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Fractured Union

An essay on the long term effects of Reconstruction on Post Civil War America

 

Reconstruction in the south after the War Between the States was, and sometimes still is, a much-debated subject.  Some feel that Reconstruction in the form that actually happened was a glorious plan for rejuvenation of the Union and of the southern economy and infrastructure.  Others hold a different view.  They believe that the devastation to the economy, humiliation of the white populace at large, and the continued oppression of the newly freed blacks was crushing to the welfare, morale and fiscal heath of the south specifically as well as the entire union.  Although both of these opinions have merit, a closer look reveals that the south was unduly punished, and the precept of preservation of the Union was abused and shamed during reconstruction.  Strict martial law, the Freedmans Bureau, and Carpetbagger swindling, indicative of the Radical Republicans policy toward the south, created hostility that formed a rift that has yet to completely heal.

 

The economic effects of the Reconstruction Policies set forth by the U.S. Congress after the war are still a bitter point to some southerners.  After four years of devastating warfare, neglect, and in some cases overuse, the infrastructure of the south was a shambles.  While trying to obtain the capital necessary to start anew southerners had to contend with harsh Confiscatory Taxes, that while not only unconstitutional, were also crippling to the already war torn south.  The effects of these reparations can be compared to the harsh reparations Germany was forced to pay after World War I.

 

Certainly cotton prices skyrocketed after the war, however, with the complete loss of the labor force in the south, no capital to hire laborers, buy seed or even clean up and rebuild the basics of an agrarian society, little could be achieved by the beleaguered land owners.  Add to this already putrid mix, the fact that northern Carpetbaggers, who were no more sensitive to the plight of the formers slaves than the former slave owners were, moved in, chaired the Freedmans Bureaus and with the help of Scalawags (southern collaborators) proceeded to fleece the southern blacks and whites alike.

 

As some old men and women in the south still refer to the Civil War as the War of Northern Aggression, and as some blacks still hold hatred for southern whites, we rush toward the Twenty First Century.  The politics behind Reconstruction were also instrumental in creating the still oozing wound that continues ails this country.  As General Sherman pushed his army toward Savannah burning, pillaging and looting as he went, the compassionate and tempered mind of President Lincoln gave birth to the idea of the 10% Plan to reconstruct this bloodied and battered Union.  Some considered his plan too lenient on the south, but President Lincoln wanted to preserve the Union, not create an everlasting rift.  Lincoln considered anything harsher destructive to the healing process, as southerners considered what they did legal.  The Radical Republicans, led in the House of Representatives buy Rep. Thaddeus Stevens, and in the Senate by Sen. Charles Sumner, opposed this view, and wanted the maximum punishment for the south.

 

The Wade/Davis bill of 1864, which was used as a framework for the 1st Reconstruction Act, was pocket vetoed by Lincoln, agitating the congressional majority.  After Lincoln was assassinated, President Johnson waged political war with congress, and lost badly.  Johnson, in a long series of overridden vetoes had lost control of the country.  The Congress passed the 1st Reconstruction Act, which severely limited southern self-determination, and imposes Martial Law on an already humiliated south.  The corrupt five district military government completely backed the leach like Carpetbaggers.  With the passage of the 13th, 14th, and 15th Amendments to the Constitution the Carpetbaggers and blacks gained the dominant footing in southern politics.  These things combined to cause southern whites to become politically united, forming the Solid south.  This, though for the time would help southerners politically, had lasting effects in that the open-mindedness of progress was lost upon southern sensibilities because of distrust of anything not Democrat.  This translates to Democrat candidates being elected over republicans regardless of who was the better man.  The fact that the Union's army remained throughout much of the south until 1877 also had a lasting effect in that southerners felt persecuted by the Federal Government.

 

Perhaps the most devastating thing to this country as a whole that resulted from the Reconstruction policies of Congress is the complete lack of racial harmony in much of the United States.  Many blacks to this day still hold animosity toward southern whites because of Reconstructions effect on the relationship between blacks and white than the actual issue of slavery.  The harsh backlash during reconstruction affected adversely, the psyche of the average southerner.  He was assailed by images of his property being taken away and given to the slaves he once owned, or stolen by the hated enemy in the form of Carpetbaggers.  This lead to an irrational outbreak of extreme racism and hatred for blacks by southern whites.  It must be pointed out northern whites were really no better, the were just as prejudiced as southerners, but were in the position of being in power, and used that position to rip off the largely illiterate blacks as well as whites.  The Southern whites lashed out violently forming the now infamous KKK, General Nathan Bedford Forest, a former Confederate cavalry man, led the southerners yet again in a spree of intimidation, destruction, and murder.  This soiled the once proud image of the south as a whole, bullied and killed innocent blacks and whites, and expanded almost beyond repair, the rift that split the country. 

 

Thus, the U.S. Governments policy of Reconstruction was indeed destructive to the process of actually recovering from the Civil War.  The result is this policy created racial, regional, and political animosity on the level that the whole country has yet to recover from and join the world as a complete set of truly United States.