The reconstruction era of 19th Century provided a platform for the civil rights movement that followed in the 20th Century and created history. The aim of the reconstruction plan was to provide economic and racial equality to all the American citizens by abolishing slavery and ensuring the basic human rights to all citizens. However, due to the social and political structure of the period, many were skeptical of these policies and so the reconstruction program failed. Nevertheless, the spirit of freedom still lived among the blacks and so the failure of reconstruction plans inspired them even more to speak up for their rights which in turn resulted in the civil rights movement that followed during the 1950s and 1960s. Reconstruction gave the black people a taste of freedom which they never had before and this gave them hopes of a better future. With the failure of the reconstruction plans their hopes were once again dismissed. And perhaps this gave them determination to fight those who were opposed to their freedom.
Need essay sample on
"Reconstruction and the Civil Rights Movement" topic?
We will write a custom essay sample specifically for youProceed
People Usually Tell EssayLab specialists:
Who wants to write essay for me?
Essay writers advise:
Essay Writing CompanyBest Essay Writing ServiceHave Someone Write Your PaperWrite My Essay Online
Consequently, the black leaders became more assertive and aggressive during the 1950s and 1960s and this led to the introduction of the various legislations during the 20th century which demanded more rights to the black population.
The reconstruction plans were introduced after the end of the American civil war in order to pacify the people of the southern states. Therefore, various liberal promises were made to the black population of the southern states. The major issue of the civil war was the question of slavery, which was the point of contention between the planters and the emancipators. Hence, after the end of the civil war, it was expected that the racial and economic inequality would end due to the various measures that were taken by the provincial governments. (Fredrickson, 1975)
Keeping this in view various reconstruction plans were introduced. They led to the different legislations to provide political and economic rights to the blacks. In fact, these legislations became a model for the leaders of the civil rights movement in the 20th century. For example there is reference to introduction of plans such as President Lincoln’s declaration of Amnesty and Reconstruction which was issued in 1863, Wade-Davis Bill of 1864, and Johnson’s Plan which gave political rights to the southerners and assured amnesty to the white people. This attempt of Johnson shows that he was interested in protecting the interest of only the white population. His racist policies were a cause for the failure of the reconstruction. In fact, such racism inspired the leaders of the civil rights movement to demand for racial equality.
The second phase of reconstruction included reconstruction by the Congress, Washington’s birthday speech of 1866, the civil rights act, the fourteenth amendment, a supplementary freedmen’s bureau bill, the congressional election of 1866, the reconstruction acts of 1867, second reconstruction act of 1867, third reconstruction act passed in July, 1867, and the legislations that were passed from 1867 to 1875. The civil rights act of 1875 abolished discrimination in the public places. However, later the Supreme Court declared this right as unconstitutional. The provisions of this law acted as a base for the leaders of the civil rights movement of the 20th century. (Wikipedia, 2005) The 13th amendment abolished slavery. The 14th amendment was passed in 1868. According to this amendment all the people born in USA were given the status of citizens and they were guaranteed equal protection before law. This provision impressed the leaders of the civil rights movement as it guaranteed racial equality. This was an important document which, if implemented, would have led to complete liberation of the blacks. (National Park Service, 2005)
However, based on the 14th amendment the Supreme Court ruled that the legislature does not have the power to outlaw private actions which can be considered as discriminatory. Hence, the Supreme Court declared private discrimination as legal. The blacks raised their voices against this approach of the Supreme Court. They obtained success in their attempt during the 1960s when the court abandoned private discrimination. (PBS, 2003) Another important development was the introduction of the 15th amendment which was introduced in 1870. According to this amendment, all the citizens of America were given the right to vote.(National Park Service, 2005) In fact, these laws of the reconstruction era led to demand for voting rights, racial equality, and other civil rights during the 20th century.
However, various events and personalities directly or indirectly opposed the granting of civil rights to the blacks. Although the radical plans such as the civil rights acts were passed, they did not directly address the issues such as the racial and economic equality of all the citizens. In fact, in 1883, the Supreme Court ruled that the 1875 civil rights act was unconstitutional. This was a big jolt to the attempt to establish racial and economic equality between the whites and the blacks. Again in 1896, the Supreme Court ruled that states may provide separate educational facilities to the blacks and the whites and this again increased the racial inequality between the blacks and the whites. (Fairclough, 2003)
The American government tried to win over the whites of the southern states. Further, there existed various racial discrimination policies which affected the civil rights of the black population. Hence, racial equality became an important issue during the era of civil rights movement in the 20th century. During the reconstruction era, the American government compromised with the white elite class in the southern states in order to obtain their support for their policies. This once again led to the failure of the reconstruction plans. Indirectly, this instigated the black population even more to demand for equal rights. President Johnson was not sympathetic towards the congressional legislations and he vetoed some bills which intended to provide a few rights to the black population.(Wood, 1975) The Congressional Act of 1875 allowed the entry of the blacks to all the public places with the exception of the schools. This clause had an impact on the civil rights movement of the 20th century as the leaders of this movement demanded admission of the blacks to the schools. This created disparity between the blacks and the whites in the field of education. In 1877, there was compromise between the southern whites and the American government which led to the premature withdrawal of the military from the southern states. (Wood, 1975)
In fact, the end of the civil war resulted in the establishment of the superiority of the white Americans over the black Americans. Even when the politicians desired to introduce the new legislations to ensure economic and racial equality of the Americans in the southern states, this attempt was thwarted by the critics of reconstruction. (Skyminds, 2005)
Various factors led to the emergence of economic and racial inequality. President Andrew Johnson was hostile to the reconstruction plan. The Supreme Court did not support the pro black legislations which were termed as unconstitutional. Further various notorious "black codes" were introduced which restricted the free movement of the black population. The employment, sexual contact between black male and white female, and indebtedness were declared as illegal. This gave free hand to the white police to punish the black population and led to legal terrorizing of the black population. (Fairclough, 2003)
During the reconstruction era, the white population showed their hostility towards the blacks. This clash between the white and black races continued even in the 20th century. During the reconstruction era, the white militant organizations such as Klu Klux Klan were indirectly encouraged to attack the black population. Due to these factors, the government was compelled to end the reconstruction policy which further increased the gap between the white and black American population. (Fairclough, 2003) The white people made certain statements with racial connotations. The blacks were insulted and denigrated and they were considered by some racist white population as the beasts and not much sympathy was showed towards the poverty of the black population. (Reference.com, 2005)
The failure of the reconstruction plan acted as a wake up call to the blacks. This allowed them to participate in the civil rights movement of the 20th century and they demanded more rights to establish the racial equality. In some places civil rights movement has been rightly termed as the ‘second reconstruction’.(PBS, 2003) At the same time, reconstruction program has been considered by some scholars as the first civil rights movement.(National Park Service, 2005) This demonstrates the close relationship between reconstruction plan of the 19th century and the civil rights movement of the 20th century.
The various African-American leaders responded to the failure of reconstruction. The leaders stressed on the educational, economic, and political rights of the blacks. The leaders learnt lessons from the failure of the reconstruction plan. They took firm steps towards the emancipation of the blacks during the 20th century. Booker T. Washington emerged as an important leader of the blacks. He stressed on the education of the African-American population and a slow and steady adjustment with the American mainstream. This is because of the fact that during the reconstruction era, the black codes did not allow the black children to study in the schools attended by the white students. (National Park Service, 2005)
One can find direct relationship between reconstruction program and the civil rights movement of the 20th century. Those legislations which were not implemented during the reconstruction era were enforced during the civil rights movement. The various legislations that were passed during the reconstruction had profound impact on the civil rights movements of the 1950s and 1960s. For example, civil rights law of 1866 was an important step taken to ensure the freedom of the African-Americans. In fact, this law can be considered as more powerful than the legislations passed during the 20th century. The black leaders were also influenced by the amendments made to the constitution. (PBS, 2003) However, many of these legislations were not enforced by the authorities leading to the exploitation of the blacks. Nonetheless, the first step towards emancipation was taken during the reconstruction era itself. However, it took nearly another 100 years to fully realize the potentials of these legislations.
This happened with the emergence of the civil rights movement of the 1950s and 1960s. Further, the Supreme Court upheld the Civil Rights Law of 1964. This law prohibits discrimination of individuals in the public places. This has provided incentive to the participants of the civil rights movement of the 1960s. The dream of racial equality which could not be fulfilled during the reconstruction era was made possible during the civil rights movement of the 20th century. Hence, one can notice a very close resemblance between the reconstruction legislations and the civil rights movement. (PBS, 2003)
In 1963 the leaders planned a march on Washington to introduce the civil rights legislations. Even after the assassination of John F Kennedy, these leaders continued their attempt and consequently the Civil Rights Act of 1964 was passed. This can be considered as a great achievement of the black emancipation leaders such as Martin Luther King Jr., and others. (Norrell, 2005) However, the black right activists still had to face great resistance from the racist white population particularly those people belonging to the southern states of America. The southerners tried to threaten the blacks and put pressure on them to abandon their movement for freedom and equality. There was the attack and assassination of many black leaders which led to further increase in the volume of the civil right movements. One can notice that several legislations have been introduced to ensure the racial equality. (CNN, 1997)
The reconstruction era made the black population realize for the first time that they too could enjoy living as a respected citizen in their nation. It gave them hopes for a future where they would not be insulted for their color. The legislations during the reconstruction era created awareness among the black population about their rights and taught them to seek for their rights. But with all its noble perspectives the reconstruction plans still failed. The leaders kept on making wonderful promises to the black masses and then broke almost all of them. The people were first made to dream and hope for better solutions and then every time their dreams were shattered cruelly. This routine, at one point, gave the people the will power to firmly demand for their rights and not give up till those demands were fulfilled. The false promises made them even more determined every time to fight and earn a respectful life. The result was the movement for the civil rights that followed.
The civil rights movement of the 1950s and 1960s succeeded due to the existence of the reconstruction program during the 19th century. Thus the civil rights movement can be considered as the continuation of the reconstruction era. The scholars suggested that the blacks were only half emancipated during the reconstruction era and for full emancipation they had to wait till the coming of the civil rights movement. During the reconstruction era, there was the introduction of very progressive legislations which can be considered as ahead of their times. The legal documents such as civil rights act of 1866, and 13th, 14th and 15th amendment to the constitution provided great inspiration to the black activists during the 1950s and 1960s. Thus it may be concluded that without the reconstruction era and its failure the movement for the civil rights in the 1950s may not have gained the momentum required for its success.
- Fairclough, Adam. (2003). "The Struggle for Equality: Civil Rights in America from Reconstruction to the Depression".
- Fredrickson, George M. (1975). A Nation Divided: Problems and Issues of the Civil War and Reconstruction, Minneapolis: Burgess Publishing Company.
- Norrell, Robert J. (2005). "Civil Rights Movement in the United States", retrieved online on 22-11-2005.
- Wood, Forest G. (1975). The Era of Reconstruction, 1863-1877, New York: Thomas Y. Crowell Company.(1997). "The Civil Rights Movement".
- (2003). "Black Legislators: Special Features", retrieved online on 22-11-2005.
Essay on The Civil War and Reconstruction
The Civil War was the turning point in the US history, while the Reconstruction era has completed the achievements of the Civil War and changes launched by the war. At the same time, the outcomes of the Civil War and Reconstruction were disappointing to a large part of the US population, especially slave, whose liberation was one of the major drivers of the Civil War, but the Reconstruction granted them with basic rights and liberties. However, the position of African Americans did not change much. Nevertheless, the Civil War and Reconstruction have laid the foundation to the further development of the US as one nation but, at the same time, the Civil War and Reconstruction have laid the foundation to the further controversies between different social groups in the US society, such as the social tension between different racial groups.
Causes of the Civil War
The major cause of the Civil was slavery and attempts of its abolition triggered Southern states to protect their economic interests and traditional social order based on the exploitation of slaves. The slave labor comprised the core of Southern economy since slaves were employed on cotton plantations and other fields which allowed Southern states to boost their export of cotton mainly. In such a situation, the abolition of slavery would undermine the Southern economy
Furthermore, the growing disparity between industrialized North and Agricultural South misbalanced the power of Northern and Southern states. Slavery prevented South from radical changes and rapid industrialization, while the North needed resources available on the South and wanted to export capital to continue the industrialization of the nation.
Political struggle between abolitionist and proponents of slavery at the top political level laid the political ground for the Civil War. In this regard, attempts of Southern states to preserve larger rights and liberties that provided them with the larger autonomy and sovereignty confronted the growing pressure from the part of the federal government that attempted to take broader control over states.
Lincoln’s election as the President of the US triggered the secession of Southern states, who opposed to his policy of the abolition of slavery in the US. Southern states were unwilling to remain in the union with states opposing slavery, while the election of the President A. Lincoln meant the high probability of the abolition of slavery and Lincoln had started this policy since the beginning of his Presidency, as he took the office.
In response to the election of Lincoln, Southern states declared the secession from the US. Hence, the attempts of the North to regain the unity of the nation resulted in the outbreak of active military actions in the course of the Civil War (Epperson 192). The major developments of the Civil War included the Naval war which resulted in the blockade of Southern states but the superior navy of Northern states.
As the major ports were blocked, Southern states had grown exhausted and running out of resources essential for the maintenance of the struggle against the union forces. At this point, it is worth mentioning the fact that the North attempted to undermine the situation in Southern states, declaring the abolition of slavery and freeing all slaves, as the Northern army advanced southward (Norton 159). In such a way, they gained the support of slaves, who were eager to set themselves free. The Emancipation Proclamation issued by Lincoln in 1863 guaranteed the liberation of all slaves in rebellious states.
In addition, the Northern army recruited African Americans, who joined Northerners in their struggle against Southern states. Eventually, the South had proved to be unable to restrain the assaults of the North and the war ended up in 1865 after four consecutive years of struggle and battles (Watson 125). At this point, it is important to place emphasis on the fact that slavery and policies conducted by the North in relation to slavery had had a considerable impact on the development and outcome of the war. The attempts to abolish slavery triggered the outbreak of the Civil War. During the War, Northern states undermined the economic situation in the South encouraging slaves to rebel against their masters in the South and join the Northern army which they perceived as the liberation army. In such a way, Northern states destabilized the situation in Southern states, undermined their economy and used slaves and their liberation as an important part of their strategy that led them to the overall success in the war. In such a situation, they used their technological superiority and naval blockade to complete the defeat of the South and finally declared the official abolition of slavery nationwide as the result of the war to show that the war had reached its major goal that actually became the primary cause of the war.
Outcomes of the Civil War and Reconstruction
Furthermore, by the end of the war, the Thirteenth Amendment to the US Constitution was implemented and granted slaves with freedom making the Emancipation Proclamation norms universal and permanent. In such a way, the Thirteenth Amendment brought freedom to slaves nationwide and formally abolished slavery in the US.
At first glance, the major goal of the Civil War was achieved but the abolition of slavery alone was not enough to integrate former slaves into the US society and make them a part of the nation. Instead, further legislative changes were needed since slaves should have equal rights and opportunities to exercise their freedom (Watson 175). Otherwise, they would have changed nothing but their formal status to freemen.
In response to the urgent need of changing the legal and socioeconomic status of former slaves, the US Congress implemented the Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendments to the US Constitution in 1868 and 1870 respectively (Epperson 188). These amendments formally guaranteed African Americans with equal rights and liberties compared to white Americans and eliminated the existing semi-slavery which persisted shortly after the Civil War, when slaves were freed but had not got equal rights and liberties and their legal status was uncertain.
At the same time, the Reconstruction had failed to bring the consistent improvement to the socioeconomic status of former slaves. African Americans had equal rights and liberties just like other citizens of the US but they did not have economic opportunities to enhance their position in the society. For instance, they did not have opportunities to find a good employment and high wages because they were low-qualified labor force but the main problem was their desperate poverty, which forced them to agree to work for next to nothing simply to survive (Norton 182). In such a situation, they turned out to be in a desperate position and held the lowest socioeconomic standing in the US society.
Nevertheless, the liberation of African Americans still resulted in the tightening competition in the labor market, especially in the South which suffered from considerable economic losses. In fact, the Civil War had disastrous effects which had affected the development of Southern states of the US for a long time (Epperson 211). The export of cotton was almost ruined by the end of the war. The liberation of slaves undermined the economy of South because landowners could not exploit the free labor force. Instead, they had to hire freedmen or poor whites. In such a situation, Southern states needed a lot of time to recover.
However, the poor economic situation in the South caused the social unrest, racial discrimination and oppression of African Americans, whom white Americans kept treating in the South as mere commodities. In such a situation, the whites opposed to the liberation of slaves. To ensure the protection of rights and liberties of African Americans and defeat any attempts of reviving Confederate mood in the South, Lincoln introduced Freedmen’s Bureau in 1865 which was the government agency aiming at the protection of rights of African Americans. The Freedmen Bureau helped African Americans to get freedom and find employment and urged former slave owners to liberate their slaves and rebuilding their plantations to create jobs for African Americans.
However, the post-war resistance of Southern states was so strong that the government had to deploy the army to make land and slave owners to liberate slaves and protect their basic rights and liberties. In such a way, the government attempted to protect African Americans and helped them to improve their position in the society but these efforts were insufficient and short-running. More important, in response to such protectionist government policies, white Southerners launched their organization which aimed at the maintenance of the white supremacy and ongoing oppression of African Americans as second-class citizens. For instance, Ku Klux Klan emerged during the Reconstruction and cases of lynching of African Americans in Southern states of the US were quire frequent that justified the deployment of the army to protect African Americans shortly after the Civil War.
At the same time, the abolition of slavery, the liberation of slaves and their integration into the US society were not the only goals of the government policy during the Reconstruction. In fact, one of the main goals of the government was to regain control over all states and preserve the US as one nation, as a united country. In such a situation, even the deployment of the army in Southern states during the Reconstruction had dubious goals (Richardson 164). Along with the protection of African American population, the army maintained the authority of the federal government and minimized any risk of the attempt of the new rebel which could outbreak easily, if there were no government troops that could oppress any rebellion fast.
Moreover, the focus of the federal government on needs of African Americans and their integration into the US society was short run. In fact, as soon as the federal government had managed to take control over all states and establish socioeconomic and political stability, the government had started to complete the Reconstruction and refuse from any additional policies, government agencies and other strategies that required additional resources to protect rights and liberties of African Americans and their socioeconomic position in the US society (Norton 188). In fact, by the end of the Reconstruction, millions of African Americans were left on their own with their economic and social problems, stumbling through their life in desperate poverty and their position in the US society had not changed much since the Civil War.
Thus, the Civil War and Reconstruction contributed to consistent changes in the US society among which the abolition of slavery was the main change that took place in the US in that time. However, the abolition of slavery, as the primary goal of the Civil War, brought African Americans freedom but not equal rights, liberties and opportunities. In fact, their rights and liberties were expanded as they got equal rights and liberties after the implementation of the Thirteenth, Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendments to the US Constitution (Watson 215). However, efforts of the federal government to provide African Americans with jobs and better life, they still remained in a disadvantageous position by the end of the Reconstruction, as the Freedmen’s Bureau folded up its operations and the federal government distanced from the support of African Americans. At the same time, the American Civil War and Reconstruction had achieved successfully another goal, which was not declared openly. The war and Reconstruction completed the profound economic change abolition the outdated mode of production, slavery, and expanding opportunities for the rapid industrialization of the entire nation, from the North to South. In addition, the war and Reconstruction had enhanced the role of the federal government, its authority and decreased the sovereignty of people and autonomy of states.