Reconstruction Era Conflicts

Eric Foner writes in A Short History of Reconstruction (1990) that, “Four interrelated areas reveal the extent and limits of Republican efforts to reshape Southern society:  education, race relations, the labor system, economic development” (p. 156).  Students in History 288 should be able to explain what Foner means by this statement and how the politics of 1868 in particular reveal the limits of Republican efforts to transform the South.  Foner’s narrative is thick with revealing details, but  students should try to identify at least one example for each category.  For those who want to visualize these issues, consult the online exhibit built around Foner’s groundbreaking work from the University of Houston’s “Digital History” site:  “America’s Reconstruction.”  The slideshows are full of fascinating stories and great images, such as a rare photograph of an auction of confiscated Confederate lands in South Carolina in 1865, the image of a black marriage ceremony after the war, “reunion” advertisements by former slaves seeking lost relatives, the roll book for a black school in Richmond, excerpts from the infamous Black Codes, original text from the Reconstruction era amendments and civil rights laws, and a startling cartoon about the Freedman’s Bureau produced in Pennsylvania (see below).

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7 Responses to Reconstruction Era Conflicts

  1. Michelle says:

    The reconstruction after the Civil War was far from easy. Even though the Union had prevailed, and Lincoln issued his emancipation proclamation, little had changed in those southern states for a significant benefit of black citizens. It wasn’t for a lack of effort however. The Republicans in the North attempted in implement changes that would aid the black citizens in establishing a viable life style. The majority of Southern citizens, however, were not supportive of the changes. As noted above, The Freedmen’s Bureau was established as a way to provide funds and materials to newly freed black citizens who left slavery with nothing but the clothes on their backs. It was an attempt to “get them started” so they would have a better chance to prosper. Southerners did not see the Freedmen’s Bureau as an aid to black citizens but rather as a free handout. They argued that the bureau took from the white man to give to the black man. This tension did not help to mend the rift that had been created between the north and south.
    Another large problem was the ability to create loop holes in the legal system to unfairly convict blacks of crimes that would land them in jail. As a way for black men to earn a living they entered into the share cropping business with white land owners. White land owners would provide the land, and are supposed to provide the materials, necessary to produce the crop. The black men would work the land and tend to the crops. The crops were then split between the black men and the land owner. The problem was, though, that blacks were not provided with adequate equipment to produce enough crop, and therefore, they accrued debt. White land owners could then send them to court where they would be convicted of failing to pay debts and be sentenced to time in debtor’s prison.
    Although Republicans did make an effort to aid the black citizens in establishing a life of freedom after slavery, it was highly unsuccessful on a large scale due to the still fresh rift in societies. As much as Republicans may have tried to implement plans, and some argue that they didn’t try enough, without the support of southerners, it was essentially a useless battle.

  2. Rachel Weber says:

    After reading Eric Foner’s book it is clear that the Civil War was only half the battle. Reconstruction produced new challenges as the government, run predominantly by Northern Republicans, attempted to make what the South saw as drastic changes to their way of life. During the Reconstruction Republicans tried to make many changes all at once. This lead to dramatic increases in spending and the national government to grow and acquire more power than it had previously. After all slaves were freed by Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation the Freedmen’s Bureau was created to help them find them places to live, as well as provide food, clothing and education. Education consisted of school house constructed through out the South. In the first years of Reconstruction teachers were normally young Northern White women. Foner mentions that “educational progress most have been painfully slow… schooling continued to be far more available in towns and cities than in rural areas.” (157) He also states that in 1880, 70% of blacks were still illiterate. (157) While the government recognized the necessity and pressing need for education in the South it was clearly a process that would take years and millions of dollars in funding. Schooling also brought up the question of integration and while some schools such as those in New Orleans experimented with this concept and reached success in 1874, a majority of the South was completely unwilling to even consider the idea.
    Race relations during the Reconstruction were also complicated and presented many problems for the national government to address. Mostly throughout the South blacks were discriminated against and the target of hate crimes. When the Civil War end the KKK was born. This group consisted of white suprematists whose main goal was to reestablish the South to what they saw as its former glory before the outbreak of the Civil War. The KKK used awful tactics such as lynching to scare blacks away the polls. Also blacks who had reached positions of power within their areas were also targeted, as well as southern white republicans. While there are always a few positive stories, Foner paints the race relations in the South as atrocious to the point where upon become president Grant had to make some serious changes to protect blacks in areas where the KKK was known to operate. In some cases Marshall Law applied, showing just how bad the situation was.
    Foner repetitively mentions the problem with labor in the South. Upon becoming freed men, blacks wanted land while the government in some cases was able to give small plots out to some families, other blacks were not as lucky. Some became sharecroppers which in many cases was strikingly similar to slavery. Many became seriously in debt and due to this the owner of the land kept all of their produce leaving some families starving and broke. Most whites that had been wealthy white planters prior to the Civil War hoped to keep the south from changing their way of life. The national government met a lot of resistance in their attempt to break the established labor system in the south. Once again, change took place slowly and could only come from the south becoming more modernized, providing different jobs besides farming.
    The north had always been more industrial than the south which was based mostly on the farming of content. This was one of the contributing factors to the Civil War and was also one of the reasons the north won. The south had fallen behind and during reconstruction the government began to fund projects to build railroads to make the south more accessible. While towns near the railroads boomed urban areas were still just as poor and undeveloped as ever. Also with the construction of railroads came a lot of corruption and illegal deals in which money went directly into the pockets of rich men in the north rather than poor areas in the south. This was just another problem that the government would have to deal with in good time.
    Reconstruction had excellent intentions of reforming the country and reuniting the north and south. The south had many adjustments that needed to be made to change the way their economy functioned and to incorporate newly freed blacks. For every problem Reconstruction attempted to fix, more problems appeared in its place. Over all, Reconstruction made clear that the United States as a country had much it needed to work on. The fight for Civil Rights was only just beginning and would last into the 20th century. It would also take decades for the south to completely be rebuilt and modernized to the point where it was able to effectively compete with the north. Reconstruction started the process for change but was only the first stepping stone of many.

  3. Darcy says:

    Foner describes the “four interrelated areas [that] reveal the extent and limits of Republican efforts” (156). Reconstruction after the war is marked by both rapid change, usually at the command of the northern Republicans or blacks involved in reconstruction and the nostalgia of many white southerners to return to the way of life in the Antebellum period when the social hierarchy was clearing defined. This mix of desires led to varied policies throughout the South.
    Education is the perfect example of both the “limits and extents” of the Republican Party. School were evidence of the larger role of State and Federal government in the daily lives of individuals, a change ushered in with the war and Union victory. While the education reforms were in some ways a great success, they also proved to be a failure for the Republicans. These schools were built rapidly and allowed many of the children to gain educations. For instance “Texas had 1500 schools by 1872, with a majority of the state’s children attending classes” (157). These schools, however were more accessible and easily available in urban areas, rather than towns. Many blacks, former slaves, though lived in rural areas and so were unable to attend these new schools. Those blacks that were able to gain access to school were not given an entirely equal education, though. Many white parents refused to send their children to school with blacks. This undermined the Republicans hope for a more integrated society in the South that promoted a greater racial equality. In some areas, however, schools were integrated successfully-notably New Orleans. This segregation of schools soon led to a segregation of other areas of life, like transportation. Though in these cases, segregation was die to legal statutes, it was determined by racial discrimination. This segregation would occur by businesses refusing to serve blacks, allow them entrance, or be provided with the services or goods they purchased. This racial discrimination divided the Republican Party, showing the limitations of the party and its ability to work as a unified front. This was especially true in southern states where the majority of Republicans were native whites. These issues that the Republican Party had to face, while trying to create Reconstruction policy that unified the South and combated racial tensions, caused divides to develop within the party and allowed other avenues of racial discrimination to emerge.

  4. Tim says:

    In this section Eric Foner addresses the four areas that proved troublesome for the Republicans to address in the reconstruction area. They were issues of race relations, education, economic development, and education. In regards to race relations this was never going to be something the Republicans could really begin to resolve in their lifetimes. The inferiority of the former slaves was so engrained in most Southerners’ conscience that is would be impossible to simply legislate the black people of the south into equality. Even on paper with the passing of the 14th and 15th amendment equal rights of black people would be something that was left up to interpretation for over a hundred years after the fact and was nearly impossible to enforce. Just because blacks were given the right to vote doesn’t mean that the south could not come up with both legal and extra legal ways of keeping them from the polls. Jim Crowe laws together with groups like the KKK would effectively keep african americans disenfranchised for decades after the Civil War ended.
    In regards to education there was vast disparities in quality. With the whole concept of separate but equal there were few places in the south where whites and blacks were educated in the same setting. In this situation it all comes down to accessibility and funding. Many african americans not only had to travel much farther than their white counterparts to go to school but their schools were greatly underfunded. This lead to a disparity in quality of education. A sign of this is the fact that at the turn of the century 70% of blacks were still illiterate.
    Another trouble area was economic stimulation. Much of the south’s capital was destroyed during the war. This combined with the loss of a free labor source made for slow economic redevelopment during the postbellum period. This puts a strain on every factor of everyday life and exacerbates the other inherent underlying issues. This is directly tied to the labor issue. Not only did the south lose its free work force during the war, they also gained competition for what few manufacturing jobs existed. This raised tensions and also took a huge economic toll on the economy. On the side of the former slaves they had received freedom but many still found themselves subservient and highly dependent on whites as both sharecroppers and tenant farmers. This was a hard life and showed little promise of advancing the african american’s place in society. They were paid much less than whites as there was no minimum wage and were very often tied to poverty.
    Many of these issues were ones that the Republicans could not simply legislate away. It is a kin to the idea that “no man can resist an idea whose time has come” but in reverse. The solutions to these problems were either simply generations from being on the population’s radar screen, or too hard to change without a huge influx of public funds to the south. As a result Reconstruction was to be a long arduous process that would not truly end in many ways for nearly 100 years.

  5. Colin Farrell says:

    In theory the Reconstruction Era was going to be one of prosperity, equality, and most importantly change. However, in practice the Reconstruction Era was quite the opposite. Although there were numerous programs set up for the country to prosper and for blacks to gain equality, these programs and policies back fired in a way that left the country still divided.
    One of the most prominent examples of this was the Freedman Bureau. This was a program set up to allow former slaves to become independent of the white man and start a life for themselves. In theory this program was great. It would allow blacks to gain a sense of equality and independence. However it caused many problems especially with white southerns who believed that the bureau was solely set up so that whites would still support blacks. They believed that it was their hard work that was paying for these opportunities and not the work or even the budget of the federal government. With this anger rising in the south it made it harder for blacks to become integrated. Schooling was another issue for blacks. Not many blacks could get to schools do to their locations. Because of this only a certain number of blacks could be educated. Of course there was some resistance to this by white southerners who refused to send their children to the same schools as blacks. They called for segregated schools which crushed the mission of the Republican party to have an integrated south. Another form of integrating the south and allowing blacks to create new lives for themselves was through share cropping. This would allow blacks to share a piece of land with a white farmer and gave them the ability to grow and produce their own crops. The down side to this was that black accumulated a massive amount of debt from not being able to produce enough crops to pay back the white farmers. With this happening a number of blacks lost this opportunity and were forced into poverty. All three of these examples show how in theory Reconstruction was perfect, but in practice it would not work.
    As one can see Reconstruction was about trying to make this country united once more but this time with another race. The south as well as areas of the north needed to be openminded to this idea and needed to be able to accept that the times were going to have to change in order for Reconstruction to work. It was not surprising however when a number of white southerners decided to oppose this and formed a white supremacy group known as The Ku Klux Klan (KKK). It was their goal to scare blacks and wreak havoc on their lives. They wanted nothing to do with the blacks and they most certainly did not want them to be their equals. The KKK was a tool for the south to express their anger and protest the radical Republicans and what was happening in Washington D.C.
    In all summary I believe that Reconstruction had a profound impact on the country in both a positive and negative way. I believe that it laid the ground work down for the civil rights movement to come, but I also believe it wasn’t radical enough for its time. Blacks definitely benefited from the efforts of those behind reconstruction but at same time they also suffered.

  6. Alexandra Ostebo says:

    During the Reconstruction era, there were many things that the government did to try and reconcile black/white relations after the Civil War. With the balance of power so terribly array, the Republican party had their hands full trying to raise the once enslaved black people to be equal to whites in America. Of course, they knew that they would first have to ratify and rewrite some of the foundations of the Constitution. This included the 13th, 14th 15th Amendments which gave former slaves rights such as the right to vote, equal protection under the law, and made them official citizens of United States.
    President Andrew Johnson however sought to appease the white former confederates. He presented a Proclamation in May 1865 to help establish governments in the south but gave no role to blacks in this process. With this, the south stated to reconstruct much like it was before the war and “Black Codes” negated almost any progress that had been made. This enraged the northerners. Congress in tern did it’s best to veto Johnson’s racist laws and stop the states from wrongful laws towards blacks. They also extended the Freedman’s Bureau. But laws could not fight back the uprising of the Ku Klux Klan (KKK) which used violence and fear to keep former slaves in “slavery” and too keep them from voting or becoming elected officials. The republicans could not maintain enough force in the Whitehouse, Senate or Congress to make radical decisions that would help the black rights because of the amount of Confederates aloud to regain power. The laws that were created during Reconstruction were important but diluted by state regulations and racist/passive presidents Johnson and Grant.

  7. Lindsey Blais says:

    After the Union had been reunited, the long years of war were not to be easily erased. In an effort to rebuild the broken nation, the United States went through what is known as the Reconstruction Era. In A Short History of Reconstruction by Eric Foner, he describes how “education, race relations, the labor system, and economic development,” (p.156) were factors that prohibited the Congress during the era from reconstructing the nation to its fullest extent.
    The slaves were free, they had the thirteenth, fourteenth, and fifteenth amendments protecting their civil rights under the Constitution, but they did not have a shield to the discrimination and terror inflicted upon their community following their freedom. Organizations such as the Freedmans Bureau worked to bring education to the black communities, but the system was flawed from the beginning. By segregating the schools by race, black children were set as lower class citizens below their white counterparts. Starting such a practice at that age level in society led to further segregation in every other aspect of society.
    With over ninety present of the black community in the South, the expulsion of slavery created an upheaval of the Southern way of life. They wished to return to Southern lifestyle with Southern values. The South felt the Republican government was trying to in force changes during the Reconstruction that went against their own rights. This change caused hostility in the form of the Ku Klux Klan and other terror organizations that strove to put down the rights given to the black community. Terror and murder were used to hinder the black community from casting their votes.
    And with such a large community now out of servitude, the labor market grew exponentially. Some in the South took advantage of this and held black citizens as lower class citizens; only presenting them with labor and poor paid work. This subjugation allowed for little leverage to gain standing in the Southern community for blacks.

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