Historical Context in Reconstruction
The End of the War and Reconstruction: As the Civil War stretched into 1864 and 1865, the Confederacy could no longer sufficiently fight the Union. Their armies and resources were dwindling, accelerated by the Union army’s trade blockades along the Southeastern seaboard. The consequences of the war were enormous. There were at least one million American casualties, more than all other American wars combined. The balance of economic power tilted dramatically northward for the next century. The task of rebuilding and reintegrating the South—known as “Reconstruction”—became the focus of the federal government in the following years. Complicating this task was the sudden assassination of President Abraham Lincoln just five days after the end of the war. In his place arrived former Vice President Andrew Johnson, a Southerner and former slave owner who felt that the South had never truly left the Union. Johnson swiftly and independently handpicked new Southern governors and allowed each state to develop its own new constitution. The rights and enfranchisement of African Americans, an issue important to Lincoln, was a distraction to Johnson. In an unprecedented move, Congress turned its back on Johnson, ignored the new governments of the South, and began to produce a series of legislations designed to grant African Americans more rights.
The Black Codes: “Black Codes” were laws which guided and limited the behavior of African Americans. There had been Black Codes in place long before the war, but the Southern states revamped them in the wake of the Emancipation Proclamation in an effort to control the new population of free African Americans. The codes limited the movements of African Americans, their ability to gather and meet, their ability to own property and land, and to buy and trade goods. When President Johnson allowed the Southern states to draft new constitutions, white Southerners created new Black Codes. These new codes addressed two developments many whites found problematic: the influx of itinerant former slaves and the sudden lack of labor. Their solution was to force African Americans to have a recognizable job at all times; those without work could be arrested and then put to work. In many cases, the US army aided in enforcing these laws, driven as they were by the federal government’s desire to rebuild the shattered Southern economy.
The Push for African-American Rights: Amid Johnson’s efforts to reinvigorate the South to the detriment of its former slaves, Congress pushed to improve the lives of African Americans. After Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation, Congress advanced the tide of pro-African American legislation with the passing of the Freedmen’s Bureau Act, the Civil Rights Act of 1866, and the Thirteenth, Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendments to the Constitution, all between 1865 and 1870. These laws assisted African Americans in a number of ways: offering basic support to former slaves, establishing full citizenship for African Americans, and granting them the right to vote. Frederick Douglass, who wrote “Reconstruction” in the midst of this legislative push, was a firm proponent for the advancement of African-American rights.
Historical Context Examples in Reconstruction:
Text of Douglass's Essay🔒
"If the Constitution knows none, it is clearly no part of the duty of a Republican Congress now to institute one...." See in text (Text of Douglass's Essay)
"Fortunately, the Constitution of the United States knows no distinction between citizens on account of color...." See in text (Text of Douglass's Essay)
"to establish in the South one law, one government, one administration of justice, one condition to the exercise of the elective franchise, for men of all races and colors alike...." See in text (Text of Douglass's Essay)
"No Chinese wall can now be tolerated...." See in text (Text of Douglass's Essay)
"They want a reconstruction such as will protect loyal men, black and white, in their persons and property..." See in text (Text of Douglass's Essay)
"These pretended governments, which were never submitted to the people, and from participation in which four millions of the loyal people were excluded by Presidential order..." See in text (Text of Douglass's Essay)
"agreeably to the formula, Once in grace always in grace..." See in text (Text of Douglass's Essay)
"The strange controversy between the President and Congress..." See in text (Text of Douglass's Essay)
"A treacherous President stood in the way;..." See in text (Text of Douglass's Essay)
"If time was at first needed, Congress has now had time...." See in text (Text of Douglass's Essay)
"no republic is safe that tolerates a privileged class, or denies to any of its citizens equal rights and equal means to maintain them..." See in text (Text of Douglass's Essay)
"and give to every loyal citizen the elective franchise..." See in text (Text of Douglass's Essay)
"This, of course, cannot be done, and ought not even if it could...." See in text (Text of Douglass's Essay)
"And to-day it is so strong that it could exist, not only without law, but even against law...." See in text (Text of Douglass's Essay)
"but it is far too short to protect the rights of individuals in the interior of distant States...." See in text (Text of Douglass's Essay)
"All that is necessary to be done is to make the government consistent with itself, and render the rights of the States compatible with the sacred rights of human nature...." See in text (Text of Douglass's Essay)
"The Civil Rights Bill and the Freedmen's Bureau Bill and the proposed constitutional amendments..." See in text (Text of Douglass's Essay)