Reconstruction Government in the South

Under the terms of the Reconstruction Act of 1867, Republican governments came to power throughout the South. For the first time in American history, blacks had a genuine share of political power. These governments established the region’s first public school systems, enacted civil rights laws, and promoted economic development.

Black suffrage under the Reconstruction Act of 1867 produced a wave of political mobilization among African Americans in the South. In Union Leagues and impromptu gatherings, blacks organized to demand equality before the law and economic opportunity.

Blacks were joined by white newcomers from the north, who were called “carpetbaggers” by their political opponents. The Republican Party in some states attracted many white southerners, whom Democrats called “scalawags.” They were mostly Unionist small farmers, but some prominent plantation owners joined.

By 1870, the former Confederate states were readmitted to the Union under new constitutions that marked major changes in southern government. The new government passed the region’s first civil rights laws, reformed the South’s antiquated tax system, and started ambitious programs of economic development, hoping that railroad and factory development would produce prosperity for both races.

A black political leadership emerged. These leaders pressed aggressively for an end to the South’s racial caste system. Slave ministries, artists, Civil War veterans, and blacks who had been free before the Civil War all took leading roles.

African Americans served in almost every government capacity during Reconstruction, from members of congress to state and local officials. Their presence in positions of political power symbolized the political revolution created by Reconstruction.

Source: Reconstruction Government in the South
Copyright 2003 Digital History

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