The reconstruction era in the American history refers to two distinct senses: the first period, 1865 to 1877 marks the American history following the aftermath of the civil war whereas the second period focuses on the makeover of the Southern United States beginning in 1863 to 1877. The second period marks a state of reconstruction of the society and the state as intended for by the congress. Presidents Andrew Johnson and Abraham Lincoln enacted several policies that could help revive the Southern part of America from 1863 to 1877 back to normal as fast as possible.[1] However, their anticipations embraced multiple impediments from the Radical Republicans who used the congress in order to impede any forms of approaches, upgrade the freedmen’s rights, and impose harsh terms. Ideally, reconstruction was a vital chapter in the American history regarding civil rights. Nevertheless, most historians deem the concept failure since the Southern states became attached to agriculture and poverty-stricken while the white democrats re-established supremacy through discrimination, intimidation, and violence. They forced the freedmen, who were formerly slaves into a second-class level in society with limited rights and exclusion from politics. Thereby, reconstruction failed and according to the black society, the failure was an adversity whose magnitude could not be obscured through the genuine accomplishments endured during that period. The first hand accounts of reconstruction in the American history provide insights on the actual happenings towards achieving reconstruction, thereby establishing whether it was a success or a failure.

The Ten-Percent Plan by Abraham Lincoln: (1863-1865)

            Marked by the major victories at Vicksburg and Gettysburg, in 1863, the preparations towards reconstruction began through President Abraham Lincoln’s envisioned plan of uniting the South and North after the war. With his understanding of the South having failed to disaffiliate from the Union, President Lincoln devised a plan for the reconstruction basing on forgiveness. He therefore issued a Proclamation of Reconstruction and Amnesty in 1863 in order to reunite the two states.[2] In order to actualize his envisioned America, he devised the ten-percent plan. According to the plan, if 10 percent of its voters swore an oath of loyalty to the Union, then the Southern state would be readmitted back to the Union. Through the plan, voters were given the will to elect delegates to establish and draft revised constitutions of the state. Therefore, all the Southern people would be pardoned except for high-ranking government officials and Confederate army officers. In several ways, the Ten-Percent Plan was a quick strategy to end the war, as Lincoln feared if the war continued it would be difficult to reunite the two states. Thereby, the plan was more of an opinionated maneuver than a reconstruction plan.

In 1864, white Southerners who occupied the Louisiana state held a meeting and outlined a new constitution in accord to the plan devised by Lincoln. The progressive delegates guaranteed an improved labor system, free public schooling, and better public work projects. Despite the abolishment of slavery, the state denied the freedmen the right to vote.[3] Abraham Lincoln approved the new constitution; however, the congress rejected it together with the elected delegates who won the elections. As much as the president focused on forgiving the Southerners, the Republicans had a different notion. According to the radical republicans who formed part of the majority, the process of reconstruction was to disband aristocracy, transform the societies of the south, redistribute land, guarantee civil rights among the slaves, and develop industries. The Southerners needed to be punished for causing the war and in due course the radical republicans dominated the Congress.

In order to counter the Ten-Percent Plan, Radical Republicans passed the Wade-Davis Bill in 1864 during summer. According to this bill, the blacks could only be allowed to join the Union if 50 percent of the registered voters pledged an ironclad oath of loyalty to America. Furthermore, it provided protection for civil liberties for the black, though it denied them the right to vote. In fear of the possible detrimental effects of the bill, President Lincoln pocket-vetoed the bill by refusing to sign it since it was an election year and before the congress went to recess. A disagreement thereby, sprang up between the Congress and the president regarding the most appropriate way of readmitting the Southerners back to the Union. General Sherman Tecumseh William set aside pieces of land in the Georgian Islands and South Carolina to settle the Southerners following an order made by the president. The Congress in early 1965 meanwhile implemented the Freedmen’s Bureau to redistribute confiscated land, establish schools, and distribute supplies and food to poor whites and freedmen.[4] The bureau however, failed to establish schools and exposed the freedmen back to slavery by accepting bribes into selling the distributed lands. In the 1865 spring, the political arena was in the brink of a showdown with competing and opposing plans for reconstruction. The scenario continued until April 14, which marked Lincoln’s assassination when Booth John Wilkes shot the president at Ford’s theatre. His vice president, Johnson Andrew became the president the following day after Lincoln’s death.

Presidential Reconstruction (1865-1867)

The 17th president, Andrew Johnson appeared to be in favor of the Radical Republicans initiative of administering punitive legislature towards the southerners for causing the war. Surprisingly for the republicans, Johnson blocked their attempts due to his belief in his laissez- faire doctrine where the central authority did not have the right to engage in social and economic affairs of its citizens. He shared the same viewpoint as the southern aristocrats of denying the blacks equal rights as the whites in the Union and he opposed the Freedman’s Bureau as it was against the ideology of the pro-states rights.[5] Commonly know as Presidential Reconstruction, Johnson implemented his policies when the Congress was in recess. He issued pardons to ex- Confederate government officials and officers; he gave back the confiscated lands and undermined the bureau. He also appointed governors to oversee the drafting of the Thirteen Amendment that abolished slavery. By the end of 1865, Andrew believed that the reconstruction would be over and declared it in public.

Both the Moderate and Radical Republicans were furious for having been left out on the decisions made towards reconstruction by the president. Therefore, in the late 1865, the Congress instituted the Joint Committee on Reconstruction to implement stricter prerequisites for readmitting the southerners.[6] In retaliation of Johnson’s decision to rip off the bureau’s power, the Congress renewed a charter in early 1866 and included special legal courts that overrode southern courts. Despite having failed in its first attempt in overriding the veto, the second trial succeeded in saving the bureau before its weakening in 1872. Months after several arguments regarding the bureau, the Congress passed and implemented the Civil Act of 1866.[7] The Act allowed all Americans equal rights regardless of their race, which gave the blacks the right to testify, sue, sign legal contracts, testify in court and own property. Shortly after the passing of the act, the Congress passed the Fourteenth Amendment. Despite it denying the blacks the right to vote, it allowed their male born children in America a citizenship regardless of their race. Finally, the amendment was ratified into the constitution in 1868.[8] Rather than offering support for the constitutional amendments, the president went round the country giving speeches that countered the Congress’s amendment. The president’s coarse rhetoric wounded the credibility of the Democratic Party. Ironically, Johnson’s tour only convinced the Northerners into believing that the Congress had not been tough enough. Therefore, during the elections in 1866, Radical Republicans won against the Presidential Reconstruction and ushered in the Radical Reconstruction era.

Radical Reconstruction (1867-1877)

            Following the elections, the Radical Republic gained power over the Congress in policymaking with the support gained from their moderate republican allies.[9] They gained power over the senate and the House of Representatives and they were thus, able to override potential vetoes implemented by Johnson, which marked the ascension of Radial Reconstruction in 1867. In March 1867, the Congress passed the Military Reconstruction Act (First Reconstruction Act), which divided the state into 5 military districts, presided over by a Union general each.[10] It later drafted the Second Reconstruction Act that overrode presidential vetoes but gave the Southerners the right to vote. In the same year, the Congress also passed multiple bills in order to limit the president’s power, among them being the Tenure of Office Act. The bill protected prominent republicans from their removal from office without getting congressional consent. Their sole aim was to keep Edwin Stanton in office since he controlled the army. Johnson ignored the bill, fired Mr. Stanton, and appointed Grant S. Ulysses who later resigned from word and the Congress reappointed Mr. Stanton. Tired of his vetoes, the House of Republicans impeached the president by a vote of 126 to 47 for violating the implemented Tenure of Office Act.[11] In May 1868, the Senate tried Johnson before a gallery of spectators. Nevertheless, the prosecutors failed to convince the Senate Democrats to convict him even with two of the prosecutors being Radical Republicans. It is through the impeachment trials that the Congress’s primary goal of retaliating President Johnson’s goals of reconstruction surfaced.[12]

The Republican’s past amendments did not grant the blacks the right to vote. In the future, it was probable that the blacks’ suffrage would bring turmoil and in order to counter the possibility of such from happening, the Congress passed the Fifteenth Amendment in 1869, which allowed all the males in America the right to vote.[13] Seventy-five percent of the Union had been consented the amendment and it was passed as a law in 1870. In due course, black voters gained popularity in Alabama, Florida, Mississippi, South Carolina, and Louisiana, electing black politicians with two in the Mississippi State Senate and 14 in the House of Representatives. [14]Despite the three amendments reducing the black suffrage, women still felt oppressed, as they were not recognized in the society as the men were. After the victory by the Union, prominent women such as Susan Anthony and Elizabeth Stanton got an opportunity to progress and achieve enfranchisement. The Republicans however, opposed the Nineteenth Amendment since they believed empowering both women and women would cripple their party and support.

The Black Codes and Postwar South (1865-1877)

While politicians and representatives in Washington were legislating Reconstruction in the 1860s, the South remained in cataclysm with a ruined economy as they tried to embody the new political power struggles.[15] The 14th and 15th Amendments, vigilantes, and politicians used insidious intimidation and legislation to sustain the status quo prior to the war. The Union Army facilitated the freeing of slaves and reuniting them back to their family members.[16] Through the established Freedmen’s Bureau, the blacks managed to develop their own schools in the late 1860s. Furthermore, they established their own churches since they had distrusted the white congregations they had attended as slaves. This period allowed the some of the Northerners, commonly known as carpetbaggers the opportunity to settle in the south and proclaim huge chunks of land.[17] Some went to modernize the south, seek their fortune, and promote education. Additionally, some of the southerners also managed to achieve what the carpetbaggers had and they were called the scalawags.[18]

The whites in the north tried on several times to force the blacks back to poor labor but failed as the Congress protected their rights. By 1880, the Congress had achieved its aim of sharecropping, where white farmers were required to share or rent out a piece of their lands. Despite the attempts made by the Republicans, the white elite from the south drafted codes that countered the blacks from attaining civic power. In opposition to the Civil Rights Act, the black codes denied the blacks their rights with rules that imposed severity acts towards them while preventing them from minimal rights such as intermarriage and loitering in public. Despite the passing of the 14th and 15th Amendments, the whites did not approve of their freedom, as racism still existed. This led to the formation of a white-based secret supremacy, the Ku Klux Klan in 1866 in Tennessee with an aim of terrorizing the blacks.[19] He Klan went out of hand and conducted lynching towards the blacks, scalawags, and carpetbaggers. The Congress finally realized the need to protect the blacks and implemented the Ku Klux Klan Act in 1871 to curb the tide of intimidation and violence.[20] Reconstruction ended with the Compromise Act of 1877 as Hayes became president and withdrew his troops from the south.


            Different scholars have diverse approach in viewing reconstruction. To some, such as neo-abolitionists, it was a success as it gave the blacks an equal opportunity in the country while reducing their suffrage. However, others view it as a failure since cases of discrimination are still present in the current society. Reconstruction was established under President Abraham Lincoln’s regime with his main goal of uniting the North and the South in order to end the war. However, this ideology received several rejects by mostly the Republicans. Johnson’s clemency toward ex-Confederates in assuming positions of supremacy and getting their lands back went beyond everything Lincoln had envisioned. Towards the end of reconstruction, not all Lincoln’s aims were actualized making the notion a failure.







Boyer, Paul S. The enduring vision: a history of the American people, 2014.


Campbell, James M., and Rebecca J. Fraser. Reconstruction people and perspectives. Santa Barbara, Calif: ABC-CLIO, Inc., 2008.


Chalmers, David Mark. Backfire: how the Ku Klux Klan helped the civil rights movement. Lanham. Md: Rowman & Littlefield, 2003.


Foner, Eric. Reconstruction Updated Ed America’s Unfinished Revolution, 1863-1877. London: Perennial, 2014.


Fordham, Damon L. Voices of black South Carolina: legend and legacy. Charleston, SC: History Press, 2009.


Guelzo, Allen C. Fateful lightning: a new history of the Civil War & Reconstruction. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2012.


Jones, Terry. Historical dictionary of the Civil War. Lanham: Scarecrow Press, 2011.


Martinez, J. Michael. Carpetbaggers, cavalry, and the Ku Klux Klan: exposing the invisible empire during Reconstruction. Lanham: Rowman & Littlefield, 2007.


Murrin, John M. Liberty, equality, power: a history of the American people. Belmont, CA: Thomson/Wadsworth, 2005.


Richter, William. Historical dictionary of the Civil War and Reconstruction. Lanham, Md: Scarecrow Press, 2004.


Ruggiero, Adriane. Reconstruction. New York: Marshall Cavendish Benchmark, 2007.


Rutherglen, George. Civil rights in the shadow of slavery: the constitution, common law, and the Civil Rights Act of 1866. Oxford [UK]: Oxford University Press, 2013.


Schultz, David A. Encyclopedia of the United States Constitution. New York, NY: Facts On File, 2009.


Schultz, Kevin M. Hist. Boston: Wadsworth, Cengage Learning, 2010.


Scott, William R., and William G. Shade. Upon these Shores Themes in the African-American Experience 1600 to the Present. Hoboken: Taylor and Francis, 2013.


Slavicek, Louise. Abraham Lincoln. Philadelphia: Chelsea House Publishers, 2004.


Thompson, Elizabeth Lee. The reconstruction of southern debtors: bankruptcy after the Civil War. Athens: University of Georgia Press, 2004.


Wallenfeldt, Jeff. The American Civil War and Reconstruction: 1850 to 1890. Britannica Educational Publishing, 2011.


Williams, Lou Falkner. The great South Carolina Ku Klux Klan trials, 1871-1872. Athens: University of Georgia Press, 2004.


Zuczek, Richard. Encyclopedia of the Reconstruction era. Westport, Conn: Greenwood Press, 2006.



  1. Eric Foyer, Reconstruction Updated Ed America’s Unfinished Revolution, 1863-1877 (London: Perennial, 2014), 24-71.


  1. Louise Slavicek, Abraham Lincoln (Philadelphia: Chelsea House Publishers, 2004). 79.


  1. Terry Jones, Historical dictionary of the Civil War (Lanham: Scarecrow Press, 2011),



  1. Adriane Ruggiero, Reconstruction (New York: Marshall Cavendish Benchmark, 2007), 3.


  1. Richard Zuczek, Encyclopedia of the Reconstruction era (Westport, Conn: Greenwood Press, 2006), 489.


  1. William Richter, Historical dictionary of the Civil War and Reconstruction (Lanham, Md: Scarecrow Press, 2004) 507.


  1. Elizabeth Lee Thompson, The reconstruction of southern debtors: bankruptcy after the Civil War (Athens: University of Georgia Press, 2004), 16-29.


  1. Jeff Wallenfeldt, The American Civil War and Reconstruction: 1850 to 1890 (Britannica Educational Publishing, 2011), 53-56.


  1. George Rutherglen, Civil rights in the shadow of slavery: the constitution, common law, and the Civil Rights Act of 1866 (Oxford [UK]: Oxford University Press, 2013), 81.


  1. James M., Campbell and Rebecca J. Fraser, Reconstruction people and perspectives (Santa Barbara, Calif: ABC-CLIO, Inc., 2008), 235.


  1. Allen C. Guelzo, Fateful lightning: a new history of the Civil War & Reconstruction (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2012), 500-515.


  1. David A. Schultz, Encyclopedia of the United States Constitution (New York, NY: Facts On File, 2009), 271.


  1. Paul S. Boyer, The enduring vision: a history of the American people (2014), 474


  1. Kevin M. Schultz, Hist (Boston: Wadsworth, Cengage Learning, 2010), 260.


  1. Damon Fordham, Voices of black South Carolina: legend and legacy (Charleston, SC: History Press, 2009), 23.


  1. John M. Murrin, Liberty, equality, power: a history of the American people (Belmont, CA: Thomson/Wadsworth, 2005), 583.
  2. William R. Scott and William G. Shade, Upon these Shores Themes in the African-American Experience 1600 to the Present (Hoboken: Taylor and Francis, 2013), 172-174.


  1. Lou Falkner Williams, The great South Carolina Ku Klux Klan trials, 1871-1872 (Athens: University of Georgia Press, 2004), 65.


  1. Michael J. Martinez, Carpetbaggers, cavalry, and the Ku Klux Klan: exposing the invisible empire during Reconstruction (Lanham: Rowman & Littlefield, 2007), 193-206.


  1. David Mark Chalmers, Backfire: how the Ku Klux Klan helped the civil rights movement. Lanham (Md: Rowman & Littlefield, 2003), 49.


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