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The Goals and Failures of the First and Second Reconstructions
The Goals and Failures of the First and Second Reconstructions
Some people say we've got a lot of malice some say its a lot of nerve. But, I
say we won't quit moving until we get what we deserve. We have been bucked and
we have been conned. We have been treated bad, talked about as just bones. But
just as it takes two eyes to eyes make a pair. Brother we won't quit until we
get our share. Say it loud- I'm Black and I'm Proud.
The First and Second Reconstructions held out the great promise of rectifying
racial injustices in America. The First Reconstruction, emerging out of the
chaos of the Civil War had as its goals equality for Blacks in voting, politics,
and use of public facilities. The Second Reconstruction emerging out of the
booming economy of the 1950's, had as its goals, integration, the end of Jim
Crow and the more amorphous 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." Even though both movements, were
borne of high hopes they failed in bringing about their goals. Born in hope,
they died in despair, as both movements saw many of their gains washed away. I
propose to examine why they failed in realizing their goals. My thesis is that
failure to incorporate economic justice for Blacks in both movements led to the
failure of the First and Second Reconstruction.
The First Reconstruction came after the Civil War and lasted till 1877. The
political, social, and economic conditions after the Civil War defined the goals
of the First Reconstruction. At this time the Congress was divided politically
on issues that grew out of the Civil War: Black equality, rebuilding the South,
readmitting Southern states to Union, and deciding who would control
government.1 Socially, the South was in chaos. Newly emancipated slaves wandered
the South after having left their former masters, and the White population was
spiritually devastated, uneasy about what lay ahead. Economically, the South was
also devastated: plantations lay ruined, railroads torn up, the system of slave
labor in shambles, and cities burnt down. The economic condition of ex-slaves
after the Civil War was just as uncertain; many had left former masters and
roamed the highways.2
Amid the post Civil War chaos, various political groups were scrambling to
further their agendas. First, Southern Democrats, a party comprised of leaders
of the confederacy and other wealthy Southern whites, sought to end what they
perceived as Northern domination of the South. They also sought to institute
Black Codes, by limiting the rights of Blacks to move, vote, travel, and change
jobs,3 which like slavery, would provide an adequate and cheap labor supply for
plantations. Second, Moderate Republicans wanted to pursue a policy of
reconciliation between North and South, but at the same time ensure slavery was
abolished.4 Third, Radical Republicans, comprised of Northern politicians, were
strongly opposed to slavery, unsympathetic to the South, wanted to protect newly
free slaves, and keep there majority in Congress.5 The fourth political element,
at the end of the Civil War was President Andrew Johnson whose major goal was
unifying the nation. The fifth element were various fringe groups such as,
abolitionists and Quakers. Strongly motivated by principle and a belief in
equality, they believed that Blacks needed equality in American society,
although they differed on what the nature of that should be.6
The Northern Radical Republicans, with a majority in Congress, emerged as 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. But Southern Democrats 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
the various Black Codes. President Johnson vetoed the bill, but Radical and
Moderate Republicans eventually were able to pass it.7
The Black Codes and President Johnson's veto of all Reconstruction legislation
that was unfavorable to the South caused Moderate and Radical Republicans to
change their goals from just ending slavery to seeking political equality and
voting ... more
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