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Reconstruction: A Political Dilemma

To many historians, Reconstruction was a period in history when America


readmitted the former Confederate States back into the Union after the Civil War. But this
is the simplest form of the term. Many amendments, laws and political decisions were
agreed upon that altered the way the country was ran. From deciding freedmen’s place in
society to building a brand new economy and legal system the South had plenty of things
to discuss and settle. The success of Reconstruction is constantly debated. In some ways
it was helpful but in others manipulative and racist.
With the Civil War’s end in 1866 and the passing of the 13th amendment that
abolished slavery, the South needed a large amount of economic charity and political
guidance. Instantly, the North came up with a few possible plans for the South’s future.
They had already witnessed the black codes, a system that limited African American
rights/freedoms, and instinctively thought they were trying to resurrect the “old South.”
Radical Republicans and other political groups had their views on what the South was
about to become.
Eventually, the Civil Rights Act was passed. This act stated that all persons born
in the United States were citizens regardless of race, color, or previous servitude. (except
Native Americans) Many activists were ecstatic that Congress was finally taking notice of
the newly freed slaves. Another amendment was passed shortly after that solidified the
Civil Rights Act. The 14th amendment gave former slaves full citizenship, but they still
not achieve full equality.
Sooner than later, the new state constitutions would be drafted. A large percentage
of the people involved were farmers and African Americans. African American were
greatly important to this process because of the fact they had been denied a voice in the
government for so long. Despite these great advancements, two new forms of farming
were taking over the lives of many former slaves. The share-cropping and contract
system were legalized forms of slavery that kept its workers in a never ending cycle of
poverty. This was just one of the many setbacks for African Americans. Poll tax, or a
newly established tax by the state governments forcing African Americans to pay to vote,
sabotaged the 15th amendment. The 15th amendment ranted former male slaves the right to
vote. Because of these taxes and farming systems, former slaves could not afford to vote
and were yet again denied a voice in the government. Everything was progressing in the
wrong direction.
Even the government was in poor shape. The Grant administration was collapsing
amidst scandal and economic depression. Grant had been foolishly appointing his army
buddies and wife’s male relatives that were inexperienced and unqualified for
government positions. He took part in bribes and deviously handled federal funds too. A
nation wide panic spread in 1873 and banks completely ran out of business. People were
beginning to lose interest in Reconstruction and blamed the country’s problems on the
Republicans, the majority in office at the time.
Finally, the final blow in Reconstruction occurred. The Compromise of 1877 did
not settle many things. The terms were the government would agree to remove federal
troops set up in the South, land grants and loans would be provided for railroad
construction linking the South to the West coast, Hayes would be elected the President
due to the close race, and Hayes would appoint a Democrat to this cabinet. Lastly, the
Republicans would promise to respect the civil and political rights of African Americans.
This was such a loose term that it almost didn’t mean anything if written on paper. The
compromise was one of the worst thought up of in American history and a
disappointment to African Americans alike.
Reconstruction had been unsuccessful in more ways than one. It produced a
legalized form of slavery. It led to scandal and economic depression. But most
importantly it failed in the ultimate goal of granting full equality to African Americans. A
disappointment to most political leaders, Reconstruction did not benefit the country in a
productive manner, and that is an American shame.