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The Main Reasons for the Failure of Reconstruction


In 1865, the victory of the Union in the Civil War might have offered some four million slaves their sovereignty, but the procedure of rebuilding the South in the Reconstruction period introduced a new set of significant challenges. As a result, under the reign of President Andrew Johnson (1865-1866), the novel Southern states elected representatives and approved restrictive black codes to control the behavior of the former slaves, labor, and other African Americans (Hollitz 322). More importantly, rage in the North over the codes eroded aid for the approach referred to as the Presidential Reconstruction and led to the victory of the most fundamental division of the Republican Party. In the Radical Reconstruction that began in 1867, the newly enfranchised African Americans gained a voice in the administration for the first occasion in the American history (Foner 462). In less than a decade, reactionary forces, including the Ku Klux Klan, could overturn the transformations brought by radical Reconstructions in the violent backlash, which re-established white supremacy in the South (Foner 454). The essay will discuss the primary reasons for the failure of Reconstruction.

Long-Term Effects of the Reconstruction

After the Reconstruction had started, the white community in the South gathered in what they referred to the patriotic organizations such as the Ku Klux Klan to bring down these ‘black’ governments and restore the ‘home rule’. It was popularized by ‘Birth of Nation’ and the belief rested on the assumption that the black suffrage was a serious error of the Civil War period. It helped to justify the system of the South racial segregation and disenfranchisement of the black voters in particular. Additionally, critical to the question of the Reconstruction were the varied reactions of the white and black Southerners to the stop of slavery. As a result, for African Americans, sovereignty meant independence from the white power, and their families’ stood as an initial pillar of post-emancipation difference.

Under slavery, nearly all African Americans lived separated from their relatives. Thus, the Reconstruction provided the chance to solidify the family ties. Controlling the lives of their families was significant to the former slaves since it was a definition of freedom (Foner 443). At a similar time, African Americans nearly entirely withdrew from the white-controlled religious organizations. Here, they were excluded from any responsibility for governing the church and often required to sit on the furthest pews during services. Hence, the rise of the black church (Baptist and Methodist) played an essential function in redrawing the spiritual map of the South, becoming a location of worship, political gatherings, housing schools, and social events.

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Another striking instance of the Reconstruction’s influence on the freed-individuals efforts to add meaning to liberty was the rush for schooling. Before the war, each Southern state banned the education of slaves. At this time, children and adults flocked to schools that were established after and during the Civil War. Therefore, the desire for self-improvement and independence shaped African Americans’ economic definition of freedom. Overpoweringly, the blacks refused to work in the gangs under the overseers’ supervision and preferred renting land to work for wages. Whether the slaves viewed the Reconstruction as heralding in the new era of overdue equality and autonomy, many Southern whites reacted to the military defeat and emancipation with anger and dismay.

Many white Americans required borrowing money to restart farming. The majority of small farmers fell into debt and they were forced to grow cotton. The most arduous task that the former slaves had faced was adjusting to the world of paid labor. As a result, the white farmers complained that African Americans wanted to work at their pace, live their personal lives as they deemed fit, and set their hours. The Freedmen’s Bureau completed many efforts to intercede between both groups over those and several other issues (Foner 447). Additionally, some Bureau officials believed that African Americans had to sign labor contracts and exit back to plantations to work.

In the summer of 1865, Lincoln’s successor Andrew Johnson ordered lands in the federal hands to be returned to the former owners. As a result, a series of arguments followed, resulting in African American being forcibly driven out from the land settled on by General Sherman. Hence, the duty of managing the Reconstruction and restoration of the Union fell on Johnson’s shoulders, but the man was not suitable for the task of those times. A stubborn lonely man, Johnson lacked Lincoln’s political will and sense of the northern public opinion. Equally, he held personal views on racists and supposed that African Americans had no responsibility to play during the Reconstruction (Foner 454).

Reason for Failure of the Reconstruction

Both Foner and Hollitz agree that the Civil War had conserved the Union and freed all the slaves. Nevertheless, in the Reconstruction, the absence of political focus on the attempt had failed to resolve sectional issues and eliminate freed slaves’ gained civil liberties, which led to the long-term racial segregation. Therefore, after the conflict, the Union had to bring the South back into the nation efficiently and on equal footing, rebuild the shattered landscape, and revive the economy. However, Foner and Hollitz state that the divisions in the federal administration over the Reconstruction resulted in failure in achieving these goals. Here, Lincoln proposed only 10% of the plan that gave an easy technique for the Southern States to reunite with the Union. Nonetheless, after Lincoln was assassinated, Andrew Johnson, the previous owner of slaves, became President of the United States and started his plan for the Reconstruction. Foner stressed that even though his plan had initially worked, the former Confederates eventually worked their way to the administration and they were elected to U.S. Congress. However, the Republicans who had conquered Congress denied the seat the Southerners. Additionally, the Republican Party was divided itself. Conservatives and moderates needed the South to be willingly admitted to Congress and the Union. According to Foner and Hollitz, the Republicans wanted more transformation than those offered by Andrew Johnson. At the similar time, the radical Republicans needed extreme change, longing to remake the South as the North’s image. The tension in the Republican Party and the outwardly Southern-leaning president resulted in small progress and an impeachment trial of Andrew Johnson. Moreover, the Northern disagreements sidetracked the Union from the original development and they did not aid in bringing the South back to the Union. Another primary cause of the absence of political focus in the Reconstruction was the immense economic affluence in the North because of the Civil War.

Thus, Hollitz insisted failure of the North to efficiently reconstruct the South and turn it back to the Union during the Reconstruction was apparent after the era. First, the unsuccessful nature of the Reconstruction would be evident in 1880 when the contrast between the Northeast and South was identical to that of Russia and Germany. Equally important, long into the 20th century, the South stayed as a one-party area under the management of the reactionary ruling elite that harbored detestation against the North.

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Both Foner and Hollitz state that another critical issue of Reconstruction was the integration of freed slaves into society, which revealed the limited nature of Reconstruction. Moreover, there were various opportune times during the Reconstruction when development was made for the free blacks. The initial 13th, 14th, and 15th amendments guaranteed the blacks civil liberty (Foner 457). Additionally, 14 African Americans were chosen to Congress, and others served in local and state governments. On the other hand, in a blend with the Black Codes, the emergence of the Ku Klux Klan and several other white supremacy groups started to intimidate the free slaves by pushing back their civil liberty. In the Slaughterhouse trials, Cruikshank vs. the U.S and Reese vs. the U.S., the Supreme Court assisted the limit rights of blacks sternly. As a result, the sharecropping system, particularly the crop-lien system positioned most African Americans to indebtedness and reminiscent of reliance in slavery. Even though there were hopes for sovereignty, the Yankees let African Americans be returned to slavery. Partly, because the Reconstruction did not offer racial equality, the blacks could be set free but they remained demoralized ordinary individuals well to the 20th century (Foner 473).


After the Civil War, the Reconstruction was viewed as a failure. Eventually, the North was distracted and at odds with the effort that had to be addressed. Thus, they did not efficiently reconstruct the South and return it back to the Union. Hence, even though for a moment it had showed that the freed slaves could become alike with whites, racial discrimination was permitted to pervade to society. In brief, as viewed in the practical efforts to bring the South back to the Union as a fit equal to the North, the Reconstruction failed to integrate the free slaves to the community successfully. Despite most accomplishments, the Reconstruction faced challenges, many of which resulted because of light resistance. In the previous years of the Reconstruction, the state governments had competent but inexperienced leaders. Some were carpetbaggers motivated by corruption and greed. The whites from the South were uncooperative with the current legislation that was passed by the Yankees and blacks. Lastly, the vigilante groups such as the Ku Klux Klan emerged to uphold white supremacy and threaten black voters or whites who supported them. Even though there was industrialization, the location remained committed to the agricultural economy and it allowed sharecropping to be legal and guarantee that the blacks would work for lands owned by the whites.