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Overview of Reconstruction
Digital History ID 2915

The twelve years following the Civil War carried vast consequences for the nation's future. Reconstruction helped set the pattern for future race relations and defined the federal government's role in promoting racial equality.

This section describes Presidents Lincoln's and Johnson's plans to readmit the Confederate states to the Union as well as the more stringent Congressional plan; it also describes the power struggle between President Andrew Johnson and Congress, including the vote over the president's impeachment. This section also identifies the groups that ruled the southern state governments from 1866 to 1877 and explains why Reconstruction ended in 1877.


Immediately following the war, all-white Southern legislatures passed black codes which denied blacks the right to purchase or rent land. These efforts to force former slaves to work on plantations led Congressional Republicans to seize control of Reconstruction from President Andrew Johnson, deny representatives from the former Confederate states their Congressional seats, and pass the Civil Rights Act of 1866 and draft the 14th Amendment, extending citizenship rights to African Americans and guaranteeing equal protection of the laws.

In 1870, the 15th Amendment gave voting rights to black men. The freedmen, in alliance with carpetbaggers and southern white Republicans known as scalawags, temporarily gained power in every former Confederate state except Virginia. The Reconstruction governments drew up democratic state constitutions, expanded women's rights, provided debt relief, and established the South's first state-funded schools. Internal divisions within the Southern Republican Party, white terror, and Northern apathy allowed white Southern Democrats known as Redeemers to return to power. During Reconstruction former slaves and many small white farmers became trapped in a new system of economic exploitation known as sharecropping.