, . " "

Current R., Williams T. H., Freidel F., Brinkley A. American History: a survey. 7th edition; New York, 1987.


Chapter 15. Reconstructing the Nation

Few periods in the history of the United States have produced as much bitterness or created such enduring controversy as the era of Reconstructionthe years following the Civil War during which Americans attempted to reunite their shattered nation. Those who lived through the experience viewed it in sharply different ways. To white Southerners, Reconstruction was a vicious and destructive experiencea period of low, unscrupulous politics, a time when vindictive Northerners inflicted humiliation and revenge on the prostrate South and unnecessarily delayed a genuine reunion of the sections. Northern defenders of Reconstruction, in contrast, argued that their policies were the only way to prevent unrepentant Confederates from restoring Southern society as it had been before the war; without forceful federal intervention, there would be no way to forestall the reemergence of a backward aristocracy and the continued subjugation of blacksno way, in other words, to prevent the same sectional problems that had produced the Civil War in the first place.

To most black Americans at the time, and to many people of all races since, Reconstruction was notable for other reasons. Not a vicious tyranny, as white Southerners charged, nor a drastic and necessary reform, as many Northerners claimed, it was, rather, an essentially moderate, even conservative program that fell far short of providing the newly freed slaves with the protection they needed. Reconstruction, in other words, was significant less for what it did than for what it failed to do. And when it came to an end, finally, in 1877as a result of exhaustion and disillusionment among the white leaders of both sections, and of a series of complex bargains in the aftermath of the election of 1876black Americans found themselves once again abandoned. Although they had, with the help of federal protection, won some important gains during Reconstruction, those gains were limited; and after 1877 nothing would save black people from being consigned to a system of economic peonage and legal subordination. The nation's racial problem, which had done so much to produce the Civil War, was left unresolvedto arise again and again in future generations.

The Problems of Peacemaking

In 1865, when the Confederacy finally surrendered to the North, no one knew quite what to do in response. Abraham Lincoln could not negotiate a treaty with the defeated government; he continued to insist that that government had no legal right to exist. Yet neither could he simply readmit the Southern states into the Union as if nothing had happened. The South had been devastated by the warsocially, economically, and politically. And there was now an enormous population of freed slaves, many of them wandering bewildered through the shattered land. Clearly the federal government had to act.

The Aftermath of War

In the North, the wartime prosperity continued into the postwar years; but Northerners who visited the South were appalled when they gazed on the desolation left in the wake of the wargutted towns, wrecked plantations, neglected fields, collapsed bridges, and ruined railroads. Much of the personal property of white Southerners had been lost with the lost cause. Confederate bonds and currency were now worthless, and capital that had been invested in them was gone forever. With the emancipation of the slaves, Southern whites were deprived of property worth an estimated $2 billion. Southern blacks were left with no property at all.

Matching the shattered economy of the South was the disorganization of its social system. In the months that followed the end of the war, thousands of soldiers drifted back to their homes; but 258,000 had died in the war, and additional thousands returned wounded or sick. Many families approached the difficult task of rebuilding, therefore, without the help of adult males. Many white Southerners faced the prospect of starvation and homelessness.

If conditions were bad for Southern whites, they were generally far worse for Southern blacksthe 4 million men and women now emerging from the bondage that had held them and their ancestors for up to two and a half centuries. Many of these people, too, had seen service of one kind or another during the war. Some had served as body servants for Confederate officers or as teamsters and laborers for the Confederate armies. Nearly 200,000 had fought as combat troops in the Union ranks, and more than 38,000 had given their lives for the Union cause. Countless other blacks, who had never worn a uniform or drawn army pay, had assisted the Union forces as spies or scouts. Still others had run off from the plantations and flocked to the Union lines in search of freedom and protection, often to be put to work for the Union armies. As soon as the war ended, many thousands more left the plantations in search of a new life in freedom. Old and young, many of them feeble and ill, they trudged to the nearest town or city or roamed the countryside, camping at night on the bare ground. Few had any possessions except the clothes they wore.

In 1865, in short, Southern society was in disarray. Blacks and whites, men and women faced a future of great uncertainty, in which traditional institutions and assumptions no longer seemed suitable. Nevertheless, people of both races had, even in 1865, distinct and very different ideas about how to respond to the new postwar world.

Many white Southerners hoped to restore their society to its antebellum form. Slavery, of course, had already been abolished in much of the South by the Emancipation Proclamation. The Thirteenth Amendment, which declared slavery unconstitutional, passed Congress on February 1, 1865; the amendment became law on December 18, 1865. But many white planters were determined to retain the essence of slavery even if its legal basis was now destroyed. Some planters continued to detain their black workers. In some instances, the former slaves simply did not learn that slavery had been abolished. But in other cases, they fell victim to efforts by white Southerners to re-create slavery in another form. Most planters agreed with a former Confederate leader who was saying (in June 1865) that slavery had been "the best system of labor that could be devised for the Negro race" and that the wise thing to do now would be to "provide a substitute for it."

Blacks, of course, had a very different vision of the postwar South. They wanted, above all, to know and feel their freedom and to be assured that they were not again to lose it. In the short run, they wanted protection from the threat of starvation. Beyond that, they wanted economic independence; and since the vast majority had always worked as farmers, that meant ownership of land. Blacks also longed for schoolingfor their children if not for themselves. Finally, many blacks demanded political rights. "The only salvation for us besides the power of the Government is in the possession of the ballot," a convention of the black people of Virginia resolved in the summer of 1865. "All we ask is an equal chance."

In the immediate aftermath of the war, the federal government made modest efforts to help the emancipated slaves achieve their dreams of freedom. The government kept troops (many of them black) in the South to preserve order and protect the freedmen. In March 1865, Congress established the Bureau of Freedmen, Refugees, and Abandoned Lands (known as the Freedmen's Bureau) as an agency of the army. The bureau was empowered to provide former slaves with food, transportation, assistance in getting jobs and fair wages, and schools, and also to settle them on abandoned or confiscated lands. Under the able direction of General Oliver O. Howard, the bureau distributed 20 million rations. Missionaries and teachers, who had been sent to the South by Freedmen's Aid Societies and other private and church groups in the North, cooperated with the bureau in setting up schools for the former slaves. There were efforts as well to settle blacks on lands of their own. (The Freedmen's Bureau also offered considerable assistance to poor whites, many of whom were similarly destitute and homeless after the war.) But the Freedmen's Bureau was only a temporary expedient, not a permanent solution. Congress had given it authority to operate for only one year; and it was, in any case, far too small to deal by itself with the enormous problems facing Southern society. The real nature of Reconstruction, therefore, remained to be determined. It would be up to the federal government to determine whether the hopes of Southern whites or those of Southern blacks would prevail.

Issues of Reconstruction

At the time, it was by no means clear how the leaders of the North envisioned the future. The question of what kind of society should exist in the South and what kind of future blacks should enjoy there was tied to questions about the political and economic future of the North. The result was a prolonged debate about the proper course.

The terms by which the Southern states rejoined the Union had important implications for both major political parties. For the Democrats, a rapid readmis-sion of the former Confederate states on easy terms was enormously appealing. To the Republicans, the prospect was alarming. The Republican victories in 1860 and 1864 had been a result, in large part, of the division of the Democratic party and the removal of the South from the electorate. The return of the South would, leaders of both parties believed, reunite the Democrats and reduce the Republicans to minority statusespecially since the South's representation in Congress would, ironically, increase as a result of the abolition of slavery and with it the "three-fifths" clause of the Constitution, by which only three-fifths of the slave population had been counted in determining the number of members a state could send to the House of Representatives. The black population of the South would now be counted in full.

These political questions overlapped, of course, with important economic questions. The Republican party had taken advantage of the absence of the South from Congress to pass a program of nationalistic economic legislationrailroad subsidies, protective tariffs, and other measures of benefit to Northern business leaders and industrialists. Should the Democratic party regain power with heavy dependence on Southern support, these programs would be in jeopardy. Complicating these practical questions were emotional concerns of considerable importance: the widespread Northern belief that the South should in some way be punished for its rebellion and for the suffering and sacrifice that rebellion had cost; and the belief among many Northerners that the South should be transformed, made over in the North's imageits backward, feudal, undemocratic society civilized and modernized.

Even among the Republicans in Congress, there was considerable disagreement about the proper approach to Reconstructiondisagreements that reflected the same factional division (between the party's Conservatives and Radicals) that had created disputes during the war over emancipation. The Conservatives advocated a mild peace and the rapid restoration of the defeated states to the Union; they insisted that the South accept the abolition of slavery; but beyond that they did not propose to interfere with race relations or to alter the social system of the region. The Radicals, directed by such leaders as Thaddeus Stevens of Pennsylvania and Charles Sumner of Massachusetts, stood for a harder peace. Their most militant spokesmen urged that the civil and military chieftains of the late Confederacy be subjected to severe punishment, that large numbers of Southern whites be disfranchised, that the legal rights of blacks be protected, and that the property of rich Southerners who had aided the Confederacy be confiscated and distributed among the freedmen. Some Radicals favored granting suffrage to the former slaves, as a matter of right or as a means of creating a Republican electorate in the South. Other Radicals hesitated to state a position for fear of alienating public opinion few Northern states permitted blacks to vote.

Between the Radicals and the Conservatives stood a faction of uncommitted Republicans, the Moderates. They rejected the punitive goals of the Radicals; but they supported measures to extract at least some concessions from the South on the matter of black rights. It would be this group, ultimately, that would determine the fate of the Reconstruction process.

Lincoln's Plan

Even before the war ended, President Lincoln formulated a Reconstruction plan that reflected his own sympathies for the Moderate and Conservative wings of his party. Lincoln believed there were a considerable number of actual or potential Unionists in the Southmost of them former Whigswho could be encouraged to join the Republican party and thus prevent the readmission of the South from strengthening the Democrats. More immediately, the Southern Unionists could serve as the nucleus for creating new, loyal state governments in the South. Lincoln was not uninterested in the fate of the freedmen; but he wanted to restore the Union as soon as possible and was willing, therefore, to defer considering questions about race relations.

Lincoln announced his plan in December 1863. It offered a general amnesty to all white Southerners with the temporary exception of high civil and military officials of the Confederacywho would take an oath pledging future loyalty to the government and acceptance of the wartime measures eliminating slavery. Whenever 10 percent of the number of voters in 1860 took the oath in any state, those loyal voters could proceed to set up a state government. Lincoln also hoped to extend the suffrage to at least a few blacksto those who were educated, owned property, and had served in the Union army. In three Southern statesLouisiana, Arkansas, and Tennessee, all under Union occupationloyal governments were reestablished under the Lincoln formula in 1864.

The Radical Republicans were angered and astonished at the mildness of Lincoln's program, and they persuaded Congress to repudiate the new governments. Congress refused to seat representatives from the three "reconstructed" states and refused to count the electoral vote of those states in the election of 1864. But the Radicals could not simply reject Lincoln's plan; they needed an alternative plan of their own. And for the moment, they were uncertain about what form that plan should take.

Their first effort to resolve that question was the Wade-Davis bill, passed by Congress in July 1864. By its provisions, the president would appoint for each conquered state a provisional governor who would take a census of all adult white males. If a majority of that group took an oath of allegiance to the Union, the governor was to call an election for a state constitutional convention. The privilege of voting for delegates to this meeting would be limited to those who would swear that they had never borne arms against the United States, the so-called ironclad oath. The state convention would be required to include provisions in the new constitution abolishing slavery, disfranchising Confederate civil and military leaders, and repudiating debts accumulated by the state governments during the war. After these conditions had been met, Congress would readmit the state to the Union.

The Wade-Davis bill was more drastic in almost every respect than the Lincoln plan. Instead of requiring 10 percent of prior voters to swear loyalty to the Union, the Radical plan called for a majority of all adult white males to do so. Instead of assuming, as Lincoln did, that the Southern states had never left the Union, it insisted that the states had in effect forfeited their rights as members of the republic and were thus subject to the dictates of Congress. Like the president's proposal, however, the Wade-Davis bill left up to the states the question of political rights for blacks.

Congress passed the bill a few days before it adjourned in 1864, and Lincoln disposed of it with a pocket veto. His action enraged the authors of the measure, Benjamin F. Wade and Henry Winter Davis, who issued a blistering denunciation of the veto, the Wade-Davis Manifesto, warning the president not to interfere with the powers of Congress to control Reconstruction. Lincoln could not ignore the bitterness and the strength of the Radical opposition. Practical as always, he realized that he would have to bow to at least some of the Radical demands; and so he began to move toward a new approach to Reconstruction.

The Death of Lincoln

What plan he might have produced no one can say. On the night of April 14, 1865, Lincoln and his wife attended a play at Ford's Theater in Washington. As they sat in the presidential box, John Wilkes Booth, an unsuccessful actor obsessed with aiding the South-em cause, entered the box from the rear and shot Lincoln in the head. Then he leaped to the stage (breaking his leg in the process), shouted "Sic, semper tyrannis!" ("Thus always to tyrants!"the motto of the state of Virginia), and disappeared into the night. The president was carried unconscious to a house across the street, where early the next morningsurrounded by family, friends, and political associates (including a tearful Charles Sumner)he died.

The circumstances of Lincoln's deaththe heroic war leader, the Great Emancipator, struck down in the hour of victoryearned him immediate martyrdom. It also produced wild fears and antagonisms throughout the North. There were widespread accusations that Booth had acted as part of a great conspiracyaccusations that contained at least a grain of truth. Booth did indeed have associates, one of whom shot and wounded Secretary of State Seward the night of the assassination, another of whom set out to murder Vice President Johnson but abandoned the scheme at the last moment. Booth himself escaped on horseback into the Maryland countryside, where, on April 26, he was cornered by Union troops and shot to

death in a blazing barn. Eight other conspirators were convicted by a military tribunal of participating in the conspiracy (at least two of them on the basis of virtually no evidence). Four were hanged.

To many Northerners, however, the murder of the president seemed evidence of an even greater conspiracyone masterminded and directed by the unrepentant leaders of the defeated South. (There was never any conclusive evidence to support thisand many anothertheory of the assassination; but questions continued to be raised about the event well into the twentieth century.) Militant Republicans exploited such suspicions relentlessly in the ensuing months, ensuring that Lincoln's death would doom his plans for a relatively generous peace.

Johnson and "Restoration"

The Conservative leadership in the controversy over Reconstruction fell to Lincoln's successor, Andrew Johnson. Of all the men who have accidentally inherited the presidency, Johnson was undoubtedly the most unfortunate. A Southerner and former slaveholder, he became president as a bloody war against the South was drawing to a close. A Democrat before he had been placed on the Union ticket with Lincoln in 1864, he became the head of a Republican administration at a time when partisan passions, held in some restraint during the war, were about to rule the government. As if these handicaps of background were not enough, Johnson himself was an intemperate and tactless man, filled with resentments and insecurities, and plagued by a serious drinking problem.

Johnson revealed his plan of Reconstructionor "Restoration," as he preferred to call itsoon after he took office, and he proceeded to implement it during the summer of 1865 when Congress was not in session. In some ways Johnson's scheme resembled Lincoln's; in many other respects, it reflected the more drastic demands of the Radicals. Like his predecessor, Johnson assumed that the seceded states had never left the Union; and, also like Lincoln, he offered amnesty for past conduct to all who would take an oath of allegiance. High-ranking Confederate officials and any white Southerner with land worth $20,000 or more would have to apply to the president for individual pardons. (Himself a self-made man, Johnson harbored deep resentments toward the old Southern aristocracy and apparently relished the prospect of these Confederate leaders humbling themselves before him to ask for amnesty.) For each state, the president appointed a provisional governor, who was to invite the qualified voters to elect delegates to a constitutional convention. Johnson did not specify that a minimum number of voters had to take the oath, as had the Lincoln and Wade-Davis proposals, but the implication was plain that he would require a majority. As conditions of readmittance, a state had to revoke the ordinance of secession, abolish slavery and ratify the Thirteenth Amendment, and repudiate the Confederate and state war debtsessentially the same stipulations that had been laid down in the Wade-Davis bill. The final procedure before restoration was for a state to elect a state government and send representatives to Congress.

By the end of 1865, all the states not previously reorganized under Lincoln's plan had complied with Johnson's requirements. All of the seceded states, therefore, had been reconstructed and were ready to resume their places in the Unionif Congress chose to recognize them when it met in December 1865. But the Radicals were determined not to recognize the Johnson governments, just as they had previously refused to recognize the Lincoln regimes. In that determination they had the support of much of the Northern public.

Many Northerners were disturbed by the seeming reluctance of some members of the Southern conventions to abolish slavery and by the refusal of all the conventions to grant suffrage to even a few blacks. They were astounded that states claiming to be "loyal" should elect as state officials and representatives to Congress prominent leaders of the recent Confederacy. Particularly hard to accept was Georgia's choice of Alexander H. Stephens, former vice president of the Confederacy, as a United States senator.

Radical Reconstruction

This initial phase of Reconstructionoften known as "presidential Reconstruction"lasted only until Congress reconvened in December 1865. At that point, Republican leaders looked over Andrew Johnson's handiwork and expressed their displeasure. Congress immediately refused to seat the senators and representatives of the states the president had "restored." Instead, Radical leaders insisted, Congress needed to learn more about conditions in the postwar South. There must be assurances that the former Confederates had accepted their defeat and that emancipated blacks and loyal whites would be protected. Accordingly, Congress set up the new Joint Committee on Reconstruction to investigate conditions in the South and to advise Congress in laying down a Reconstruction policy of its own. The period of "congressional" or "Radical" Reconstruction had begun.

The Response to the Black Codes

During the next few months, the Radicals advanced toward a more severe program than their first plan the Wade-Davis bill of 1864, which had left to the states the question of what rights the freed slaves should have. Johnson, unlike Lincoln, refused even to consider compromising; and his intransigence helped the Radicals gain the support of many Moderate Republicans. The president insisted that Congress had no right even to consider a policy for the South until his own plan had been accepted and the Southern congressmen and senators had been admitted.

In the meantime, Northerners were learning more about what was happening in the defeated South; and what they learned persuaded many of themincluding most of the important leaders in Congressthat far more drastic measures were necessary than the president had contemplated. For throughout the South in 1865 and early 1866, state legislatures were enacting sets of laws known as the Black Codes. These measures were the white South's solution to the problem of the free black laborer, and they were modeled in many ways on the codes that had regulated free blacks in the prewar South. As such, they created a new set of devices to guarantee white supremacy. Economically, the codes were intended to regulate the labor of a race that, in the opinion of whites, would not work except under some kind of compulsion. Although there were variations from state to state, all codes authorized local officials to apprehend unemployed blacks, fine them for vagrancy, and hire them out to private employers to satisfy the fine. Some of the codes tried to force blacks to work on the plantations by forbidding them to own or lease farms or to take other jobs except as domestic servants. Socially, the codes were designed to invest blacks with a legal status outside slavery, but one that ensured that they would remain clearly subordinate to whites. To the white South, the Black Codes were a realistic approach to a great social problem. To the North, and to most blacks, they seemed to herald a return to slavery in all but name.

An appropriate agency for offsetting the Black Codes was the Freedmen's Bureau, but its scheduled year of existence was about to expire. In February 1866, Congress passed a bill to prolong the life of the bureau and to widen its powers. For settling labor disputes, it could now establish special courts, which could disallow work agreements forced on freedmen under the Black Codes. Johnson vetoed the bill, denouncing it as unconstitutional. Efforts to override him fell just short of the necessary two-thirds majority.

In April, Congress struck again at the Black Codes by passing the Civil Rights Act, which declared blacks to be U.S. citizens and empowered the federal government to intervene in state affairs when necessary to protect the rights of citizens. Johnson vetoed this bill, too. With Moderates and Radicals acting together, Congress promptly overrode the veto. Then Congress repassed the Freedmen's Bureau Act and overrode a second presidential veto of that law.

The Fourteenth Amendment

Emboldened by their evidently growing support in Congress, the Radicals now struck again. The Joint Committee on Reconstruction submitted to Congress, in April 1866, a proposed amendment to the Constitution, the Fourteenth, which constituted the second Radical plan of Reconstruction. The amendment was adopted by Congress and sent to the states for approval in the early summer. It consisted of three sections. Taken together, they constituted one of the most important additions to the Constitution in American history.

Section 1 of the amendment declared that all persons born or naturalized in the United States were citizens of the United States and of the state of their residencethe first official, national definition of citizenship. Next came a statement that no state could abridge the rights of citizens of the United States or deprive any person of life, liberty, or property without due process of law or deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws. Section 2 provided that if a state denied the suffrage to any of its adult male inhabitants, its representation in the House of Representatives and the electoral college would suffer a proportionate reduction. Section 3 prohibited persons who had previously taken an oath to support the Constitution and later had aided the Confederacy (in other words, former Southern members of Congress and other former officials) from holding any state or federal officeuntil Congress by a two-thirds vote of each house should remove their disability.

The Southern legislatures knew that if they ratified the amendment their states would be readmitted and Reconstruction probably would end. But they could not bring themselves to approve the measure, mainly because of Section 3, which put a stigma on their late leaders. Johnson himself advised Southerners to defeat the amendment. Only Tennessee, of the former Confederate states, ratified it, thus winning readmittance. The other ten, joined by Kentucky and Delaware, voted it down. The amendment thus failed to receive the required approval of three-fourths of the states and was defeatedbut only temporarily. When the time was more propitious, the Radicals would bring it up again. Meanwhile, its rejection by the South strengthened the Radical cause.

The Northern public gave striking evidence of its support for the Radical program in the elections of 1866. The Radicals could point to recent events in the Southbloody race riots in New Orleans and other Southern cities in which blacks were the victimsas further evidence of the inadequacy of Johnson's policy. Johnson attempted to derail the Radical cause by campaigning for Conservative candidates; but he did his own cause more harm than good by the intemperate, brawling (and, some believed, drunken) speeches he made on a stumping tour (a "swing around the circle," as it was called) from Washington to Chicago and back. The voters returned to Congress an overwhelming majority of Republicans, most of them Radicals. In the Senate, there were to be 42 Republicans to 11 Democrats; in the House, 143 Republicans to 49 Democrats. Now the Republicans could enact any kind of Reconstruction plan they could themselves agree on. Confidently they looked forward to the struggle with Johnson that would ensue when Congress assembled in December 1866and to their final victory over the president.

The Congressional Plan

After compromising differences among themselves and with the Moderates, the Radicals formulated their third plan of Reconstruction in three bills that passed Congress in the early months of 1867. All three were vetoed by Johnson and repassed. Together, they constituted a single program. Finally, nearly two years after the end of the war, the federal government had established a consistent plan for Reconstruction.

That two-year delay had important effects on the way the South would react to the program. In 1865, with the South reeling from its defeat and nearly prostrate, the federal government could probably have imposed on the region an even more radical plan than it ultimately did, without provoking immediate resistance. But by 1867, the South had begun to recover from the humiliation of defeat and had begun to reconstruct itself under the reasonably generous terms Lincoln and Johnson had extended. By then, therefore, measures that might once have seemed moderate had come to seem radical; and the congressional reconstruction plan created deep resentments and continuing resistance.

The congressional plan was based squarely on the principle that the seceded states had forfeited their political identity. The Lincoln-Johnson governments were declared to have no legal standing, and the ten seceded states (Tennessee was now out of the Reconstruction process) were combined into five military districts. Each district was to have a military commander, supported by troops, who was to prepare his provinces for readmission as states. To this end, he was to institute a registration of voters, which was to include all adult black males and those white males who were not disqualified by participation in rebellion.

After the registration was completed in each province, the commanding general was to call the voters to elect a convention to prepare a new state constitution, which had to include provisions for black suffrage. If this document was ratified by the voters, elections for a state government could be held. Finally, if Congress approved the constitution, if the state legislature ratified the Fourteenth Amendment, and if this amendment was adopted by the required number of states and became a part of the Constitutionthen the state was to be restored to the Union.

By 1868, seven of the former Confederate states (Arkansas, North Carolina, South Carolina, Louisiana, Alabama, Georgia, and Florida) had complied with the process of restoration outlined in the Reconstruction Actsincluding ratification of the Fourteenth Amendment, which now became part of the Constitution. These states were readmitted to the Union. Delaying tactics by whites held up the return of Virginia and Texas until 1869 and Mississippi until 1870. And by then, Congress had added an additional requirement for readmission, which constituted the fourth and final congressional plan of Reconstruction. They had to ratify another constitutional amendment, the Fifteenth, which forbade the states and the federal government to deny the suffrage to any citizen on account of "race, color, or previous condition of servitude."

Sponsors of the Fifteenth Amendent were motivated by both idealistic and practical considerations. They wished to be consistent in extending to blacks in the North a right they had already given to them elsewhere. The great majority of the Northern states still denied the suffrage to blacks when the Reconstruction Acts granted it to blacks in the Southern states. At the same time the amendment would put into the Constitution, where it would be safe from congressional repeal, a provision that would serve as a basis of Republican strength in the South. Sponsors of the amendment also saw it as a vehicle for protecting the party's precarious future in the North. A warning of trouble ahead had appeared in the state elections of 1867 in Pennsylvania, Ohio, and Indiana, all of which went Democratic that year. "We must establish the doctrine of national jurisdiction over all the states in state matters of the franchise," the Radical leader Thaddeus Stevens now concluded. "We must thus bridle Pennsylvania, Ohio, Indiana et cetera, or the South being in, we shall drift into Democracy." In several of the Northern states the black vote, although proportionally small, would be large enough to decide close elections in favor of the Republicans. A number of Northern and border states refused to approve the Fifteenth Amendment, and it was adopted only with the support of the four Southern states that had to ratify it in order to be readmitted to the Union.

The Radicals saw themselves as architects of a revolution, and they did not intend to let the executive or the judiciary get in their way. They were prepared, if necessary, to establish a kind of congressional dictatorship.

To stop the president from interfering with their designs, Congress in 1867 passed two remarkable laws. One, the Tenure of Office Act, forbade the president to remove civil officials, including members of his cabinet, without the consent of the Senate. The principal purpose of the law was to protect the job of Secretary of War Edwin M. Stanton, who was cooperating with the Radicals. The other law, the Command of the Army Act, prohibited the president from issuing military orders except through the commanding general of the army (General Grant), whose headquarters were to be in Washington and who could not be relieved or assigned elsewhere without the consent of the Senate.

The congressional Radicals also took action to curb the Supreme Court from interfering with their plans. The Court, under Chief Justice Salmon P. Chase, had in 1866 declared in Ex parte Milligan that military tribunals were unconstitutional in places where civil courts were functioning. Although the decision was applied to a case originating in the war, it seemed to threaten the system of military government that the Radicals were planning for the South. Radicals in Congress immediately proposed legislation to require a two-thirds majority of the justices to overrule a law of Congress, to deny the Court jurisdiction in Reconstruction cases, to reduce its membership to three, and even to abolish it. The judges apparently took the hint. Over the next two years, the Court refused to accept jurisdiction in any cases involving questions of jurisdiction in the South.

The Impeachment of the President

The most aggressive move of Congress against another branch of government was the effort of the Radicals to remove Andrew Johnson from office. Although the president had long since ceased to be a serious obstacle to the passage of Radical legislation, he was still the official charged with administering the Reconstruction programs; and as such, the Radicals believed, he was a serious impediment to their plans. Early in 1867, therefore, they began searching for evidence that Johnson had committed crimes or misdemeanors in office, the only legal grounds for impeachment; but they could find nothing on which to base charges. Then he gave them what was, in their view, a plausible reason for action by deliberately violating the Tenure of Office Actin hopes of bringing a test case of the law before the courts. Johnson suspended Secretary of War Stanton, who had worked with the Radicals against the president, and named General Grant as his successor. When the state refused to concur in the suspension, Grant relinquished the office to Stanton. Johnson then dismissed Stanton.

In the House of Representatives the elated Radicals presented to the Senate eleven charges against the president. The first nine accusations dealt with the violation of the Tenure of Office Act. The tenth and eleventh charged Johnson with making speeches calculated to bring Congress into disrespect and with not faithfully enforcing the various Reconstruction Acts. The trial before the Senate lasted for two monthsfrom March 25 to May 26, 1868. Johnson's lawyers maintained that he was justified in technically violating a law in order to force a test case. And they argued that the measure did not apply to Stanton anyway: It gave tenure to cabinet members for the term of the president by whom they had been appointed, and Stanton had been appointed by Lincoln. The House managers of the impeachment stressed the theme that Johnson had opposed the will of Congress and was thus guilty of high crimes and misdemeanors. They put heavy pressure on all the Republican senators, but seven Republicans joined the twelve Democrats to vote for acquittal. On three of the charges the vote was identical, 35 to 19, one short of the required two-thirds majority. After that, the Radicals dropped the impeachment campaign.

The South in Reconstruction

When white Southerners spoke bitterly in later years of the effects of Reconstruction, they referred most frequently to the governments Congress imposed on themgovernments that were, they claimed, both incompetent and corrupt, that saddled the region with enormous debts, and that trampled on the rights of citizens. When black Southerners and their defenders condemned Reconstruction, in contrast, they spoke of its failure to guarantee to freedmen even the most elemental rights of citizenshipa failure that resulted in a new and cruel system of economic subordination. Controversy has raged for more than a century over which viewpoint is more nearly correct. (See "Where Historians Disagree," p. 446.) Most students of Reconstruction tend now to agree, however, that the complaints of Southern whites, although in some respects accurate, greatly exaggerated the real nature of the postwar governments; while the complaints of blacks, although occasionally overstated, were largely justified.

The Reconstruction Governments

In the ten states of the South that were reorganized under the congressional plan, approximately one-fourth of the white males were at first excluded from voting or holding office. The voter registration of 1867 enrolled a total of 703,000 black and 627,000 white voters. The black voters constituted a majority in half of the statesAlabama, Florida, South Carolina, Mississippi, and Louisianaalthough only in the last three of these states did the blacks outnumber the whites in the population as a whole. But once new constitutions had been framed and new governments launched, most of them permitted nearly all whites to vote (although for several years the Fourteenth Amendment continued to keep the leading ex-Confederates from holding office). This meant that in most of the Southern states the Republicans could maintain control only with the support of a great many Southern whites.

These Southern white Republicans, whom their opponents derisively called "scalawags," consisted in part of former Whigs who, after the breakup of the Whig organization in the 1850s, had acted with the Southern Democrats but had never felt completely at home with them. Some of the scalawag leaders were wealthy (or once wealthy) planters or businessmen. Many other Southern whites who supported the Republican party were farmers living in areas where slavery had been unimportant or nonexistent. These men, many of whom had been wartime Unionists, favored the Republican program of internal improvements, which would help them get their crops to market.

White men from the North also served as Republican leaders in the South. Opponents of Reconstruction referred to them as "carpetbaggers," thus giving the impression that they were penniless adventurers who had arrived with all their possessions in a carpetbag (then a common kind of suitcase covered with carpeting material) in order to take advantage of the black vote for their own power and profit. In fact, the majority of the so-called carpetbaggers were veterans of the Union army who had looked on the South as a new frontier, more promising than the West, and at the war's end had settled in it as hopeful planters or business or professional men.

The most numerous Republicans in the South were the freedmen, the vast majority of whom had no formal education and no previous experience in public affairs. Among the black leaders, however, were well-educated men, most of whom had never been slaves and many of whom had grown up in the North or abroad. The blacks quickly became politically self-conscious. In various states, they held their own conventions to chart their future course. One such "colored convention," as Southern whites called them, assembled in Alabama in 1867 and announced: "We claim exactly the same rights, privileges and immunities as are enjoyed by white menwe ask nothing more and will be content with nothing less." Blacks were also organized, often with the assistance of Freedmen's Bureau agents and other Northern whites, in chapters of the Union League, which had been founded originally as a Republican electioneering agency in the North during the war. In addition, black churches helped give unity and political self-confidence to the former slaves. After emancipation, blacks withdrew from the white churches and formed their owninstitutions based on the elaborate religious practices they had developed (occasionally surreptitiously) under slavery. "The colored preachers are the great power in controlling and uniting the colored vote," a carpetbagger observed in 1868.

Blacks served as delegates to the conventions that, under the congressional plan, drew up new state constitutions in the South. Then, in the reconstructed states, blacks were elected to public offices of practically every kind. Altogether (between 1869 and 1901) twenty blacks were sent to the House of Representatives in Washington. Two went to the Senate, both of them from Mississippi. In 1870, Hiram R. Revels, an ordained minister and a former North Carolina free black who had been educated at Knox College in Illinois, took the Senate seat that Jefferson Davis once had occupied. In 1874, Blanche K. Bruce, who had escaped from slavery in Virginia and studied in the North, became a senator.

Yet while Southern whites complained loudly (both at the time and for generations to come) about "Negro rule" during Reconstruction, no such thing ever truly existed in any of the states. No black man was ever elected governor of a Southern state, although Lieutenant Governor P. B. S. Pinchback briefly occupied the governor's chair in Louisiana. Blacks never controlled any of the state legislatures, although for a time they held a majority in the lower house of South Carolina. In the South as a whole, the number of black officeholders was less than proportionate to the number of blacks in the population. The record of the Reconstruction governments is many-sided. The financial programs they instituted were a compound of blatant corruption and well-designed, if sometimes impractical, social legislation. The corruption and extravagance are familiar aspects of the Reconstruction story. Officeholders in many states enriched themselves through graft and other illicit activities. State budgets expanded to hitherto unknown totals, and state debts soared to previously undreamed-of heights. In South Carolina, for example, the public debt increased from $7 million to $29 million in eight years.

But these facts are misleading when considered alone. In large measure, the corruption in the South was part of a national phenomenon, with the same social forcean expanding capitalism eager to secure quick resultsacting as the corrupting agent in all sections of the country. Corruption did not decline in Southern state governments once Reconstruction came to an end; in many states, in fact, it increased.

And the state expenditures of the Reconstruction years seem huge only in comparison with the tight budgets of the conservative governments of the prewar era; they do not appear large when measured against the sums appropriated by later legislatures. The expenditures, moreover, represented an effort to provide the Southern states with services they desperately needed and that no governments had ever attempted to provide in the antebellum period: public education, public works programs, poor relief, and other costly new commitments. There was, to be sure, graft and extravagance in Reconstruction governments; there were also positive and permanent accomplishments.


Perhaps the most important of those accomplishments was a dramatic improvement in Southern educationan improvement that benefited both whites and blacks. In the first years of Reconstruction, much of the impetus for educational reform in the South came from outside groupsfrom the Freedmen's Bureau and from Northern private philanthropic organizationsand from blacks themselves. Over the opposition of many Southern whites, who feared that education would give blacks "false notions of equality," these reformers established a large network of schools for former slaves4,000 schools by 1870, staffed by 9,000 teachers (half of them black), and teaching 200,000 students (about 12 percent of the total school-age population of the freedmen). In the course of the 1870s, moreover, the Reconstruction governments of the states assumed the initiative and began to build a comprehensive public school system in the South. By 1876, more than half of all white children and about 40 percent of all black children were being educated in Southern schools. Several black "academies" were also beginning to operate institutions that were, perhaps, not yet genuine colleges but that were offering more advanced education to freedmen than the public schools provided. Gradually, these academies grew into an important network of black colleges and universities, which would form the basis of black higher education in the South for many decades. Among the early institutions, for example, were schools that later became Fisk and Atlanta universities and Morehouse College.

Already, however, Southern education was becoming divided into two separate systemsone black and one white. Early efforts to integrate the schools of the region were a dismal failure. The Freedmen's Bureau schools, for example, were open to students of all races, but almost no whites attended them. New Orleans set up an integrated school system under the Reconstruction government; again, whites almost universally stayed away. The one federal effort to mandate school integrationthe Civil Rights Act of 1875had its provisions for educational desegregation removed before it was passed. And as soon as the Republican governments of Reconstruction were replaced, the new Southern Democratic regimes quickly abandoned all efforts to promote integration.

Land Ownership

The most ambitious goal of the Freedmen's Bureau, and of some Republican Radicals in Congress, was to make Reconstruction the occasion for a fundamental reform of land ownership in the South. The effort failed. In the last years of the war and the first years of Reconstruction, the Freedmen's Bureau did oversee the redistribution of substantial amounts of land to freedmen in some areasnotably the Sea Islands off South Carolina and Georgia, and areas of Mississippi that had once belonged to the Davis family. By June 1865, the bureau had settled nearly 10,000 black families on their own landmost of it drawn from abandoned plantations. Blacks throughout the South were growing excited at the prospect of achieving a real economic stake in their regionthe vision of "forty acres and a mule." By the end of that year, however, the experiment was already collapsing. Southern plantation owners were returning and demanding the restoration of their property. And Andrew Johnson was supporting their demands. Despite the resistance of General Oliver O. Howard and other officials of the Freedmen's Bureau, most of the confiscated land was eventually returned to the original white owners. Congress, moreover, never exhibited much stomach for the idea of land redistribution. Despite the pleas of such Radicals as Thaddeus Stevens, very few Northern Republicans believed that the federal government had the right to confiscate property. Land reform did not become a part of Reconstruction.

Nevertheless, there was a substantial change in the distribution of land ownership in the South in the postwar yearsa result of many factors. Among whites, there was a striking decline in ownership of land. Whereas before the war more than 80 percent of Southern whites had lived on their own land, by the end of Reconstruction that proportion had dropped to about 67 percent. Some whites had fallen into debt and been forced to sell; some had fallen victim to increased taxes; some had chosen to leave the marginal lands they had owned to move to more fertile areas, where they rented. Among blacks, during the same period, the proportion who owned land rose from virtually none to more than 20 percent. Black landowners acquired their property through hard work, through luck, and at times through the assistance of such agencies as the Freedman's Bank, established in 1865 by antislavery whites in an effort to promote land ownership among blacks. (The bank failed in 1874, after a combination of internal corruption and a nationwide financial panic had destroyed its reserves.)

Despite these impressive achievements, however, the vast majority of blacks (and a growing minority of whites) did not own their own land during Reconstruction, and some of those who acquired land in the 1860s lost it in the 1890s. These nonlandowners worked for others, through a great variety of systems. Many black agricultural laborersperhaps 25 percent of the totalsimply worked for wages. Most, however, became tenants of white landownersthat is, they acquired control of their own plots of land, working them on their own and paying their landlord either a fixed rent or a share of their crop (hence the term "sharecropping"). The new system represented a breakdown of the traditional plantation system, in which blacks had lived together and worked together under the direction of a master. As tenants and sharecroppers, blacks enjoyed at least a physical independence from their landlords and had the sense of working their own land, even if in most cases they could never hope to buy it. (See Chapter 16 for a fuller discussion of the new Southern economy.)

Incomes and Credit

The economic effect of Reconstruction on the freed-men, to the extent that it can be gauged, was mixed. In some respects, the postwar years were a period of remarkable economic progress for blacks. If the food, clothing, shelter, and other material benefits they had received under slavery are considered as income, then prewar blacks had earned about a 22 percent share of the profits of the plantation system. By the end of Reconstruction, they were earning 56 percent of the return on investment in Southern agriculture. Measured another way, the per capita income of blacks rose 46 percent between 1857 and 1879, while the per capita income of whites declined 35 percent. This represented one of the most significant redistributions of income in American history.

Nevertheless, the economic status of blacks did not improve as much as these figures suggest. For one thing, while their share of the profits was increasing, the total profits of Southern agriculture were declininga result of the dislocations of the war and of a reduction in the world market for cotton. For another thing, while blacks were earning a greater return on their labor than they had under slavery, they were working less. Women and children were less likely to labor in the fields than in the past. Adult men tended to work shorter days. In all, the black labor force worked about one-third fewer hours during Reconstruction than it had under slaverya reduction that brought the working schedule of blacks roughly into accord with that of white farm laborers. The income redistribution of the postwar years raised both the absolute and the relative economic status of blacks in the South substantially. It did not, however, lift many blacks out of poverty. Black per capita income rose from about one quarter of white per capita income to about one-half in the first few years after the war. But after this initial increase, it rose virtually not at all.

For blacks and poor whites alike, whatever gains there might have been as a result of land and income redistribution were often overshadowed by the ravages of another economic burden: the crop lien system. In the postwar South, the traditional credit structurebased on "factors" (see pp. 322-325) and bankswas unable to reassert its former control. In its stead emerged a new system of credit, centered in large part on local country storessome of them owned by planters, others owned by independent merchants. Blacks and whites, landowners and tenants: all depended on these stores for such necessities as food, clothing, seed, farm implements, and the like. And since the agricultural sector does not enjoy the same steady cash flow as other sectors of the economy, Southern farmers often had to rely on credit from these merchants in order to purchase what they needed. The credit came at high cost. Interest rates were, in effect, as high as 50 or 60 percent. Suppliers held liens (claims) on the crops of debtor farmers as collateral on the loans. If a farmer suffered a few bad years in a row, as often happened in the troubled agricultural markets of the 1870s, he could become trapped in a cycle of debt from which he could never escape.

This burdensome credit system had a number of effects on the South. One was that some blacks who had acquired land during the early years of Reconstruction gradually lost it as they fell into debt. (So, to a lesser extent, did white small landowners.) Another was that Southern farmers became utterly dependent on cash cropsand most of all on cotton because only such marketable commodities seemed to offer any possibility of escape from debt. Thus Southern agriculture, never sufficiently diversified even in the best of times, became more one-dimensional than ever. Before the war, the South had grown most of its own food. By the end of Reconstruction, the region was importing a large proportionin some areas more than 50 percentof what it needed to feed itself. The relentless planting of cotton, moreover, was contributing to an exhaustion of the soil. The crop lien system, in other words, was not only helping to impoverish small farmers; it was also contributing to a general decline in the Southern agricultural economy.

 The Black Family in Freedom

One of the most striking features of the black response to Reconstruction was the concerted effort to build or rebuild family structures and to protect them from the interference they had experienced under slavery. A major reason for the rapid departure of so many blacks from the plantations on which they had spent their lives was the desire to find lost relatives and reunite families. Thousands of blacks wandered through the South looking for husbands, wives, children, or other relatives from whom they had been separated. Sometimes they found their loved ones, often by relying on an informal information network that quickly grew up in the black community or through advertising in newspapers. Sometimes, the search was in vain.

Former slaves were adamant in insisting that under the new economic system of the South they would acquire control over their own family lives. They rushed to have marriages, previously without legal standing, sanctified by church and law. At times, blacks held mass marriage ceremoniessixty or seventy couples taking their vows simultaneously. Black families resisted living in the former slave quarters and moved instead to small cabins scattered widely across the countryside, where they could at least enjoy a modest level of privacy. It was often those blacks who had lived in closest proximity to whitesformer house servants, for examplewho were most determined to separate themselves from white society and create a home in which they would be able to control their own private lives.

Within the black family, the definition of male and female roles quickly came to resemble that within white families. Black men often forbade their wives and children to work in the fields. Such work, they believed, was a badge of slavery. Instead, women were to perform primarily domestic taskscooking, cleaning, gardening, raising children, attending to the needs of their husbands. Some black husbands refused to allow their wives to work as servants in white homes. "When I married my wife I married her to wait on me," one freedman told a former master who was attempting to hire his wife as a servant. "She got all she can do right here for me and the children."

But the effort to adapt the ideal of "domesticity" to the black family encountered at least some resistance. Not all black women wished to emulate the roles of their white counterpartsparticularly those black women who, as former house servants, had observed the lives of white women closely. More important, however, economic necessity often required black women to engage in income-producing activities: working as domestic servants, taking in laundry, or helping their husbands in the field. By the end of Reconstruction, fully half of all black women over the age of sixteen were engaged in paid labor of some sort. And unlike among the whites, most black female income earners were married.

The Grant Administration

Exhausted by the political turmoil of the Johnson administration, American voters in 1868 yearned for a strong, stable figure to guide them through the troubled years of Reconstruction. They did not find one. Instead, they turned trustingly to General Ulysses S. Grant, the conquering hero of the war and, by 1868, a widely revered national idol. Grant had been an inspired general, but he was a disastrous president. During his two terms in office, he faced problems that would have taxed the abilities of a master of statecraft. Grant, whatever his qualities, was no such leader. He was, rather, a generally dull and unimaginative man with few political skills and little real vision.

The Soldier President

Grant could have had the nomination of either party in 1868. But as he watched the congressional Radicals triumph over President Johnson, he concluded that the Radical Reconstruction policy expressed the real wishes of the people; so he was receptive when the Radical leaders approached him with offers of the Republican nomination. Virtually without opposition, he received the endorsement of the party convention. The Democrats nominated former governor Horace Seymour of New York. The campaign was a bitter one, and Grant's triumph was by no means overwhelming. Grant carried twenty-six states and Seymour only eight. But Grant received only 3,013,000 popular votes to Seymour's 2,703,000, a scant majority of 310,000; and this majority was a result of black votes in the reconstructed states of the South.

Ulysses S. Grant entered the White House with no political experience of any kind. After graduating from West Point with no particular distinction, Grant had entered the regular army, from which after years of service he had resigned under something of a cloud. In civilian life he undertook several dismal ventures that barely yielded him a living. His career before 1861 could be characterized as forty years of failure. Then came the Civil War, and Grant found at last the one setting, the one vocation for which he was supremely equippedcombat.

In choosing his official family, Grant proceeded as if he were creating a military staff. He sent several appointments to the Senate for confirmation without asking the recipients if they would serve; they first heard the news in the papers. Hamilton Fish, whom arant appointed secretary of state, had been out of politics for twenty years when he heard the news that his name had been submitted to the Senate. He wired Grant that he could not accept, but he ultimately agreed to serve. Fish proved to be one of Grant's few truly distinguished appointees. Most of his later appointments went to men who were at best average and at worst incompetent or corrupt or both. Increasingly, Grant came to rely on the machine leaders in the partythe group most ardently devoted to the spoils system.

Diplomatic Successes

The Grant administration and the Johnson administration achieved their greatest success in foreign affairs. These were the accomplishments not of the presidents themselves, who displayed little aptitude for diplomacy, but of two outstanding secretaries of state: William H. Seward, who had served Lincoln during the Civil War and remained in office until 1869; and Hamilton Fish, who served throughout the two terms of the Grant administration.

An ardent expansionist and advocate of a vigorous foreign policy, Seward acted with as much daring as the demands of Reconstruction politics and the Republican hatred of President Johnson would permit. When Russia let it be known that it would like to sell Alaska to the United States, Seward readily agreed to pay the asking price of $7.2 million. Only by strenuous efforts was he able to induce the Senate to ratify the treaty and the House to appropriate the money (1867-1868). Critics jeered that the secretary had bought a useless frozen wasteland"Seward's Icebox" some critics called it. But Alaska was an important fishing center in the North Pacific, and it was potentially rich in such resources as gold (and, as the nation would discover much later, oil). Seward was not content with expansion in continental North America. In 1867, he engineered the annexation of the tiny Midway Islands west of Hawaii.

In contrast with its sometimes shambling course in domestic politics, the performance of the Grant administration in the area of foreign affairs was, under the direction of Hamilton Fish, generally decisive and firm. A number of delicate and potentially dangerous situations confronted Fish from the beginning, but the most serious one arose out of a burning American grievance against England that had originated during the Civil War. Many Americans believed that the British government had violated the laws of neutrality by permitting Confederate ships, the Alabama and others, to be built and armed in English shipyards and let loose to prey on Northern commerce. American demands that England pay for the damages committed by these vessels became known as the "Alabama claims."

Seward tried earnestly to settle the Alabama claims before leaving office, but to no avail. The one successful effort to negotiate a settlementthe Johnson-Clarendon Convention of 1869, which would have submitted claims on both sides to arbitrationwas rejected by the Senate shortly after Johnson left office because it contained no British apology. The debate featured a speech by Charles Sumner, chairman of the Committee on Foreign Relations, arguing that Britain's conduct had prolonged the war by two years. Therefore, Sumner insisted, England owed the United States for "direct damages" committed by the ships and "indirect damages" for the cost of the war for two yearswhich would have reached the staggering total of some $2 billion.

England naturally would have nothing to do with any arrangement involving indirect claims, and settlement of the problem was temporarily stalled. Secretary Fish, however, continued to work for a solution, and finally, in 1871, the two countries agreed to the Treaty of Washington, providing for international arbitration of the issue and other pending controversies. In the treaty, Britain expressed regret for the escape of the Alabama and agreed to a set of rules governing neutral obligations that in effect conceded the case to the United States. This meant that the arbitrators would have only to fix the sum to be paid by Britain. They awarded $15.5 million to the United States.

The Defection of the Liberals

On both international and domestic matters, a wide breach soon developed between President Grant and a number of prominent Republicans, among them the famous Radical Charles Sumner. Sumner's extravagant demand for damages from Great Britain embarrassed Secretary Fish. Sumner also blocked a treaty for the annexation of Santo Domingo (now the Dominican Republic), a project in which Grant took a deep, even monomaniacal personal interest. The angry president got revenge by inducing his Senate friends to remove Sumner from the chairmanship of the Committee on Foreign Relations.

Among the principal political controversies of these years was the spoils system of presidential appointments, which Grant had used even more blatantly than most of his predecessors to reward party machine politicians. Sumner and other Republican leaders joined with reformers to agitate for a new civil service system to limit the president's appointive powers. Such scholarly journalists as E. L, Godkin of The Nation and George William Curtis of Harper's Weekly argued that the government should base its appointments not on services to the party but on fitness for office as determined by competitive examinations, as the British government already was doing. Grant reluctantly agreed to establish a civil service commission, which Congress authorized in 1871, to devise a system of hiring based on merit. This agency, under the direction of Curtis, proposed a set of rules that seemed to meet with Grant's approval. But Grant was not really much interested in reform, and even if he had been he could not have persuaded his followers to accept a new system that would undermine the very basis of party loyaltypatronage. Congress declined to renew the commission's appropriation, and the commission disbanded.

Nevertheless, controversy over civil-service reform remained one of the leading political issues of the next three decades of American life. The debate involved more than simply an argument over patronage and corruption. It reflected, too, basic differences of opinion over who was fit to serve in public life. Middle-class reformers were saying, implicitly, that only educated, middle-class people (the "best men") should be permitted access to government office. Those opposing themnot simply party leaders but immigrant and labor groups, some farmers, and othersargued that the establishment of an elite corps of civil servants would exclude these groups from participation in government and restrict power to the upper classes.

Republican critics of the president also denounced him for his support of Radical Reconstruction. Grant continued to station federal troops in the South, and on many occasions he sent them to support Republican governments that were on the point of collapse. To growing numbers in the North this seemed like dangerous militarism, and they were more and more disgusted by the stories of governmental corruption and extravagance in the South. Some Republicans were beginning to suspect that there was corruption not only in the Southern state governments but also in the federal government. Still others criticized Grant because he had declined to speak out in favor of a reduction of the tariff.

Thus before the end of Grant's first term, members of his own party had begun to oppose him for a variety of reasons, all of which added up to what the critics called "Grantism." In 1872, hoping to prevent Grant's reelection, his opponents bolted the party. Referring to themselves as Liberal Republicans, they nominated their own presidential and vice-presidential candidates. Horace Greeley, veteran editor and publisher of the New York Tribune, headed their ticket. The Democratic convention, seeing in Greeley's candidacy (and in the alliance with the Liberals it would achieve) the only chance to unseat Grant and the Republicans, endorsed Greeley with no great enthusiasm. Despite Greeley's recent attacks on Radical Reconstruction, many Southerners, remembering his own Radical past, chose to stay home on election day. Grant polled 286 electoral votes and 3,597,000 popular votes to Greeley's 66 and 2,834,000. Greeley had carried only two Southern and four border states. Three weeks later, apparently crushed by his defeat, Greeley died.

The Grant Scandals

During the campaign, the first of a series of political scandals had come to light. It originated with the Credit Mobilier construction company, which had helped build the Union Pacific Railroad. The Credit Mobilier was, in fact, controlled by a few Union Pacific stockholders who had awarded huge and fraudulent contracts to the construction company, thus milking the Union Pacific, a company of which they owned only a minor share, of money that in part came from government subsidies. To avert a congressional inquiry into the deal, the directors in effect gave Credit Mobilier stock to key members of Congress. A congressional investigation in 1872 revealed that some highly placed Republicansincluding Schuyler Colfax, now Grant's vice presidenthad accepted stock.

One dreary episode followed another in Grant's second term. Benjamin H. Bristow, Grant's third Treasury secretary, discovered that some of his officials and a group of distillers operating as a "whiskey ring" were cheating the government out of taxes by means of false reports. Among those involved was the president's private secretary, Orville E. Babcock. Grant defended Babcock, appointed him to another office, and eased Bristow out of the cabinet. Then a House investigation revealed that William W. Belknap, secretary of war, had accepted bribes to retain an Indian-post trader in office. Belknap resigned with Grant's blessing before the Senate could act on impeachment charges brought by the House. Other, lesser scandals added to the growing impression that "Grantism" had brought rampant corruption to government.

The Greenback Question

Meanwhile, the Grant administration and the nation at large suffered another blow: the Panic of 1873. It began with the failure of a leading investment banking firm, Jay Cooke and Company, which had invested too heavily in postwar railroad building. Depressions had come before with almost rhythmic regularityin 1819, 1837, and 1857but this was the worst one yet. It lasted four years.

Debtors pressured the government to follow an inflationary policy, which would have made it easier for them to pay their debts. But President Grant and most Republicans preferred what they called a "sound" currencybased solidly on gold reserveswhich was to the advantage of the banks, moneylenders, and other creditors. The money question had confronted Grant and the Republicans in Congress from the beginning of his administration. The question was twofold: How should the war bonds be paid? And what should be the permanent place of greenbacks in the national currency? Representatives of the debtor interests argued that the bonds should be redeemed in greenbacks, thus increasing the amount of currency in circulation. The president favored payment in gold, and the Republican Congress moved speedily to promise redemption in "coin or its equivalent"; but refunding of the debt was to stretch out over a number of years.

The question of what to do about the greenbacks, however, remained unresolved. When Grant entered the White House, approximately $356 million of greenbacks were circulating. And in 1873, when the Supreme Court reversed an earlier decision and, in Knox v. Lee, affirmed the legality of greenbacks, the Treasury moved to increase the amount in circulation in response to the panic. For the same reason Congress, in the following year, voted to raise the total further. Grant, responding to pressures from Eastern financial interests, vetoed the measureover the loud objections of many members of his own party.

With the greenback issue becoming more and more heated and divisive, and with an election year approaching, Republican leaders in Congress began searching for some way to settle the controversy. Their solutionintroduced initially by Senator John Sherman of Ohiowas the Specie Resumption Act of 1875. This law provided that after January 1, 1879, the government would redeem greenback dollars at par with gold; that is, the present greenbacks, whose value constantly fluctuated, could be exchanged for new paper currency, whose value would be firmly pegged to the price of gold. The law protected the interests of the creditor classes, who had worried that debts would be repaid in debased paper currency. In theory, the new law protected the interests of debtor groups as well, by calling for an increase in the amount of specie-backed currency in circulation. In fact, however, "resumption" did not satisfy those who had been clamoring for an increase in greenbacks, because the gold-based money supply was never able to expand as much as they believed was necessary.

Thus the greenback issue survived after 1875, and the question of the proper composition of the currency now emerged as one of the most controversial and enduring issues in American politics. Creditors and established financial interests continued to insist on a sound currency based on gold. Debtor groups farmers, laborers, and some manufacturersand debtor regionsthe South and the Westcontinued to clamor for a currency based not on gold reserves but on the productive capacity of the nation. Otherwise, they claimed, they would continue to be strangled by an overvalued dollar circulating in insufficient quantities.

The question of greenbacks and the many other currency controversies that followed also became symbols of much deeper concerns. Agrarian dissidents and others came to see in the maintenance of the gold standard a conspiracy by entrenched financiers to keep farmers in economic bondage. Southerners and Westerners saw in the currency policies evidence of their subordination to the Northeast. Because in accepting the gold standard the United States was following the example of Great Britain and other European nations, many Americans came to view the policy as part of a dire international plot to enslave the American people. The greenbackers, as they were called, expressed their displeasure in 1875 by forming their own political organization: the National Greenback party. Active in the next three presidential elections, it failed to gain widespread support. But it did keep the money issue alive. And in the 1880s, the greenback forces began to merge with another, more powerful group of currency reformersthose who favored silver as the basis of currencyto help produce a political movement that would ultimately attain enormous strength.

The Abandonment of Reconstruction

As the North grew increasingly preoccupied with its own political and economic problems, interest in Reconstruction began to wane. The Grant administration continued to protect Republican governments in the South, but less because of any interest in ensuring the position of freedmen than because of a desire to prevent the reemergence of a strong Democratic party in the region. But even the presence of federal troops was not enough to prevent white Southerners from overturning many of the Republican governments that they believed had been so ruthlessly thrust upon them. In a few states, the Democrats (or Conservatives) returned to power almost as soon as civilian government was restored. In Virginia, North Carolina, and Georgia, Republican rule came to an end before or by 1871. In other states, the Democrats gradually regained control over several years. Texas was "redeemed"as Southerners liked to call the restoration of Democratic rulein 1873; Alabama and Arkansas in 1874; and Mississippi in 1876. For three other statesSouth Carolina, Louisiana, and Floridathe end of Reconstruction had to wait for the withdrawal of the last federal troops in 1876, a withdrawal that was the result of a long process of political bargaining and compromise at the national level.

The Southern States "Redeemed"

In the states where whites constituted a majority the states of the upper Southoverthrow of Republican control was a relatively simple matter. The whites had only to organize and win the elections. Restoration of suffrage to those whites who had been deprived of it helped them in their task. Presidential and congressional pardons returned the vote to numerous individuals; and in 1872, Congress passed the Amnesty Act, which restored political rights to 150,000 ex-Confederates and left only 500 excluded from political life.

In other states, where blacks were in the majority or the populations of the two races were almost equal, the whites resorted to intimidation and violence. Secret societies, complete with hooded robes and elaborate rituals, appeared in many parts of the South: the Ku Klux Klan, the Knights of the White Camellia, and others. They were frankly terroristic and attempted to frighten or physically prevent blacks from voting. Moving quickly to stamp out these societies, Congress passed two bills (1870 and 1871), which white Southerners called "force acts," and the Ku Klux Klan Act (also in 1871). These measures authorized the president to use military force and martial law in areas where the orders were active. Only rarely, however, did the laws have a significant impact.

More potent than the secret orders were open semimilitary organizations in the South that operated as rifle clubs under such names as Red Shirts and White Leagues. The first such society was founded in Mississippi, and the idea soon spread to other states; their tactics were called the Mississippi Plan. The plan called for whites in each community to organize and arm, and to be prepared, if necessary, to use force to win elections. But the heart of the scheme was in the phrase "drawing the color line." By one method or another, legal or illegal, every white man was to be forced to join the Democratic party or leave the community. By similar methods, every black male was to be excluded from political activity. In a few states, blacks were to be permitted to voteif they voted Democratic.

Perhaps an even stronger influence than the techniques practiced by the armed bands was the simple weapon of economic pressure. The war had freed the slaves, but they were still laborershired workers or tenantsdependent on whites for their livelihood. Whites quickly discovered ways to use this dependence to increase their power over blacks. Planters refused to rent land to Republican blacks; storekeepers refused to extend them credit; employers refused to give them work. Without a secure economic base of their ownsomething Reconstruction had done nothing to give themblacks were powerless to resist these pressures.

Southern blacks were, in the meantime, losing the support of many of their former supporters in the North, even of many humanitarian reformers who had worked for emancipation and equal rights. After the adoption of the Fifteenth Amendment in 1870, most reformers convinced themselves that their long campaign in behalf of black people at last was over; that with the vote, blacks ought to be able to take care of themselves. The party split of 1872, in part a response to the perceived corruption in Southern Reconstruction governments, weakened the Republicans in the South still further. Former Radical leaders such as Charles Sumner and Horace Greeley now began calling themselves Liberals, cooperating with the Democrats and outdoing even the Democrats in denunciations of what they viewed as black-and-carpetbag misgovernment. Within the South itself, many white Republicans joined the Liberals and moved into the Democratic party. Friction between black Republicans and those whites who remained in the party grew because of a well-justified feeling on the part of the blacks that they were not receiving a fair share of the power and the jobs.

The depression that began in 1873 aggravated political discontent in both the North and the South. In the congressional elections of 1874, the Democrats gained a majority of the seats in the House of Representatives, thus denying the Republicans control of the whole Congress for the first time since 1861. And President Grant, in view of the changing temper of the North, no longer was willing to use military force to prop up the Republican regimes that wTere still standing in the South. In 1875, when the Mississippi governor, Adelbert Ames (originally from Maine), appealed to Washington for troops to protect blacks from the terrorism of the Democrats, he received in reply a telegram that quoted Grant as saying: "The whole public are tired out with these annual autumnal outbreaks in the South, and the great majority are now ready to condemn any interference on the part of the government."

After the Democrats gained political control of Mississippi, only three states were left in the hands of the RepublicansSouth Carolina, Louisiana, and Florida. In the elections of 1876, again using terrorist tactics, the Democrats claimed victory in all three. But the Republicans claimed victory as well, and they were able to continue holding office because federal troops happened to be on the scene. If the troops were to be withdrawn, the last of the Republican regimes would fall. Resolution of the conflict would depend on the presidential election of 1876, which was itself in dispute because of the electoral controversies in the South.

The Compromise of 1877

Ulysses S. Grant was eager to run for another term in 1876, but the majority of the Republican leaders refused to consider him. Impressed by the recent upsurge of Democratic strength and fearful that a third-term campaign would create controversy, they searched for a candidate who was not associated with the scandals of the past eight years and could entice the Liberals back into the fold and unite the party until after the election. Senator James G. Blaine of Maine offered himself, but he had recently been involved in an allegedly crooked railroad deal. The Republican convention settled instead on Rutherford B. Hayes, a former Union army officer and congressman, three times governor of Ohio, and a champion of civil-service reform.

No personal rivalries divided the Democrats. Only one .aspirant commanded serious attention: Governor Samuel J. Tilden of New York, whose name had become synonymous with governmental reform. A corporation lawyer and a millionaire, Tilden had long been a power in the Democratic organization of his state, but he had not hesitated to turn against the corrupt Tweed Ring of New York City's Tammany Hall and aid in its overthrow. His fight against Tweed brought him national fame and the governorship, in which position he increased his reputation for honest administration.

The campaign was an unusually bitter one, but there were in fact almost no differences of principle between the candidates. Hayes supported withdrawal of troops from the South and civil-service reform, and his record for probity was equal to Tilden's. Tilden vaguely supported a tariff reduction, but on other economic issues he was at least as conservative as his rival. He supported the gold standard"sound money"and he believed that government had no business interfering with economic interests. He looked on himself as a modern counterpart of Thomas Jefferson.

The November election produced an apparent Democratic victory. Tilden carried the South and several large Northern states, and his popular vote was 4,301,000 to 4,036,000 for Hayes. But the situation was complicated by the disputed returns from Louisiana, South Carolina, and Florida, whose total electoral vote was 19. Both parties claimed to have won these states, and double sets of returns were presented to Congress. Adding to the confusion was a contested vote in Oregon, where one of the three successful Republican electors was declared ineligible because he held a federal office. The Democrats contended that the place should go to the Democratic elector with the highest number of votes; but the Republicans insisted that according to state law, the remaining electors were to select someone to fill the vacancy. The disputed returns threw the outcome of the election into doubt. As tension and excitement gripped the country, two clear facts emerged from the welter of conflicting claims. Tilden had undisputed claim to 184 electoral votes, only one short of the majority. The 20 votes in controversy would determine who would be president, and Hayes needed all of them to secure the office.

With surprise and consternation, the nation now learned that no method existed to determine the validity of disputed returns. The Constitution stated: "The President of the Senate shall, in the presence of the Senate and House of Representatives, open all the certificates and the votes shall then be counted." The question was, how and by whom? The Senate was Republican and so, of course, was its president; the House was Democratic. Constitutional ambiguity and congressional division rendered a fair and satisfactory solution of the crisis impossible. If the president of the Senate counted the votes, Hayes would be the victor. If the Senate and House judged the returns separately, they would reach opposite decisions and checkmate each other. And if the houses voted jointly, the Democrats, with a numerical majority, would decide the result. Resort to any one of these lines of action promised to divide the country and possibly result in chaos.

Not until the last days of January 1877 did Congress act to break the deadlock by creating a special electoral commission to pass on all the disputed votes. The commission was to be composed of five senators, five representatives, and five justices of the Supreme Court. The congressional delegation would consist of five Republicans and five Democrats. The Court delegation, as established by the legislation creating the commission, would consist of two Republicans, two Democrats, and an independent. But before the commission could meet, the designated independent was elected to the Senate and resigned his seat on the Court. His place on the commission fell to a more partisan Republican. The commission sat throughout February and reached decisions by a straight party vote of 8 to 7, awarding every disputed vote to Hayes. Congress accepted the final verdict of the commission on March 2, only two days before the inauguration of the new president.

Ratification of the commission's findings, however, required a series of elaborate compromises among leaders of both parties. Behind the dealing, and partially directing it, were certain powerful economic forces with a stake in the outcome. Republican leaders, hoping to end a Democratic filibuster in the Senate, met secretly with Southern Democratic leaders to work out terms by which they would support the election of Hayes. According to the traditional account, certain Republicans and Southern Democrats met at Washington's Wormley Hotel, and the Republicans pledged that Hayes, after becoming president, would withdraw the troops from the South. Since withdrawal would mean the downfall of the last carpetbag governments, the Southerners, convinced they were getting as much from Hayes as they could get from Tilden, agreed to abandon the filibuster.

Actually, the story behind the "Compromise of 1877" is somewhat more complex. Hayes was on record before the election as favoring withdrawal of the troops, and in any event the Democrats in the House could have forced withdrawal simply by cutting out appropriations for the army in the Reconstruction process. The real agreement, the one that won the Southern Democrats over, was reached before the Wormley meeting. As the price of their cooperation, the Southern Democrats (among them some old Whigs) exacted from the Republicans the following pledges: the appointment of at least one Southerner to the Hayes cabinet, control of federal patronage in their areas, generous internal improvements, federal aid for the Texas and Pacific Railroad, and, finally, withdrawal of the troops. Many of the Conservatives who controlled the Democratic parties of the redeemed Southern states were interested in industrializing the South, and they believed that the Republican program of federal aid to business would be more beneficial for their region than the archaic states' rights policy of the Democrats.

In his inaugural address, Hayes spoke primarily about the Southern problem. While he was careful to say that the rights of blacks must be preserved, he announced that the most pressing need of the South was the restoration of "wise, honest, and peaceful local self-government"a signal that he planned to withdraw the troops and let the whites take over control of the state governments. Hayes knew that this would lend weight to charges that he was paying off the South for acquiescing in his election and would strengthen those critics who referred to him as "his Fraudulency." But in fact, the political crisis surrounding the election had already created such bitterness there was probably nothing Hayes could have done to mollify his critics.

The president hoped to build up a "new Republican" party in the South composed of whatever conservative white groups could be weaned away from the Democrats and committed to some acceptance of black rights. But his efforts, which included a tour of Southern cities and even the decoration of a memorial to the Confederate war dead, failed. Although many Southern leaders sympathized with the economic credo of the Republicans, they could not advise their people to support the party that had imposed Reconstruction. Nor were Southerners pleased by Hayes's bestowal of federal offices on carpetbaggers or by his vetoes of Democratic attempts to repeal the force acts. The "solid South," although not yet fully formed, was beginning to take shape. Neither Hayes nor any other Republican could reverse the trend particularly since no one was willing to use federal power to protect black voting rights, which alone held promise of giving the Republicans lasting strength in the region. The withdrawal of the troops was a signal that the national government was giving up its attempt to control Southern politics and to determine the place of blacks in Southern society.

The Tragedy of Reconstruction

The record of the Reconstruction years is not one of complete failure, as many have charged. That slavery would be abolished was clear well before the end of the war; but Reconstruction worked other changes upon Southern society as well. There was a significant redistribution of income, from which blacks benefited. There was a more limited but not unimportant redistribution of land ownership, which enabled some former slaves to acquire property for the first time. There was both a relative and an absolute improvement in the economic circumstances of most blacks.

Nor was Reconstruction as disastrous an experience for Southern whites as most believed at the time. The region had emerged from a prolonged and bloody war defeated and devastated; and yet within a decade, the South had regained control of its own institutions and, to a great extent, restored its traditional ruling class to power. No harsh punishments were meted out to former Confederate leaders. No drastic program of economic reform was imposed on the region. Few lasting political changes were forced on the South. Not many conquered nations fare as well.

Yet for all that, Americans of the twentieth century cannot help but look back on Reconstruction as a tragic era. For in those years the United States made its first serious effort to resolve its oldest and deepest social problemthe problem of race. And it failed in the effort. What was more, the experience so disappointed, disillusioned, and embittered the nation that it would be many years before an attempt would be made again.

Why did this great assault on racial injusticean assault that had emerged over a period of more than fifty yearsend so badly? In part, of course, it was because of the weaknesses and errors of the people who directed it. But in greater part, it was because the resolution of the racial problem required a far more fundamental reform of society than Americans of the time were willing to make. One after another, attempts to produce solutions ran up against conservative obstacles so deeply embedded in the nation's life that they could not be dislodged. Veneration of the Constitution sharply limited the willingness of national leaders to infringe on the rights of states and individuals in creating social change. A profound respect for private property and free enterprise prevented any real assault on economic privilege in the South, ensuring that blacks would not win title to the land and wealth they believed they deserved. Above all, perhaps, a pervasive belief among even the most liberal whites that the black race was inherently inferior served as an obstacle to the full equality of the freedmen. Given the context within which Americans of the 1860s and 1870s were working, what is surprising, perhaps, is not that Reconstruction did so little, but that it did even as much as it did. The era was tragic not just because it was a failurethe failure may have been inevitable from the beginningbut also because it revealed how great the barriers were to racial justice in the United States.

Given the odds confronting them, therefore, black Americans had reason for pride in the limited gains they were able to make during Reconstruction. And the nation at large had reason for gratitude that, if nothing else, the postwar era produced two great charters of freedomthe Fourteenth and Fifteenth amendments to the Constitutionwhich, although largely ignored at the time, would one day serve as the basis for a *'Second Reconstruction," one that would renew the drive to bring freedom and equality to all Americans.


Debate over the nature of Reconstructionnot only among historians, but among the public at largerhas created so much controversy over the decades that one scholar, writing in 1959, described the issue as a "dark and bloody ground." Among historians, the passions of the debate have to some extent subsided since then; but in the popular mind, Reconstruction continues to raise "dark and bloody*' images.

For many years, a relatively uniform and highly critical view of Reconstruction prevailed among historians, a reflection of broad currents in popular thought. By the late nineteenth century, most white Americans in both the North and the South had come to believe that few real differences any longer divided the sections, that the nation should strive for a genuine reconciliation. And most white Americans believed as well in the superiority of their race, in the inherent unfitness of blacks for political or social equality. In this spirit was born the first major historical interpretation of Reconstruction, through the work of William A. Dunning. In his Reconstruction, Political and Economic (1907), Dunning portrayed Reconstruction as a corrupt outrage perpetrated on the prostrate South by a vicious and vindictive cabal of Northern Republican Radicals. Reconstruction governments were based on "bayonet rule." Unscrupulous and self-aggrandizing carpetbaggers flooded the South to profit from the misery of the defeated region. Ignorant, illiterate blacks were thrust into positions of power for which they were entirely unfit. The Reconstruction experiment, a moral abomination from its first moments, survived only because of the determination of the Republican party to keep itself in power. (Some later writers, notably Howard K. Beale, added an economic motiveto protect Northern business interests.) Dunning and his many students (who together formed what became known as the "Dunning school") compiled evidence to show that the leg of Reconstruction was corruption, ruinous taxation, and astronomical increases in the public debt.

The Dunning school not only shaped the views of several generations of historians. It also reflected and helped to shape the views of much of the public. Popular depictions of Reconstruction for years to come (as the book and movie Gone with the Wind suggested) portrayed the era as one of tragic exploitation of the South by the North. Even today, some white Southerners and many others continue to accept the basic premises of the Dunning interpretation. Among historians, however, the old view of Reconstruction has gradually lost all credibility.

W. E. B. Du Bois, the great black scholar, was among the first to challenge the Dunning view in a 1910 article and, later, in a 1935 book, Black Reconstruction. To him, Reconstruction politics in the Southern states had been an effort on the part of the masses, black and white, to create a truly democratic society. The misdeeds of the Reconstruction governments had, he claimed, been greatly exaggerated and their achievements overlooked. The governments had been expensive, he insisted, because they had tried to provide public education and other public services on a scale never before attempted in the South. But Du Bois's use of Marxist theory in his work caused many historians who did not share his philosophy to dismiss his argument; and it remained for a group of less radical white historians to shatter the Dunning image of Reconstruction for good.

In the 1940s, historians such as C. Vann Woodward, David Herbert Donald, Thomas B. Alexander, and others began to reexamine the history of the Reconstruction governments in the South and to suggest that their record was not nearly as bad as had previously been assumed. They looked, too, at the Radical Republicans in Congress and suggested that they had not been motivated by vindictiveness and partisanship alone. By the early 1960s, a new view of Reconstruction had emerged from these efforts (and in response to the influence of the "second Reconstruction"the civil-rights movement). This revisionist approach was summarized finally by John Hope Franklin in Reconstruction After the Civil War (1961) and Kenneth Stampp in The Era of Reconstruction (1965), which claimed that the postwar Republicans had been engaged in a genuine, if flawed, effort to solve the problem of race in the South by providing much-needed protection to the freedmen. The Reconstruction governments, for all their faults, had been bold experiments in interracial politics; and the congressional Radicals, while far from being saints, had displayed a genuine concern for the rights of former slaves. Andrew Johnson was not a martyred defender of the Constitution but an inept, racist politician who resisted reasonable compromise and brought the government to a crisis. There had been no such thing as "bayonet rule" or "Negro rule" in the South. Blacks had played only a small part in Reconstruction governments and had generally acquitted themselves well. The Reconstruction regimes had, in fact, brought important progress to the South, establishing the region's first public school system and other important social changes. Corruption in the South had been no worse than corruption in the North at that time. What was tragic about Reconstruction, the revisionist view claimed, was not what it did to Southern whites but what it did not do for Southern blacks. By stopping short of the reforms necessary to ensure blacks genuine equality, Reconstruction had consigned them to more than a century of injustice and discrimination.

By the 1970s, then, the Dunning view of Reconstruction had all but disappeared from serious scholarly discussion. Instead, historians seemed to agree that Reconstruction had, in fact, changed the South relatively little; and they began to debate why Reconstruction fell as short as it did of guaranteeing racial justice. Some scholars have claimed that conservative obstacles to change were so great that the Radicals, despite their good intentions, simply could not overcome them. Others have argued that the Radicals themselves were not sufficiently committed to the principle of racial justice, that they abandoned the cause quickly when it became clear to them that the battle would not easily be won.

In recent years, however, scholars have begun to question the revisionist viewnot in an effort to revive the old Dunning interpretation but in an attempt to draw attention to those things Reconstruction in fact achieved. Leon Litwack's Been in the Storm So Long (1979) reveals that the former slaves used the relative latitude they enjoyed under Reconstruction to build a certain independence for themselves within Southern society. They strengthened their churches; they reunited their families; they refused to work in the "gang labor" system of the plantations and forced the creation of a new labor system in which they had more control over their own lives. Eric Foner, in Nothing But Freedom (1983), compares the aftermath of slavery in the United States to similar experiences in the Caribbean and concludes that what is striking about the American experience in this context is not how little was accomplished but how far the former slaves moved toward freedom and independence in a short time. Reconstruction permitted blacks a certain amount of legal and political power in the South. And even though some of that power did not survive, they used it for a time to strengthen their economic and social condition and win a position of limited but genuine independence that brought them, if not equality, something that emancipation alone had not guaranteed: freedom.



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