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The South During Reconstruction
Transcript of The South During Reconstruction
Challenges to Rebuilding the South
Congress did more than just pass laws during the Reconstruction period.
They built public schools for both black and white children. They built railroads, bridges, telegraph lines, and roads. They rebuilt towns/businesses
However, this cost money and the Republican-led southern governments to raise taxes.
Southerners were used to paying low taxes before the Civil War
Many Southerners resented having to pay more, despite the fact that they could benefit from the things that their tax money was paying for
Southerners were also angered by wide-spread corruption of Republican-led state governments.
An example of the corruption:
One state government used $1000 of tax money to cover a state-congressmen's bet at a horse race.
Others used tax money for family gifts and expensive foods.
While this was rare, it happened and Southerners jumped at the opportunity to point out the corruption of the Republicans.
This also took place in Northern governments. Though, it was rare there, also.
African Americans Gain Political Power
During Reconstruction, African Americans gained the right to vote, and through the right to vote were given a voice in American politics.
As Reconstruction continued, African Americans became a big part of southern politics
In addition to voting in elections, they also ran for (and were elected) to public office/government positions in the South
They became sheriffs, mayors and state-congressmen
Between 1869 and 1880, 16 African Americans were elected to Congress
Hiram Revels became the first African American to serve in the Senate in 1870. He completed the unfinished term of former Confederate President, Jefferson Davis (who had been elected in 1866 to represent Mississippi in Congress).
Blanche K. Bruce was elected to Congress in 1874 and was the first African American to serve a full term in the US Senate.
In South Carolina, African Americans won a majority of the state legislature.
Many whites over estimated the political influence African Americans held in the South. They still dealt with racism of white southerners on a daily basis and were constantly threatened offen by the KKK.
A Cycle of Poverty
After the war, freedmen left the plantations they'd worked on their whole lives, looking for a better opportunity. However, after the failure of Freedmen's Bureau, many African Americans found there was little opportunity for them in the South.
Thaddeus Stevens had suggested giving each emancipated person 40 acres of land in the South, but this idea was greatly unpopular, so Congress was never able to make it happen.
Through hard work and some luck, some freedmen were able to become landowners. Many freedmen returned to farm/plantation labor for a very low wage.
During Reconstruction many freedmen and poor whites began "sharecropping."
Sharecroppers rented a plot of land from a plantation. The Planter (plantation owner) provided seed, fertilizer, and tools. The harvest was split between the Planters and the Sharecroppers.
Many freedmen saw this as a stepping stone toward being an independent farmer.
However, it rarely led to this. Instead, it led to a cycle of poverty.
Each spring they received supplies on credit; each fall they had to repay what they borrowed. If the harvest didn't cover what they owed, they sunk deeper into debt.
Few Sharecroppers ever made a profit.
The Republican Response
There were some Southerners who supported the Republicans and agreed that African Americans should be granted citizenship
Typically, these southerners had opposed secession in 1860. They wanted to forget the war and move on with Reconstruction.
They were often viewed as traitors by other Southerners and were nicknamed "scalawags."
Some Northerners moved to the South after the war to help with Reconstruction effots
Southerners felt they were just trying to get rich off the South's misery and Southerners nicknamed "carpetbaggers."
Some did hope to profit by rebuilding the south
Many were Union soldiers who wanted a less hectic life and wanted to get away from the cities of the North
Others were teachers, reformers, and ministers who genuinely wanted to help rebuild the South and help African Americans build new lives
Congress was outraged by the formation of the KKK, but could do little to stop it because of states rights--it was a local matter.
In 1870, Congress had to send troops to the South to ensure that the KKK did not use force/violence to keep African Americans from voting.
Many African Americans came out to vote, but some were too frightened to try.
Conservative Resistance to Reconstruction
White Southerners who resisted Reconstruction and resented the changes imposed by Congress began to call themselves "conservatives." They also belonged to the Democratic Party.
Conservatives wanted to change the South as little as possible and were determined to keep the power in the hands of whites.
These were usually former office holders and members of planter families
Their goal was to force African Americans back into plantation labor
They resented Congress for allowing freedmen to vote
They enforced "Black Codes"
Believed the US was the "white man's country"
Some white Southerners formed the Ku Klux Klan (KKK). The goal of this group was to keep Republicans and African Americans out of office.
They wore white robes and hoods
They burned homes of African Americans, burned wooden crosses
They used violence to intimidate African Americans
The KKK was responsible for hundred of deaths of African Americans and whites who supported giving citizenship to African Americans