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Lecture: US to 1865 and Reconstruction


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U.S. to 1865



U.S. to 1865

Native American Cultures and Communities

Prior to European colonization, diverse groups of Native Americans lived across the continent. These groups originally were hunters, gatherers and scavengers. Where the environment was suitable to agriculture, a number of groups became dependent on agriculture, and in particular maize (what Americans call corn).

In the northeast, where there were forests and rivers, tribes built dwellings out of wood and lived off trapping animals and fishing. The soil was fertile but rocky, so some farming was possible in the areas where land could be cleared. By the seventeenth century, when Europeans arrived as immigrants, a number of tribes had formed confederations, such as the Iroquois. These groups often had systems of law and trade as sophisticated as those of Europeans.

Primary source for 18th century but not before: Native Americans of Virginia as drawn by Simon Gribelin, 18th century.

Primary source for 18th century but not before: Native Americans of Virginia as drawn by Simon Gribelin, 18th century.

In the southeast, similar confederations existed. Here the soil was fertile, rainfall plentiful, and there were fewer trees and rocks. Farming was the natural lifestyle for tribes in the south, so here they were settled into complex communities.

The Mississippi River provided a foundation for huge trade networks in the interior of the continent. Cultures here engaged in transcontinental trade, as archaeologists have discovered goods from thousands of miles away. As these groups became dependent on corn, archaeologists believe their health declined. This civilization was already in decline by the time Europeans arrived.

On the Great Plains, farming was extremely difficult. Grasses grew in annual cycles, but the soil froze solid in winter, cracked in the dry summer, and there was always wind. Tribes here lived off the bison, who migrated across the Plains following the grass seasons. The bison provided all the sustenance for these nomadic tribes, who were often at war over control of large territories.

The northwest was somewhat similar to the northeast, but with more ample rainfall and evergreen conifer trees that could be used for massive woodbuilding and carving projects. In the southwest, which was dry but not as desert as it is now, large communities formed made up of tribes dependent on agriculture, especially maize. When the Spanish invaded central America and Mexico after 1519, they would encounter these tribes and bring with them from Europe plants and animals, such as horses.


Height of Mississippian cultures



Columbus discovers Caribbean



Cortes conquers Aztecs in Mexico




Secondary source: Howard Pyle created this image of African slaves sold at Jamestown by Dutch sailors for Harper's Weekly in 1917.
Secondary source: Howard Pyle created this image of African slaves sold at Jamestown by Dutch sailors for Harper's Weekly in 1917.
During the 16th and early 17th centuries, European nations competed against each other for colonies around the world. (Be aware that the term "17th century" refers to the 1600s, not the 1700s --just as "21st century" is our current century.) The Spanish would control their portion of the future U.S. in the southwest, conquering northward from Mexico. But the English and French would come directly across the Atlantic to the east coast.

In 1607, a group of adventurers succeeded in founding the first lasting English colony at Jamestown, in Virginia (named after Queen Elizabeth, the so-called "Virgin Queen"). Many of the English colonies, towns, and geographic features along the eastern seaboard were named after monarchs and nobles. "Carolina", the Charles River, and Charles Town referred to King Charles (1625-49), for example.

The adventurers had intended to get rich quick, primarily through growing and selling tobacco, which had become popular in Europe during Elizabeth's reign. Most of them were "gentleman farmers", or sons of gentleman farmers, men who didn't do the actual labor themselves. Some tried to conscript Native American labor, but found that difficult. European disease devastated most native tribes in the Caribbean and on the east coast. Other tribes moved inland or tried to fight the Europeans.

The solution to the labor problem was in Africa. Spanish traders were buying slaves from West African merchants, slaves captured at first in war, and later to feed a growing transAtlantic slave trade. Ultimately the English themselves became the greatest purveyors of slaves, transporting them across the Atlantic from West Africa. At first, like Spanish and Portuguese slave systems, slaves could be freed if they earned enough money to buy their freedom, could intermarry if they became Christian, and did not transmit their slave status to their free children. But gradually, English colonial slavery took on its own character. Slavery became perpetual and was inherited, which prevented competition from newly freed people seeking their own farms. It became associated with skin color, which would ultimately limit freedoms of free black people who had migrated from Europe to make their own fortunes.

The South became associated with hot weather, tropical diseases, black slaves, and tobacco.


Jamestown founded



First slaves arrive








Founding of New England

The English population of the northeast came about as a result of religious conflict. Until the 16th century, there had been only one Christian Church in Europe, what we now call the Catholic Church. Its supremacy was destroyed by the Protestant Reformation, led by people who believed that God's will could be learned through reading the Bible and maintaining faith.

As the Reformation was occurring, King Henry VIII of England broke his country away from the Catholic Church.

Secondary source: Romantic Rendering of the Mayflower Pilgrims , by Robert W. Weir (1843), in the Capitol Building, Washington DC
Secondary source: Romantic Rendering of the Mayflower Pilgrims , by Robert W. Weir (1843), in the Capitol Building, Washington DC

This occurred primarily because in his desire for a male heir, Henry had needed an annulment of his marriage to his Spanish wife, who had reached menopausal age. The pope refused the annulment and Henry developed arguments that the Church of England should be independent from the pope. Those who wished to stay in power, and gain some church lands, went along.

The Church of England, or Anglican Church, was not Protestant in the sense of emphasizing the Bible or simple faith. Protestant groups that wanted this to change fell into two groups. "Separatists" wanted to separate from the Anglican Church. A group of Separatists migrated to the Netherlands for this purpose, but found Dutch Protestantism to be too tolerant of aspects of Christianity they felt deviated from their interpretation of the Bible. So they left again and came to America, founding a colony in Plymouth, Massachusetts in 1620. We call them the Pilgrims.

The other group were called "Puritans", because they wanted to purify or redeem the Anglican Church from within. Their leaders believed they could best do this by founding an ideal community in America, and they founded the region around Boston beginning in 1630. To do this, they obtained a charter from King Charles, and called themselves the Massachusetts Bay Company. Since they were supposed to be an ideal community, they were not tolerant of any kind of deviance, believing they presented what leader John Winthrop called "a city on a hill". By the second generation, they were already having trouble with social compliance, and young people were not experiencing the religious fulfillment on which the founders had based the community.


Pilgrim Separatists at Plymouth



Puritans at Massachusetts Bay






Salem Witch Trials

The charter granted to the Puritans by King Charles I had given them significant self-government. But Charles himself would die in the English Civil War, fought against himby radical members of Parliament. A Puritan government would emerge in England, but it only lasted till 1660, when Charles II regained the throne. Puritan hopes were dashed, and the new government was fiercely competitive when it came to the expanding English empire. Royal authority was gradually reasserted over all English colonies in America, and in 1684 the Massachusetts charter was revoked.
Secondary source: Tompkins Harrison Matteson, "Trial of George Jacobs, August 5, 1692.", a romantic 19th century interpretation of the 17th century Salem trials

Secondary source: Tompkins Harrison Matteson, "Trial of George Jacobs, August 5, 1692.", a romantic 19th century interpretation of the 17th century Salem trials


Some Puritans considered this to be a punishment from God, along with the defection of the younger generation. A search began for the causes of God's displeasure.

In Europe, witchcraft was considered a crime of heresy, or a crime against religion. Witch hunts and trials had been common on the European continent in the 16th century. This had been during a time when Catholics and Protestants were literally at war. But scientific thinking had impacted these trials by the 1660s, and few witches were sentenced who had not caused actual harm.

The Puritan community, however, had no such scientific viewpoint. Hysteria among young girls, who accused their neighbors as witches, set off a wave of persecutions around Salem Town and Salem Village in Massachusetts. The Salem Witch Trials have been analyzed repeatedly by historians and many causes suggested. Some of the current theories include an extended family feud, female hysteria caused by sexual repression, tainted grain stores, megalomania on the part of the leadership, and mass hysteria as a result of having self-government denied.


Massachusetts Charter revoked



Salem Witch Trials




Parliamentary Acts and Protests

The reassertion of royal authority didn't last long. By 1690, new monarchs were managing the colonies differently. The main threats to England were France and Spain, and much money and effort went into these international rivalries. As a result, the American colonies were left alone. This "Salutary Neglect", as it has been called, resulted in much wealth for those American colonists who dealt in trade or cash-crop agriculture. Few taxes or trade duties were collected. Crown servants weren't sent to collect them, or they were easily bribed.

But many years later, in 1756, a global war occurred against France. It was called the Seven Years War in Europe, and the French and Indian War in America. In America, the French had huge holdings along the Mississippi and Great Lakes region. By this time, the British colonies had expanded westward and were approaching French territory. (I use "British" rather than "English", since in 1707 England became part of Great Britain, which also included Scotland and Wales.) Thus this war was fought in America as well as in Europe and even in India, where British and French troops vied for control of the wealthy spice and jewel trade. By 1763, when the war ended, Britain had won huge victories against the French. In America, the French had used Indian allies, but the British colonists fought well. George Washington saw his first action in the war.

Secondary source: Later romantic interpretation of Patrick Henry's "Give me liberty, or give me death!" speech, by Currier and Ives, c. 1876.
Secondary source: Later romantic interpretation of Patrick Henry's "Give me liberty, or give me death!" speech, by Currier and Ives, c. 1876.

But the war had been horribly expensive for Britain. A debate began over how to pay off the debt. The decision was to begin strictly enforcing the taxes and trade duties due from the colonies. Some members of Parliament, like conservative Edmund Burke, warned not to move too fast -- that Americans had developed their own civilization in the previous century. But other leaders took no heed, and began not only enforcing the old taxes but proposing new ones.

Merchants in America, particularly the wealthy traders of Boston, were angry as they saw their profits slipping. Prosperous Southern farmers saw prices rise for goods imported from Europe. In 1765 Parliament approved the Stamp Act, a new tax on official documents. Rebellion occurred throughout the American colonies. Protesters met together in the Stamp Act Congress, and sent angry petitions to the king in Britain.

Britain sent troops to control rebellion, even after repealing the Stamp Act. American colonists armed themselves in defense against the troops. In 1770, a mob threw snow-covered stones at some British sentries, and shots were fired into the crowd. Silversmith and engraver Paul Revere published a drawing of the event, calling it the "Boston Massacre". Further taxes were proposed on trade, and all were protested. By 1773, all were repealed except the tax on tea. American women patriotically boycotted tea, and a group of merchants not very well disguised as Indians boarded a British ship loaded with tea and threw it into Boston Harbor.

Era of Salutary Neglect



Stamp Act

Boston "Massacre"

Boston Tea Party




Revolutionary War and Independence

Many prosperous men in the colonies were highly educated, and had been exposed to the liberal philosophy of men like John Locke. In England in 1689, Parliament had thrown out a king and brought in his daughter instead, forcing on the new monarch a Bill of Rights guaranteeing Parliament as the law-making body. Locke had justified this by claiming that a government that does not protect "life, liberty and property" could rightfully be overthrown. Since the colonies had no representation in Parliament, the idea emerged that the colonists should not be taxed by a body in which they had no voice. Such liberal arguments fell on some sympathetic ears in Parliament.

Romantic interpretation of the Battle of LSecondary source: J. E. Taylor, Peter Salem Shooting Major Pitcairn at Bunker Hill (1899), a romantic interpretation of the Battle of Lexington exington
Secondary source: J. E. Taylor, Peter Salem Shooting Major Pitcairn at Bunker Hill (1899), a romantic interpretation of the Battle of Lexington

But violence continued to escalate between British troops and American colonists. In 1775, the first major battle took place, when American farmers stood against soldiers trying to catch them after a raid on a weapons cache at Concord.

By this time, the colonists had extended on the Congress idea, and the Continental Congress had made itself the main voice of the British colonies in America, hoping to negotiate an amicable arrangement. But some felt it was too late for that. Colonial leaders like John Adams from Massachusetts and Thomas Jefferson from Virginia forged an alliance to push for independence from Britain.

Getting all the colonies to agree on this was not an easy task, since no colony had ever broken away to form its own country. In writing the Declaration of Independence, Jefferson justified the break, but in order to get the southern colonies to go along, had to remove a section protesting the slave trade. Nevertheless, the document provided guidance to what had become a major war, helping pull the colonies together into a concept of unity.


Battle of Lexington



Declaration of Independence



Britain surrenders

Articles of Confederation established



Constitution and Federalist Era

This concept of unity, though, was mostly in words. With the help of France, the colonists defeated the British in 1781. Each colony was still independent, and the Articles of Confederation formed the new government based on that ideal. The central government would only deal with major issues requiring a united front, such as printing money and approving foreign treaties. But a number of politicians wanted a much stronger central government, a federal government, with less independence for individual colonies or states.

Secondary source: Depression-era painting by Howard Chandler Christy, Constitutional Convention (1939)  in the Capitol Building , Washington DC
Secondary source: Depression-era painting by Howard Chandler Christy, Constitutional Convention (1939)  in the Capitol Building , Washington DC

These "Federalists" marshaled some of the best minds of the era, including James Madison, to explain the advantages of such a system. Through persistence, argumentation and even deception, they created a Constitutional Convention. This group would write a constitution for the nation, and it was dominated by Federalists. Those against a strong federal government, such as Thomas Jefferson, participated in hopes of achieving more rights for states. But the final result was clearly a victory for the Federalists.

During the first presidency, under Washington, the issues of the young nation were dealt with. Alexander Hamilton promoted the industry and merchant interests of the north through economic programs, and Jefferson attempted to defend the interests of America as a farming nation of independent people. The presidency of John Adams supported the Federalist program, but in 1800 Jefferson himself became president in the first contest dominated by two parties. Jefferson acquired one-third of the future U.S. by jumping quickly at Napoleon's sale of the remaining French empire on the continent (The Louisiana Purchase). Also on his watch, the Supreme Court gained more power as the ultimate arbiter of the Constitution. But then conflict with Britain reared its ugly head again.

Constitution written

Constitution adopted


Louisiana Purchase

Marbury v Madison establishes Supreme Court power


War of 1812 and Rise of Sectionalism

Britain had not given up on the idea of America as part of the British Empire, despite the Revolutionary War. They continued to occupy British forts in the western areas near the Great Lakes, and used recent immigration as an excuse to force American men to serve in the British navy. In 1807, Jefferson enforce the Embargo Act against British goods in an effort to force them to back off. This Act did help northern industry, particularly the textile industry, by removing British competition.
Primary source: The Battle of Lake Erie, Commodore Perry transfering his flag from the Lawrence to the Niagara, 1813

Primary source: The Battle of Lake Erie, Commodore Perry transfering his flag from the Lawrence to the Niagara, 1813

But many Americans complained about high prices for imported goods, and ultimately there was war again. Again for Britain, this War of 1812 was part of a larger war. Britain was battling Napoleon's France, which is why they had needed the manpower in the navy. Ultimately she was unable to sustain war in America as well, and there was peace. But the War of 1812 achieved nothing; the British did not abandon their forts or claims to American personnel.

The United States continued to expand westward. The new industrial mills of the north obtained their cotton from the south, and cotton replaced tobacco as the prime crop. Westward expansion in the north meant the expansion of commerce and industry. In the south, it meant the expansion of cotton production, where far more land was needed. As states were added to the union, neither northerners or southerners wanted Congress dominated by the other. Westward expansion for farming cotton also meant the expansion of slavery, so some began referring to "free states" and "slave states". Congress tried to be fair in this regard, creating compromises that kept the states in balance.

Embargo Act

War of 1812 with Britain



Missouri Compromise admits Missouri as slave, Maine as free to keep balance


Age of Industry and Jacksonian America

The Embargo Act of 1807 and the War of 1812 had provided an extraordinary opportunity for the development of industrial textile mills in the north. Mill towns were built, and people moved from farm areas to work there. Americans had witnessed the horrors of conditions in European factories, and tried to avoid them. Instead of the children used in industrial factories, American mills primarily employed young women, who could be paid little. Some mills even created entire communities, but the work was still difficult and tedious.

Secondary source: a photochrome postcard of the Erie Canal, published by the Detroit Photographic Company, circa 1897-1924.

Secondary source: a photochrome postcard of the Erie Canal, published by the Detroit Photographic Company, circa 1897-1924.

Mills became successful because of America's penchant for new and creative technologies. Although the first mills were built with plans stolen from Europe, American technologies began to surpass those across the Atlantic. Unrestricted by tradition, and encouraged by a generous system of patents, American inventers were able to innovate.

Transportation innovations like canals and railroads were funded by companies that had investors. Capitalist ventures like the Erie Canal proved successful in making a profit through the volume transport of goods. As a large country, carrying goods across distances was more important in the U.S. than in Europe. Railroads, invented in Europe, became popular as urbanization and population increased.


Erie Canal

Early railroads

Cotton cloth manufacture



Jackson elected

Tariffs raised


Bank War




Mexican War and Expansion

As southern cotton farmers and cattle rangers expanded westward, Texas became a battleground. The entire southwest of the future US was owned by Spain until the revolution of 1821, which made Mexico an independent nation. The new country permitted Stephen Austin to establish a legal settlement of Anglo-Americans in Texas the following year.

Primary source: The	Storming of Independence Hill at the Battle of Monterey. September 1846. Copy of lithograph by Kelloggs & Thayer, circa 1847.
Primary source: The Storming of Independence Hill at the Battle of Monterey. September 1846. Copy of lithograph by Kelloggs & Thayer, circa 1847.

American Texans became wealthy and powerful, flaunting Mexican law and entertaining ideas of breaking away from Mexico and applying for U.S. statehood. In 1830 Mexico forbade further colonization and attempted to outlaw slavery in the region. The American settlers rebelled, declaring themselves independent in 1836. The Mexican army massacred Texan forces at the Alamo, but the army of Americans under Sam Houston won the war against Mexico.

The anti-slavery Whigs in Congress were in no hurry to admit Texas to the United States. Texas became an independent country, briefly a monarchy but then a republic. President Polk annexed Texas in 1845, and a few months later the Mexican War broke out between the U.S. and Mexico over the border. Many protested that war, because it was seen as being fought for the expansion of slavery. Philosopher Henry David Thoreau was willing to go to jail rather than pay the poll tax which supported the war.

California had similarly been a northern outpost of Mexico. In 1846 American settlers in California rose against Mexico in the Bear Flag Revolt, intending to make California an independent republic like Texas had been. With the Mexican War beginning, American forces seized California. The treaty with Mexico at the end of the war left California a territory of the United States, and in 1849 gold was discovered in northern California. This spawned a Gold Rush, where adventurers and fortune-hunters arriving by land and sea hoped to strike it rich. In the Compromise of 1850, California was admitted as a free (non-slave) state. Such Congressional efforts to maintain balance and fairness between free and slave states, however, were only putting off a crisis pitting sections of the country against each other.

Texas declares independence from Mexico


Mexican War

Thoreau writes "Civil Disobedience"

1849: Gold Rush

Compromise of 1850


Sectional Crisis

The northern and southern areas along the east coast had always been very distinct from each other. The continued expansion of the southern agrarian culture (including cattle ranching) and the northern mixed/industrial culture exacerbated the rivalries. Both north and south wanted control of western expansion to gain dominance on a number of issues. Slavery was one, but trade tariffs and views of centralized government were also crucial.

Primary source: Alexander Gardner and James Gibson, Confederate dead on the Miller Farm (1862) right after the battle of Antietam
Primary source: Alexander Gardner and James Gibson, Confederate dead on the Miller Farm (1862) right after the battle of Antietam

The 1850s saw an intensification of sectionalism, with extremists on both sides. In the north, abolitionists insisted on the moral harm of slavery and demanded its abolishment. Harriet Beecher Stowe's fictional portrayal of slavery in Uncle Tom's Cabin became a best-seller. In the south, long-standing arguments about the rights of states to independence from the centralized federal government were voiced with increasing vehemence.

In 1854, the Kansas-Nebraska Act repealed an early compromise, the Missouri Compromise of 1820. The new act allowed territories, such as the new Kansas-Nebraska territory, to determine itself whether to permit or prohibit slavery. This concept of "popular sovereignty" led to fraudulent voting and violence in the streets ("Bleeding Kansas"). Civil war was put down by federal troops.

In 1857, the Supreme Court decided a case that seemed to support the pro-slavery view. The Dred Scott case returned to his master a slave suing for his own freedom. It also declared that Congress had no right to prohibit slavery in the territories.

Uncle Tom's Cabin published


Kansas-Nebraska act repeals Missouri Compromise through popular sovereignty

Dred Scott decision returns slave to master



Birth of the Confederacy

But in 1859, abolitionist John Brown seized arms in West Virginia, hoping to start a slave rebellion. New states, like Oregon and Minnesota, were added as free despite the Dred Scott decision. Democrats having split on the issue of slavery, moderate Republican Abraham Lincoln became president. Southern leaders felt themselves surrounded, their way of life threatened. High tariffs had been enriching the north at the expense of the south since 1816, and northern newspapers published angry denunciations of slavery while providing no economic solutions to replace it. One section of the country was overriding the Constitution and controlling the other sections. Voices for secession, separation from the United States, became public.

Primary source: Charleston Mercury, December 20, 1860, South Carolina secedes
Primary source: Charleston Mercury, December 20, 1860, South Carolina secedes

The election of Lincoln was the last straw. Seven southern states seceded and set up their own nation, the Confederate States of America. Their constitution harked back to the Articles of Confederation, with significantly more self-government for the individual states.

South Carolina was one of the states leading secession. But Fort Sumter, a United States federal fort, resided within its borders. Lincoln done nothing to prevent the secession, but had refused to acknowledge it. Fort Sumter was thus still part of the United States. Federal troops sent to resupply it were fired upon by Confederate troops, because from the CSA point of view they were being invaded.

Many Americans who did not countenance slavery believed in the right of the south to secede. When Lincoln declared that U.S. troops were needed to put down the "insurrection" in South Carolina, it was clear that he viewed the area as still part of the United States. His use of this word caused four other states to secede, and the Civil War began in earnest.

It was a bloodbath that would end in 1865. According to historians like Barbara Fields, the only thing preventing it from being completely immoral was the Union intention, announced late in the war, to free the slaves.


John Brown's Raid



Nov: Lincoln elected

Dec-Feb 1861: South Carolina, Georgia, Florida, Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana, Texas secede



Fort Sumter

Arkansas, Tennessee, North Carolina, Virginia join Confederacy

Battle of Bull Run/First Manassas


End of Civil War






Link to audio part 1Reconstruction

  • This scene from DW Griffith's Birth of a Nation is a fictional recreation of South Carolina's House of Representatives, which achieved a black majority during Reconstruction. It portrays the black representatives as ignorant savages, unsuited to govern. The film glorified the KKK, which terrorized black voters to prevent them voting for black representatives. The movie was made in 1915, from the 1905 book The Clansman by Thomas Dixon. Both are secondary sources for the Reconstruction era.

    Document: Organization and Principles of the KKK


    Link to audio part 2 Civil War or War Between the States?

    Although we refer to it as the Civil War, not everyone did at the time. Southerners in particular called it The War Between the States. They didn't mean the individual states, like Georgia or Massachusetts; rather they meant nation-states.

    What this means is that the northerners, or Union, felt that they were fighting a civil war, a war between two factions within the same country. The southern secessionists, or Confederacy, felt that they were fighting for the independence of their country (The Confederate States of America) against a foreign power.

    Despite what you may have heard, this war wasn't just about slavery. From the Confederate perspective, slaves were property. According to the Constitution, the federal government cannot deprive anyone of property without due process of law. This protection of private property was one of the founding values of the United States. When Lincoln was elected and Radical Republicans (many of them anti-slavery) gained control of the government, many Southerners realized that a long history of the federal government trying to destroy them (through tariffs and support of abolitionists) was going to culminate in the taking of their property.

    Many northerners did not like slavery, but few wanted to destroy it in the South. Most wanted to prevent its spread into new western states, which would permit slaveholders to have greater power in Congress. Few northerners believed in equal rights for African-Americans, and many felt blacks were inferior intellectually. Lincoln himself had entertained proposals of founding an African-American colony in the Caribbean or Africa, where freed slaves could set up their own government and not mix with whites. In the U.S., freed slaves might have trouble mixing with their former masters.

    From the Union perspective, then, the war had been fought to preserve the Union, which had been torn asunder by the secession of the Southern states. Now that the war was over the question was how to "reconstruct" or "restore" the South. (From the Confederate perspective, of course, a war for independence had been lost to a foreign power which now intended to dominate them completely.) Some people, especially southerners and southern sympathizers, wanted to simply restore the South, with total amnesty to all. Others, especially the Radical Republicans in the North, wanted to reconstruct the South, only readmitting states to the Union when they conformed to certain standards.

    Link to audio part 3Presidential vs. Congressional Reconstruction

    So from the Union view, the Conferederacy had left and the war had conquered them to bring them back, so each state had to be readmitted to the United States. Even during the war, Lincoln was planning for Reconstruction. In 1863 he developed the Ten Percent Plan, decreeing that after the war a state could be integrated into the Union when 10% of the number who had voted in 1860 took a loyalty oath to the United States and agreed to the freeing of the slaves. The 10% Plan was thus designed to provide an easy readmission for the southern states. Prior to his assassination, Lincoln had readmitted three southern states on the basis of his plan:

    • Louisiana
    • Arkansas
    • Tennessee
    Radical Republicans in Congress, however, wanted reconstruction, not restoration. They opposed the plan as being too lenient, and wanted stricter requirements for readmission. What's ironic is that Lincoln was assassinated by John Wilkes Booth as part of a Confederate conspiracy. By killing him, Southerners killed their last best hope for an easy restoration, amnesty, and preservation of most of their way of life. Without him, the Radical Republicans controlled Reconstruction. That is, they did so at the same time as they fought the new President, Andrew Johnson, for power.

    It is interesting to note that Johnson was really a mystery man when he became President. Despite the fact that he was from Tennessee and a Democrat, he was also a unionist. He hated the aristocratic planter class, having come from a poor farming family. His personality was offensive; one acquaintance described him as "belligerent, lacking in political tact, tempermental". Congress at first thought he would be better than Lincoln because he would be hard on the south. Then he took over the process of Reconstruction while Congress was out of session. He, like Lincoln, believed that Reconstruction was the President's job. He allowed states with Black Codes and destroyed the Freedman's Bureau, and Congress wanted to impeach him.

    According to one history textbook, Faragher's Out of Many (2004), "Johnson's narrow acquittal established the precedent that only criminal actions by a president -- not political disagreements -- warranted removal from office". This is a key point. Can you imagine if the President were subject to impeachment every time Congress disagreed with him? Instead, what Congress learned to do through their battle with Johnson was what the Constitution insists on: override of a Presidential veto with two-thirds of the votes.

    Link to audio part 4Freedom and Racism

    The Radical Republicans in Congress really were radical. There's a common misconception that all northerners were pro-union, anti-slavery, and in favor of civil rights for blacks. There's a similar misconception that all southerners were anti-union, pro-secessionist, pro-slavery, and against civil rights for blacks. These are stereotypes. There were northerners who believed that the south had a right to secede and be left alone. There were southerners who were against slavery. There were pro-union southerners (like Andrew Johnson). Very few people, however, truly supported black equality.

    There's a big difference between feeling that it is wrong to enslave a person, and wanting that person to become a full citizen. There's also a big leap in thinking that such a person ought to vote. After all, women and children were not included in any of this thinking, except by feminists. In this context, the Thirteenth Amendment (which forbade slavery or involuntary servitude) was relatively easy to pass.


    The Fourteenth Amendment (declaring that former slaves were citizens) was more difficult, and the Fifteenth Amendment (giving them the vote) highly controversial. Forcing southern states to ratify all these before being readmitted guaranteed the support needed for these radical acts.



    In a sense, they became consitutional amendments because of the make-up of Congress at the time. It was full of Radical Republicans frustrated by President Johnson, and the south wasn't yet a voting bloc.

    While all this doesn't negate the importance of these amendments as a foundation for black civil rights (or for feminist opposition to them), it helps explain why the conservative Democrats were so eager to "redeem" the southern states. The Supreme Court also curtailed the breadth of these amendments, effectively leaving freed peoples unprotected despite the Constitution.

    In the Election of 1876, Rutherford B. Hayes (the Republican candidate) agreed to keep federal interference out of the south if he could gain the electoral votes needed to become president (despite the fact that Democrat Samuel Tilden had won the popular vote). This is one of the biggest political deals in history. Take a look at the BBC's article "Flashback to 1876" and HarpWeek's "Hayes vs. Tilden: Electoral College Controversy" (these outside sites will open in a separate window -- close that window when you're done to return to here). The Hayes victory not only marked the end of Reconstruction, but further abandoned freed peoples.

    Link to audio part 5Freed Peoples and the Economy

    While freedom was what most slaves wanted, it's been said that "freedom is all they got". Much of the problems facing freed slaves in the late nineteenth century were the same as those facing other southerners.

    Much of the land in the south was worthless after the war. Agriculture had declined, and the Union's "scorched earth" policy left much of the soil unusable. The biggest capital investment in the south had been slaves, and they were now freed. For the planter class, it was like watching all their tools, appliances, investments literally walk away. Most southerners had been loyal to the Confederacy, and had used the money minted for their new country. This money was now worthless. The costs of war were immense. In 1866, one-fifth of all the revenue of the state of Mississippi was spent on artifical limbs for veterans. Many young men were dead. Former slaves, now freed, were no longer working 18-hour days.

    In response to the post-war crisis, most farmers planted cash crops. Money was necessary to pay taxes and try to hold onto land, the only investment that could ever be made to pay. With everyone frantically planting cotton, tobacco and sugar, prices began to decline.

    Plus, the soil was exhausted, since farmers planted the same cash crops over and over on the same land. Ultimately, not enough food was planted.

    Although many freed slaves left immediately after the war to find family members, most returned to find jobs. Wage labor was what they wanted, but no one had cash to pay them. Besides, what they really wanted was to own their own land. Share-cropping appeared to be the answer. But share-croppers soon ended up in debt peonage, because they had to borrow money to get seed and equipment, and as crop prices declined they were increasingly unable to pay this money back.

    Document: Interview with a Former Slave


    Reconstruction Slideshow




All text, lecture voice audio, and course design copyright Lisa M. Lane 1998-2018. Other materials used in this class may be subject to copyright protection, and are intended for educational and scholarly fair use under the Copyright Act of 1976 and the TEACH Act of 2002.