The Political Contest over Reconstruction 2 Questions / Asap

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Q8. Identify the legislation passed by the Radical Republicans in Congress in the 1860s that protected the rights of African Americans. Include in your analysis whether or not the legislation’s objectives were met?

Q9.Why were African Americans unable to secure equal rights during Reconstruction?

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A. The Political Contest over Reconstruction

1. When Andrew Johnson assumed the presidency after Abraham Lincoln was assassinated, he maintained Lincoln’s lenient policies toward former Confederates. Radical Republicans were angered by the fact that Johnson quickly restored civil governments in Confederate states, granted amnesty to former Confederates, and displayed no concern for protecting the civil rights of freedpeople.

2. During the Civil War, Republicans led by Representative Thaddeus Stevens and Senator Charles Sumner had pressed for more aggressive military campaigns and a quicker end to slavery. These Republicans also introduced the Wade-Davis Bill, which was designed to reverse leniency toward Confederates.

3. In December 1865, Johnson announced that the Union was restored, and Radical Republicans were alarmed by the fact that representatives and senators from former Confederate states were slated to be reseated in Congress. Radical Republicans responded by forming a joint committee to examine issues of suffrage and representation for the former Confederate states.

4. A struggle ensued between the president and Congress over two bills passed in early 1866 despite Johnson’s veto: the reauthorization of the Freedmen’s Bureau and the Civil Rights Act.

5. The Freedmen’s Bureau was established in March 1865 to help freedpeople in their social, economic, and political transition to freedom. However, to prevent freedpeople from becoming wards of the state and the bureau from becoming a permanent guardian, the bureau was kept a temporary agency that Congress had to renew annually. The 1866 extension of the Freedmen’s Bureau expanded Congress’s power by establishing military commissions to hear cases of civil rights abuses.

6. The Freedmen’s Bureau heard shocking reports of whites who beat blacks, cheated them out of their wages, shortchanged them on purchased goods, and stole their share of crops. 

7. Johnson vetoed the reauthorization of the Freedmen’s Bureau, stating that military commissions were unconstitutional. Congress passed the bill over his veto.

8. Congress instituted other measures to further protect the civil rights of freedpeople. The Civil Rights Act of 1866 was also passed over Johnson’s veto. This act defined U.S. citizenship and clarified that all citizens would be equally protected under the law. While the law ensured that blacks could make contracts and initiate lawsuits, it did not protect their voting rights.

9. The Fourteenth Amendment proved to be an equally contentious measure for Congress and the president to negotiate. The amendment asserted that all citizens were guaranteed equal protection under the law. It also prohibited states from violating American’s citizenship rights. This law would have a great impact on the black freedom struggle; however, states found ways to implement racially discriminatory laws in areas where states were sovereign, such as public education.

10. Johnson attempted to undermine the Radical Republicans’ agenda by embarking on a presidential speaking tour. However, in the midterm elections of 1866, Radical Republicans captured two-thirds of both houses of Congress. They moved quickly to pass the Reconstruction Act of 1867, which dissolved state governments in the former Confederacy (excluding Tennessee) and divided the old Confederacy into five military districts subject to martial law, each with a military governor. The act mandated that, to reenter the Union, each former rebel state had to call a constitutional convention, which would be elected by universal male suffrage (including black male suffrage), and was required to write a new state constitution that guaranteed black suffrage as well as to ratify the Fourteenth Amendment.

11. Congress also passed the Tenure of Office Act (over Johnson’s veto again), which prohibited the president from removing any cabinet member from office without the Senate’s approval.

12. Secretary of War Edwin M. Stanton, a Radical Republican, was openly critical of Johnson’s presidency, so when Johnson dismissed Stanton in February 1868, the House of Representatives impeached Johnson for this violation and other charges.

B. Black Reconstruction

1. The military Reconstruction of the South was already under way. Many former Confederates were ineligible to vote in elections for delegates to state constitutional conventions, and up to 30 percent of whites refused to participate in elections in which black men could vote. Thus, in some states, black voters were in the majority. In South Carolina and Louisiana, blacks were the majority of delegates. Black delegates represented the interests of freedpeople specifically, and of Americans more broadly; they took a strong stand against disproportionate power derived from money and property. 

2. The conventions that took place during Reconstruction would be remembered decades later by African American scholar W. E. B. Du Bois as “Black Reconstruction.” Du Bois characterized this moment as “a History of the Part Which Black Folk Played in the Attempt to Reconstruct Democracy in America.” The constitutions drafted during these conventions marked the first time that the South saw universal male suffrage, public schools, progressive taxes, improved court and judicial systems, commissions to promote industrial development, state aid for railroad development, and social welfare institutions such as hospitals and asylums for orphans and the mentally ill. To some extent, these new state constitutions were among the most progressive that the nation had ever seen.

3. White southerners who did not participate in the conventions ridiculed and scorned black delegates as incompetent and white delegates as “carpetbaggers” and “scalawags.” Ultimately, black delegates were more centrist than radical, more committed to reintegrating former Confederates into the new state governments than punishing them for having waged war against the United States, and more than competent.

4. Approximately 2,000 blacks served as officeholders at various levels of government in the South during Black Reconstruction; a large number of them had been slaves. Black officeholders were artisans, laborers, businessmen, carpenters, barbers, ministers, teachers, editors, publishers, storekeepers, and merchants. These men served as sheriffs, police officers, justices of the peace, registrars, city council members, county commissioners, members of boards of education, tax collectors, land office clerks, and postmasters.

5. In an era marked by political corruption, black politicians proved to be more ethical than their white counterparts.

6. A few black Republicans even held high positions in state offices; black men served as lieutenant governor in Louisiana, Mississippi, and South Carolina. Some black men became superintendents of education. Others represented their constituents as state legislators; more than six hundred black men were state legislators.

7. Thirteen black politicians served in the U.S. House of Representatives, including Robert Smalls of South Carolina. African Americans Hiram R. Revels (1870–1871) and Blanche K. Bruce (1875–1881) served as senators from Mississippi. Black politicians were moderate and tried hard to balance the often irreconcilable concerns of freedpeople and southern whites.

8. For some, widespread black political involvement signaled a political revolution. The right to vote was particularly important in the black community—each vote cast by a black man reflected the hopes and dreams of his wife, children, relatives, extended family, and neighbors.

9. Blacks readily supported the Republican Party, the party of emancipation and Abraham Lincoln. The Union League recruited blacks for the Republican Party and informed blacks about their political rights and responsibilities as citizens.

10. In 1869, the overwhelmingly Republican U.S. Congress proposed the Fifteenth Amendment, which stated that U.S. citizens’ right to vote could not be denied or abridged because of race, color, or previous condition of servitude. For many, this amendment completed the government’s formal responsibility to former slaves.

11. The Civil Rights Act of 1875 required equal treatment in public accommodations and on public conveyances regardless of race.

12. By 1875, most Americans believed that the government had fulfilled its responsibility to newly freed men and women. They feared that any further government involvement in the South would only undermine blacks’ self-reliance and make them wards of the state. Similarly, blacks embraced responsibility for their future, but they understood that eradicating persistent antiblack prejudice and discrimination, as well as the enduring legacy of slavery, required federal intervention.

C. The Defeat of Reconstruction

1. While some northern whites celebrated the gains and protections that the government provided blacks during Reconstruction, southern whites were outraged by black political participation. For them, black political involvement represented a “base conspiracy against human nature.” These whites busied themselves planning a counterrevolution that would restore their power in the South.

2. The Democratic Party became the vehicle for southern whites to act out their counterrevolution to restore white supremacy in the South.

3. The southern white counterrevolution, which sought to bring back “home rule,” used “states’ rights” discourse to undermine federal intervention in the region and restore white domination. Southern whites engaged in a mission to oust blacks from political offices and restore their domination over land, black labor, and state and local government. This agenda was masked as an effort to restore fiscal conservatism, trim taxes, and cut state government functions and budgets.

4. One of the most important tools used to achieve white “redemption” was intimidation and violence. White supremacists organized vigilante groups throughout the South. The Ku Klux Klan (KKK) was organized in Tennessee in 1865; the ‘76 Association, the Knights of the White Camelia, the White Brotherhood, and the Pale Faces also used violence and intimidation to regain control in southern states. KKK members were commonly known as “night riders” because they conducted their raids at night, wearing white robes and hoods to hide their identity. Members of these organizations represented every sector of southern white society.

5. Economically successful and independent black landowners, storeowners, and entrepreneurs were frequent targets of white attacks. Black schools, churches, homes, lodges, business buildings, livestock, barns, and fences were also destroyed. Blacks were beaten, raped, murdered, and lynched. These incidents were so common that Congress held hearings to investigate white attacks on black southerners in the late 1860s and 1870s. Representatives were told about Jack Dupree of Monroe County, Mississippi, the strong-willed president of the local Republican Club, who was lynched by the KKK in front of his wife and newborn twins.

6. Congress responded by passing two Force Acts in 1870 and 1871. The acts called for federal troops rather than state militias to quell disorder and to stop those who conspired to deprive black citizens of their civil rights.

7. The acts did not stop the violence. Whites in Colfax, Louisiana, used cannon and rifle fire to disband a group of armed freedmen commanded by black militia and veterans, who were attempting to maintain Republican control of the town. More than 280 blacks were killed, including 50 who had already surrendered.

8. The death of Thaddeus Stevens in 1868 and Charles Sumner in 1874 marked the loss of two major advocates for African Americans in Congress. The Republican Party, the federal government, and northern whites accepted former Confederates’ return to political power in the South. Each of these factions was happy to turn the “Negro problem” over to southern whites. Furthermore, some Republicans were leery of the party’s commitment to African Americans. After the panic of 1873, the party turned its attention to economic issues and away from civil rights and equality.

9. One example of the federal government’s abandonment of African Americans was its failure to back the Freedmen’s Savings and Trust Company; chartered by Congress in 1865 to promote thrift and savings among freedpeople, the company had many small savings accounts, averaging less than $50 each. Frederick Douglass, the last president of the company, deposited $10,000 of his own money to bolster the institution. However, the bank failed in 1874, and thousands of blacks lost everything they had. Half of the account holders eventually received reimbursements of about 60 percent of their deposits, while the other half received nothing.

10. By 1877, whites had reclaimed political control in the South. An agreement designed to resolve the contested 1876 presidential election between Democrat Samuel Tilden and Republican Rutherford B. Hayes officially ended Black Reconstruction. In return for a Hayes victory, Republicans agreed to remove federal troops from the South.

11. The Supreme Court also played a part in undermining black civil rights at the end of Reconstruction: The 1873 Slaughterhouse cases ruled that the Fourteenth Amendment protected national, not state, citizenship rights. In in the Civil Rights cases (1883), the Court overturned the Civil Rights Act of 1875 and declared that Congress did not have the authority to protect citizens against the discriminatory conduct of individuals and private groups. Ultimately, this ruling allowed private businesses such as hotels, restaurants, and theaters to institute policies that barred blacks, thus granting individuals and businesses the right to discriminate against blacks.