The First and Second Reconstructions promised to help end racial injustices in
America. The First Reconstruction, coming out of the chaos of the Civil War wished
equality for Blacks in voting, politics, and use of public facilities. The Second
Reconstruction came out of the booming economy of the 1950's. Its goals were
integration, the end of Jim Crow laws and the bigger goal of making America a biracial
democracy where, "the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave holders will be
able to sit down together at the table of brotherhood." (Robinowitz, 228). Even though
both movements had high hopes, they failed in reaching their goals. Beginning with hope,
they died with failure, as both movements saw many of their achievements disappear.
Failure to deal with economic justice for Blacks in both movements led to the failure of
the First and Second Reconstructions.
The First Reconstruction came after the Civil War and lasted until 1877. The
political, social, and economic conditions after the Civil War formed the goals of the First
Reconstruction. At this time Congress was divided politically on the issues that grew out
of the Civil War: Black equality, rebuilding the South, readmitting Southern states to
Union, and deciding who would control government. The South was in chaos. Newly
emancipated slaves wandered the South after having left their former masters, and the
White population was troubled, uneasy about what lay ahead. Economically, the South
was also hurting: plantations lay ruined, railroads had been torn up, cities had been burnt
down, and slavery no longer existed.
Amid the chaos various political groups were attempting to gain strength. First,
Southern Democrats, a party made up of former Confederate leaders and other wealthy
Southern whites, looked to end what they saw as Northern domination of the South.
They also wished to form Black Codes to limit the rights of Blacks to move, vote, travel,
and change jobs, a concept little different than slavery. Second, Moderate Republicans
wanted to better unify the North and South, but at the same time ensure slavery was over.
Third, Radical Republicans, who were mainly Northern politicians, were strongly opposed
to slavery, unsympathetic to the South, and wanted to protect newly freed slaves.
The Northern Radical Republicans, with a majority in Congress, became the
political group that set the goals for Reconstruction, which was to prevent slavery from
rising again in the South. At first, the Radical Republicans thought this could be
accomplished by outlawing slavery with the passage of the Thirteenth Amendment.
Southern Democrats, however, in their quest to restore their rule in the South brought
back slavery in all but name by passing Black Codes as early as 1865. Both Moderate
Republicans and Radical Republicans in Congress reacted. Joining together in 1866, they
passed a bill to extend the life and responsibilities of the Freedmen's Bureau to protect
newly freed slaves against Black Codes.
The Black Codes and President Johnson's veto of all Reconstruction policies that
were unfavorable to the South caused Moderate and Radical Republicans to change their
goals from merely ending slavery, to seeking political equality and voting rights for
Blacks. Northerners had grown increasingly sympathetic to the Blacks' condition in the
South, following many well publicized incidents in which innocent Blacks were harassed,
beaten, and killed. The extension of suffrage to Black males was a political move by the
Republicans in Congress who believed that Blacks would form the base of the Republican
Party in the South. Blacks would prevent Southern Democrats from winning elections in
Southern states and uphold the Republican majority in Congress after the Southern States
rejoined the Union. As one Congressman from the North put it, "It prevents the States
from going into the hands of the rebels, and giving them the President and the Congress
for the next forty years." (Foner, 161).
Until the 1890's, the policy of achieving equality through granting political rights
to Blacks worked fairly well. During Reconstruction, newly freed slaves voted in large
numbers in the South. Of the 1,330,000 people registered to vote under Reconstruction
Acts, 703,000 were Black and only 627,000 were White. Even after 1877, when federal
troops were withdrawn, Jim Crow laws had not fully emerged in the South so Blacks
continued to vote in high numbers and hold various state and federal offices. Between
1877 and 1900, a total of ten Blacks were elected to serve in the US Congress.
Voting and election figures hid the true nature of Black political power during and
after Reconstruction. Few Blacks held elective offices in relation to their percentage of
the South's