Reconstruction was one of the most dynamic moments in the history of the United States. Essentially, the rebuilding of the South which spans between (1865- 1877) began during at the time which the civil war ended in 1877 and when the last federal troops were ousted from the South (Parsons & Frantz, 824). During this period, the African Americans were granted the status and rights of citizenship by the Congress including the right to vote (Franke & Katherine, 251). By the end of the civil war, the South was in a state of political turmoil, social unrest and economic deterioration. The civil war which had emerged at the time led to the destruction of crops, plantations, and cities at the South. Moreover, it also facilitated the massive trading of slaves. The economy exacerbated, and hyperinflation surfaced. According to Rabinowitz and Howard (38), given the fact that many Southerners were unable to buy food, they starved to death and many of those who did not starve lost their properties.
Ideally, restoration of the south was marked by the recovery of the Union, the transformation of southern society as well as the enactment of progressive legislation which acted in favor of the rights of freed slaves (Herbert, 24). The active participation of African Americans including the masses of former slaves constituted the political, economic and social life of the South. Reconstruction was widely viewed as an era of corruption and misgovernment, supposedly caused by permitting blacks to take part in politics. Apart from the termination of the rights and federalism of the state, reconstruction was also a significant period when the civil rights of the former slaves attracted national attention. The civil war which among one of the most grievous wars in American history, led to the death of over 600,000 Americans and displacement of about 400,000 nationals. Apart from the property being destroyed, families were broken, fortunes lost, the US was greatly devastated. Furthermore, during Reconstruction, Tennessee was at the forefront of political and social change.
The reconstruction period was primarily defined by their quest for autonomy and equal rights under the law both as individuals and for the black community. Before the Civil War began, the African Americans were only permitted to vote in few northern states. Blacks were not allowed to hold posts in offices. In April 1865, there was a massive and extensive mobilization by the black community who held parades, meetings, and petitions. They called for legal and political rights especially the right to vote (Smith, 94) The Equal Rights Leagues was mobilized by the blacks throughout the South during the initial years of reconstruction, and Edward Brooke of Massachusetts was elected to become the first African-American senator in 1967.
Beginning 1867, political activism of African Americans became widespread throughout the South, and a significant number of the southern whites rose up to advocate for radical changes in the construction. Groups such as the Ku Klux Klan together with other supremacy organizations led a war against the authorities and garnered support from the Republicans including other nationals who posed a threat to the white power. During the state constitutional conventions held in 1867-69, blacks and white Americans shared the political forums. Ideally, the majority of southern Republican voters were blacks. The manipulative policies of President Andrew Johnson were harshly opposed by the African American community since they excluded the blacks from southern politics and curtailed the freedom of the blacks. As a result of this fierce opposition to the discriminatory laws, the Republicans won victory in the North.
The victory in the 1866 congressional elections would give birth to a new phase of Reconstruction which would consequently grant the African Americans a more active role in the political, economic and social life of the South. The politics of Reconstruction period transformed the lives of the former slaves into a reunited nation. Laws which empowered the federal government to permit the black Southerners to vote and take up leadership positions were enacted. The reconstruction period was indeed a time of fundamental social, economic and political change. As a result of extensive new research together with profound changes in American race affiliations, historians see the reconstruction period as a breakthrough for the former slaves and the South as a whole. Reconstruction remains relevant even today. As the Reconstruction era came to an end, the North and South territories became united while the southern state legislatures did away with the slavery in their constitution.
Aptheker, Herbert. From colonial times through the Civil War. Vol. 1. Citadel Press, 1967.
Foner, Eric. Freedom's Lawmakers: A Directory of Black Officeholders during Reconstruction. Oxford University Press, USA, 1993.
Franke, Katherine M. "Becoming a citizen: Reconstruction era regulation of African American marriages." Yale JL & Human. 11 (1999): 251.
Maltz, Earl M. Civil Rights, the Constitution, and Congress, 1863-1869. University Press of Kansas, 1990.
Parsons, Elaine Frantz. "Midnight rangers: Costume and performance in the reconstruction-era Ku Klux Klan." The Journal of American History 92.3 (2005): 811-836.
Rabinowitz, Howard N. Southern Black Leaders of the Reconstruction Era. Univ of Illinois Pr, 1982.
Smith, Page. The rise of industrial America: a people's history of the post-Reconstruction era. Vol. 6. McGraw-Hill Companies, 1984.
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