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Effects of Radical Reconstruction

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What were the goals of Radical Reconstruction and how did it lead to changes in ideas of American citizenship? Reconstruction refers to the period of time post-civil-war when the goal was to bring the South into submission and protect the African American Civil Rights. The federal government set the conditions that would allow for the Rebellious Southern States back into the Union. This was a very complex time for our country and many goals were set in order to bring everyone together to live in unity after a violent period of time. To put this generally, the reconstruction policy that was set was to oppose Lincoln, oppose Johnson, take control of Congress, impeach Johnson and put full support towards Grant.

The goals of Radical reconstruction seemed feasible at the time. Reconstruction was “important for reunifying the country and establishing the first constitutional steps towards equality” (Bowles, 2011). In addition to the general previously mentioned goals were that in regards to amendments and other laws. The passing of the thirteenth, fourteenth and fifteenth Amendment all were necessary in the transformation process. Just like any transformation, nothing happens overnight. The implementation of the amendments and laws to attempt equality were the right thing to do. Government action was the necessary catalyst for change.

In 1862, Lincoln appointed provisional military governors to re-establish governments in the south states recaptured by the Union Army. This brought about The Ten Percent Plan. “The process of reconstructing the Union began in 1863, two years before the Confederacy formally surrendered. After major Union victories at Gettysburg and Vicksburg, Abraham Lincoln issued the Proclamation of Amnesty and Reconstruction in which he outlined his Ten-Percent Plan. The plan stipulated that each secessionist state had to redraft its constitution and could reenter the Union only after 10 percent of its eligible voters pledged an oath of allegiance to the United States.”

The radical republicans began to oppose Lincoln during reconstruction because they believed he was too lenient and did not support the same goals of the radicals. The Radicals opposed Lincoln because they wished for a more aggressive approach to the prosecution of the war. They opposed slavery to the fullest and wanted slavery to end quicker than planned as well as total elimination of the confederacy.

After Lincoln was assassinated by John Wilkes Booth, Vice President Andrew Johnson stepped into office as President. To many, he appeared as though he was Radical until he broke with them, which turned into a struggle between the two parties. Johnson lost in the 1866 elections in the north and Radicals then had control over congress to override Johnson’s vetoes.

Next came the control of congress by the radicals. By this point, the radicals had full control over congress. Johnson had vetoed 21 bills and was left with only 6 of them that the radicals did not override. The intentions of the Radicals was to Impeach Johnson but the effort was not going anywhere at first. By surprise, Johnson violated the Tenure Office act by dismissing Secretary of War, Edwin Stanton and the House of Representatives voted for the impeachment of Johnson. The Tenure Office act “forbade the President to remove any federal officeholder appointed by and with the advice and consent of the Senate without the further approval of the Senate.” Although he escaped his removal of office by senate in 1868, he still had lost most of his power.

From 1865-1868 General Ulysses S. Grant had charge over the Army under president Johnson and enforced the radical agenda. In 1868, Grant was elected as a republican after siding with the radicals on reconstruction policy and signed the civil rights act of 1871.

The Radicals mainly supported the passing of three amendments. The Thirteenth amendment being “Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction”(Blackpast). Along with the term that the “Congress shall have power to enforce this article by appropriate legislation”(Blackpast). The fourteenth amendment had many terms to it but was summed up as allowing for the citizenship of the freed slaves. The fifteenth Amendment prevented race from determining the right to vote and stated as follows: “The right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of race, color, or previous condition of servitude. The Congress shall have the power to enforce this article by appropriate legislation” (Blackpast).

Despite the rights legislation by Radical Republicans in Congress, whites in the south did everything they could to limit the rights of their former slaves. During Presidential reconstruction (“Presidential Reconstruction under Johnson readmitted the southern states using Lincoln’s Ten-Percent Plan and granted all southerners full pardons, including thousands of wealthy planters and former Confederate officials”) white supremacist congressman passed a series of black codes. These codes denied blacks the right to make contracts, testify against whites, marry white women, be unemployed and even loiter in public areas.

In 1868, the radicals were thrilled that Johnson finally left the white house and Grant was elected as President. The downside to Grant be elected was his inexperience in office. This was a big risk to take and ultimately resulted in the end of radical reconstruction. Grant had a hard time saying no and took on more than he could handle. His cabinet posts and appointments were filled by incompetent officials who were “no more than spoils-seekers”. As a result, Grants reputation then began to go downhill after repetitious scandals occurred.

Reconstruction was a time of experiment in democracy but of course was short lived and then followed by a long period when the rights protected by constitutional amendments were conspicuously offensive and violated in the south and much of the nation. When women tried to employ the Fourteenth amendment to press their right to vote, they found the courts to be not receptive to suggestions or ideas.

After the end of reconstruction, the nation saw what was a failure of reconstruction and was attributed to black incapacity, strongly reinforcing the racialist thinking that they reemerged to dominate American culture in the late nineteenth century. The radicals put on a tough struggle to bring about a protection of African American rights. At the time, all of the goals between amendments, new laws, opposition of political leaders, political advancement seemed feasible and were not completely out of the question. The tough part was the transformation that was not supported by everybody. The main ingredient to changes in American citizenship is government action. Hugh Grant could have been the big catalyst to change ideas of citizenship and support the ideas of the radicals but he lacked experience. He was a big risk coming into office to bring about the change this country needed, but he was not capable of doing so. Radical reconstruction was important for reunifying this country and establishing constitutional steps towards equality but was not something that could be taken on over night, nor could it be in the hands of an inexperienced political leader.

Pearson Education Publishing, – See more at: http://www.blackpast.org/primary/1866-mississippi-black-codes#sthash.bsCeOJHX.dpuf

Amendments 11-27, U.S. National Archives and Records Administration, www.archives.gov/national_archives_experience/charters/constitution_amendments_11-27.html – See more at: http://www.blackpast.org/primary/reconstruction-amendments#sthash.MmRtmFkP.dpuf

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