Not yet edited notes.  Use with caution!  There are errors here!  You may find useful some of these links: Andersonville, Sherman's March through South Carolina, The Civil War Homepage and The Civil War Center]

Reconstruction


I.  Introduction: The Last, Best Hope of Mankind?

Just about everyone is proud of their country of origin.  We are proud to be Irish, Norwegians, Swedes, or Chinese—proud even to be French or Canadian!  It’s not surprising that Americans, too, would be proud of their country, proud of their heritage.  The old textbooks, the ones your parents and grandparents grew up with, emphasized the greatness of America—and rightly so.  America has had much to be proud of, right from her beginnings.

To the first white settlers, America was (Almost literally) a promised land.  The settlers of Massachusetts Bay Colony, for instance, talked of their efforts here as creating a “City on a Hill,” an example to the rest of the world.  And America became just that—although, perhaps, not in quite the way the Puritans and Pilgrims had intended.

America was a “City on the Hill,” in economic terms, from her beginnings, a land of unprecedented opportunity.  Here was an enormously rich country, capable of supporting many millions with all sorts of chances waiting for one with the determination to make the most of the opportunities available.  In most places around the world and in world history, the average person had little opportunity for advancement.  But here, hard work had a great chance of paying off—work hard enough, and, with a little bit of luck, one would have prosperity beyond anything one could hope for elsewhere.

But America was a “City on a Hill” in a more important sense.  You all know the opening words of Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address, “Four score and seven years ago, our fathers brought forth on this continent a new nation, conceived in liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.”

A new nation, says Lincoln, but what he meant was a new kind of nation.  What was so different about this new nation?  

Now notice that Lincoln trances the new nation, not to the constitution, but back to 1776—to the Declaration of Independence.  And it’s the principles here that Lincoln says mark the newness of America as a nation “Conceived in liberty, dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.”

Big deal?  Yes, it is a big deal. In most human societies, there is little liberty.  Most people have few choices, carrying out roles assigned to them from birth, submitting to the demands and commands of their leaders.  Most civilizations are hierarchical, with clear distinctions among the more privileged and less privileged classes.  And there’s good reason for this: a highly ordered, highly structured society tends to work well at least in terms of providing basics: food, shelter, clothing, defense.  

True, there had been considerable freedom in a few successful societies before the advent of America.  There had been democracies among the Greek city states.  Rome maintained a republican government for close to 500 years, and there had been republics among the Italian city states of the Renaissance.  So the American experiment with freedom wasn’t totally without precedent.  But even the “free” societies of the past were not so free as America, and the American commitment to equality—well, that was almost without precedent.

So why is it that free societies are relatively rare in history?  Basic reason is the natural human tendency to rely on force to get our way.  Sooner or later, people are going to quarrel.  They will quarrel over religion, economics, who is to rule, boundaries, honors—you name it.  Will we settle the disputes peacefully?  Perhaps for a time…but once we can’t—well, that’s what brings a free society come crashing down.  Factions within the Greek democracies quarreled among themselves—and left Greece open to the conquest of Philip and Alexander.  Factions in the Roman Republic quarreled among themselves—and one strong man took over.  The Italian Republics—well, that’s a complicated story—but Machiavelli and others *wanted* one strong man to take over, preferring the security of a despot to freedom and self rule.

So—could America be different?  Here’s the trick: could Americans be persuaded to abandon force in their dealing with one another and abide by majority rule?  Could they be trusted to rely on the use of reason to convince those who disagreed with them and wait for another election if things didn’t go their way?  Well, that’s what the founders hoped would happen.

But then came the issues that couldn’t be resolved by majority vote, that couldn’t be resolved by reason—all the issues that led to the outbreak of the Civil War in 1861.

Going to war is a desperate remedy in a democracy.  The “cure” of whatever you are trying to fix well inevitably come dangerously close to destroying the principles of republican government—and Lincoln knew as much.  

“Now we are involved in a great civil war, testing whether that nation or any nation so conceived can long endure.”

The Civil War came close to destroying the framework of government set up by our founding fathers.  Even in 1877, America had not fully recovered from the Civil War, and the continuation of republican government, something we take for granted, was probably not as certain as it seems to us in retrospect.

The 1865-1877 period we call “Reconstruction.”  It’s a good name for all sorts of reasons, and, of course, a major theme of this period is the rebuilding of the union.  But all sorts of other things are going on as well, and we will touch on those developments in other lectures.  

Reconstruction is not an easy job at all.  It’s one thing to defeat an enemy and impose your will on them.  It’s quite another thing to bring that enemy back into a functioning democratic society.  

II. Problems created by the war

A.    Intense North/South Animosity

One of the chief difficulties to be overcome was the intense North/South animosity aggravated by the war.  There had been long-growing sectional tensions already in the country, but the war made things far worse.  Lincoln hope for a settlement “with malice toward none, and with charity for all.”  But how would such a thing be possible?  The war had cost $30 billion.  Six hundred thousand were dead (10x more than Vietnam, 100x more than in the current war on terror!).  

And it wasn’t just the costs and casualties that led to bitterness.  Many soldiers on both sides ended up in prison camps, poorly fed and poorly cared for in other ways.  The North had held 220,000 southern prisoners, 26,000 of whom had died in captivity.  The South had held 127,000 prisoners, 22,500 of whom had died in captivity.  The most notorious of the Southern camps was Andersonville (Georgia)

Of 49,000 union soldiers, 13,000 died of starvation or disease caused by malnutrition.  The camp was liberated in May 1865, and what the liberators found shocked them.  Pictures of emaciated prisoners were immediately published in Harper’s Weekly, and produced a response—well, something like Holocaust pictures.  The Commander of the Camp, Henry Wirz was put on trial, condemned, and hung while Union soldiers chanted “remember Andersonville.”  The hanging didn’t break his neck, so Wirz took a couple of minutes to strangle to death, as the soldiers called out “remember Andersonville.”

Groups like the G.A.R. made sure that Andersonville and other southern atrocities would be remembered for a good long time…and particularly at election time.

But, of course, the South had plenty of grievances to be remembered as well…

And then there’s William T. Sherman’s famous “march to the sea.”  Convinced that the only way to make the South give up was massive force, Sherman and his men cut a path through Georgia, marching from Atlanta to Savannah leaving a 60 mile wide path of devastation.  He then turned North into the Carolinas wreaking even greater destruction.

“We have come a strip 60 miles wide on our trip here, and although there may be a few houses left, there are mighty few fences and from what I saw of it, I do not think it would be a good place to start a farm or a factory.”

We have Sherman’s explicit orders to his men:

IV. The army will forage liberally on the country during the march. To this end, each brigade commander will organize a good and sufficient foraging party, under the command of one or more discreet officers, who will gather, near the route traveled, corn or forage of any kind, meat of any kind, vegetables, corn-meal, or whatever is needed by the command, aiming at all times to keep in the wagons at least ten day's provisions for the command and three days' forage. Soldiers must not enter the dwellings of the inhabitants, or commit any trespass, but during a halt or a camp they may be permitted to gather turnips, potatoes, and other vegetables, and to drive in stock of their camp. To regular foraging parties must be instructed the gathering of provisions and forage at any distance from the road traveled.

V. To army corps commanders alone is entrusted the power to destroy mills, houses, cotton gins, &c., and for them this general principle is laid down: In districts and neighborhoods where the army is unmolested no destruction of such property should be permitted; but should guerrillas or bushwhackers molest our march, or should the inhabitants burn bridges, obstruct roads, or otherwise manifest local hostility, then army commanders should order and enforce a devastation more or less relentless according to the measure of such hostility.

VI. As for horses, mules, wagons, &c., belonging to the inhabitants, the cavalry and artillery may appropriate freely and without limit, discriminating, however, between the rich, who are usually hostile, and the poor or industrious, usually neutral or friendly. Foraging parties may also take mules or horses to replace the jaded animals of their trains, or to serve as pack mules for the regiments or brigades. In all foraging, of whatever kind, the parties engaged will refrain from abusive or threatening language, and may, where the officer in command thinks proper, give written certificates of the facts, but no receipts, and they will endeavor to leave with each family a reasonable portion for their maintenance.

A Georgia girl’s diary had this to say about future prospects:

The most terrible part of t the war is now to come.  The props that held society up are broken.  Everything is in a state of disorganization and tumult.  We have no currency, no law save the primitive code that might makes right.  We are in a transitional state from war to subjugation, and it is far worse than was the transition from peace to war.  The suspense and anxiety in which we live are terrible.

The entire basis of the southern agricultural economy had been shattered, and what little the south had in terms of industry and transportation had been destroyed. Slavery was gone: good!  But how would the plantation land be restored to productivity?  Freed blacks were eventually given 40 acres and a mule by the Freedmen's bureau, but that’s not sufficient in many instances.  Blacks and poor whites fell into a share-cropping system that, in some ways, was worse than slavery.
Well, what would happen, to the South and to the rest of the nation?  Could the nation be restored?  And on what terms?

Lincoln favored restoring the South to the union on generous terms.  Once 10% of those in any state took a loyalty oath, promising loyalty in the future, that state would be restored.  But the radical Republicans who dominated congress wanted more stringent conditions.  The Wade-Davis bill required a majority to sign an oath saying they had never taken up arms against the union or supported the confederacy in the past!  Anyone who had supported the confederacy was permanently disenfranchised.

Lincoln vetoed Wade-Davis, and, had he lived, might have brought about a relatively amicable restoration of the South.  But Lincoln’s assassination in 1865 made for more problems. 

Lincoln’s successor, Andrew Johnson, began implementation a plan very much like Lincoln’s.  But when elections were held, the southern states elected among their representatives confederate generals, a confederate VP, and some 58 men who had served in the confederate congress!  The radical republicans, naturally enough, refused to admit them to congress, and, by 1867, pushed through their own reconstruction plan.

Radical reconstruction divided the south into 5 military districts (“conquered provinces”), each governed by military generals.  Within these districts, the military ran the judicial system and presided over the electoral process as well. When would southerners be free of military government?  Well, among the conditions, each state had to ratify what became the 14th amendment to the constitution.  Look at what the 14th Amendment does and how it differs from the original 10 amendments to the constitution, the Bill of Rights.

Amendment 1:

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

Amendment 14:

Section. 1. All persons born or naturalized in the United States and subject to the
jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they
reside. No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or
immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any State deprive any person of
life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its
jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.

Section. 2. Representatives shall be apportioned among the several States according to
their respective numbers, counting the whole number of persons in each State,
excluding Indians not taxed. But when the right to vote at any election for the choice of
electors for President and Vice President of the United States, Representatives in
Congress, the Executive and Judicial officers of a State, or the members of the
Legislature thereof, is denied to any of the male inhabitants of such State, being
twenty-one years of age, and citizens of the United States, or in any way abridged,
except for participation in rebellion, or other crime, the basis of representation therein
shall be reduced in the proportion which the number of such male citizens shall bear to
the whole number of male citizens twenty-one years of age in such State.

Section. 3. No person shall be a Senator or Representative in Congress, or elector of
President and Vice President, or hold any office, civil or military, under the United
States, or under any State, who, having previously taken an oath, as a member of
Congress, or as an officer of the United States, or as a member of any State
legislature, or as an executive or judicial officer of any State, to support the
Constitution of the United States, shall have engaged in insurrection or rebellion against
the same, or given aid or comfort to the enemies thereof. But Congress may by a vote
of two-thirds of each House, remove such disability.

Section. 4. The validity of the public debt of the United States, authorized by law,
including debts incurred for payment of pensions and bounties for services in suppressing insurrection or rebellion, shall not be questioned. But neither the United States nor any State shall assume or pay any debt or obligation incurred in aid of insurrection or rebellion against the United States, or any claim for the loss or emancipation of any slave; but all such debts, obligations and claims shall be held illegal and void.

Section. 5. The Congress shall have power to enforce, by appropriate legislation, the provisions of this article.

Note how this undermines the Bill of Rights.  Instead of limiting federal government, it expands federal government! Note that, in trying to fix civil war problems, radicals are tampering with the constitution.

Meanwhile, how is south to be reorganized?  Military governance ensure that Blacks vote for the first time, and southern government is now in very different hands.  Opened the door to corruption…Carpetbaggers and Scalawags.  Lots of graft, e.g., paying $9,000 for the construction of a $500 bridge.

The southern response to corrupt, government?  Well, the formed organizations like the Ku-Klux Klan.  The clan was formed, “To protect the weak, innocent, and the defenseless from the indignities, wrongs, and outrages of the the lawless, the violent, and the brutal; to relieve the injured and the oppressed; to succor the suffering and unfortunate, and especially widows and orphans of confederate soldiers.”

Sounds admirable enough, but the Klan opened up the doors to violence, intimidation, and racial hatred.  Vigilante type groups are very dangerous to democracy and the rule of law!

Reconstruction violence sometimes reached the level of full-scale war, with hundreds killed.

And while the South in particular was struggling, developments at the national level did not bode well for the union. Lincoln’s assassination in 1865 had given the presidency to Andrew Johnson, a southern Democrat, but one who had opposed slavery—but he also opposed radical reconstruction. He found himself constantly undermined by more radical members of his cabinet (e.g. Stanton) and, naturally enough, wanted to dismiss them.  Congress liked these radicals, and passed the ‘tenure in office act” forbidding Johnson from getting rid of Stanton and others.  Johnson fired Stanton anyway, so congress impeaches him.  9/11 charges violation of the tenure in office act.  

The others?

“The president has defamed congress in speeches and brought it into popular disrespect. “

The vote in the senate?  35 guilty, 19 not guilty.  Congress then declared a 10 day recess to try to coerce dissenters.

Trying to remove a president on such flimsy charges a terrible precedent, and it did not bode well for democracy.  Furthermore, impeachment seemed pointless: 1868 was an election year, and all Johnson's opponents had to do was wait 9 months and he would no longer be president.

Now it's easy to see why Johnson's opponents hated him.  See, for instance this web sites account of the  Johnson impeachment and trial.

But it's subversive to democracy to abuse the process set up by the constitution just because one's opponent uses his constitutional powers in a way you don't like!

What’s more, this was an election year (1868), and all congress had to do if they wanted someone else was simply to wait a few months until the election.
And speaking on the 1868 election, it was clear that America needed most from a president was competence, someone who could succeed where others have failed. And it seemed that they had such a man: Ulysses S. Grant—the union general who had succeeded so well where others had failed.

Grant’s war record and status as a national hero won him the election—but his actually presidency was not the solid success one might have hoped.  The Radical Republicans in congress imposed military reconstruction/Carpetbagger government on the south, and Grant, while more sympathetic to the South than one might suppose, certainly did little to bring about speedy recovery.

But a bigger problem for Grant was his loyalty.  He was—well—too loyal.  Once he was President, he found himself surrounded by friends and relations clamoring for offices and privileges, and he just didn’t know how to handle the growing corruption for which his so-called friends were responsible.
Typical: Jay Gould and Jim Fisk wanted to corner the gold market, driving prices up and making a profit.  This scheme would only work if the U.S. didn’t sell gold to make up for the shortage.  To try to make sure the government held onto its gold, Fisk and Gould gave $25,000 to Grants brother-in-law to get him to get Grant to go along with the scheme.

The scheme didn’t work, but it looked very bad.  And other things looked bad too.  Grant had received a house and thousands of dollars from those grateful to him for his wartime leadership.  It’s ok for a war hero to receive such gifts, but once the war hero becomes president, such things smell of corruption.  Grants four years in office left him considerably tarnished as a candidate…and opened things up for the Democrats in the 1872 election—if they played the corruption issue effectively.