The Reconstruction of the South after the Civil War

"Northerners were impatient to hear the South say 'Uncle' and admit their defeat. The Southerners needed to be told what to do."
- Daniel J. Borstin

This quotation clearly demonstrates that the North wanted revenge for the South's secession. They wanted to make the South sorry for causing the Civil War; and the North would do so with a vengeance. The Civil War was fought because of the North and South's opposing ideas over whether the Union was one nation or a group of states that could leave whenever they wanted. The mere implication of "North" and "South", instead of "Union", shows there was friction. It was this friction that caused the Civil War, not slavery as is sometimes believed. Slavery was only a way for politicians to harness the emotions of the people.

Because the North refused to relent and the South went its own way, a four year long war ensued with over 600,000 casualties in 1861. Americans fought each other over some of the very freedoms that precipitated their earlier war for independence from England. After the North won the war, it left a conquered South to be readmitted into the Union. Deciding the best way to readmit the South was a problem because people had different ideas.

Some - like Lincoln - wanted to readmit the South with open arms, while others - like the Radical Republicans - wanted to punish and seek revenge. Lincoln's plan with its "malice toward none" would have proven far more effective in healing the nation's wounds, for he had a simple set of rules that would have preserved Southern honor and respect, would have generated a kindlier attitude toward the newly freed slaves, and would have eased the racial strife before it occurred. However, the North did not see it this way. The North had several different plans for the readmission of the South into the Union. The Radical Republicans had harsh plans to abuse the rights of American citizens.

Lincoln's plan was one such plan that infused forgiveness. His plan was to pardon all the Southerners, even the ones who fought the Union in the Civil War. All they had to do was take a solemn oath to support the Constitution and abolish slavery. When about one-tenth of the people of a state did this, the state would be readmitted.

On the other hand, The Wade-Davis plan showed the Radical Republican's harsh and vengeful view on the subject. The plan was to make a list of all the white males in the South. Only when a majority of these males took an oath to support the Constitution would each state be readmitted. Then a Convention would be called up, and a new constitution would be made for each Southern state. It would take several years for the new constitutions to be written, and until that time, the South would be under military rule. The goal was to punish the South and to make them feel sorry for their secession from the Union.

After seeing what the Radical Republicans had planned, Lincoln, not wanting a confrontation with Congress, let the Southerners choose the plan they liked. Clearly they would have chosen Lincoln's plan, but alas, Lincoln was assassinated. After Lincoln's assassination, Vice President Johnson decided to basically follow Lincoln's plans for re-admittance. While the initial forgiveness of Lincoln's plan was still there, Johnson added a few things that made it even better, such things as The Freedmen's Bureau and the Fourteenth Amendment.

However Congress passed the plan over Johnson's veto after Johnson became president. The impeachment of Johnson showed the Radical Republican's determination to exert power over the South. When the Wade-Davis plan was implemented, severe punishment had been spelled for the South. With Congress in the power of making decisions over the reconstruction of the South, they affected Military Reconstruction. This reconstruction consisted of dividing up the South into five military districts that would be ruled by Northern generals. There were both positive and negative sides to this. On the negative side, southern white males were not allowed to vote or hold office. Also, they were under military rule. On positive side, slavery was abolished and the Fourteenth Amendment was ratified, giving long overdue rights to blacks.

Meanwhile, another reconstruction was going on at this time called the Black Reconstruction, which integrated blacks into society. Blacks were given government offices, and oftentimes, too many blacks were given jobs that made the southern whites resent them because blacks were not trained to do these jobs. Blacks were given many new rights such as the ability to vote, the ability to go to school, and the freedom to make a living on their own. No one can dispute that blacks, as people, deserved this right to liberty and equality. However, disenfranchising white southern males to bring about new rights resulted in prejudice, racial strife, and a hatred between races.

The Northern Radical's harsh plan for reconstruction of the South did not go without consequence. These consequences are blunders that still hurt us in the present. However not all of the consequences were bad. The Fourteenth Amendment gave blacks the civil rights that the whites had. The Freedmen's Bureau helped blacks to read and write. However, these good things were far outweighed by the bad. The negative consequences hurt blacks in ways we can never truly comprehend. After the southern white males were disenfranchised and no longer were allowed to govern themselves, they decided to forcefully regain control of the government by intimidating the blacks. In so doing, they could keep blacks from voting for the Northerners who were in power. Thus the Ku Klux Klan appeared roaming the South, doing unspeakable things to the blacks if they so much as lift a finger to oppose them.

Another consequence was the Jim Crow laws in the South. These laws enforced separate housing, transportation, schools, and even drinking fountains! Along with those laws came the Plessy v. Ferguson Supreme Court case that upheld "separate but equal" facilities. No race that is separate is truly equal because separate implies one is not good enough to mix with the others. Soon they lost all the rights they had gained under the Republicans. Many blacks could not vote because they could not afford to pay the "poll taxes", and some blacks were unable to get other jobs so they were forced to work in the farms like they had done before. These abominations to the rights of the human soul can only be construed as pointless and self demeaning.

In conclusion, all of this could have been avoided if only the Radical Republicans had looked at what they where doing and thought of the consequences instead of striving for the personal agenda of revenge. These consequences could have been avoided if another plan like Lincoln's had been drawn up. The North should have done the readmitting and reconstruction with more kindness and thought. The North should have let the South in with only an oath to support the Constitution and a Readmission Compromise. It would have mandated that the Southerners provide civil rights for all Blacks and integrate them into society as equals, or face punishment that would be given to anyone if any United States Citizen was deprived of his/her rights. Also, institutions would have to be made to help the blacks learn and be integrated into society. In exchange for this, the Southerners would have been readmitted into the Union with open arms, allowed to be in Congress, vote, and make their own constitutions. If this had been implemented, we could now be living side by side, not as a union together as blacks and whites, as it was with the North and South, but as a union of the human race.

posted by dharh 2:23 PM Aug 3rd, 2007

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