Civil War Reconstruction: Amendments and Acts
|Reconstruction and Civil Rights Acts
|Civil War, Racism, Civil Rights Acts, and Reconstruction Amendments
(About) A white supremacist campaign poster, 1866. "The
two platforms." From a series of racist posters attacking Radical Republican exponents of black suffrage, issued during the
1866 Pennsylvania gubernatorial race. The poster specifically characterizes Democratic candidate Hiester Clymer's platform
as "for the White Man," represented here by the idealized head of a young man. (Clymer ran on a white-supremacy platform.)
In contrast a stereotyped black head represents Clymer's opponent James White Geary's platform, "for the Negro."
Before the Civil War, the United
States Constitution did not provide specific protections for voting. Qualifications for voting were matters which neither
the Constitution nor federal laws governed. At that time, although a few northern states permitted a small number of free
black men to register and vote, slavery and restrictive state laws and practices led the franchise to be exercised almost
exclusively by white males.
Shortly after the end of
the Civil War, Congress enacted the Military Reconstruction Act of 1867, which allowed former Confederate States to be readmitted
to the Union
if they adopted new state constitutions that permitted universal male suffrage. The 14th Amendment, which conferred citizenship to all persons born or naturalized in the United
States, was ratified in 1868. (Reconstruction Era and Civil Rights.)
In 1870, the 15th Amendment was ratified, which provided specifically that the right to vote shall not be denied or abridged on the basis of race,
color or previous condition of servitude. This superseded state laws that had directly prohibited black voting. Congress then
enacted the Enforcement Act of 1870, which contained criminal penalties for interference with the right to vote, and the Force
Act of 1871, which provided for federal election oversight. (Black Code and Black Codes.)
As a result, in the former
Confederate States, where new black citizens in some cases comprised outright or near majorities of the eligible voting population,
hundreds of thousands -- perhaps one million -- recently-freed slaves registered to vote. Black candidates began for the first
time to be elected to state, local and federal offices and to play a meaningful role in their governments. (Reconstruction Era.)
The extension of the franchise
to black citizens was strongly resisted. Among others, the Ku Klux Klan, the Knights of the White Camellia, and other terrorist
organizations, by violence and intimidation, attempted to prevent the 15th Amendment from being enforced. Two decisions in
1876 by the Supreme Court narrowed the scope of enforcement under the Enforcement Act and the Force Act, and, together with
the end of Reconstruction marked by the removal of federal troops after the Hayes-Tilden Compromise of 1877, resulted in a
climate in which violence could be used to depress black voter turnout and fraud could be used to undo the effect of lawfully
cast votes. (Reconstruction Timeline.)
Once whites regained control
of the state legislatures using these tactics, a process known as "Redemption," they used gerrymandering of election districts
to further reduce black voting strength and minimize the number of black elected officials. In the 1890s, these states began
to amend their constitutions and to enact a series of laws intended to re-establish and entrench white political supremacy.
Such disfranchising laws
included poll taxes, literacy tests, vouchers of "good character," and disqualification for "crimes of moral turpitude." These
laws were "color-blind" on their face, but were designed to exclude black citizens disproportionately by allowing white election
officials to apply the procedures selectively. Other laws and practices, such as the "white primary," attempted to evade the
15th Amendment by allowing "private" political parties to conduct elections and establish qualifications for their members.
(Reconstruction Era, Military Rule, Civil War.)
As a result, in the former Confederate
states, nearly all black citizens were disenfranchised by 1910. The process of restoring the rights would take many decades.
(See also related reading below.)
Recommended Reading: Reconstruction:
America's Unfinished Revolution, 1863-1877.
Review: This "masterful treatment of one of the most
complex periods of American history" (New Republic)
made history when it was originally published in 1988. It redefined how Reconstruction was viewed by historians and people
everywhere in its chronicling of how Americans -- black and white -- responded to the unprecedented changes unleashed by the
war and the end of slavery. This "smart book of enormous strengths" (Boston Globe) has since gone on to become the classic
work on the wrenching post-Civil War period -- an era whose legacy reverberates still today in the United States. Continued below...
the Author: Eric Foner, DeWitt Clinton Professor
of American History at Columbia University, is the author of numerous
works on American history, including Free Soil, Free Labor, Free Men: The Ideology of the Republican Party Before the Civil
War; Tom Paine and Revolutionary America; and The Story of American Freedom. He has served as president of both the Organization
of American Historians and the American Historical Association, and has been named Scholar of the Year by the New York Council
for the Humanities.
Reading: A Short History of Reconstruction.
Review: In an attempt to document the important issues
of reconstruction, Eric Foner compiled his book Reconstruction: America's
Unfinished Revolution, 1863-1877. Foner addresses all the major issues leading up reconstruction, and then finishing his book
shortly after the end of reconstruction and the election of Rutherford B. Hayes in 1876.
In the preface of his book, Foner discusses the historiography of Reconstruction. He notes that during the early part
of the twentieth century many historians considered Reconstruction as one of the darkest periods of American history. Foner
notes that this viewpoint changed during the 1960s as revisionists shed new "light" on reconstruction. The revisionists saw
Andrew Johnson as a stubborn racist, and viewed the Radical Republicans as "idealistic reformers genuinely committed to black
rights." The author notes that recent studies of reconstruction argue that the Radicals were actually quite conservative,
and most Radicals held on to their racist views and put up very little fight as the whites once again began to govern the
south. Continued below...
describes the African-American experience during the Civil War and Reconstruction. He argues that African-Americans were not
simply figures that took little or no action in the events of the day, and notes the enlistment of thousands of African-Americans
in the Union army during the war. Foner also notes that many of the African-Americans that eventually became civil leaders
had at one time served in the Union Army. He states, "For men of talent and ambition, the army flung open a door to advancement
and respectability." He notes that as reconstruction progressed, African-Americans were the targets of violence and racism. Foner
believes that the transition of slaves into free laborers and equal citizens was the most drastic example of change following
the end of the war. He notes how African-Americans were eventually forced to return to the plantations, not as slaves but
as share croppers, and were thus introduced to a new form of slavery. He argues that this arrangement introduced a new class
structure to the South, and states "It was an economic transformation that would culminate, long after the end of Reconstruction,
in the consolidation of a rural proletariat composed of a new owning class of planters and merchants, itself subordinate to
Northern financiers and industrialists.” The author illustrates how both blacks and whites struggled to use the state
and local governments to develop their own interests and establish their respective place in the evolving social orders. Another
theme that he addresses in this excellent study is racism itself and the interconnection of race and class in the South.
he addresses is the expanded presence of federal authority, as well as a growing idea and commitment to the idea that equal
rights belonged to all citizens, regardless of race. Foner shows how both Northern and Southern blacks embraced the power
to vote, and, as Reconstruction ended, many blacks saw the loss of suffrage and the loss of freedom. Foner illustrates that
because the presence of blacks at the poll threatened the established traditions, corruption increased, which helped to undermine
the support for Reconstruction. The former leaders of the Confederacy were barred from political office, who were the regions
"natural leaders," a reversal of sympathies took place which portrayed the Southern whites as victims, and blacks unfit to
affected the North as well, but argues that it was obviously less revolutionary than it was in the South. Foner notes that
a new group of elites surfaced after the war, industrialists and railroad entrepreneurs emerged as powerful and influential
leaders alongside the former commercial elite. The Republicans in the North did attempt to improve the lives of Northern blacks.
However, there were far fewer blacks in the North, so it was more difficult for blacks to have their agendas and needs addressed
in the local legislatures. He states, "Most Northern blacks remained trapped in inferior housing and menial and unskilled
jobs." Foner adds that the few jobs blacks were able to acquire were constantly being challenged by the huge influx of European
is definitely worthy of his original volume. Reconstruction is a subject that can still be interpreted in several ways, including
the revisionist school of thought. Foner, however, seems to be as objective as possible on this subject, and has fairly addressed
all major issues that apply.
Viewing: American Experience - Reconstruction: The Second Civil War (DVD) (175 minutes). Description: Spanning the years from 1863
to 1877, this dramatic mini-series recounts the tumultuous post-Civil War years. America was grappling with rebuilding itself, with bringing the South
back into the Union, and with how best to offer citizenship to former slaves. Stories of
key political players in Washington are interwoven with
those of ordinary people caught up in the turbulent social and political struggles of Reconstruction.
Reading: Forever Free: The Story of Emancipation and Reconstruction. Description: In Forever Free, Eric Foner,
the leading historian of America's Reconstruction
Era, reexamines one of the most misunderstood periods of American history: the struggle to overthrow slavery and establish
freedom for African Americans in the years before, during, and after the Civil War. Forever Free is extensively illustrated,
with visual essays by scholar Joshua Brown discussing the images of the period alongside Foner's text. (From Publishers Weekly:
Starred Review.) Probably no period in American history is as controversial, as distorted by myth and as "essentially unknown"
as the era of emancipation and Reconstruction, award-winning historian Foner (The Story of American Freedom; Reconstruction;
etc.) argues in this dense, rectifying but highly readable account. His analysis of "that turbulent era, its successes and
failures, and its long-term consequences up until this very day" addresses the debates among historians, corrects the misrepresentations
and separates myth from fact with persuasive data. Continued below…
his work with an overview of slavery and the Civil War and concludes with a consideration of the Civil Rights movement and
the continuing impact of Reconstruction upon the current political scene, a framework that adds to the clarity of his history
of that era, its aftermath and its legacy. Joshua Brown's six interspersed "visual essays," with his fresh commentary on images
from slavery through Reconstruction to Jim Crow, buttress Foner's text and contribute to its accessibility. In his mission
to illuminate Reconstruction's critical repercussions for contemporary American culture, Foner balances his passion for racial
equality and social justice with disciplined scholarship. His book is a valuable, fluid introduction to a complex period.