THE END OF RECONSTRUCTION
*Life was hard for Southerners after the Civil War. The War had left the area poor, grief-stricken, and defeated. Under Congressional Reconstruction, insult was added to injury when Southern whites were not permitted to vote, had their property seized by Union soldiers, and felt terrorised by Yankee invaders who did not respect their rights, their traditions, or even their elected officials. These carpetbaggers and their scalawag allies presided over some of the most corrupt governments in American history.
*Many Southerners, raised to consider themselves better than black folks, resented not only the carpetbaggers, but the freedmen as well, especially when they got to vote and white men did not.
*Some white men decided to fight back. In 1866, one group in Pulaski, Tennessee, formed a club called the Ku Klux Klan, a name based on ‘kuklos,’ the Greek word for ‘circle.’
*The Klan was a strange mix of fraternity, freedom fighters, and terrorists. They were a social club who got a kick out of dressing up in bedsheets, giving one another grandious titles, and making new members do silly hazing rituals and playing tricks on unsuspecting outsiders. They harassed Union soldiers who harassed Southerners, and were initially admired by many. Nathan Bedford Forrest, confederate cavalry commander, was chosen as the first Imperial Wizard.
*The Klan, however, also harassed free blacks, partly for fun, mostly out of meanness, and especially to prevent them exercising their legal rights to vote or do other thing which citizens may of right do. Blacks of the period were, or were believed to be superstitious, so Klansmen would make a big deal of the fact that they were supposedly ghosts to scare black people—a tale is told of one Klansman who would convince the gullible he was a ghost by drinking a whole bucket of water (right into a huge canteen hidden under his sheets. These silly pranks, though, were mixed with terrible violence.
*The Ku Klux Klan attacked freedmen, carpetbaggers, and scalawags in order to scare them away from things the Klan did not want them doing, especially voting or holding public office. These attacks often ended in murder—1,000 Louisianans alone were supposedly killed by the Klan in 1868, and 300 Republicans across the South, including a Congressman.
*The Klan did not always resort to direct violence—the threat of it, forewarned by a fiery cross in or near a target’s yard, was often enough to make someone change his behaviour or leave town quickly. Those who did not could be kidnapped, tortured, or killed.
*Eventually the Klan got so violent and unpleasant that even Forrest left it, and he had been a bloodthirsty man in his day, once killing a man with his penknife.
*Some Klansmen and other Southerners claimed these attacks were justified, or even accused blacks of attacking each other dressed as Klansmen while settling personal accounts. However, these claims were not believed, and in 1870 Congress passed the Enforcement Act, which banned the use of terror to stop someone of another race from voting, and other, similar laws worked against the Klan even more. Nonetheless, the Klan’s violence helped weaken Northern resolve to continue Reconstruction.
*During the early 1870s, Democrats got more and more power in government again. Although they did not completely control it, they could prevent the Radical Republicans from enacting anything too radical. The Supreme Court also decided a number of cases that limited the power of the XIV and XV Amendments.
*In 1876, Rutherford B. Hayes, Republican Governor of Ohio ran against Samuel Tilden, Democratic Governor of New York, for the presidency. Hayes was a Civil War veteran, a fact his supporters mentioned often. His wife was a teetotaller, known for never serving wine at dinner, and called ‘Lemonade Lucy.’ Tilden was more popular, however, and won a slight majority of the popular vote.
*In the electoral college, however, things were closer. Several states—Florida, South Carolina, Louisiana, and Oregon had one or more of their electoral votes questioned, so that twenty votes were unallocated at the end of 1876. The election was close—if Tilden got even one of the disputed votes, or if Harrison got them all, that man would win.
*Tilden probably should have won, but the Democrats were afraid to complain too loudly, because they feared (unjustifiably) that Grant would set himself up as military dictator if pushed too far. Republicans were upset, but some were willing to let Tilden in. Some blacks were supposedly afraid that if Tilden did win, slavery would be re-established. It was a very tough situation.
*Congress had to decide what to do, so they set up a special committee. The committee had 7 Democrats, 7 Republicans, and one man who was thought be neutral. However, at the last minute, the neutral man, David Davis of the Supreme Court, was elected to the Senate and resigned his judgeship. He was replaced by a Republican. Not surprisingly, the commission voted 8 to 7 in favour of Hayes.
*The Democrats were furious. However, rather than have a constitutional crisis, a bargain was reached: the Compromise of 1877. Tilden would let Hayes take office without complaint, but in return Reconstruction would end in the South, and some money would be spent to improve the Southern states in ways they wanted.
*Shortly after this, the Southern states found ways around the XIV and XV Amendments, and blacks lost most of their rights and privileges, including the ability to safely cast their votes most of the time. They did still receive some education and some services, but by this point segregation was just beginning, and it might be separate, but it was rarely equal.
*Before leaving this period, let us consider a little foreign policy.
*When Lincoln was murdered, Secretary of State William H Seward was also attacked. His face was badly scarred, but he lived. He had several diplomatic triumphs during Johnson’s presidency.
*During the Civil War, Napoleon III, Emperor of France, had set up an Austrian nobleman as Maximilian I, Emperor of Mexico, and supported him with the French Army. This violated the Monroe Doctrine, but Lincoln was too busy to deal with it. After the war, though, Seward reminded him of the 900,000 man Union Army ready to move down to the Rio Grande, and Napoleon III left Maximilian to his own devices and eventual death.
*Seward also got a good deal from Russia. Russia had been one of the USA’s few ungrudging friends during the War. The Russian fleet had been allowed to winter in New York Harbour one winter (where they so pitied the poor that they gave away their own rations), and the Russians thought they could help the US out. They offered to sell Alaska to Seward, and he accepted, paying $7.2 million for the whole thing. Although ridiculed at the time, ‘Seward’s Folly’ looks much nicer now after the discovery of gold and oil and tourism.
*Seward also opened trade with China
and took over the Midway Islands to use as a coaling station. In
terms of foreign policy, the Reconstruction era was a great success.
In other ways, it was not entirely so. To see more reasons why, study
the chart on page 445 of the text.
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This page last updated 15 October, 2003.