Sunday, December 15, 2013

Constructing Reconstruction

The process of reuniting the states after four years of a bloody civil war proved to be a daunting task.  First, re-admitting southern states was challenging.  Since secession was viewed as illegal by Lincoln and the United States government, what legal process should the country follow to bring back seceding states?  How long should the military occupy the South?  Should ex-Confederates be prosecuted?  How would the South be re-built, and who would pay for it?  These questions marked the first of many battleground issues for Reconstruction.

Furthermore, with slavery now abolished by the Thirteenth Amendment, how would former slaves be integrated into free society?  What role would they play in this process?  Would African-Americans receive the right to vote?  These questions became more challenging to address as bitter political debates turned into vigilante violence in the South.  Though Radical Republicans entered the Reconstruction process with the lofty goals of racial equality, when Reconstruction ended in the mid-1870s, race relations were worse, not better.

The effects of Reconstruction lingered on well into the twentieth century.  

For this important topic, my students gathered as groups to write blog posts on various topics related to Reconstruction.  I would like to feature a few of these as guest bloggers here.

- Mr. Michael Broach

The Vision of Radical Republicans at the End of the Civil War:
See this nicely formatted document, including a fake Facebook wall made for Radical Republicans linked here.
Guest Bloggers (E mod): Emily, Margaret, Julie, Reagan, Kathryn

Race Relations during Reconstruction:

Guest Bloggers (C mod): Kayla, Elizabeth, Janel, Mariam, Kennedy; Primary Source Team: Victor, Danny, Reagan, Philip, Javier

"Ole missus used tu read de good book tu us, black 'uns, on Sunday evenin's, but she mostly read dem places whar it says, 'Sarvints obey your masters,' an' didn't stop tu splane it like de teachers; an' now we is free, dar's heaps o' tings in dat ole book, we is jes' sufferin' tu larn."

Race relations were extremely tense during the period of Reconstruction. The South still considered the blacks their property and had a hard time adjusting to life without slavery. In order to reinvent a South without slavery, Southern states enacted "Black Codes" that limited black freedoms and regulated many aspects of their lives.Angry Southerners also founded the Klu Klux Klan in order to scare the blacks into abandoning their new participation in politics and government. Though the blacks struggled with the KKK and black codes, they did succeed in their personal lives through schooling and the development of their own communities. The Freedmen's Bureau was developed by black sympathizers in order to provide them with schools and education. Blacks were also able to develop their own community in the South, expanding on the cultures that they had developed during their enslavement.

In order to control the freed Blacks, many Southern states passed Black Codes, laws aimed at keeping the Black population in submission and workers in the fields; some were harsh, others were not as harsh. The Black Codes aimed to ensure a stable and subservient labor force for the freed black. The codes also sought to restore as nearly as possible the pre-emancipation system of race relations. Freedom was legally recognized, as were some other privileges, such as the right to marry. forbade Blacks from serving on a jury and some even barred Blacks from renting or leasing land, and Blacks could be punished for “idleness” by being subjected to working on a chain gang. Nowhere were blacks allowed to vote.

As racial tensions began increase due to African Americans gaining political office, many secret anti-black societies started to emerge. The most notorious of these societies was the Ku Klux Klan (KKK). These white southern men wanted to rid the American political system of blacks. They ultimately hoped that the social system would revert to pre-Civil War standards. In efforts to remove these blacks, the members of the KKK would impose violence. They would first try and scare the blacks. If this did not work, they would employ force which could potentially lead to the death of blacks.

The Freedmen's bureau was intended to help the welfare of African Americans. It was to provide food, clothing, medicine, and education to freedman and white refugees. Its greatest achievement was in the education department, which enticed some to become more religiously educated.

However, even with the limitations being faced by freedmen during reconstruction, African Americans strived to develop their own societies and express their newly found freedom.  They were able to develop their own churches and organizations that helped support their communities.  In addition, they were made capable of forming their own businesses, which allowed them to develop a sense of economic independence.

Northern Reactions and Why Give Up on Reconstruction?

By the mid-1870s, many moderates and average Americans in both the North and West were ready to give up on Reconstruction.  Just as Lincoln faced opposition to emancipation during the war, many were tired of dealing with the costs, political debates and effects of Reconstruction by Grant's second term.

For this topic, a group of students in one class creatively made a Twitter account for Samuel J. Tilden, the Democratic candidate for President in 1876.  What would "Moderate Sam" tweet?  Check out his Twitter profile here: 

Guest Bloggers (B mod): Angela, Maddie and Blythe

While many people think of Reconstruction from a viewpoint of African Americans or radicals forcing everyone to get along and be accepting, the Northern moderates were much more realistic. They knew other important things were going on at the time, such as the Panic of 1873, political corruption, and the Industrial Revolution. Northern Moderates were becoming frustrated with the lack of progress being made with Reconstruction and played a major role in ending the push for Reconstruction. If Samuel Tilden, a northern moderate had a twitter in 1870, these would be his tweets.

This was a fun project and I enjoyed the creativity and collaboration of all of my students as they discussed this important topic in U.S. History.  This was certainly an #eduwin!

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