-general, and to detail a sufficient military force to enable such officer to perform his duties and enforce his authority within the district to which he is assigned.

Sec. 3 And be it further enacted, That it shall be the duty of each officer assigned as aforesaid, to protect all persons in their rights of person and property, to suppress insurrection, disorder, and violence, and to punish, or cause to be punished, all disturbers of the public peace and criminals and to this end he may allow local civil tribunals to take jurisdiction of and to try offenders, or, when in his judgment it may be necessary for the trial of offenders, he shall have power to organize military commissions or tribunals for that purpose, and all interference under color of State authority with the exercise of military authority under this act, shall be null and void.

Sec. 4 And be it further enacted, That all persons put under military arrest by virtue of this act shall be tried without unnecessary delay, and no cruel or unusual punishment shall be inflicted, and no sentence of any military commission or tribunal hereby authorized, affecting the life or liberty of any person, shall be executed until it is approved by the officer in command of the district, and the laws and regulations for the government of the army shall not be affected by this act, except in so far as they conflict with its provisions: Provided, That no sentence of death under the provisions of this act shall be carried into effect without the approval of the President.

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Sec. 5 And be it further enacted, That when the people of any one of said rebel States shall have formed a constitution of government in conformity with the Constitution of the United States in all respects, framed by a convention of delegates elected by the male citizens of said State, twenty-one years old and upward, of whatever race, color, or previous condition, who have been resident in said State for one year previous to the day of such election, except such as may be disfranchised for participation in the rebellion or for felony at common law, and when such constitution shall provide that the elective franchise shall be enjoyed by all such persons as have the qualifications herein stated for electors of delegates, and when such constitution shall be ratified by a majority of the persons voting on the question of ratification who are qualified as electors for delegates, and when such constitution shall have been submitted to Congress for examination and approval, and Congress shall have approved the same, and when said State, by a vote of its legislature elected under said constitution, shall have adopted the amendment to the Constitution of the United States, proposed by the Thirty-ninth Congress, and known as article fourteen, and when such article shall have become a part of the Constitution of the United States, said State shall be declared entitled to representation in Congress, and senators and representatives shall be admitted therefrom on their taking the oath prescribed by law, and then and thereafter the preceding sections of this act shall be inoperative in said State: Provided, That no person excluded from the privilege of holding office by said proposed amendment to the Constitution of the United States, shall be eligible to election as a member of the convention to frame a constitution for any of said rebel States, nor shall any such person vote for members of such convention.

Sec. 6 And be it further enacted, That, until the people of said rebel States shall be by law admitted to representation in the Congress of the United States, any civil governments which may exist therein shall be deemed provisional only, and in all respects subject to the paramount authority of the United States at any time to abolish, modify, control, or supersede the same and in all elections to any office under such provisional governments all persons shall be entitled to vote, and none others, who are entitled to vote under the provisions of the fifth section of this act and no person shall be eligible to any office under any provisional governments who would be disqualified from holding office under the provisions of the third article of said constitutional amendment.

Chap. VI. An Act supplementary to an Act entitled "An Act to provide for the more efficient Government of the Rebel States," passed March second, eighteen hundred and sixty-seven, and to facilitate Restoration [Passed over President Johnson's veto March 23, 1867].

Be it enacted by the Senate and House of Representatives of the United States of America in Congress assembled, That before the first day of September, eighteen hundred and sixty-seven, the commanding general in each district defined by an act entitled "An act to provide for the more efficient government of the rebel States," passed March second, eighteen hundred and sixty-seven, shall cause a registration to be made of the male citizens of the United States, twenty-one years of age and upwards, resident in each county or parish in the State or States included in his district, which registration shall include only those persons who are qualified to vote for delegates by the act aforesaid, and who shall have taken and subscribed the following oath or affirmation: "I, _____, do solemnly swear (or affirm), in the presence of Almighty God, that I am a citizen of the State of _____ that I have resided in said State for _____ months next preceding this day, and now reside in the county of _____ or the parish of _____, in said State (as the case may be) that I am twenty-one years old that I have not be disfranchised for participation in any rebellion or civil war against the United States, nor for felony committed against the laws of any State or of the United States that I have never been a member of any State legislature, nor held any executive or judicial office in any State and afterwards engaged in insurrection or rebellion against the United States, or given aid or comfort to the enemies thereof that I have never taken an oath as a member of Congress of the United States, or as an officer of the United States, or as a member of any State legislature, or as an executive or judicial officer of any State, to support the Constitution of the United States, and afterwards engaged in insurrection or rebellion against the United States, or given aid or comfort to the enemies thereof that I will faithfully support the Constitution and obey the laws of the United States, and will to the best of my ability, encourage others so to do, so help me God"' which oath or affirmation may be administered by any registering officer.

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Sec. 2. And be it further enacted, That after the completion of the registration hereby provided for in any State, at such time and places therein as the commanding general shall appoint and direct, of which at least thirty days' public notice shall be given, an election shall be held of delegates to a convention for the purpose of establishing a constitution and civil government for such State loyal to the Union, said convention in each State, except Virginia, to consist of the same number of members as the most numerous branch of the State legislature of such State in the year eighteen hundred and sixty, to be apportioned among the several districts, counties, or parishes of such State by the commanding general, giving to each representation in the ratio of voters registered as aforesaid as nearly as may be. The convention in Virginia shall consist of the same number of members as represented the territory now constituting Virginia in the most numerous branch of the legislature of said State in the year eighteen hundred and sixty, to be apportioned as aforesaid.

Sec. 3. And be it further enacted, That at said election the registered voters of each State shall vote for or against a convention to form a constitution therefor under this act. Those voting in favor of such a convention shall have written or printed on the ballots by which they vote for delegates, as aforesaid, the words "For a convention," and those voting against such a convention shall have written or printed on such ballots the words "Against a convention." The persons appointed to superintend said election, and to make return of the votes given thereat, as herein provided, shall count and make return of the votes given for and against a convention and the commanding general to whom the same shall have been returned shall ascertain and declare the total vote in each State for and against a convention. If a majority of the votes given on that question shall be for a convention, then such convention shall be held as hereinafter provided but if a majority of said votes shall be against a convention, then no such convention shall be held under this act: Provided, That such convention shall not be held unless a majority of all such registered voters shall have voted on the question of holding such convention.

Sec. 4. And be it further enacted, That the commanding general of each district shall appoint as many boards of registration as may be necessary, consisting of three loyal officers or persons, to make and complete the registration, superintend the election, and make return to him of the votes, list of voters, and of the persons elected as delegates by a plurality of the votes cast at said election and upon receiving said returns he shall open the same, ascertain the persons elected as delegates,according to the returns of the officers who conducted said election, make proclamation thereof and if a majority of the votes given on that question shall be for a convention, the commanding general, within sixty days from the date of election, shall notify the delegates to assemble in convention, at a time and place to be mentioned in the notification, and said convention, when organized, shall proceed to frame a constitution and civil government according to the provisions of this act, and the act to which it is supplementary and when the same shall have been so framed, said constitution shall be submitted by the convention for ratification to the persons registered under the provisions of this act at an election to be conducted by the officers or persons appointed or to be appointed by the commanding general, as hereinbefore provided, and to be held after the expiration of thirty days from the date of notice thereof, to be given by said convention and the returns thereof shall be made to the commanding general of the district.

Sec. 5. And be it further enacted, That if, according to said returns, the constitution shall be ratified by a majority of the votes of the registered electors qualified as herein specified, cast at said election, at least one half of all the registered voters voting upon the question of such ratification, the president of the convention shall transmit a copy of the same, duly certified, to the President of the United States, who shall forthwith transmit the same to Congress, if then in session, and if not in session, then immediately upon its next assembling and if it shall moreover appear to Congress that the election was one at which all the registered and qualified electors in the State had an opportunity to vote freely and without restraint, fear, or the influence of fraud, and if the Congress shall be satisfied that such constitution meets the approval of a majority of all the qualified electors in the State, and if the said constitution shall be declared by Congress to be in conformity with the provisions of the act to which this is supplementary, and the other provisions of said act shall have been complied with, and the said constitution shall be approved by Congress, the State shall be declared entitled to representation, and senators and representatives shall be admitted therefrom as therein provided.

Sec. 6. And be it further enacted, That all elections in the States mentioned in said "Act to provide for the more efficient government of the rebel States," shall, during the operation of said act, be by ballot and all officers making the said registration of voters and conducting said elections shall, before entering upon the discharge of their duties, take and subscribe the oath prescribed by the act approved July second, eighteen hundred and sixty-two entitled "An act to prescribe an oath of office": Provided, That if any person shall knowingly and falsely take and subscribe any oath in this act prescribed, such person so offending and being thereof duly convicted shall be subject to the pains, penalties, and disabilities which by law are provided for the punishment of the crime of willful and corrupt perjury.

Sec. 7. And be it further enacted, That all expenses incurred by the several commanding generals or by virtue of any orders issued, or appointments made, by them, under or by virtue of this act, shall be paid out of any moneys in the treasury not otherwise appropriated.

Sec. 8. And be it further enacted, That the convention for each State shall prescribe the fees, salary, and compensation to be paid to all delegates and other officers and agents herein authorized or necessary to carry into effect the purposes of this act not herein otherwise provided for, and shall provide for the levy and collection of such taxes on the property in such State as may be necessary to pay the same.

Sec. 9. And be it further enacted, That the word "article," in the sixth section of the act to which this is supplementary, shall be construed to mean "section."

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Chap. XXX. An Act supplementary to an Act entitled "An Act to provide for the more efficient Government of the Rebel States," passed on the second day of March, eighteen hundred and sixty-seven, and the Act supplementary thereto, passed on the twenty-third day of March, eighteen hundred and sixty-seven [Passed over President Johnson's veto July 19, 1867].

Be it enacted by the Senate and House of Representatives of the United States of America in Congress assembled, That it is hereby declared to have been the true intent and meaning of the act of the second day of March, one thousand eight hundred and sixty-seven, entitled "An act to provide for the more efficient government of the rebel States," and of the act supplementary thereto, passed on the twenty-third day of March, in the year one thousand eight hundred and sixty-seven, that the governments then existing in the rebel States of Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, Mississippi, Alabama, Louisiana, Florida, Texas, and Arkansas were not legal State governments and that thereafter said governments, if continued, were to be continued subject in all respects to the military commanders of the respective districts, and to the paramount authority of Congress.

Sec. 2. And be it further enacted, That the commander of any district named in said act shall have power, subject to the disapproval of the General of the army of the United States, and to have effect till disapproved, whenever in the opinion of such commander the proper administration of said act shall require it, to suspend or remove from office, or from the performance of official duties and the exercise of official powers, any officer or person holding or exercising, or professing to hold or exercise, any civil or military office or duty in such district under any power, election, appointment or authority derived from, or granted by, or claimed under, any so-called State or the government thereof, or any municipal or other division thereof, and upon such suspension or removal such commander, subject to the disapproval of the General as aforesaid, shall have power to provide from time to time for the performance of the said duties of such officer or person so suspended or removed, by the detail of some competent officer or soldier of the army, or by the appointment of some other person, to perform the same, and to fill vacancies occasioned by death, resignation, or otherwise.

Sec. 3. And be it further enacted, That the General of the army of the United Sates shall be invested with all the powers of suspension, removal, appointment, and detail granted in the preceding section to district commanders.

Sec. 4. And be it further enacted, That the acts of the officers of the army already done in removing in said districts persons exercising the functions of civil officers, and appointing others in their stead, are hereby confirmed: Provided, That any person heretofore or hereafter appointed by any district commander to exercise the functions of any civil office, may be removed either by the military officer in command of the district, or by the General of the army. And it shall be the duty of such commander to remove from office as aforesaid all persons who are disloyal to the government of the United States, or who use their official influence in any manner to hinder, delay, prevent, or obstruct the due and proper administration of this act and the acts to which it is supplementary.

Sec. 5. And be it further enacted, That the boards of registration provided for in the act entitled "An act supplementary to an act entitled 'An act to provide for the more efficient government of the rebel States,' passed March two, eighteen hundred and sixty-seven, and to facilitate restoration," passed March twenty-three, eighteen hundred and sixty-seven, shall have power, and it shall be their duty before allowing the registration of any person, to ascertain, upon such facts or information as they can obtain, whether such person is entitled to be registered under said act, and the oath required by said act shall not be conclusive on such question, and no person shall be registered unless such board shall decide that he is entitled thereto and such board shall also have power to examine, under oath, (to be administered by any member of such board,) any one touching the qualification of any person claiming registration but in every case of refusal by the board to register an applicant, and in every case of striking his name from the list as hereinafter provided, the board shall make a note or memorandum, which shall be returned with the registration list to the commanding general of the district, setting forth the grounds of such refusal or such striking from the list: Provided, That no person shall be disqualified as member of any board of registration by reason of race or color.

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Sec. 6. And be it further enacted, That the true intent and meaning of the oath prescribed in said supplementary act is, (among other things,) that no person who has been a member of the legislature of any State, or who has held any executive or judicial office in any State, whether he has taken an oath to support the Constitution of the United Sates or not, and whether he was holding such office at the commencement of the rebellion, or had held it before, and who has afterwards engaged in insurrection or rebellion against the United States, or given aid or comfort to the enemies thereof, is entitled to be registered or to vote and the words "executive or judicial office in any State" in said oath mentioned shall be construed to include all civil offices created by law for the administration of any general law of a State, or for the administration of justice.

Sec. 7. And be it further enacted, That the time for completing the original registration provided for in said act may, in the discretion of the commander of any district be extended to the first day of October, eighteen hundred and sixty-seven and the boards of registration shall have power, and it shall be their duty, commencing fourteen days prior to any election under said act, and upon reasonable public notice of the time and place thereof, to revise, for a period of five days, the registration lists, and upon being satisfied that any person not entitled thereto has been registered, to strike the name of such person from the list, and such person shall not be allowed to vote. And such board shall also, during the same period, add to such registry the names of all persons who at that time possess the qualifications required by said act who have not been already registered and no person shall, at any time, be entitled to be registered or to vote by reason of any executive pardon or amnesty for any act or thing which, without such pardon or amnesty, would disqualify him from registration or voting.

Sec. 8. And be it further enacted, That section four of said last-named act shall be construed to authorize the commanding general named therein, whenever he shall deem it needful, to remove any member of a board of registration and to appoint another in his stead, and to fill any vacancy in such board.

Sec. 9. And be it further enacted, That all members of said boards of registration and all persons hereafter elected or appointed to office in said military districts, under any so-called State or municipal authority, or by detail or appointment of the district commanders, shall be required to take and to subscribe the oath of office prescribed by law for officers of the United States.

Sec. 10. And be it further enacted, That no district commander or member of the board of registration, or any of the officers or appointees acting under them shall be bound in his action by any opinion of any civil officer of the United States.

Sec. 11. And be it further enacted, That all the provisions of this act and of the acts to which this is supplementary shall be construed liberally, to the end that all intents thereof may be fully and perfectly carried out.

Sanger, George P., ed. the Statutes at Large, Treaties and Proclamations of the United States of America from December, 1867, to March, 1869. Vol. XV. Boston: Little, Brown, And Company, 1868, pp. 2-4.

Sanger, George P., ed. the Statutes at Large, Treaties and Proclamations of the United States of America from December, 1867, to March, 1869. Vol. XV. Boston: Little, Brown, And Company, 1868, pp. 14-16.


Senator Revels on Segregated Schools in Washington, DC

Hiram R. Revels became the first African American to serve in the U.S. Senate in 1870. In 1871, he gave the following speech about Washington’s segregated schools before Congress.

According to Senator Revels’s speech, what is “social equality” and why is it important to the issue of desegregated schools? Does Revels favor social equality or social segregation? Did social equality exist in the United States in 1871?

Though the fact of their presence was dramatic and important, as the New York Times description above demonstrates, the few African American representatives and senators who served in Congress during Reconstruction represented only a tiny fraction of the many hundreds, possibly thousands, of blacks who served in a great number of capacities at the local and state levels. The South during the early 1870s brimmed with freed slaves and freeborn blacks serving as school board commissioners, county commissioners, clerks of court, board of education and city council members, justices of the peace, constables, coroners, magistrates, sheriffs, auditors, and registrars. This wave of local African American political activity contributed to and was accompanied by a new concern for the poor and disadvantaged in the South. The southern Republican leadership did away with the hated black codes, undid the work of white supremacists, and worked to reduce obstacles confronting freed people.

Reconstruction governments invested in infrastructure, paying special attention to the rehabilitation of the southern railroads. They set up public education systems that enrolled both white and black students. They established or increased funding for hospitals, orphanages, and asylums for the insane. In some states, the state and local governments provided the poor with basic necessities like firewood and even bread. And to pay for these new services and subsidies, the governments levied taxes on land and property, an action that struck at the heart of the foundation of southern economic inequality. Indeed, the land tax compounded the existing problems of white landowners, who were often cash-poor, and contributed to resentment of what southerners viewed as another northern attack on their way of life.

White southerners reacted with outrage at the changes imposed upon them. The sight of once-enslaved blacks serving in positions of authority as sheriffs, congressmen, and city council members stimulated great resentment at the process of Reconstruction and its undermining of the traditional social and economic foundations of the South. Indignant southerners referred to this period of reform as a time of “negro misrule.” They complained of profligate corruption on the part of vengeful freed slaves and greedy northerners looking to fill their pockets with the South’s riches. Unfortunately for the great many honest reformers, southerners did have a handful of real examples of corruption they could point to, such as legislators using state revenues to buy hams and perfumes or giving themselves inflated salaries. Such examples, however, were relatively few and largely comparable to nineteenth-century corruption across the country. Yet these powerful stories, combined with deep-seated racial animosity toward blacks in the South, led to Democratic campaigns to “redeem” state governments. Democrats across the South leveraged planters’ economic power and wielded white vigilante violence to ultimately take back state political power from the Republicans. By the time President Grant’s attentions were being directed away from the South and toward the Indian Wars in the West in 1876, power in the South had largely been returned to whites and Reconstruction was effectively abandoned. By the end of 1876, only South Carolina, Louisiana, and Florida still had Republican governments.

The sense that the South had been unfairly sacrificed to northern vice and black vengeance, despite a wealth of evidence to the contrary, persisted for many decades. So powerful and pervasive was this narrative that by the time D. W. Griffith released his 1915 motion picture, The Birth of a Nation, whites around the country were primed to accept the fallacy that white southerners were the frequent victims of violence and violation at the hands of unrestrained blacks. The reality is that the opposite was true. White southerners orchestrated a sometimes violent and generally successful counterrevolution against Reconstruction policies in the South beginning in the 1860s. Those who worked to change and modernize the South typically did so under the stern gaze of exasperated whites and threats of violence. Black Republican officials in the South were frequently terrorized, assaulted, and even murdered with impunity by organizations like the Ku Klux Klan. When not ignoring the Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendments altogether, white leaders often used trickery and fraud at the polls to get the results they wanted. As Reconstruction came to a close, these methods came to define southern life for African Americans for nearly a century afterward.


Radical Reconstruction

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Radical Reconstruction, also called Congressional Reconstruction, process and period of Reconstruction during which the Radical Republicans in the U.S. Congress seized control of Reconstruction from Pres. Andrew Johnson and passed the Reconstruction Acts of 1867–68, which sent federal troops to the South to oversee the establishment of state governments that were more democratic. Congress also enacted legislation and amended the Constitution to guarantee the civil rights of freedmen and African Americans in general.

In the 1866 mid-term congressional elections, voters in the North resoundingly rejected Johnson’s Presidential Reconstruction policies, and Congress, dominated by Radical Republicans, decided to restart Reconstruction. The Reconstruction Acts of 1867 split the states of the former Confederacy into five military districts and specified how new governments—based on manhood suffrage without regard to race—were to be constituted. Thus began Radical Reconstruction, which lasted until the demise of the last Republican-led Southern governments in 1877.

All of the former Confederate states had been readmitted to the Union by 1870. The Republican Party controlled the governments of almost all of them. Southern Republicanism was made up of three groups: (1) so-called carpetbaggers, recent arrivals from the North who generally were Freedmen’s Bureau agents, former Union soldiers, businessmen, or teachers so-called (2) scalawags, native-born white Republicans, who predominantly were non-slaveholding small farmers from the Southern up-country who had been loyal to the Union during the Civil War and (3) African Americans, who formed the overwhelming majority of voters in every Southern state.

African American political leaders (including individuals who had been free before the Civil War, artisans, Civil War veterans, and formerly enslaved ministers) advocated for the elimination of the racial caste system and the economic uplift of the formerly enslaved individuals. Throughout the South, more than 600 African Americans served in state legislatures, and hundreds more held local offices from sheriff to justice of the peace. Moreover, 16 African Americans served in Congress during Reconstruction, including two U.S. senators, Hiram Revels and Blanche K. Bruce. Although the ascension of African Americans to positions of political power marked a dramatic break with the country’s traditions and aroused deep-seated hostility from the opponents of Reconstruction, so-called “black supremacy” never existed.

Reconstruction governments served the expanding citizenry by establishing the South’s first state-funded public school systems, seeking to strengthen the bargaining power of plantation labourers, making taxation more equitable, and outlawing racial discrimination in public transportation and accommodations. In the hope of creating a “New South” whose economic growth would benefit both blacks and whites, the governments also made available considerable funding for railroads and other enterprises. However, those economic programs spawned corruption and rising taxes, which alienated more and more white voters.

In the meantime, the South underwent a period of significant social and economic transformation. Free from white control, African Americans were able to solidify their family ties and to create independent religious institutions that would become centres of community life that survived long after the end of Reconstruction. The formerly enslaved individuals also demanded economic independence. However, in summer 1865 President Johnson had dashed African Americans’ hopes that the federal government would provide them with land when he ordered that land in federal hands be returned to its former owners. Johnson’s dictate invalidated Gen. William T. Sherman’s Field Order No. 15 of January 1865, which had set aside land along the coast of South Carolina and Georgia for the exclusive settlement of black families. Without land, most former slaves were left with little economic alternative but to resume working on white-owned plantations. Some worked for wages, while others became sharecroppers and divided their harvest with the owner at the end of the year. Because neither pursuit offered much hope for economic mobility, for decades, most African Americans in the South remained propertyless and poor.

Nonetheless, violent opposition to Reconstruction by white Southerners increased. White supremacist organizations that committed terrorist acts, such as the Ku Klux Klan, targeted local Republican leaders for beatings or assassination. African Americans who asserted their rights in dealings with whites also became targets. In 1873, scores of black militiamen were killed in Colfax, Louisiana, after surrendering to armed whites intent on seizing control of the local government. Increasingly, the new Southern governments looked to Washington, D.C., for assistance.

With Republican Ulysses S. Grant having been elected president in fall 1868, by the next year the Republican Party was firmly in control of all three branches of the federal government. Congress approved the Fifteenth Amendment, prohibiting states from restricting the right to vote because of race, and then enacted a series of Force Acts authorizing national action to suppress political violence. In 1871 the Grant administration launched a legal and military offensive that destroyed the Klan. Grant was reelected in 1872, but Republican support for Reconstruction began to wane as the older Radical leaders such as Benjamin F. Wade and Thaddeus Stevens retired or died and were replaced by technicians such as Roscoe Conkling and James G. Blaine who were devoid of the idealistic fervour that had marked their predecessors. The disputed presidential election of 1876 was resolved with a deal that resulted in Rutherford B. Hayes’s assumption of the presidency and the removal of the last federal troops from the South, thus ending Reconstruction.

The Editors of Encyclopaedia Britannica This article was most recently revised and updated by Jeff Wallenfeldt, Manager, Geography and History.


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A key addition of the Acts included the creation of five military districts in the South, each commanded by a general, which would serve as the acting government for the region. In addition, Congress required that each state draft a new state constitution, which would have to be approved by Congress. The states also were required to ratify the Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution and grant voting rights to black men. President Andrew Johnson's vetoes of these measures were overridden by Congress.

General George Meade (of the Third Military District) appointed Brig. General Thomas H. Ruger [3] to replace Governor of Georgia Charles J. Jenkins, who had been elected as the only candidate in 1865 to succeed James Johnson, who had been appointed by President Andrew Johnson.

After Ex parte McCardle (1869) came before the United States Supreme Court, Congress feared that the Court might strike the Reconstruction Acts down as unconstitutional. To prevent this, Congress repealed the Habeas Corpus Act 1867, eliminating the Supreme Court's jurisdiction over the case.


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