After the American Civil War of 1861 to1865, Americans were faced with the issue of reviving themselves from the changes brought about by the war. This is especially so with regard to the Southern and Northern states that had formed the opposing sides in the battle. Finding basis on the issue of slavery, the North had been anti-slavery while the South had been pro-slavery. These different opinions later erupted to full-blown war that tore America into half and in turn saw previous patriotic citizens kill each other. With regard to the events of the Civil War, there was need for reconstruction in a bid to see Americans sharing common interests and goals again. For instance, the Civil War saw the Northern States defeating their opponents and emancipating all slaves in the country and in turn, saw the South lose their major source of labor.
The American Civil War caused changes in the economical, political, and social systems in the country. To identify said changes, there is need to analyze the lives of three prominent figures during the period of reconstruction. In addition, their contribution to the American society and the roles they played during the reconstruction period.
As stated before, the major reason behind the Civil War was the issue of slavery. After the war, while the anti-slavery states welcomed the idea of freedom of all African Americans, the Southern states were still against the same. In Reconstructing America: Consolidation of State Power, 1865-1890, DiLorenzo points out that, Lincoln Abraham the then president of the United States of America, played different roles in affecting the reconstruction period until his assassination in April 1865. His ideas dated back to years before the end of the Civil War in a bid to restore America to its glory. This he did by first issuing The Proclamation of Amnesty and Reconstruction in 1863.
Under The Proclamation of Amnesty and Reconstruction was The Ten-Percent Plan with which Lincoln aimed to rejoin the Southern States to the Union. The plan was however only applicable to all Southerners except for the Confederates’ highly ranked officials and officers. In accordance with The Ten-Percent Plan, the Southern States were allowed to rejoin the Union in the event that ten percent of the registered voters in particular state pledged loyalty to the union. Upon the allegiance, the government was to in turn, protect the Southerners properties with the exception of slaves whom Lincoln promised to emancipate once the war ended.
With regard to the plans of The Ten-Percent Plan, DiLorenzo states that, “at the same time, great resources were expended on registering the male ex-slaves to vote” (10) This is with regard to the Ten percent plan after the Civil War where Lincoln aimed at reuniting all the States of America. Lincolns plan ensured that most of the voters belonged to the abolitionist sides, which were in debt to the Union for winning the war.
In addition, Lincoln’s emancipation proclamation promised freedom for all African American slaves making him the one white person to stand up against slavery. Foner attests to this when he states that, “that the actions of slaves who in the first years abandoned their masters and headed for the Union Lines helped undermine the South’s peculiar institution and accelerated the Lincoln administration’s progress towards emancipation” (867).
In response, Wade Benjamin the then Ohio’s senator and from Maryland Davis Henry House Representative wrote the Wade-Davis Bill of 1864. Unlike the Ten Percent Plan, the bill aimed at ensuring that the Confederate States were only allowed to join the Union if fifty or more percent of their voters swore an ‘ironclad oath’ to the union. Moreover, the Bill prohibited all African Americans from voting while ensuring their liberation stayed intact. It is important to note that 1864 was an election year for America and in a bid to get votes from the Northern States Lincoln pocket-vetoed the Bill. In other words, while the Bill passed through Congress, the President chose not to sign the same.
Fifty percent was a high mark for the Southern States and since most of the whites had been against the Union, Lincoln feared that the said states would be out of the Union’s reach. His fears were well founded as aside from the blacks, the Southerners fought to support the slavery institution. With regard to this, if the blacks were not allowed to vote then most of the Confederate states would not rejoin the union. Lincoln aimed at reuniting America and the Ten-Percent Plan served this idea by reassuring the African Americans of their liberation. On the other hand, the Wade-Davis Bill hindered this by forbidding the blacks from voting.
Finally yet importantly, there was the Fourteenth Amendment that according to Halbrook was supposed to, “protect the rights to personal security and personal liberty from violation by state governments” (Securing Civil Rights: Freedmen, the Fourteenth Amendment, and the Right to Bear Arms) Adopted in 1868, the fourteenth amendment made to the constitution of the United States of America, has been looked upon as one of the amendments aimed at reconstructing the country. Its major concern lay in the rights of citizens and their protection with regard to the law. Foner believes that this was in a bid to protect the recently liberated slaves especially those residing in the South where emancipation was still debated (865).
The Freedman’s bureau on the other hand sought to resettle the freed slaves in lands commandeered by the Union. Most of the lands belonged to the Federate States and with an estimated forty thousand former slaves to settle, the Freedmen’s bureau was drafted to manage the issue of resources distribution among the same. As part of the Bureau’s terms, everyone that was part of the union was allowed to lease land from the bureau. The land was as big as forty acres and the people could buy it when they acquired funds for the same. The main aim of the Freedman’s bureau was to allocate land as a resource to the poor whites and the liberated African Americans. In turn, this improved Lincoln’s ideas of reconstruction in the sense that the people were able to fend for themselves.
In Securing Civil Rights: Freedmen, the Fourteenth Amendment, and the Right to Bear Arms, Halbrook states that, “The Freedmen’s Bureau Act declared that “the constitutional right to bear arms” is included among the “laws and proceedings concerning personal liberty, personal security,” and property, and that “the free enjoyment of such immunities and rights” is to be protected” This however was repelled by the Southern States who still refused to recognize African Americans as equals. Instead, The Southern States rejected the idea of all citizens bearing arms for the main reason of their fear of retribution by the ex-slaves.
The ideas of reconstruction affected the country’s political system as previous slaves were now allowed to vote alongside the whites. Before, all matters of state aimed at giving the whites an upper hand and ensuring the slaves were loyal to their masters. Now, the Reconstruction Amendments sought to destroy these societal norms in the guise of political rectifications. In addition, the rights to vote meant that the African Americans were now equal to the whites. While the Northerners fought to ensure this, the Southerners still repelled and in turn retaliated to the reconstruction. Halbrook attests to this when he writes that, “As Congress debated the Fourteenth Amendment and the second Freedmen’s Bureau Bill, Southern courts nullified the Civil Rights Act, and the Southern state militias continued to disarm the freedmen and commit other abuses” (Securing Civil Rights: Freedmen, the Fourteenth Amendment, and the Right to Bear Arms)
Economically, what the whites had at one time gained free, they had to pay for as African Americans were allowed to seek employment and dictate terms of service. In fact, the Fourteenth Amendment aimed at ensuring that all American, including the freed slaves, had equal distribution of resources and opportunities in all the States. This also disrupted the social norms especially with the idea of all people being free citizens, and equal before the law. After all, Americans were used to a certain life, disrupting it meant there was need for time to ensure proper restoration of the country.
It is important to note that the people that forwarded the reconstruction amendments all belonged to the Northern States and were in turn, part of the Union. The Southerners were on the other hand opposed to most ideas the reconstruction amendments suggested as they went against their interest. The major obstacle lay in destroying the slavery institution and establishing a united nation despite the disunion that led to the Civil War. Politically, it can be argued that the acts were passed through Congress but were hindered by the Southerners and Radical Republicans.
The American Civil War caused changes in the economical, political, and social systems in the country. The Ten-Percent Plan, Wade-Davis Bill, and the Fourteenth Amendment sought to ensure the revival of America to its former power. To do this, there was need to reunite the States and ensure that all of the States recognized the Union as the central government. Lincoln’s idea of reconstruction started before the end of the Civil War and his ideas focused on the black population in a bid to encourage the American population to embrace the said ideas.
DiLorenzo, Thomas. Reconstructing America: Consolidation of State Power,1865-1890. Symposium Thesis. Alabama: The Ludwig von Mises Institute, 2000.
Foner, Eric. "Rights and the Contitution in Black Life during the Civil War and Reconstruction." The Journal of American History, Vol. 74, No. 3 (2003): 863-883.
Halbrook, Stephen. Securing Civil Rights: Freedmen, the Fourteenth Amendment, and the Right to Bear Arms. New York: Praeger , 2002.