The American Journey © 2007

Chapter 17: Reconstruction and Its Aftermath

Chapter Overviews

As the Civil War drew to a close, President Lincoln and the leaders in Congress began to develop plans to bring the South back into the nation. Lincoln's plan sought to heal the country, rather than punish the South. Radical Republicans in Congress wanted a harsher plan—one that would make the South suffer for causing the war. The assassination of President Lincoln threw the country into mourning and set the stage for a divisive political battle between President Johnson and Congressional Republicans. Eventually the conflict led the House of Representatives to impeach Johnson. The Senate vote was one short of that needed to remove the president from office.

A key part of Reconstruction was the establishment of civil rights for African Americans. The Thirteenth Amendment outlawed slavery in the United States. The Fourteenth Amendment defined citizenship, and the Fifteenth Amendment prohibited state and federal governments from denying the vote to any male citizen because of "race, color, or previous condition of servitude." The Freedmen's Bureau distributed food and clothing and provided medical services to African Americans. Perhaps its most important service, however, was to establish schools and provide teachers. As some African Americans exercised their right to vote, others took elected positions in state legislatures, the House of Representatives, and the Senate. Some whites wanted to limit the rights of African Americans. They accomplished this through the passage of laws called black codes. Other groups, such as the Ku Klux Klan, used intimidation and violence to prevent freed men and women from exercising their rights.

From 1869 to 1877 former Union general Ulysses S. Grant was president of the United States. A series of scandals involving unfair business deals and corruption damaged the reputation of the Republican Party during Grant's administration. In the election of 1876 the Democratic candidate, Samuel Tilden, received the majority of the popular votes. However, disputed returns prevented him from receiving a majority of the electoral vote. A special commission awarded the disputed votes to the Republican candidate, Rutherford B. Hayes. Hayes declared that Reconstruction was over.

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