RESTORING THE SOUTHERN STATES TO THE UNION

(adapted from Exploring American History, Globe - 1986)

 

How were the Confederate states treated after the Civil War?

 

The Civil War came to an end on April 9, 1865. Four years of war had exhausted the nation. In the North, soldiers returned home to look for jobs. In the South, soldiers returned to find much of their land destroyed. They needed to do a great deal of work to rebuild their homes and to grow crops. Almost 4 million slaves had been freed. They also faced many problems at the war's end. They needed places to live and jobs to support themselves and their families. In March 1865, just before the war ended, Congress had passed a law setting up the Freedmen's Bureau. Its job was to provide work, food, medical supplies, and clothing for poor whites and freed blacks alike. It also supported the education of blacks.

 

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Equally important was solving the problem, "How should the victorious North treat the defeated South?" Long before the end of the war, President Lincoln had made plans for the South for the time when peace would come. He did not want to punish the states that had seceded. He wanted them returned to the Union as soon as possible. Lincoln did not live to carry out his plans. On April 14, 1865, he was killed in a theater by John Wilkes Booth, an actor who favored the Confederacy. The Union lost its beloved leader only five days after the surrender of Lee.

 

The new president, Andrew Johnson, was a southern Democrat. He had once owned slaves himself. Following Lincolnís plan, he made it clear that he would welcome the southern states back into the Union. In state after state, former Confederate leaders put themselves into power again. They drew up new constitutions. They accepted the new 13th Amendment. (This amendment had been passed in 1865. It ended slavery.) These white southern leaders drew up a series of laws called the Black Codes. These state laws sharply limited the rights of the freedmen. Freedmen were the men, women, and children who had been slaves. The southern states elected representatives to Congress. Many of these representatives were former Confederate leaders.

 

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When Congress met, many of its members were angry with President Johnson. The Republican party was in control. Some of its leaders, Charles Sumner and Thaddeus Stevens, disagreed sharply with Johnson. These members of Congress were called Radical Republicans. They felt that the president had no power to readmit states to the Union. Only Congress could do that. They wanted to punish the South for leaving the Union and bringing on such a costly war. They wanted to give full rights to the newly freed blacks. They felt that the Black Codes would set up a new form of slavery. Finally, they refused to seat former Confederate leaders in Congress.

 

Under the leadership of Sumner and Stevens, Congress went ahead with its own plan for the Reconstruction, or the rebuilding, of the South. It passed a bill that continued the Freedmen's Bureau. It also passed the Civil Rights Act of 1866, giving citizenship to all persons, except Indians, born in the United States. President Johnson vetoed, or rejected, both of these bills. He thought the laws were too hard on the South. However, Congress passed both bills over the president's veto. They became laws.

 

Many Republican members of Congress were afraid that the Civil Rights Act of 1866 might be ruled unconstitutional. So they proposed the 14th Amendment to the Constitution. This amendment would make former slaves United States citizens. It also stated that no former Confederate leaders could vote or hold office. The Republicans supported this amendment. President Johnson did not. In the congressional elections of 1866, he "took his case" to the people. Johnson asked them to vote for men who would support his policies. The majority of the people did not. The Radical Republicans were now in full control of both houses of Congress.

 

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With this new support, the Radical Republicans moved quickly to carry out the amendment and their plans for Reconstruction. The southern states were to draw up new constitutions. Former Confederate leaders and soldiers could not vote or hold office. Freed black men were given the right to vote and hold office. The new state governments had to accept the 14th Amendment before they would be readmitted to the Union. Until they accepted it, the South was divided into five military districts. Each district was ruled by a United States general supported by federal troops.

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By 1868 new state and local governments had been set up in the South. The new governments were made up mainly of two groups. The larger group was made up of white men, many of whom had opposed the Confederacy. Some of these whites were from the North. They were called carpetbaggers because they had carried their belongings to the South in small carpet bags. Southern whites who had not fought in the Civil War were also in the new governments. They favored Congress's Reconstruction program and were called scalawags. The smaller group in the new governments was made up of black men. Some were ministers, lawyers, and teach≠ers. Others were ex-slaves.

Many in both the white and the black groups had very little training for their new jobs. As a result, some bad things were done as well as some good things. Some lawmakers, black and white, used their power to make money for themselves and their friends. On the other hand, they passed laws setting up free public schools for blacks and whites. They rebuilt streets, roads, and bridges. They made taxes fairer. Men no longer had to prove they owned property before being allowed to vote.
 

From 1868 to 1876, black men took part in government at all levels. The 15th Amendment protected the right of black American men to vote. Congress proposed this amendment in 1869 and it was ap≠proved in 1870. On the local level, blacks became mayors, sheriffs, and town clerks. They served in state legislatures. On the national level, 14 black men were elected to the House of Representatives. Some of them were former slaves. Two other blacks, Blanche K. Bruce and Hiram R. Revels, were sent to the United States Senate from Mississippi.

 

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The differences between President Johnson and Congress grew worse. In 1868 Congress passed a law reducing his powers. The president decided to ignore this law. When he did, the House of Representatives impeached him. This means the House accused him of doing something wrong. They charged him with disobeying a law passed by Congress. Then he was tried by the Senate. If the Senate upheld the charges, he would lose the presidency. Johnson was not found guilty of the charge by only one vote! Johnson remained in office until the end of his term in 1869.

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The new president, Ulysses Grant, agreed with Congress's policies. Federal troops remained in the South, giving support to the new governments. In the meantime, white southerners became more and more opposed to Reconstruction. They blamed their problems on Congress, the federal troops, and the freedmen who now helped run the governments. They set out to win back their places in the state governments in the South. All over the South, white southerners formed secret groups or societies. The main purpose of these societies was to keep blacks from voting. The Ku Klux Klan was the most well known of the secret groups. Members of this group dressed in white robes. They rode at night to beat or kill those blacks who voted or held office in the new governments. They also attacked white supporters of blacks. By keeping blacks from voting, the whites soon gained control of the state governments.
 

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Things had changed in the North, too. Sumner and Stevens had died. Few northerners continued to show their concern for the rights of black Americans. They often believed the reports about the dishonesty of black people in the state legislatures. They were becoming more interested in building railroads and making their mills and factories grow even larger.


In March 1877, Rutherford B. Hayes was inaugurated as the new President. In April, the last federal troops left the South. Reconstruction was over.


Within a year, governments controlled by white Democrats were in place in every southern state. Under those governments, blacks would lose many of the rights and opportunities they had gained during Reconstruction.

 

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