Before the Southerners and Northerners took up arms against each other to fight the American Civil War of between 1861 and 1865, the former faction seceded to form the Confederacy and protect the slavery system from abolition. Apparently, disparities over the rights of persons of African descent were enough to warrant the battle, and as one would expect, the situation did not change after 1865. In what historians have since dubbed as the Reconstruction Era, the Northern and Southern States faced new dilemmas after the Civil War that not only emancipated slaves but also preserved the Union by dismantling the Confederacy. Subsequently, reconstruction efforts revolved around the assimilation of black people as free citizens and the readmission of the South as part of the Union. Thus said, this paper argues that the lack of political focus and the deeply rooted racism guaranteed the failure of the presidential and Congressional Reconstruction; after all, war cannot change cultures and history.
Foremost, about the lack of political focus, the then president of the United States and members of Congress who mainly encompassed loyal Northerners had completely different methods on how the country would move forward. On one hand, President Andrew Johnson had been a slave owner himself and for that reason, the man abhorred the idea of equality between the ex-slaves and the Caucasian populace (Foner 454). To that end, Johnson’s tactics often placed him at odds with Congress. A perfect illustration of the differing ideologies between the two parties is evident in the impeachment of the president in 1868 where the House of Representatives charged Johnson with “high crimes and misdemeanors” (Foner, 459). From restoring the properties of the disloyal Southerners to enacting the black codes in the South, Johnson’s antics were unacceptable before Congress. On that note, the readmission of the Democrats into the otherwise Republican-dominated Congress was another source of trouble. As Eric Foner observes, the Northern politicians were yet to forgive the South for their disbandment from the Union and for that reason, “Republican North [turned] against the president” (Foner 455).
Now, perhaps the situation would have been manageable if the differences ended at that point. However, even the Republicans did not take a united front and instead formed the radical, moderate, and conservative groups that called for immediate, gradual, and no changes respectively (Foner 465-466). In that sense, the president lacked the support of the other branches of government and the other leaders were not in one accord. Expectedly, the lack of coordination in politics meant the societies had no laws to guide them during the reconstruction period and for that reason, the return of white supremacy was inevitable. There was no difference between slavery in Antebellum America and the treatment of blacks after the Civil War because lynchings and segregation aided Caucasians in the brutalizing of persons of African descent and made them inferior while the federal government failed to intervene.
With the given facts in mind, reconstruction efforts were wrong because they made assumptions about the American public. First, they assumed that the federal government could successfully enact and implement laws without the peoples’ consent. Secondly, there was the misplaced notion of Southerners accepting defeat and allowing the idea of egalitarianism to take root. Finally, the North assumed leaving the South to its own devices would promote unity in the States of America. Concurrently, the mentioned points overlooked the cultural norms of the United States. In other words, traditions dictated democracy for all people with white skin and cemented their superiority over any other race, especially the blacks. Thus, any efforts by the government were futile because the mindset of the people had not changed with the war; in fact, it was as though the Caucasians made a point to terrify blacks into submission. Hence, while the weapons were necessary to abolish the institution of slavery, more actions were necessary to establish and maintain the equality of races in the United States. Martin Luther King Jr. utilized Civil Disobedience and proved successful. The combination of a Civil War and Civil Disobedience could have cemented the success of the Reconstruction efforts.
Foner, Eric. Give Me Liberty!: An American History. 4th. Vol. II. New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 2013. Print.