Modern history

Conclusion: The Legacies of Reconstruction

Reconstruction was, in many ways, profoundly limited. African Americans did not receive the landownership that would have provided them with the economic independence to bolster their freedom from the racist assaults of white Southerners. The civil and political rights that the federal government conferred did not withstand Redeemers’ efforts to disfranchise and deprive the freedpeople of equal rights. The Republican Party shifted its priorities elsewhere, and Democrats gained enough political power nationally to short-circuit federal intervention, while numerous problems remained unresolved in the South. Northern support for racial equality did not run very deep, so white Northerners, who shared many of the prejudices of white Southerners, were happy to extricate themselves from further intervention in southern racial matters. Nor was there sufficient support to give women, white and black, the right to vote. Finally, federal courts, with growing concerns over economic rather than social issues, sanctioned Northerners’ retreat by providing constitutional legitimacy for abandoning black Southerners and rejecting women’s suffrage in court decisions that narrowed the interpretation of the Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendments.

MAP 14.2

The Election of 1876 The presidential election of 1876 got swept up in Reconstruction politics. Democrats defeated Republicans in Florida, Louisiana, and South Carolina, but both parties claimed the electoral votes for their candidates. A federal electoral commission set up to investigate the twenty disputed votes, including one from Oregon, awarded the votes and the election to the Republican, Rutherford B. Hayes.

Despite all of this, Reconstruction did transform the country. As a result of Reconstruction, slavery was abolished, and the legal basis for freedom was enshrined in the Constitution. Indeed, blacks exercised a measure of political and economic freedom during Reconstruction that never entirely disappeared over the decades to come. In many areas, freedpeople, as exemplified by Congressman Jefferson Franklin Long among many others, asserted what they could never have during slavery—control over their lives, their churches, their labor, and their families. What they could not practice during their own time because of racial discrimination, their descendants would one day revive through the promises codified in the Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendments.

African Americans transformed not only themselves; they transformed the nation. The Constitution became much more democratic and egalitarian through inclusion of the Reconstruction amendments. Reconstruction lawmakers took an important step toward making the United States the “more perfect union” that the nation’s Founders had pledged to create. Reconstruction established a model for expanding the power of the federal government to resolve domestic crises that lay beyond the abilities of states and ordinary citizens. It remained a powerful legacy for those elected officials in the future who dared to invoke it. And Reconstruction transformed the South to its everlasting benefit. It modernized state constitutions, expanded educational and social welfare systems, and unleashed the repressed potential for industrialization and economic development that the preservation of slavery had restrained. Ironically, Reconstruction did as much for white Southerners as it did for black Southerners in liberating them from the past.

Chapter Review


Identify and explain the significance of each term below.

Freedmen's Bureau (p. 352)

Proclamation of Amnesty and Reconstruction (p. 356)

Thirteenth Amendment (p. 356) black codes (p. 358)

Fourteenth Amendment (p. 359)

Tenure of Office Act (p. 361)

Fifteenth Amendment (p. 362)

American Equal Rights Association (p. 362)

National Woman Suffrage Association (p. 362)

American Woman Suffrage Association (p. 362)

scalawags (p. 363)

carpetbaggers (p. 364)

sharecropping (p. 365)

Exodusters (p. 365)

Redeemers (p. 367)

Knights of the Ku Klux Klan (KKK) (p. 367)

Liberal Republicans (p. 368)

Joint Electoral Commission (p. 370)

compromise of 1877 (p. 370)


Answer the focus questions from each section of the chapter.

1. What were freedpeople's highest priorities in the years immediately following the Civil War? Why?

2. How did freedpeople define freedom? What steps did they take to make freedom real for themselves and their children?

3. What was president Johnson's plan for reconstruction? How were his views out of step with those of most Republicans?

4. What characterized congressional Reconstruction? What priorities were reflected in congressional Reconstruction legislation?

5. What role did black people play in remaking southern society during Reconstruction?

6. How did southern whites fight back against Reconstruction? What role did terrorism and political violence play in this effort?

7. Why did northern interest in Reconstruction wane in the 1870s?

8. What common values and beliefs among white Americans were reflected in the compromise of 1877?



• Lincoln issues Proclamation of Amnesty and Reconstruction


• Ku Klux Klan formed

• Freedmen's Bureau established

• Congress passes Thirteenth Amendment

April 1865

• Lincoln assassinated; Andrew Johnson becomes president

May- December 1865

• Presidential Reconstruction under Andrew Johnson


• Congress passes extension of Freedmen's Bureau and Civil Rights Act over Johnson's presidential veto

• Congress passes Fourteenth Amendment


• Military Reconstruction Acts divide the South into military districts

• Congress passes Command of the Army and Tenure of Office Acts


• Andrew Johnson impeached


• Congress passes Fifteenth Amendment

• Women's suffrage movement splits over support of Fifteenth Amendment


• 250,000 blacks attend schools established by the Freedmen's Bureau

• Civilian rule reestablished in all former Confederate states


• Jefferson Long serves as a Republican congressman from Georgia


• Congress takes steps to curb KKK violence in the South


• Liberal Republicans challenge reelection of President Grant


• Financial panic sparks depression lasting until the late 1870s


• Supreme Court limits rights of African Americans


• Congress passes Civil Rights Act outlawing discrimination in public accommodations, which the Supreme Court rules unconstitutional in 1883


• Republicans and southern Democrats reach compromise resulting in the election of Rutherford B. Hayes as president and the end of Reconstruction


• Black Exodusters migrate from South to Kansas

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