After devastation, the Reconstruction of the United States



The American Civil War had left most states, especially in the South, in chaos and sad decline. American boys from North and South had killed each other, most of them not knowing exactly why – except that they knew, as all soldiers do, that politicians must be held responsible for the insane slaughter. The South was punchdrunk and reeling from physical and economic devastation, but those southerners left were moving, by the early Seventies of the 19th century towards recovery, by dint of hard work and guts. The North, except for her sons, had lost little in comparison, as few incursions into northern states during the war had occurred. In the South the ranches and adjacent lands had been burned, the cattle herds decimated or worse, towns had been destroyed wholesale by soldiers hardly controlled by senior officers who often turned a blind eye.

   The status, however, of the former Federal States, and logical integration of freed slaves had yet to be determined. The President was now Andrew Jackson, and he was known to want a conciliatory approach by the North towards southern issues. But he was opposed by the more radical Republicans who had punishment for ‘the rebels’ in mind. There were defiant legislators in the South who favoured ‘the old order’.The spirit of the Thirteenth Amendment infuriated them, as it blocked their desire drastically to limit black peoples’ rights. So they placed the Black Codes before Congress: this Republican controlled body responded by passing four Reconstruction Acts and more importantly, two Civil Rights acts. At the same time military law was established throughout the still seething South. It seemed for some time that southern states which had seceded might never re-enter the United States.

   Massive corruption in the federal government weakened it, and seceded states were slowly re-admitted. At the same time the Ku Klux Klan, founded in 1866 was gaining power and the era of reconstruction ended in 1877 with The Compromise – a deal made between politicians giving a disputed presidential election result to Republican candidate Rutherford Hayes in return for ‘home’, or in other words ‘white’ rule across the South. With white rule firmly established in all the southern states, a policy of racial segregation soon evolved which kept black people firmly subordinate and under control. The American Civil War, which had cost more lives than either side would ever admit, might never have been fought.

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