Reconstruction refers to the time period from 1865 to 1877 following the American Civil War that aimed to reinstate the former Confederate states into the Union, rebuild the South, and to assist the newly freed blacks in their transition from slavery to the freedom of American citizenship. Reconstruction was a difficult time for America that sparked many questions, such as how the Confederacy would be reinstated into the Union, would the President or Congress control the readmission, what would happen to the freedmen, etc. This time period is quite controversial as it is still being debated as to whether or not it was a success or a failure.
The federal government had many goals they wanted to accomplish during Reconstruction. The general goal was to reconstruct the country economically, socially, and politically after being torn apart by the Civil War. Much controversy surrounded the readmission of the Confederacy to the Union, another major goal of Reconstruction. Radical Republicans in Congress wanted to make it difficult and to punish the South for seceding. President Andrew Johnson, Lincoln’s predecessor, did not feel this was necessary and pardoned majority of Southerners and their leaders. Another major goal was to ensure that blacks were given protection and their full rights as American citizens. This goal became the most discussed, controversial aspect of Reconstruction, as Southerners still resented the idea of equality overriding the white supremacy that had been the Confederacy. Complete citizenship for blacks was a multi-tiered goal – it involved voting rights, complete freedom, etc. therefore many laws needed to be passed in order to protect all aspects of the freedmen’s new citizenship.
There were many policies put in place to achieve these goals. The Reconstruction Act was one of these policies. It divided the South into five military districts and set guidelines for establishing state governments (Document 5). The Fourteenth Amendment was passed shortly after this. It defined American citizenship so that it included African-Americans as citizens and guaranteed all citizens equal protection under the law (Document 5). Following the Fourteenth Amendment was the Fifteenth Amendment, which guaranteed all citizens, including African-Americans, the right to vote and gave the federal government the power to enforce these voting rights (Document 5). The Freedmen’s Bureau was a major act of the federal government put in place in order to aid freedmen. In Document 1, an excerpt from General Oliver O. Howard’s The Founding of the Freedmen’s Bureau, it is shown that the Freedmen’s Bureau was created in order to provide education, relief, and work for the willing to freedmen (Document 1). It’s most successful area was education. It managed to establish and maintain many schools for African-American children as well as adults who were eager to learn, as they had not had the opportunity to do so when they were younger.