The Civil War was one of the bloodiest struggles that America had ever witnessed. With over 600,000 dead troops, 20 billion dollars spent on the war, a decimated Southern economy, 3 million newly freed slaves, and political unrest still present, commotion and turmoil pervaded the lives of all Americans after the war’s end. The conflict hurt the South the worst, and with the Democrats’ influence faltering, it was up to the Republicans to retain stability. The Radical Republicans led the movement known as Radical Reconstruction. At the center of this movement was the goal of eradicating all racism and previous cultural tensions; however, going about this with such force and abruptness soon incurred strong opposition, as sentiments of racism still existed as more than just a residue.
In the Republican party there were radicals and moderates—it was mostly the radicals that held such strong ideals and who caused uproar among citizens (it was mostly Southern whites that opposed the reconstruction). Moderates and radicals both wanted to achieve equality and to stop discrimination against blacks in legal and political affairs, but disagreements were many on how to accomplish this. The Radicals wanted to confiscate Confederate land, overturn Confederate military and civilian leaders, interchange Southern governments with Union military rule, and govern the South with congressional law. These principles concerned many Southerners, given the fact that racism was still widely prevalent.
Despite the emancipation of slaves and the Union victory, inequality was still pressed forcibly upon African Americans. Some states, mostly Southern, passed laws which granted black codes, which in effect restricted possibilities for ex-slaves’ freedom. The laws encompassed by the black codes were dependant on the state, but generally speaking they were all of the same nature. Some even forced African Americans to work, under pressure of being arrested. Many codes were strict to the point that they inhibited almost every area of African Americans’ lives, offering virtually no freedom at all.
The black codes were just one example of the South’s fervent racism. The Radical Republicans, driven by their own fervor, wanted to shove their beliefs down the throats of obstinate Southerners and have the problem solved instantly, but it was only pouring gas on the flame. Although prejudice was a large driving force for the Southerners’ opposition to blacks’ rights, politics also contributed to their beliefs. Three million slaves were now free, and the South argued that if they could vote or hold tenure politics would be at an enormous slant. The political warfare was still in full-tilt, and it seemed that neither side was about to let down their guard. But in 1877 the Radical Reconstruction fell through as a result of its poor management, allowing racism to prevail for following decades.
The chief reason why the Radical Reconstruction fell through is because of its handling. Lincoln understood the sensitivity of the people and their closely held beliefs when he issued the Emancipation Proclamation; he made sure that the slave states within the Union would not balk and join the Confederacy. Reconstruction after the war was a fragile matter, and it was the Radical Republicans’ fault for not recognizing this. The consequence of the reconstruction failure was the racism that continued for another hundred years. But the question is, could the racism even be stopped? Could people let go of the dogma that they were raised upon and blind sighted by? I can’t know for sure, but I believe that the Republicans should have at least tried to ease Americans into equality. (All previous sources)
Franklin, John H.; Moss, Alfred A. From Slavery to Freedom: A History of African Americans. Alfred A. Knopf, 1994.
Richardson, Heather Cox. The Death of Reconstruction. Harvard University Press, 2001.