The New Student's Reference Work/Reconstruction in the South

Re′construc′tion in the South. The period known in the United States as Reconstruction followed hard after the Civil War, when it was necessary for the southern states to resume their place in the Union; and in seeking a solution of this problem the president and Congress soon were widely at variance. President Johnson adopted the theory that these states had never lost their position in the Union; and that, upon a renewal of their obligations to the Federal constitution and the laws of Congress, they were entitled to immediate restoration to their former relations as members of the Union. He accordingly proceeded to establish provisional governments in the seceded states, and by proclamation set forth the terms upon which these states would be recognized by him as members of the Union. One of these requirements was the ratification by each state of the thirteenth amendment to the Federal constitution, which had been adopted by Congress in February of 1865 and abolished slavery throughout the Union. The people of the seceded states proceeded to comply with the president's requirements. They held conventions, ratified the thirteenth amendment, framed new constitutions, and elected senators and representatives to Congress. But Congress, when it assembled in December, repudiated the restoration policy of the president. It was held by a large majority that the work of reconstruction properly belonged, not to the president, but to Congress; that the seceded states had lost their rights as members of the Union; and that they should be re-admitted only on such conditions as would secure and perpetuate the results of the war. Meanwhile the thirteenth amendment to the constitution had been ratified by the requisite number of states, and had been officially declared to be a part of the constitution of the United States. Congress now proceeded to confer citizenship upon the freedmen of the south. The Civil Rights Bill was passed over the veto of the president. The fourteenth amendment to the constitution, which included this and some other provisions, was also adopted and submitted to the states for ratification. It was ratified by Tennessee in 1866, and that state was re-admitted by Congress into the Union. The other southern states rejected the amendment. At length, in March, 1867, the reconstruction act of Congress was passed over the veto of the president. This act defined the conditions on which the southern states might be re-admitted, one of which was the ratification of the fourteenth amendment, and placed these states under military governors until these conditions should be complied with. In June and July of 1868 Arkansas, Alabama, Georgia, Florida, Louisiana, North Carolina and South Carolina, having ratified the amendment and organized state governments under the provisions of the reconstruction act, were admitted into the Union. The fourteenth amendment, having been ratified by the requisite number of states, was officially declared a part of the constitution on July 28, 1868. The fifteenth amendment to the constitution of the United States was adopted by Congress in February of 1869, and was submitted to the states for ratification. It provided that “the right of the citizens of the United States to vote shall not be abridged by the United States or any state on account of race, color or previous condition of servitude.” Virginia, Mississippi, Texas, and Georgia, which had delayed action required, were re-admitted in 1870.

During all this period affairs in the south were far from peaceful. The slaves of yesterday were now citizens and voters. In their utter ignorance they often became the tools of corrupt and designing men. Many of these, known as carpet-baggers, came from the north and took advantage of the situation to further their own selfish interests. To the whites of the south conditions were intolerable; resistance was inevitable and often took the form of acts of violence. The state authorities could maintain themselves only by invoking the aid of the general government. But the interference of the Federal government in state affairs has ever been viewed with distrust. At length a better feeling prevailed. The leaders of the south asserted that if left alone they would carry out in good faith the provisions of the constitution and laws of Congress. The disabilities of the ex-Confederates were removed by Congress in 1872, and finally President Hayes in 1877 withdrew the Federal troops from the southern capitals and announced the policy of Federal noninterference in state affairs. This may be regarded as the close of the reconstruction period. See Carpet-Baggers.