6th Hour

US History

Reconstruction Essay

After the Civil War, many changes wiggled their ways into American society and politics. Some of these changes improved the country, but others (and even the ones that did improve things) caused just as many problems as they were meant to fix. In this time period, three amendments were added to the Constitution. To prevent further debate, the 13th Amendment freed slaves in all of the states, not just the states that seceded. The 14th Amendment provided a Constitutional basis for the Civil Rights Act, which gave African Americans citizenship and forbade black codes. The 15th Amendment ensured that no one could officially be kept from voting due to race, color, or previous condition of servitude anywhere. Nevertheless, problems still existed and freed slaves and their supporters faced resistance from racists. The new amendments failed to establish equality for African Americans because of violence, new laws, and regulations.

During Reconstruction, many white Southerners found it difficult to accept the freedom of African Americans. Their lives were disrupted, their traditions destroyed, and their economy ruined. They felt that African Americans should remain slaves, tied to their masters forever. Since they could not turn back the clock, many white Southerners turned to violence. Some founded the KKK or organizations like it, which target African Americans with acts of violence or murder. They tried to scare them into returning to their masters or into not voting. One of the major goals of the KKK was to stifle political African Americans. White Southerners knew that if the former slaves voted, they would not be represented the way they felt they should be. These organizations killed thousands of people per year, and not much could be done about it because they often wore disguises or were supported by important government officials.

The Southern governments also instituted new laws and restrictions to weasel around the guidelines set in the new amendments. They established black codes, which were discriminatory laws that severely restricted the lives of African Americans, sometimes to the point of seeming like slavery again. Although these laws were banned by the 15th Amendment, some violent organizations saw fit to enforce them as social guidelines. Jim Crow laws segregated blacks from whites in public and private facilities, placing limits on their everyday personal lives. They were not allowed to marry whites, eat at whites-only restaurants, or sit in white-only train cars. In 1896, the Supreme Court ruled that this was legal as long as the facilities were equal, encouraging the "separate but equal" policy. To discourage African Americans from voting, Southern states required voters to pay a poll tax. The newly freed blacks were mostly very poor and could not afford to pay a tax to vote. However, that did not stop them. Along with this, Southern states implemented a Grandfather Clause, which stated that if one's grandfather could vote, then that person could vote. This stopped former slaves from voting because none of their grandparents could vote. Also, states allowed whites certain exceptions, such as if their grandfather could vote, then they would not have to pay the poll tax. Thus, poor whites were able to vote while blacks were not.

Although measures were taken to ensure freedom and equality for African Americans, racial discrimination and anti-black policies reigned until the mid-twentieth century. Because of the violence, new, racial laws, and racial regulations, Southern states were able to slide around the equality that the government tried to establish with the amendments and control the lives of former slaves.