one of the most turbulent and controversial eras in American history,
began during the Civil War and ended in 1877. It witnessed America's
first experiment in interracial democracy. Just as the fate of slavery
was central to the meaning of the Civil War, so the divisive politics
of Reconstruction turned on the status the former slaves would assume
in the reunited nation. Reconstruction remains relevant today because
the issues central to it -- the role of the federal government in
protecting citizens' rights, and the possibility of economic and
racial justice -- are still unresolved.
victory in the Civil War decided the fate of the Union and of slavery,
but posed numerous problems. How should the nation be reunited?
What system of labor should replace slavery? What would be the status
of the former slaves?
Central to Reconstruction was the effort of former slaves to breathe
full meaning into their newly acquired freedom, and to claim their
rights as citizens. Rather than passive victims of the actions of
others, African Americans were active agents in shaping Reconstruction.
rejecting the Reconstruction plan of President Andrew Johnson, the
Republican Congress enacted laws and Constitutional amendments that
empowered the federal government to enforce the principle of equal
rights, and gave black Southerners the right to vote and hold office.
The new Southern governments confronted violent opposition from
the Ku Klux Klan and similar groups. In time, the North abandoned
its commitment to protect the rights of the former slaves, Reconstruction
came to an end, and white supremacy was restored throughout the
much of this century, Reconstruction was widely viewed as an era
of corruption and misgovernment, supposedly caused by allowing blacks
to take part in politics. This interpretation helped to justify
the South's system of racial segregation and denying the vote to
blacks, which survived into the 1960s. Today, as a result of extensive
new research and profound changes in American race relations, historians
view Reconstruction far more favorably, as a time of genuine progress
for former slaves and the South as a whole.
all Americans, Reconstruction was a time of fundamental social,
economic, and political change. The overthrow of Reconstruction
left to future generations the troublesome problem of racial justice.