The End of Reconstruction

The problems of the South could not be solved by harsh laws. In May 1872, Congress passed a general Amnesty Act, which restored full political rights to everyone except 500 Confederate sympathizers.

Gradually, Southern states began electing members of the Democratic Party into office, ending so-called carpetbagger governments. Southern governments intimidated blacks from voting or attempting to hold public office. By 1876 the Republicans held power in only three Southern states. In a bargain to resolve the disputed presidential elections of 1876, the Republicans promised to end Radical Reconstruction. Most of the South was now controlled by the Democratic Party. In 1877, President Hayes withdrew the remaining government troops, abandoning federal responsibility for enforcing blacks’ civil rights.

National racial policy was shifting. Formerly, it supported harsh penalties against Southern white leaders. Now it tolerated new forms of discrimination against blacks. By the end of the 19th century, “Jim Crow” laws in Southern states segregated public schools; forbade or limited black access to many public facilities such as parks, restaurants and hotels; and denied most blacks the right to vote by imposing poll taxes and arbitrary literacy skills.

Historians generally judge Reconstruction harshly as a murky period of political conflict, corruption, and regression. Slaves were granted freedom, but not equality. The North completely failed to address the economic needs of the freedmen. The Freedmen's Bureau was unable to provide former slaves with political and economic opportunity, or even protect them from violence and intimidation. Federal Army officers and agents of the Freedmen's Bureau were often racists themselves. Blacks depended on Northern whites to protect them from white Southerners, who united into organizations such as the Ku Klux Klan to intimidate blacks and prevent them from exercising their rights. Without any economic resources, many Southern blacks were forced to become tenant farmers on land owned by their former masters.

Reconstruction-era governments did rebuild Southern states and expand public services, notably tax-supported, free public schools for blacks and whites. However, Southerners exploited instances of corruption to bring down radical regimes. The failure of Reconstruction meant that the struggle of African Americans for equality and freedom was delayed until the 20th century.

Source: The End of Reconstruction
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