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Reconstruction Era

The Civil War left devastation of plantations and homes in the South. Confederate money was worthless. Lives were in ruins. Abraham Lincoln wanted to heal the wounds caused by the War and begin to rebuild the union. He set down criteria for the Southern states to rejoin the Union. They would have to free their slaves, disband their Confederate government and form a new state government. No former leaders of the Confederacy would be allowed to hold an office in the new government. Also, former leaders and officials of the Confederacy would have to seek presidential pardon before being allowed to vote. This angered many Southerners. On April 15, 1865, Abraham Lincoln was assassinated by John Wilkes Booth while attending a play at Ford's Theater in Washington, D.C. Andrew Johnson, then Vice President, became President. His aim was to continue with Lincoln's plan for Reconstruction of the South. Many Northerners felt that Lincoln's plan did not punish the South severely enough. The Radical Republicans in Congress passed many laws to accomplish this goal. As part of Johnson's plan, in 1865, Southern states were free to pass laws called Black Codes. These laws were designed to prevent freed slaves and white refugees from voting, serving on juries, getting jobs, owning land, or going to school. The Freedmen's Bureau was established by the Federal Government to counteract these Black Codes. The Bureau's goal was to provide food, fuel, clothing, and medical care for 3.5 million freedmen and refugees throughout the South. It also helped provide schools for the freedmen. Northern teachers were brought to the South to teach day and night schools. However, the Freedmen's Bureau had great difficulty administering to the needs of the freedmen in the South. For example, at the end of 1865, there were only twenty-four assistants and twenty doctors to take care of the needs of four hundred thousand freedmen in

the state of North Carolina alone. Also, there was much opposition towards the freedmen and white refugees by the military. Supplies were denied for many except the severely destitute. The passing of the Thirteenth Amendment on December 18, 1865 declared slavery illegal. Congress passed the Reconstruction Act of 1867. This required Southern states to write new constitutions giving African American men the right to vote. As a part of this Act, Federal troops were sent to the South to prevent discrimination against African Americans and to make sure former slaveholders honored work contracts and paid their freed laborers. The 14th and 15th Amendments were passed, granting former slaves citizenship and the right to vote. Freedom was still not guaranteed. Jim Crow Laws limited the civil rights of African Americans. Through excessive poll taxes, threats of violence and unfair literacy tests, the right to vote was literally taken away. Freedmen could be arrested if they refused to sign or honor a work contract. Freedmen who left their plantations to look for relatives could be

arrested as vagrants or killed. Without slaves to work on the plantations, landowners had to sell some of their land. The idea of sharecropping began in the South. A tenant or sharecropper agreed to give the landowner, as rent, a portion of the crop raised from his labor. This made the freedmen accountable to their former masters. There was some relief at this time for the newly freed slaves and refugees. Some were returned to their homes and reunited with their families. Educational programs

“The fight for equality has never ended. It started during Reconstruction and continued until the 1950's and 1960's when the Civil Rights movement reached its climax.”

enabled them to find work in the North and West. Many were able to purchase land of their own for the first time. The aim of the Freedmen's Bureau fell short of its goal. On June 30, 1872, the Freedmen's Bureau was dissolved. In 1877, Rutherford B. Hayes, then President, withdrew troops from the South. Reconstruction

ended. But, Reconstruction was the tool that gave the African Americans the courage and hope for a new beginning. The fight for equality has never ended. It started during

Reconstruction and continued until the 1950's and 1960's when the Civil Rights movement reached its climax.