The War's Aftermath
Wide public support gradually developed for those members of Congress who felt that the black should be given the full benefits of citizenship. By July 1866, Congress had passed a civil rights bill and set up a new Freedmen's Bureau-both designed to prevent racial discrimination by southern legislatures. Following this, the Congress passed a Fourteenth Amendment to the Constitution, stating that "All persons born or naturalized in the United States and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the states in which they reside."
All the southern state legislatures, with the exception of Tennessee, refused to ratify the amendment, some voting against it unanimously. Certain groups in the north then advocated intervention to protect the rights of blacks in the soiith. In the Reconstruction Act of March 1867, the Congress, ignoring the governments that had been established in the southern states, divided the south into five districts and placed them under military rule. Escape from permanent military government was open to those states that established civil governments, took an oath of allegiance, ratified the Fourteenth Amendment, and adopted black suffrage.
In July 1868 the Fourteenth Amendment was ratified. The Fifteenth Amendment, passed by Congress the following year and ratified in 1870 by state legislatures, provided that "The rights of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or any state on account of race, color, or previous condition of servitude."
The reason for the tireless energy with which the Congress pushed the Reconstruction Act was that the act meant the defeat and humiliation of President Johnson. Congressional antipathy to Johnson was so great, for the only time in American history, impeachment proceedings were instituted to remove the President from office.
Johnson's sole offense was his opposition to congressional policies and the violent language he used in criticizing them. The most serious charge his enemies could level against him was that, despite a Tenure of Office Act, he had removed from his Cabinet the Secretary of War, a staunch supporter of the Congress. When the impeachment trial was held in the Senate, it was proved that Johnson was technically within his rights in removing the Cabinet member and, even more important, it was pointed out that a dangerous precedent would be set if the Congress were to remove a President because he disagreed with the majority of its members. The attempted impeachment failed, and Johnson continued in oflice until his term expired.
Under the Reconstruction Act, Congress, by the summer of 1868, had readmitted to the Union Arkansas, North Carolina, South Carolina, Louisiana, Georgia, Alabama, and Florida. How representative the new governments of these seven reconstructed states were can be judged from the fact that the majority of the governors, Representatives, and Senators elected were northern men who had gone south after the war to make their poiitical fortunes. In the legislatures of Louisiana, South Carolina, and Mississippi, blacks gained complete control.
In alarm, southern whites, seeing their civilization threatened and finding no legal way to stop the course of events, turned to illegal means. Soon violence became more and more frequent, and in 1870 increasing disorder led to the passage of an Enforcement Act severely punishing those who attempted to deprive the blacks of their civil rights.
As time passed, it became more and more obvious that the problems of the south were not being solved by harsh laws and continuing rancor against former Confederates. In May 1872, Congress passed a general Amnesty Act, restoring full political privileges to all but about 500 Confederate sympathizers.
Gradually southern states began electing members of the Democratic Party to office. By 1876, the Republicans remained in power in only three southern states. The election that year, one of the closest in American history, made it plain that the south would have no peace until northern troops were withdrawn. The next year, President Rutherford B. Hayes removed them, thereby admitting the failure of the "radical" reconstruction policy.
Northern rule was ended in the south. But the south was now a region not only devastated by war but also burdened by debt caused by misgovernment and demoralized by a decade of radal warfare. After 12 years of "false" reconstruction-from 1865 to 1877-real efforts to rebuild the south began.