After the massive devastation and scorched earth wartime methods of the Civil War, America tried to rebuild itself. This era was known as Reconstruction and lasted from 1865 to 1877. Many hoped at the beginning that the South would peacefully re-enter the Union, slaves would enjoy full liberty as American citizens, and the United States would emerge stronger.
It didn’t. The reconstruction showed that many of the divisions in the United States were as wide as ever. Thousands of freed slaves were not accepted anywhere and arrested on charges of vagrancy. Others died of disease or starvation. Radical Republicans sought citizenship full legal equality of black Americans, while Southerners sought segregation and white supremacy.
But despite the challenges, many former slaves said all that mattered was freedom. Rachel Adams of Georgia summed up the feeling of many formerly enslaved people when she said she could “live on just bread and water as long” as she was free. The men, women, and children who emerged from bondage built schools, developed communities, and “made a way out of no way.”
Below is an AI-generated transcript complete with timecodes. This transcript may contain errors and is not a substitute for listening to the podcast episode.
Scott Rank 0:12
History isn’t just a bunch of names and dates and facts. It’s the collection of all the stories throughout human history that explained how and why we got here. Welcome to the history unplugged Podcast, where we look at the forgotten, neglected, strange, and even counterfactual stories that made our world what it is. I’m your host, Scott rank.
Cold War was a multi decades-long period after world war two where many people thought that the United States and Russia would mobilize into Total War committing their whole military-industrial complex to the effort and probably exchanging nuclear weapons and never happened but there was a simmering standoff for decades military outposts with each other across The Bering Strait or the Black Sea. This was the big Cold War of the 20th century. But there were smaller local theaters of this, like North and South Korea across their demilitarized zone. But there was another cold war in American history that I want to look at. That’s a period of reconstruction. reconstruction was a period right after the Civil War, and an effort to reconstruct the South when the economy was almost completely destroyed. Much like after World War Two, it was a period of massive rebuilding. Also, much like after World War Two, there were a number of different ways that the country could go, would the two sides eventually be able to come back together and live in peace? Would there be another major battle between the two sides? Or would there be simmering tensions that would never fully be resolved? There were all sorts of questions in 1865. What would the federal government’s policy be toward the defeated southern states? The Constitution didn’t have any provisions for anything like what had happened? And they didn’t even know if the power to restore the southern states was with the president or with the Congress. In this episode, we’re going to be looking at the period of reconstruction. I’m doing so because I was asked by a listener, Nick Brooks to look at this period. And he said I’d really love an episode on Southern reconstruction. I was never taught in school, what actually happened? Where did all the slaves go? Did some stay? How did the South financially recover? What actually went on? Well, there’s a lot to cover in this episode. So first, I’m going to look at the new constitutional order of the United States. reconstruction was probably the most watershed period in American history except for the founding of the United States because there were a number of amendments that were introduced the 13th, then 14th, and the 15th, which was adopted from 1865 to 1870. That completely put the United States on a different path. The last amendment that had been added to the constitution was in 1804. And it was basically to tidy up the work of the founding fathers, for the purpose of the reconstruction amendments was, as Abraham Lincoln said, transform the United States away from a country that was half slave and half free into one that guaranteed liberty to all the population, including former slaves and their descendants. So very briefly, the 13th amendment abolished slavery and involuntary servitude, except if you were convicted of a crime,
the 14th amendment gave equal rights and protection of the law for all persons. That had to be explicitly stated because you would have citizens and subjects in different parts of the world. Brazil still had slavery, Russia within very recent many had servitude and serfdom. And finally, the last amount was the 15th amendment that prohibits discrimination in voting rights of citizens on the basis of race color or previous condition of servitude, etc. But as we’re going to see in decades later, many towns and counties and states found very creative ways to get around the 15th amendment. The purpose of all this was to guarantee the freedom of former slaves. But they were eroded by state laws and federal court decisions throughout the 19th century. With the end of the act of the reconstruction period in 1876, some states passed Jim Crow laws that would limit the rights of African Americans. Okay, so we’re going to look at that, but this isn’t just going to be a legal examination. We’re also going to look at the people that made up reconstruction. Where did all the free slaves go after emancipation? Did they largely stay in the places where they were slaves? Did Some even say on their own plantations? Did they completely just start a new life? Well look at people who come from the north to the south, infamously carpetbaggers, and also the Cold War aspects of reconstruction about the north-south entity that lived on for over a century, and that regional differences in the United States are still very pronounced. So this could be a legacy that still goes on today. First, let’s take a look at some of the people that make up the reconstruction period. The first are the carpetbaggers, and this is a derogatory term for them. But you can still find the term if somebody is running for office in a state or district where they don’t live there just plopping in there so they can win a contest. This is a term to apply for somebody from the north who relocated to the south during the reconstruction period from 1865 to 1877. These are some of the early fixtures of the reconstruction period. It was applied to adventurers similar to those who would go in a land rush or gold rush. And also northern politicians whom southerners accused of coming to the south to take advantage of newly freed black men and women in order to obtain a political office or make a profit. The reason they were called carpetbaggers is that they were thought of as strangers that had nothing more than that, that could be carried in a satchel or carpet bag. So there are people who are taking advantage of an area against the wishes of the people who live there. But for those in the south, they really didn’t have much of a choice. The southern economy was in ruins with the scorched earth campaign of the Northern army and the destruction of railroads, crops, farm fields, and other things as well. The South badly needed capital investment. For Northerners, the South was an area of opportunity and you could buy goods and services at fire-sale prices. A lot of these Northerners were ex-soldiers who could have been shooting at some of the people they were living amongst now. But not everyone was. Many came because they thought they could quickly become rich. And a lot thought that they could easily raise cotton and sell it as a cash crop. Some bought land some leased it, others invested in businesses or banks. And at the beginning, these Northerners were well received.
But as reconstruction went on, and there were sharply divided political approaches on how to read integrate the South in the United States, as we’ll talk about later. These Northerners were characterized by the south as the exploitative and decadent nature of Northern society that was trained to prey upon the honorable southerners. People from the north, many of the Northern migrants weren’t wealthy, a lot were middle class. And some might have had pure motives thinking that they could come to the south and transform it from an agrarian economy that’s based on slavery and forced labor into an egalitarian one and a more industrial economy like what was up north, and a lot of these Northerners were allies of the freedmen and women after emancipation. Northerners were also typically Republicans, as were many of the freedmen. All it took was a year of residents in a state in the reconstruction south to be able to vote and hold office. So many transplanted Northerners ran and held political office and ran for the Republican Party, representing largely black constituencies. So as the years of reconstruction went on, The division and anger between white Northerners and southerners intensified. Southerners in their opinion, these northern migrants didn’t understand the relationship between blacks and whites in the region. And were cynically exploiting what was going on there in order to profit off the people against their wishes, or by ironic in light of slavery, but that was a prevailing opinion there. The reconstruction state legislatures that were led by Republicans were considered corrupt and incompetent. But it probably wasn’t much worse than in the other state governments in the 19th century. reconstruction state governments probably got in more trouble due to overspending by trying to revive economies and rebuild infrastructure after the states have become bankrupt after the war. Now, in this early wave of Northerners coming down to the south and representing black constituencies, you actually have black politicians for the first time who are representing their own constituencies. I thought it’d be good to take a short look at the first black senator in the United States. That was Hiram Rhoades rebels. He was in the Senate, the US Senate for just over a year. When he entered the chambers on February 25, 1870, there was resounding applause in the senate chambers. He was highly educated. He was born in 1827. His parents were free black Americans in North Carolina. And he attended college and seminary. And after the war, he settled in Mississippi where he was a pastor and an educator. So he was very highly educated, or a nonwhite person in the United States at the time. You want to see in the Mississippi State Senate in 1869 after friends encouraged him to run. Now, this seems strange, how does Mississippi one of the most stalwart states in the Confederacy go from actively joining a war effort to sustain slavery to having a black US senator. Part of it has to do with the strange nature of the US Senate during the Civil War. The Senate seat for Mississippi The United States Senate had basically been vacant since the state seceded in 1861 because they were sending their senators to the Confederate Senate. By the end of the 1860s, the federal government had begun the task of allowing southern states to have rejoined the union and send senators again. Rebels were chosen to fill one of those Mississippi seats. The Mississippi State Legislature in 1870 wanted to elect a black man to fill the remainder of one term, which was set to expire in 1871 for the seat once held by democratic senator Albert Brown, but they wanted to fill the other unexpired term ended in 1875. With a white candidate. Black legislators agreed to the deal believing that an election of one of their own would be a blow against color line prejudices. They said. The Democratic minority endorsed the plan, hoping that a black senator would damage the public publican party. So this was a tactical move by the Democratic Party to attack the Republican Party what they consider to be allied with the north and with Carpetbaggers. On January 20, 1870. The Mississippi State legislature voted 85 to 15 to see Hiram revels in Brown’s former seat. Rebels were only in DC for a short time, but he was known for his moderate republican stance, he was a skilled order. He supported amnesty for southern states and argued against the illegal separation of races and for the education of all black Americans. He said during his term,
I find that the prejudice in this country to color is very great. And I sometimes fear that it is on the increase, that the nation should take a step for the encouragement of this prejudice against the color race. Can they have any grounds upon which to predicate a hope that heaven will smile upon them and prosper them? Okay, so lets we’ll back around and look at the actual mechanics of reconstruction and how America plans to put itself back together again after I had been split apart, Andrew Johnson became president following Abraham Lincoln’s assassination in April 1865. He supported amnesty for Confederates,
Unknown Speaker 12:10
but, but he
Scott Rank 12:12
wanted to make a list that would require presidential pardons. For anyone who had Well, there was an excess of $20,000. The purpose of this was to punish the planet or class, which were the wealthy in the antebellum south, which Johnson considered responsible for persuading southerners to support secession. He favored the gradual introduction of black suffrage, but he didn’t insist on it as an immediate requirement. This put them in opposition to a group known as the Radical Republicans. This was a faction of the republican party that wanted stricter reconstruction policy. They wanted a huge expansion of the power of the federal government over states, as well as guarantees of black suffrage. Massachusetts Senator Charles Sumner spoke of the former Confederate States is having committed suicide. Congressman Thaddeus Stephens of Pennsylvania went further describing the states who succeeded as conquered provinces into Johnson’s reconstruction plan was proceeding by the time Congress convened in 1865. But Congress refused to seat representatives from southern states, even though they had organized governments according to the terms of Lincoln’s or Johnson’s plan. Contemporary critics of the Radical Republicans say that they were in it for themselves and were trying to secure the power of the republican party and national political life and appeal to the newly freed population in the south. But Radical Republicans themselves would say that dramatic change was necessary in order to dismantle slavery even if the action seems shocking. Connecticut Senator James Dixon argued that the purpose of the radicals was the saving of the Republican Party, rather than the restoration of the Union. This is also the view of General Sherman who said that the whole idea of giving votes to the Negroes was there create just that many votes to be used by others for political purposes. expresses displeasure with a plan quote, whereby politicians may manufacturer just so much more pliable electioneering material. And radical republican Thaddeus Stevens said that the votes of the freed slaves were necessary in order to bring about perpetual ascendancy to the party of the Union. That is the Republican Party. Henry Ward Beecher was also concerned about the radicals. Beecher, the brother of Harriet Beecher Stowe, the author of Uncle Tom’s Cabin, had been a fierce opponent of slavery and helped to arm opponents of slavery in Kansas. But he warned his countrymen of the party split the animated the radicals, he said. It has said that, if admitted to Congress, the southern senators and representatives will coalesce with northern democrats and rule the country is this nation then to remain dismembered to serve the ends of parties?
Unknown Speaker 14:49
Have we learned
Scott Rank 14:50
no wisdom by the history of the past 10 years, which just this course of sacrificing the nation to the exigencies of parties plunges into rebellion and war As we can see here, the question about what to do after emancipation was not clean or easy. And groups of people that had been unified during the Civil War, unified for the cause of emancipation. Now that they had it, they were splintering into different factions about how to actually go and see this about. Otto Scott was a 20th-century northern writer who observed the radical vindictiveness Following the war, including the insistence that the South was out of the union and not entitled to congressional representation. He said to win that war, and then to refuse to allow the south to remain in the Union was not only logically perverse but a tacit admission that the war had not been about slavery. But as an all in every war power. And in previous podcasts episodes, I’ve talked about the narrative that took hold shortly after the Civil War, that the South wasn’t really fighting about slavery, but states rights and this view was popular throughout the 19th and 20th centuries because the early histories of the civil war were written by southerners But this has fallen out of favor. So that’s an example of that. One of the most contentious issues after the Civil War was the black coats, sometimes called Black laws, which were laws that govern the conduct of African Americans or free blacks. They were passed in 1865 in 1866 by southern states to restrict African American’s freedom and pick compel them to work for low wages. These predate the Civil War, and many northern states had them before the Civil War. These laws denied equal political rights, including the right to vote the right to attend law schools and the right to equal treatment under the law. White-dominated Southern legislatures in the first few years after the Civil War passed black codes modeled after earlier slave codes. They controlled movement and labor freedmen and restricted black Americans to certain jobs. There were restrictions placed on intermarriage and concubine edge in miscegenation laws. Black codes are stricter black people’s right to own property, do business, buy and lease land, and move freely through public spaces. The central element of the black codes were vagrancy laws, where states criminalized men who were out of work or not working at jobs whites recognized. At the time, the North had vagrancy laws as well. Once stated that one without employment wandering abroad begging and not giving a good account of himself might be imprisoned as a vagrant, and it can be in prison for periods from 90 days to three years. Northern Radical Republicans said that the use of vagrancy laws against freedmen was done in order to keep them in a state of perpetual serfdom. But others argue that it was to end what had become an intolerable situation. A large number of people, a large number of freedmen were wandering across the south who were without food or money or jobs or homes, and the situation was leading to crime and fear and violence. And there were problems in the north as well. In Illinois, any freedmen who couldn’t produce a certificate of freedom, who hadn’t posted a bond of $1,000 could be arrested and hired out as labor For a year, Illinois, I continue to forbid the testimony of blacks in cases involving whites. And it was only in 1865, the state repealed the law imposing a fine of $50 on free blacks entering Illinois. Well with the use of vagrancy laws against free blacks and the claim that crime spiked because there were so many itinerant people wandering around the South. It’s worth taking a look at where black Americans went after emancipation. Where do they go where their robes of thousands or 10s of thousands of people trying to find a new place to live and find work after emancipation. The Library of Congress has an extensive collection of the lives of former slaves after emancipation. And one thing they do is chart the movement of former slaves and even after the Emancipation Proclamation, after two years of war after the proclamation from 1863 to 1865, after the service of African American troops in the Union Army and after the defeat of the Confederacy, The question of what to do with these newly freed slaves who are now citizens was something that few had an answer to Congress implemental reconstruction, which lasted from 1866 1877 in order to reorganize the southern states after the war, provide the means for reinventing them into the union and to find means by which whites and blacks could live together in a non-slave society. But much of the South didn’t welcome reconstruction. During the years after the war, missionary organizations, churches, schools, black and white teachers from the north and south, tried to give the emancipated population the opportunity to learn.
More slaves took advantage of the opportunity to become literate. grandfathers and grandchildren sat together in classrooms trying to learn to read. After the 13th 14th and 15th amendments, African Americans had a period where they’re allowed to vote, participate in politics acquire land of former owners, seafarer unemployment, and use public accommodations during Reconstruction. freed slaves began to leave the South. One group from Kentucky establish the community of nikka Demas in 1877 in northwestern Kansas and Graham County, but because of several crop failures and resentment from the county’s white settlers, all but a few homesteaders abandoned their claims had a population of 518 80 but declined to less than 200. By 1910. The nickname is a town company that was incorporated in 1877 by six black into white Kansans. It was the oldest of 20 towns established predominantly for blacks in the West. There was an exodus of blacks from the south after the Civil War, and these migrants became known as exit dusters and the migration became known as the exit duster movement. They were looking in all directions for places to settle. Some even looked abroad with colonization projects to Liberia and locations outside the United States. But others looked in the relatively Unseld regions of the north and west. Benjamin Singleton’s lead a group of African Americans from various points in the south to Kansas. According to the US Census Bureau, we can trace population movements and migration patterns using US Census Bureau data. According to the Atlas for 1890, the heaviest concentrations of non-white populations are overwhelmingly in Maryland and Virginia and southeastern states. But then there are emergency concentrations in northern urban areas in New York, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, Cleveland, Toledo, in Chicago, southern Ohio, Central Missouri, Eastern Kansas, and scattered areas in the West in Oklahoma, New Mexico, Arizona, Nevada, and California, showing huge migration patterns after reconstruction. Now, some were able to resettle in different parts of the country. But for many freedmen and freedwomen, they may have had no place to go to very few employable skills, because if they worked on a plantation they might not have been able to do much beyond simple farming, and hundreds of thousands of freed slaves. Face starvation and many face death because we’re given almost no resources. Jim down sort of book called sick from the freedom that shows how dangerous the reconstruction period was. After the chaos of the Civil War, a lot of the manufacturing and farming infrastructure of the United States is broken. After Union soldiers showed up on plantations to announce the Emancipation Proclamation, these freed slaves were neglected by soldiers and they faced rampant disease, including outbreaks of smallpox and cholera, a lot just starve to death. Down’s argues that about a quarter of the 4 million freed slaves either died or suffered from illnesses between 1862 and 1870. He calls it the largest biological crisis of the 19th century. Part of the reason this might not be a well-known fact is that many people didn’t want to investigate the tragedy of the freed slaves after the Civil War and wanted to feel good about the accomplishment that it happened. Many Northerners weren’t terribly sympathetic to the plight of free slaves. anti-slavery abolitionist didn’t want to highlight what was going on, because they feared that it could prove their Southern critics right that ending slavery abruptly would lead to destabilization and chaos. Your Rights in the 19th-century people didn’t want to talk about it. Some people didn’t care. an abolitionist when they saw so many free people dying, feared that it proved true what some people said that slaves were not able to exist on their own. Many freed slaves ended up in encampments called contraband camps that were near Union army bases. But the conditions were unsanitary, and there were few food supplies. Some contraband camps were actually former slave pens, meaning that newly freed people were kept virtual prisoners back in the same cells that had previously held them, or countless deaths in these camps and illnesses and disease. And the only way to leave the camp was agreed to go back to work on the slave plantations from which slaves had recently escaped And Union soldiers sometimes weren’t that much better. One freed slave Joseph Miller, who had come with his wife and four children to a makeshift freed slave refugee camp within the union stronghold of Camp Nelson and Kentucky. In return for food and shelter for his family, Miller joined the army. But Union soldiers in 1864 cleared the ex-slaves out of Camp Nelson, forcing them to scout in a landscape that was completely war-torn. One of the Miller sons quickly seconds and died. Three weeks later, his wife and another son died
10 days after that his daughter died. Finally, his last surviving child also fell terminally ill. Mother himself was dead by 1865. Things were so bad that one military official in Tennessee in 1865 wrote that former slaves were dying by the scores, sometimes 30 per day die, and are carried out by wagon loads without coffins and are thrown promiscuously like brutes into a trench. The health problems of freed slaves are so bad and the death rates were so Hi, that some wondered if they would all die out at the time. One white religious leader in 1863 expected black Americans to vanish. Like his brother, the Indian of the forest, he must melt away and disappear forever from the midst of us, he said. So emancipation was a complex and difficult process that sometimes wasn’t much better than the slave conditions they had faced before the war. Now all this makes it sound like doom and gloom after reconstruction, which for many people it was, but there were improvements for Friedman and freedwomen in the south. By 1866, most southern states had enacted statutes to protect blacks right to hold property, to have recourse to the courts and to testify in all cases in which at least one party was black, which was more than existed during the period of slavery when they had essentially no legal rights. legislators in southern states called for the liberalization of state policy toward blacks, even in Mississippi, which had the most stringent black codes. The Columbus Sentinel called the architects of the restrictive code, shallow headed majority more anxious to make capital at home than depreciate the powers at Washington, there is complete a set of political gods, as wherever turned loose to work destruction upon a state. The fortunes of the whole South have been injured by their folly. Another issue of contention between North and South and emerged right after the war, was the honoring and revering of Confederate figures, an issue that still exists today with arguments about Confederate monuments and Confederate street names and naming schools and public locations after Confederate soldiers and generals saying, why would you honor somebody who was from one opinion a traitor to the union? One radical
republican that is Stephen, his friend Express shock that while they acknowledge themselves whipped and profess future loyalty, he’s talking about Southern politicians. Confederate generals are their heroes, Confederate bravery and endurance center difficulties, their pride, and most Confederate dead their martyrs. In all the stores of Richmond, I did not see the picture of a single Union General or politician, but any number of rebels. Andrew Johnson was a little bit more sympathetic to southerners. And he at least understood why defeated people would have honored their heroes even if he didn’t completely agree with it. He said, People should be allowed to grumble who have suffered so much, and they would be unworthy of the name of men if they did not respect the brave officers who have suffered with them and out of the memory of their gallon dead who sleep on 100 battlefields around their homes. Well, something we’ll do is we’ll around back to the constitutional amendments that came about after reconstruction, the 13th 14th, and 15th amendments. At the time, they were very controversial and another point of division between North and South. The most significant part of the amendment was in the first section. All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof are citizens of the United States and other 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. Well, the first ns did was extended American citizenship to all persons born in America and subject to its jurisdiction. This reversed the Dred Scott decision, the declared blacks, not American citizens. Earlier on this podcast, I did an episode where somebody asked me why citizenship isn’t automatically granted Europe and many other countries. And it has to do more with your family connections and whether your predecessors were citizens of that country. Well, America and other countries in the new world do grant automatic citizenship just by virtue of you being born there. And there are all sorts of reasons part of it is the approach to what citizenship means in the new world when almost anyone there unless you’re an indigenous This person is an immigrant in some time. But another reason has to do with this the 14th amendment in response to the civil war so that you wouldn’t be denied citizenship if you’re a former slave. But if you’re born in the United States, then that would make you a citizen. But the remainder of the first section of the 14th amendment still has controversy about its original attack. Harvard’s role Berger has argued that the amendment was modest in scope, and it was intended to empower the federal government to ensure that the states didn’t interfere with the basic rights of the freedmen, right to enter contracts or Sue or own property. James bond argued in the Akron Law Review in 1985, that according to supporters of the amendment, the civil rights that are protected were the right to contract to sue to testify in otherwise resort to the courts. Well, even with this modest scope in mind, southerners believe that granting powers of oversight to the federal government would overtime undermine America’s federal system and that the amendment would only be the biggest In need of our process that will completely destroy states rights against federal rights. Some Northerners had the same idea. Orville browning Andrew Johnson, Secretary of the Interior said, one of the greatest dangers which threaten us now is the tendency to centralization, the absorption of the rights of the states, and the concentration of all power in the general government. When that shall be accomplished, ever, the days of the Republic are numbered. But all these arguments were soon superseded by the 15th amendment in 1870. Section four repudiated the Confederate debt. Section three excluded from American politics, anyone who held any office in the Confederacy. So the natural leadership class of the South was disqualified from office. This section alone made many believe that the South would reject the amendment. Going back to the 14th amendment, the first time it was presented for consideration 10 of the 11 states of the former Confederacy, Tennessee was the exception, didn’t ratify it, but rental republicans were fighting Ways to Make it pass anyway, right after their victory in the 1866 congressional elections. Wisconsin Senator James does little said, the people of the South have rejected the constitutional amendment, and therefore we will march upon them and force them to adopt it at the point of the bayonet, and rule them with military governors and martial law until they do adopt. Congress in 1867, passed a series of reconstruction acts over Johnson’s vetoes. They declared that with the exception of Tennessee,
no legal governments existed in any of the former Confederate States. The 10 states would be divided into five military districts and ruled by military governors and martial law are the states to take their place in the union and regain representation in Congress. It has to do the following. First, elect delegates to state constitutional conventions to draw up new state conventions. Second, in those new constitutions acknowledge the abolition of slavery, the unlawfulness of the secession, and the introduction of black suffrage. Third, ratify the 14th amendment. Johnson said that the reconstruction legislation was in its whole character, scope, and object without precedent and without authority and political conflict with the plainest provisions of the Constitution, and utterly destructive to those great principles of liberty and humanity for which our ancestors on both sides of the Atlantic shed so much blood and expended so much treasure. Johnson was in a strange position where he was taking the side of the former Confederate states and the third annual message to the union. He said that the radical policy had destroyed the union that the framers established. candor compels me to declare that at this time, there is no Union as our fathers understood the term, and as they meant it to be understood by us. The Union which they established can exist only we’re all the states are represented in both houses of Congress, or one state is as free as another to regulate its internal concerns according to its own will. And were the laws of the central government, strictly confined to matters of national jurisdiction, apply with equal force the people of every section. Southern states eventually did ratify the 14th amendment. But the ratification process had all sorts of irregularities. Their initial refusal led to the passage of the reconstruction acts, where the military government was imposed until new civil governments were established in the 14th amendment was ratified. It also prompted Congress to pass a law in 1867 that required the Confederate States to ratify the 14th. the amendment before the state was declared entitled to representation in Congress. There’s an argument to be made that the Radical Republicans were representing the will of the people because they were given a huge victory in the off-year election of 1866. But Howard Beale, who in his 400-page study, the election argues that that’s not completely the case. There were other issues at stake in 1866. Northerners were most concerned about the economy after the war. They didn’t want to readmit to Congress, Southern representatives who would favor lower tariffs since they had profited off of higher tariffs. former New York Governor Horatio Seymour said that the question of terrorists and taxation and other Negro question keeps our country divided. The men of New York were called upon to keep out the southern members because if they were admitted they would vote to uphold or obstruct our commercial greatness. Well, this tension between North and South continued until troops were withdrawn from all southern states by 1877. And at least in the militaristic sense, reconstruction came to an end. But this argument about federal supremacy over the states and argument that, to some degree started, the civil war continued for decades afterward, and the tension between federal and state government continues to today. One last thing I want to look at in this episode of reconstruction is the experience of freed slaves. Something that we’ve seen here is that, although it would be assumed that following the Civil War, it was a period of reharmonization and the stamping out of racism and joy for former slaves that they were freed. There’s actually a lot of mixed emotions going on. And there were even mixed emotions for freed slaves. We have a massive Count of former slave testimonies thanks to the WPA slave narrative Collection. This was a compilation of histories by former slaves, which was undertaken during the Great Depression by the Federal Writers Project of the Works Progress Administration, which went from 1936 and 1938, where historians talked to elderly former slaves in their 80s and 90s. To put together a full history of slavery, what they found is for former slaves, one of the first places they went to was the Freedmen’s Bureau. This was established in 1865 by Congress to help the millions of former slaves and also poor whites in the south in the aftermath of the Civil War. Their job was to provide food and housing and medical aid and established schools and legal assistance and to settle former slaves on lands that were confiscated or abandoned during the war. But there weren’t enough funds to do this. But the main point is that when people came to them, one of the first things they wanted to do was find family members who These former slaves have been separated by during the period in which they were enslaved. One of these former slaves was Hawkins Wilson.
He was from the region outside of Galveston, Texas. And he wanted to begin a search for his family, which he hadn’t seen or heard from since he was pulled from a plantation in Virginia 24 years earlier. He sent a letter seeking assistance from the Richmond office of the Freedmen’s Bureau, Europe. I am anxious to learn about my sisters, from whom I’ve been separated for many years. I’m in the hopes that they are still living. He then explained he was sold at the sheriff sale to a Mr. Right of Boyd town courthouse, and he hoped an additional letter that he enclosed could be delivered to a sister. He then wrote, your little brother Hawkins is trying to find out where you are, and where his poor old mother is. I shall never forget the bag of biscuits you made for me the last night I spent with you. He said that he lived an honorable life if they did not meet on earth we might meet and haven’t. He ended the letter by asking the sister to drop back quickly and said she shouldn’t be surprised if I do. Dropping upon you Sunday. But we don’t know if Wilson’s letter was delivered or if he ever reconnected with his family. Well, this is a sad story. And there are many like it for the nearly 4 million African Americans who were enslaved when the civil war began and was then liberated. I mean, it’s a patient was a long process, and it didn’t just happen in one moment. The WPA historians who recorded the experiences of former slaves shows a full spectrum of emotions. They felt ham CMT, who’d been enslaved in Mississippi said, after the surrender, I can remember the Negroes were so happy. They just rang bells blew horns and shouted like they were crazy. Then they brought a brand new rope and cut it up into little pieces, and they gave everyone a little piece. And whenever they look at the rope, they should remember that they were free from bondage. Lafayette’s price of Morgan County, Alabama said that the joy of emancipation meant that I’m as free as a frog because the frog had the freedom to jump when and where he pleased. But many realize that dangerous Coming. wl boasts said that freedom meant being just like a turtle cautiously peeking out of the shell to understand the lay of the land. And it was this dread that many former slaves felt after the initial joy of freedom came. They had dreamed while they were slaves of being able to educate their children and themselves to never be wept again or experienced violence or sexual exploitation, to be able to provide for their family’s well being. But there was also a sense of vulnerability with this freedom. This meant embracing change, which could be hard for people who had lived on one plantation their entire life, but those who stay close to farms and plantations and communities they called home. The question was how to make a living and enjoy the benefits of freedom. Jenny Webb, who was recently freed said that when the war came to set us free, we were told that we get 40 acres and a mule. We never did. Because former slaves had to fend for themselves. Most were confined to a new form of servitude, which was sharecropping. Some were able to leverage education into the middle-class status and open businesses. But for the majority, they couldn’t do much else but farm because they were landless. One family called the mason said, When freedom came mother and father stayed with Master, they farmed for shares. During the next 15 years, we moved from farm to farm trying to earn a living. So the lack of viable economic alternatives meant that many freedmen and women found that their hold on freedom was loose. And the uncertainty wasn’t only about money and finding a job, but it was about the new racial dynamics of the South since slavery was no longer equal. What would it mean? As we see in this episode, there were glimpses of change during Reconstruction with a black senator with new state constitutions and a possible emergent black male electorate and military and legal protections. But after reconstruction ended in 1877, there was no extensive violence and intimidation on black freedmen and the years after the Civil War, the Freedmen’s Bureau recorded what it called racial outrages, or their assaults and arsons and riots and murders and sexual assaults, all users on the black population. They’re almost never followed up on in the legal system. Most of all, reconstruction was a period of uncertainty. People simply didn’t know what direction the United States would take. Would it truly evolve and try to live up to the promises of the Emancipation Proclamation, or to fall back into something resembling slave conditions that existed before the Civil War? Tony Cox, newly freedmen from Mississippi said about emancipation, we had a hard time getting adjusted and making a way for ourselves. But despite these challenges, the impact importance of freedom was never undervalued. Rachel
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