essay below was a very strong essay answering the question about
Reconstruction. It was an actual essay (word for word) written by one of the students
in class. It received 28.5 points out of 30. This was a great essay; about the only
comment I would write was that the thesis in the introduction could have been a
little more direct:
As a country, America has gone though many
political changes throughout her lifetime. Leaders have come and gone, all of
them having different objectives and plans for the future. As history takes its
course, though, most all of these “revolutionary movements” come to an end. One
such movement was Reconstruction. Reconstruction was a time period in America
consisting of many leaders, goals and accomplishments. Though, like all things
in life, it did come to an end, the resulting outcome has been labeled both a
success and a failure.
When Reconstruction began in 1865, a broken America had
just finished fighting the Civil War. In all respects, Reconstruction was
mainly just that. It was a time period of “putting back the pieces”, as people
say. It was the point where America
attempted to become a full running country once more. This, though, was not an
easy task. The memory of massive death was still in the front of everyone’s
mind, hardening into resentment and sometimes even hatred. The south was
virtually non-existent politically or economically, and searching desperately
for a way back in. Along with these things, now living amongst the population
were almost four million former slaves, who had no idea how to make a living on
their own. They had been freed by the 13th amendment in 1865, and in the future
became a great concern to many political leaders. Still, it was no secret that
something had to be done. So, as usually happens, political leaders appeared on
the stage, each holding their own plan of Reconstruction, each certain their
ideas were the correct ones. One of the first people who came up with a
blueprint for Reconstruction was the president at the time, Abraham Lincoln.
The “Lincoln Plan” was a very open one, stating that after certain criteria
were met a confederate state could return to the union. To rejoin, a state had
to have ten percent of voters both accept the emancipation of slaves and swear
loyalty to the union. Also, those high ranking officers of the state could not
hold office or carry out voting rights unless the president said so.
Well, sadly enough, Honest Abe was assassinated at Fords
Theatre on April 14th, 1865, before he could put his plan to the test. After
his death, several other political leaders emerged with plans in hand. These
men were of the Republican Party, and they called themselves Radicals. The
Radical Republicans that came out to play after Lincoln’s death had two main objectives to
their cause. First, they were mad at the south, blaming them for the Civil War
that had just ended. Ergo, they wanted to punish them and make them pay.
Secondly, they wanted to help all of the near four million slaves who were now
free men after the war. They felt these “men” needed protection, and it was
their job to do so. There were three main Radical Republican leaders. These men
were Thaddeus Stevens, Charles Sumner, and the formally inaugurated president
Andrew Johnson. Thaddeus Stevens was a very political man, holding a place in
the House of Representatives. His main concern was the economic opportunity for
slaves. He wanted them to be able to make a living on their own, and not depend
on the “white man” as they had done all their lives. Thinking almost on these
same lines was Charles Sumner. He was a senator who fought mainly for political
rights for African Americans, as well as for their citizenship. He felt that
the “all men are created equal” part of the constitution really should hold up
for everybody. Well, for men that is. Finally there was President Andrew
Johnson. Probably due to the fact that he had been Lincoln’s vice president, Johnson had in mind
a Reconstruction plan that almost mirrored the former presidents. Many of the
Radicals did not approve of Johnson’s plan, though. They felt he went over the
limit with 13,000 pardons, and that he wasn’t paying enough attention to the
major issue, the rights of slaves. In 1868 Andrew Johnson was impeached. All
though he was not removed from office at this time, he was basically without
It was at this point that Congress really stepped in with their own plan of Reconstruction. The Reconstruction Act
finally passed by congress had two main points to it. First, troops were
required to move in and take up residence in the confederate states of the
south. Secondly, any state that wanted back into the union was only allowed to
do so when and if they changed their 14th amendment. They had to agree that all
men born in the U.S.
were citizens, and that because of that they were
guaranteed equal treatment by the law. Later, in 1870, black men were also
granted the vote…but this would come later.
Now, the Reconstruction Act looked really good on paper, but
as usually happens in politics somebody rocked the boat. The shake up took
place in the 1876 presidential election. The two men running were Democrat
Samuel Tilden, and Republican Rutherford B. Hayes. Due to the closeness of the
race, a group of men called a “commission” was set up in order to figure out an
outcome. In the end, the result was the Compromise of 1877. In this compromise,
Hayes was declared the winner, and this was agreed on by both parties. The real
kicker was the other stipulation, though. The military occupation of the
southern states was put to an end. No big deal, right? WRONG! Without military
force to back them up, the freed slaves living down there were without safety.
There was nothing to keep the southerners from taking advantage of the freed
men, and this is exactly what they did. Knowing that they couldn’t directly
disobey the law, many southerners set up their own laws, or black codes, that
put hard restrictions on African Americans. So, even though protection laws
were in place, they did little good with nobody to enforce them. At this point
Reconstruction ended. The laws were in place, and though they didn’t always
work, some people felt that was enough, they had done their jobs.
It’s hard to say for sure whether or not Reconstruction was a success or a failure.
Since the time it began people have been debating that question.
Personally, I believe it is a toss-up. I think that though
it wasn’t a total success, it was at least a step in the right direction.
Granted, laws that were set up weren’t followed strictly. Still, at least laws
were being created to protect African American rights. I mean, they were now
formally known as citizens, and were given the right to vote. Though not a huge
leap, it was a major step. If that doesn’t convince you, think of it this way.
Without Reconstruction and the 14th and 15th amendments, another group may have
never got the courage to fight for their rights. This group is women. Many
suffrage leaders would later look at this point in African American history as
a hopeful sign that they, too, might someday be recognized. So, was
Reconstruction a success? Yes. It was a success with exceptions.