A Discussion on the Myth and Failure of Reconstruction Following the Civil
War, and How This Failure Impacted and Changed America Then And Now


Reconstruction . . .
"Spell the word one way, with a small r , and it has a good American
purposefulness; for it means a putting together, a rebuilding, a
rehabilitation. Spell it another way, with a capital R , and it becomes for
many a malediction; and for others an almost forgotten, unreached, and
needful goal; and for still others a vaguely unclean memory."(Carter 11) The
Reconstruction period should have been a time of cleansing and a return to
what had been but instead it turned out to be a terrible failure and its
repercussions have continued up to this day, 130 years later.
The Civil War lasted from April 14, 1861 to April 9,1865. 620,000 lives were
lost and approximately four million slaves were set free.(Tindall 451)
"American nationalism emerged triumphant . . . but peace had come only on the
battlefields. 'Cannon conquer,' recognized a northern editor, 'but they do
not necessarily convert.'"(Tindall 451) Now the difficult questions of
Reconstruction began to appear. "How were new governments to be formed? How
and at whose expense was the South's economy to be rebuilt? What was to be
done with the freed slaves?"(Tindall 451)
"Reconstruction was intended as a device by which the defeated states of the
Southern Confederacy would be joined again to the Union, the more than four
million black freedmen living within them absorbed politically and
economically in a nation reunited by the force of arms, and safeguards
provided against any possible renewal of rebellion."(Carter 11)
Reconstruction officially began with Lincoln's Proclamation of Amnesty and
Reconstruction in 1863.(Tindall 452) Lincoln's "10 Percent Plan" ,as it was
called, would allow a state to be admitted into the Union if 10 percent of
its voting population took an oath of allegiance to the Constitution and the
Union.(Tindall 452) Congress did not like Lincoln's plan so when Tennessee,
Arkansas, and Louisiana all completed the requirements for readmission into
the Union, the Congress would not recognize them as states.(Tindall 452)
Most of the conservative and moderate Republicans supported Lincoln's plan
of immediate restoration but a small group known as the Radical Republicans
blocked the path of the president with their desire to see "a sweeping
transformation of Southern Society."(Tindall 452) The Radical Republicans
believed that the South had not been separated from the Union but should be
punished severely for her actions.(Tindall 453)
The main objective of the Radical Republicans was to make all of the
freedmen full-fledged citizens and they maintained that Congress, not the
president, should supervise the Reconstruction.(Tindall 452) Keeping with
this philosophy they managed to pass the Wade-Davis Bill which proposed more
stringent requirements than Lincoln's 10 percent plan: required a majority of
the voting citizens to declare their allegiance and that only those who swore
that they had always been loyal to the Union could vote or serve in the new
state constitutional conventions and the conventions in turn would have to
abolish slavery, deny political rights to civil and military leaders of the
Confederacy, and repudiate war debts.(Tindall 452) Lincoln never signed the
bill and his "pocket veto" received in response the Wade-Davis Manifesto
which accused the president of using his power to use readmitted states to
ensure his reelection.(Tindall 453)
The Congress did manage to do something when they established the Bureau of
Refugees, Freedmen, and Abandoned Lands in order to provide "such issues of
provisions, clothing, and fuel" as might be needed to provide relief to
"destitute and suffering refugees and freedmen and their wives and
children."(Tindall 453) Oliver Howard who was appointed commissioner of the
Freedmen's Bureau was "a poor executive, a naive, too-trusting administrator
in an agency which would become uncommonly tainted by fraud, inefficiency,
and gross political misconduct."(Carter 56)
According to W.E.B. DuBois the Bureau was authorized "to make as rapidly
possible a general survey of conditions and needs in every state and
locality; to relieve immediate hunger and distress; to appoint state
commissioners and upwards of 900 Bureau officials; to put the laborers to
work at regular wages; to transport laborers, teachers and officials; to
furnish land for the peasants; to open schools; to pay bounties to black
soldiers and their families; to establish hospitals and guard health; to
administer justice between freedman and former master; to answer continuous
and persistent criticism, North and South, black and white; to find funds to
pay for all this."
The Bureau saw greatest success with education. By 1868, 3300 teachers and
149,500 pupils in Negro schools could be accounted for and much of