Freedom During The Reconstruction Era
The Reconstruction period refers to the events that happened on the New South of America which were connected with the significant social transformations. These developments were the first in the history of United States. The social reforms were startling in their scope. The Reconstruction era was the logical consequence of the Civil War and displayed the most modern trends in the development of a civil society. It lasted from 1864 to 1877 and brought extremely significant changes in relationships between different racial groups and people with a varying financial status. The era of Martial Law was changed, which considered the rights of the African Americans and social consciousness towards the slavery. The formed territory called the New South established stronger ties to the North. Nevertheless, there were various thoughts concerning the rights of the liberated slaves, and a legal status of the New South. Thus, there were different concepts of freedom, which were maintained and supported by various social groups, such as the White Southerners, Northerners, and Emancipated Slaves.
In order to understand the scope of problem, it is necessary to analyze the thoughts of the African Americans, some of which were set out in the compilation of African American thoughts, when they talked about the newfound freedom:
… We was free. Just like that, we was free. It didn’t seem to make the whites mad, either. They went right on giving us food just the same. Nobody took our homes away, but right off colored folks started on the move…We soon found out that freedom could make folks proud, but it didn’t make them rich.
This plea from the black skin people reflects the real state of things in society of that time and suggests the idea that, despite the liberation, the former slaves faced great problems in their social life.
The abolishment of slavery changed the social positions of dependent people significantly and extended their rights and freedom of actions. It was an extraordinary historical event, which started the long process of struggle for rights of the black skin people. In spite of this, after the end of the Civil War, many freed slaves felt that their rights were severely violated. They had the feelings of being oppressed by the new government of the newly formed territory in the south. It was the nonfictional sentiment. The acquired rights of the African Americans were ignored by their Northern neighbors. At that time, many people still had negative attitudes towards the freed slaves and considered them as the second-class citizens without any rights. White neighbors in the New South did not approve the fact that the color men had similar legal status. Thus, the emancipation of the black skin people did not change their living conditions. Consequently, despite the found freedom, the black skin people had serious conflicts with the government and some ethical groups, which were much more powerful and influential.
When the Civil War abolished slavery, all power was taken over by the bourgeoisie. Thus, it was a perfect time to create new conditions for the development of capitalism in the agriculture sector of the West. However, not all problems of the second American bourgeois revolution had been resolved. Freed slaves did not get lands, civil and political rights; plantation latifundia remained in the South. The first step of the Reconstruction was holding the bourgeois-democratic reforms in the southern states. After the Civil War, the balance of class forces changed significantly. The bourgeoisie achieved its main objectives and came out against the continuation of the revolution. Nevertheless, there was a disagreement among various groups of the bourgeoisie concerning the issue on what should be a guarantee against attempts of planters to restore slavery. As for farmers, they did not participate in the Reconstruction because their interest were satisfied by the Homestead Act; meanwhile the working class was not organized enough to take an active part in the fight at a new level. The freed black skin people, who fought for land and civil rights, were the main revolutionary force.
The South plantation oligarchy, which was defeated, did not lay down arms. It led the fight for the preservation of its economic and political positions and organized the situation, under which the liberated Blacks became the disenfranchised labor force. This aim was supported by the Lincoln's successor, former Vice-President Andrew Johnson, who was supported by the most conservative circles of the North bourgeoisie. The declared “Presidential reconstruction” was not more that a formal recognition of the abolition of slavery by the southern states and the oath of allegiance to the Union. Thousands of active members of the rebellion were pardoned and their civil rights were restored. The confiscated property of planters, which cost more than $ 2 billion, was returned. On the other hand, color people did not get earth and political rights. The planters were encouraged by the support of the new President and made an attempt to restore the slaveholding society. This unstable situation led to the adoption of the so-called “Black Codes,” which disentitled the black skin people. Thus, they were not able to own land and hold public offices. These codes established the awful rules, under which the mentioned ethnic group was obliged to accept working conditions and the salary that was declared by the owner of the land. Moreover, the codes’ provisions neglected all the rights of people who have found freedom. As an example may be cited its certain provisions:
No public meetings or congregations of Negroes or freedmen shall be allowed within the limits of the town of Opelousas under any circumstances or for any purpose without the permission of the mayor or president of the board.
Planters asserted their dominance through terror. They created special organizations to punish the liberated slaves. In addition, there was an extremely terrible weapon against the African Americans; it was the radical racist organization – the Ku Klux Klan, which was founded in 1865. The riders in white loose overalls poured the blood of people, who were guilty only because the color of their skin was black:
… On the night of the 5th of last May, after 1 had heard a great deal of what they had done in that neighborhood, they came … Someone then hit my door. It flew open. One ran in the house, and stopping about the middle of the house, which is a small cabin, he turned around, as it seemed to me as I lay there awake, and said, “Who’s here?” Then I knew they would take me, and I answered, “I am here.” He shouted for joy, as it seemed, “Here he is! Here he is! We have found him!”… They pointed pistols at me all around my head once or twice, as if they were going to shoot me, telling me they were going to kill me; wasn’t I ready to die, and willing to die? Didn’t I preach? That they came to kill me - all the time pointing pistols at me.
Representatives of this terroristic organization committed serious crimes against the color people; they had enjoyed their impunity for a long time.
Therefore, the “reconstructed” southern elected the U.S. Congress representatives, who consisted of the elite of the slaveholding Confederacy, headed by its former Vice President Alexander Stephens.
On the background of these events when plantation owners organized successful attempts to gain power, the bourgeoisie understood that they posed a threat to its domination. In 1866 – 1867, a new period of Reconstruction began. The radical part of the bourgeoisie, represented by the leftist Republicans, went to some decisive action against the planters. If to take into account the specific conditions of the U.S. political life, the issues concerning the restoration of the Union and the South reconstruction were very disputable and required a legal approach to their resolution. Thus, the appeared disputes addressed the point as to whether there were the slave states after the beginning of the rebellion in the Union or not. The Conservatives argued that the Southern states could not secede from the Union, as it was not provided by the Constitution. This was the main argument against the right of the federal government to intervene in the affairs of the Southern states. The Radical Republicans believed that the mentioned autonomies seceded from the Union consciously and, therefore, lost all rights. Now they should have been taken to the Union on certain conditions.
The view of radicals won. Under their influence, the Congress had refused to recognize the authority of the Congress representatives, elected from Southern states. The Congress created the so-called "Committee of 15" led by Stevens, who took control over the Reconstruction. After that, the federal army was sent to the southern states again. The Republicans were ready to provide the radical reforms and support the humiliated people. Some of congressmen demanded the radical social transformations:
...It is to be regretted that inconsiderate and incautious Republicans should ever have supposed that the slight amendments (embodied in the pending Fourteenth Amendment) already proposed to the Constitution, even when incorporated into that instrument, would satisfy the reforms necessary for the security of the Government…
In order to get support from the African Americans, the bourgeoisie developed and approved the 14th Amendment to the Constitution, which provided the civil rights to the liberated slaves. At the same time, the Amendment provided the depriving black skin people with their voting rights, but in this case, the representation of the exact state in the Congress would be decreased proportionally. The ratification of this Amendment was the obligatory requirement for the states, which wanted to be readmitted to the Union. All of them, except for the State of Tennessee, refused to ratify it. After that, the Congress came into sharp conflict with President Johnson, who sabotaged the adopted acts. He was put on the Senate trial for abuse of the presidential authority. The Senate lacked only one vote to condemn the President.
By the end of the Reconstruction period, the workers movement increased its influence. The main demand of the American proletariat was an 8-hour working day. The founder of this movement was the workers organization “National Workers Union” created in 1899 and led by William Silvisom. The organizations of the working class were also created. In addition to the improvement of general working conditions, the question concerning the equality of the blacks’ and whites’ rights on the basis of the Negro workers union was raised.
The completion of the Reconstruction period connected with the Presidential election campaign of 1876. Neither the Republican candidate Hayes nor the democratic candidate Tilden received the required majority. Nevertheless, Hayes had got the controversial victory. The competing parties concluded the agreement, under which Hayes became the President while the Republican Party leaders agreed to withdraw federal troops from the South.
The Reconstruction Era was the first attempt of the American society to change the old-time political and social organization and to equalize the rights of the white and black people. Despite good intentions, there were some groups that hindered the development of capitalism and neutralized the positive effect of social improvements. The planters did not want to lose their influence and struggled against the Democrats. Nevertheless, warring parties came to an agreement, and it was the beginning of the new democratic reforms.
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