American History 11


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A.“Dr. Eric Foner calls Reconstruction America’s unfinishedrevolution. Was it? Defend your response”.

The American Revolution regards to a political disagreement, whichhappened from 1765 to 1783. During the revolution, colonists fromthirteen US colonies refuted British dominion as well as upperclasses, overthrowing the power of Britain resulting in the creationof the United States of America. From 1765, people from the newlyformed US objected the power of Britain to impose taxes on them. Therevolution resulted in widespread inequality in America, especiallytowards African Americans. The same experiences of inequality,America’s restructuring both socially and politically werewitnessed during the Reconstruction period, resulting in theconclusion that the Reconstruction signifies US unfinishedrevolution.

According to Foner, Reconstruction is the actual revolutionary era.His writing on “Reconstruction: America’s Unfinished Revolution”concentrates on themes, which depict the Reconstruction period as anunfinished revolution for US. The South remodeling acts as a majortheme all through the work as Foner endeavors to trace the attemptsat restructuring the South. A different objective of the researchinvolves tracing the race as well as class associations all throughthe South. Following the enactment of the thirteenth, fourteenth andfifteenth amendments, as well as the altering Southern nature, ethnicand class beliefs set upon the hard job of redefinition of race andracial associations, a procedure that progresses to date, whichresults in the support for Foner’s argument. Foner demonstratesthat race associations were subject to regional variables that had agreat influence on relations. In addition, developments did nothappen in a linear way. In place, via intricate social, economic andpolitical associations amid races, race relations progressivelyevolved in instances advancing, whereas at other times regressing.Black freedmen pushed for their rights even in periods when whiteresistance became aggressive and exclusionary.

Foner has completed a masterful account of the Reconstruction, whichis an era in America’s past that appears to result in muchdisagreement. Foner begins his argument from the emancipationproclamation, offering the reasoning that it is a representation ofthe changing point in US policy and the character of war. Inaddition, he notes that the proclamation altered a battle of armiesinto a disagreement amid communities, guaranteeing that Union triumphcould result in a social revolution for the South. The argumentfollows the view of historians that see the Reconstruction to be thesame as the revolution. However, his outlook is that of an unfinishedrevolution. Reconstruction is unfinished revolution because it was amovement, which could have to wait a hundred years to go back to itscourse in ensuring complete fairness and freedom for AfricanAmericans. The revolution was unable to meet the demands for AfricanAmericans to ensure their freedoms and during the period mostprogressed to be held as slaves. The reconstruction would result inan awakening of the rights that had been denied to blacks in theSouth.

All through the period of Reconstruction, southern African Americanssaw the expansion of their freedoms to involve the freedom of owningproperty, the ability to negotiate for better payments and AfricanAmerican males being permitted to vote. As the country sunk to moredepression during the 1870s, though, the radical politicians thatfought for the safeguard on the freedoms for blacks lost their powerin state as well as national administration. Redeemer administrationsby democrats took over governance in the south resulting in theinstitution of rules that safeguarded organizations such as the “KuKlux Klan” and efficiently resulted in the elimination of politicaland economic impacts from southern African Americans. Reconstructionresulted in transformations in the North also. The growth of industryhelped by the immense development of railway roads, resulted in therise of a wealthy group of industrialists that got sympathy from theRepublican government and help to restrict and restrain labormovements amid the developing working class. Transformations werealso happening politically. Federal power over states grew underRepublican power all through the war and period of Reconstruction.

However, despite the changes that happened in the north and south,both socially and politically, Reconstruction was unsuccessful in themajor objectives of ensuring fair rights for African Americans andwidening the influence of the republican in the south. It is apparentthat the Reconstruction was not properly thought out making it anunfinished revolution. This is because, apart from not achieving themain objectives, the Reconstruction was merely a shift from thepolicy interests of one political leader to another. Notably, thepolicies were poorly managed resulting in further detriment offreemen.

  1. “Was Reconstruction more of a success or a failure? Defend your response.”

The Reconstruction regards to the era following the Civil War whenvarious diverse government groups endeavored to find solutions to theeconomic, social and political challenges, which came up because ofthe war. The Reconstruction was a period of disarray. Southern whitesrefuted all types of equality and African Americans were onlyinterested in having complete freedom and owning their own land. Thisresulted in often and unavoidable riots. The Reconstruction, lastingfrom 1865 to 1877 was amid the most contentious era in America’shistory. There has been ongoing debate on if the Reconstruction was asuccess or failure. This paper argues that the period was more of afailure than success.

During the 1865 start of the Reconstruction, a disoriented nationhad just been through with participation in the civil war. Hence, theUS endeavored to become an operational nation, which was going to bea long and difficult process. The reminiscence of massive killingswas not easy to forget, resulting in resentment and at time hatredamid Americans. The south was practically forgotten in both politicaland economic terms, and was seeking for its way back into America. Inaddition, was a high representation of a former slave populationtotaling to close to four million living in the South, whosecondition was worsened by the fact that they lacked any means ofsurvival. The slaves were free following the 1865 thirteenthamendment, and were a major concern for most political leaders. Therewas need for guidance on how America would become a functioningnation, which resulted in the emergence of political leaders, eachwith their personal plan on Reconstruction. Abraham Lincoln was thefirst political leader to create a proposal for Reconstructionfollowing the civil war. The proposal was open, declaring thatfollowing the meeting of specific criteria a confederate state couldbe reconsidered to rejoin the union.1The stipulations included having ten percent of voters from a stateconsent to the freeing of slaves and pledge allegiance to the union.In addition, high-ranking officials from any confederate state wouldnot be allowed to hold any official duties or vote except whenallowed by the president.

Unfortunately, Lincoln was assassinated prior to the implementationof his proposal. Following his assassination, different politicalleaders came up with differing proposals. The politicians from theRepublican Party, referred to as Radicals had their personal motives.The republican politicians were angry with the South seeing them asthe major root of the civil battle and were seeking revenge. Inaddition, they were interested in assisting the millions of slavesthat had been freed following the conclusion of the war. Thepoliticians supposed that the former slaves required to be protected.One of the republican politicians was Thaddeus Stevens who held aposition in the House of Representatives, and was more focused onensuring that slaves had manners of providing for themselveseconomically. Stevens wanted to ensure that freed slaves couldsurvive without having to continue depending on whites. Another wasCharles Summer, a then senator that fought majorly for politicalfreedoms for blacks, in addition to ensuring they were grantedAmerican citizenship. Last was Andrew Johnson, who had taken overpresidency following Lincoln’s assassination. Johnson’s proposalresembled that of Lincoln, but was refuted by the others due to thethousands of pardons suggested. In addition, Johnson appeared not tofocus on the main issue of ensuring former slaves were granted theirrights. He was indicted in 1868, and despite retaining his positionin office, he lacked power.

This resulted in the stepping in of Congress presenting theirproposal for Reconstruction. The proposal was the Reconstruction Actenacted by congress, which required troops to move to the south wherethey would take residency in confederate states. In addition, anystate that desired to join the union was merely permitted afteraltering their fourteenth amendment.2The states had to consent that all individuals born in America werecivilians, hence granting them automatic fair treatment. The problemis that the Reconstruction Act seemed good and effective in paper.However, its success was never achieved. Due to political competitionin 1876, the politicians fighting for the position of presidency hada close competition. As a result, a commission was created todetermine the winner in the presidential elections. The outcome wasthe 1877 Compromise, where Rutherford B. Hayes became the winner.Regrettably, at the same time, military occupation of theconfederates was stopped. This implied that the freed slaves livingin the south were not safe. The southerners had the freedoms ofexploiting the freed slaves due to their economic instability, whichis precisely what happened. Hence, despite the many protection lawsin place ensuring that freed slaves would become economically stableand have similar freedoms as other Americans, the free men progressedto be oppressed. The southerners created their own rules, “blackcodes” which resulted in limitations to the freedom of AfricanAmericans. It can be concluded that the Reconstruction resulted inlaws in paper, which did not practically work in ensuring the rightsof African Americans.

  1. “Just how free were the Freemen by 1877?”

Southern African Americans experienced many disheartening problemsfollowing the civil battle. Most of them were uneducated and knewlittle about the countries where they had been forced to work asslaves. In addition, they encountered a large harsh white populationthat seemed to link many of their challenges with the AfricanAmericans. The federal administration endeavored to step in to helpthe change towards attaining citizenship for freed slaves, commonlyreferred to as freemen. However, regardless of such endeavors as theformation of the bureau by the federal administration, life wasgenerally harsh as well as threatening for blacks.

“The Bureau of Refugees, Freedmen and Abandoned Lands” was amajor endeavor by government at assisting freemen and ensuring thatthey were able to survive as free people. It was an agency createdfrom 1865-1869 to assist freemen all through the Reconstructionperiod of America. The Bureau, formed to assist freemen by providingthem with shelter, food, schooling, health care, oversight and workcontracts was in operation up to 1871 after it was dissolvedfollowing the presidency of Ulyssess S. Grant. The above four millionslaves living in the South had to be provided with economicdependence to ensure that they stopped relying on their whitecaptors. The Bureau, which was supposed to last for a period of oneyear, was criticized due to accusations of corruption, in addition tolack of resources and manpower. Conversely, it progressed to beefficient in assisting the illiterate and marginalized blacks thatsuddenly had no homes, work or money.

Among the many challenges of the bureau was forming a judicialstructure, which was partial to African Americans as well as whites.It is not surprising that many Southerners were unwilling to treatfreemen as equal civilians of America. This was due to the blamesoutherners progressed to place of African Americans for the war anddivision happening within the confederate states and the union.Hence, the bureau initially created its personal judicial systemcomprising of local agents, where they set up temporal three-mancourts for settling disagreements. Apart from settling disagreementsto ensure that the freemen enjoyed fair rights as other whitecivilians, “The Freedman’s Bureau” endeavored towards ensuringfreemen were living in a free employment economy. Plantationsprogressed to be relevant to the southerners’ economy and theBureau worked towards ensuring blacks would secure employment fromthe farms. However, it was necessary to ensure African Americansentered the labor force and were paid fairly and provided withopportunity for advancing.

Another effort made towards ensuring the freedom of freemen includeddistributing land, which was confiscated or deserted following thecivil war, and providing healthcare. The first pledge involved giving40 acres of land in addition to a mule to each freeman. AfricanAmericans from South Carolina, as well as those from Georgia got thePromised Land. This was an effective way of ensuring that freemen hadland of their own and no longer had to depend on shelter provided bywhites. The federal administration made efforts towards theimprovement of current health care centers, in addition toestablishing various health clinics. This was mainly accomplishedthrough the assistance of “The Freedman Bureau”, which assistedthousands of freed slaves to get medical attention. Things seemed tobe working right for the freemen, owing to the provision of land,food, work, healthcare and shelter.

However, life was not as perfect for the freemen living in the newsouth. The area’s economy progressed to be subjugated byagriculture, regardless of endeavors at industrialization, a practicethat progressed to the twentieth era. All through, most southernerswere committed to ensuring that African Americans were unable toassume the constitutionally approved position in community. Anillustration is the fact that most southern states made it completelyhard for African Americans to vote. This was apparent through theenactment of restrictive rules like the poll tax. Many AfricanAmericans additionally got reduced wages compared to white employees,which made it impossible for the freemen to afford land resulting intheir financial dependence on their employers. Southern freemen mightno longer have been slaves however, they were far from becomingfree.

Black codes were a common practice. The codes refer to special rulesenacted by most southern state administrations during the early yearsof the Reconstruction to avoid former slaves from enjoying the gainsof their autonomy. They limited the rights of African Americans topurchase, possess or trade property make lawful binding agreementswork on juries have weapons and participate in politics via votingor contesting for political positions. Black codes additionallylimited blacks from working in several careers, enactedapprenticeship requirements, mandated African Americans to havetravel passes and evidence of residency, and deprived them theirconstitutional freedom of assembling freely. From 1866 to 1877,Congress attempted to do away with Black Codes through selectingNorthern governors to lead the southern states. But, following theend of the reconstruction and replacement of politicians bysoutherners, laws alike to Black Codes, like Jim Crow becamewidespread again. In conclusion, the freemen were not as free aswould be expected by 1877. They continued to experiencediscrimination by whites and denial of constitutional rights.


Berkin, Carol., Miller, Christopher., Cherny, Robert and Gormly,James. Making America: A History of the United States. Wadsworth:Cengage Learning, 2013.

1 Carol, Berkin et al, Making America: A History of the United States (Wadsworth: Cengage Learning, 2013), 419.

2 Carol, Berkin et al, 430.