Reconstruction Timeline

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Reconstruction Timeline

Reconstruction Timeline Map with Event Dates
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Reconstruction Timeline Map for Readmission of Southern States into the Union.

    December 1863:  President Abraham Lincoln announces his reconstruction plan. It offers general amnesty to all white Southerners who take an oath of future loyalty and accept wartime measures abolishing slavery. Whenever 10% of the number of 1860 voters take the loyalty oath in any state, those loyal citizens can then establish a state government. In early 1864, the governments of Louisiana, Arkansas, and Tennessee are reconstructed under Lincoln’s "Ten Percent Plan." Radical Republicans are shocked at the policy’s leniency, so Congress refuses to recognize the governments or seat their elected federal representatives.  
   July 1864:  Congress passes its own reconstruction plan, the Wade-Davis bill. It requires a majority of 1860 voters to take a loyalty oath, but only those who swear an "ironclad" oath of never having fought against the Union can participate in reconstructing their state’s government. Congress requires the state constitutions to include bans on slavery, disfranchisement of Confederate political and military leaders, and repudiation of Confederate state debts. After Congress adjourns, Lincoln refuses to sign the Wade-Davis bill, so it is "pocket-vetoed" and not implemented.  
  March 1865:  Congress creates the Bureau of Refugees, Freedmen, and Abandoned Lands, commonly known as the Freedmen’s Bureau, within the War Department. It provides temporary relief to the freedpeople in the form of basic shelter and medical care, assistance in labor-contract negotiation, the establishment of schools, and similar services. At its peak, though, the Freedmen’s Bureau only has 900 agents in the South.  
  April 1865:  The Civil War ends with Confederate General Robert E. Lee’s surrender to Union General Ulysses S. Grant at Appomattox, Virginia.
President Lincoln is assassinated.
Vice President Andrew Johnson, a Southern Democrat, assumes the presidency. 

Reconstruction Timeline of Events
The Loathsome Carpetbagger.jpg
The Loathsome Carpetbagger, 1872

Reconstruction Timeline History
Reconstruction Timeline History.jpg
Southern perception of Union Reconstruction of the South

(Left) "The Rail Splitter Repairing the Union" — a political cartoon of Vice President Andrew Johnson, who was the only US senator from the South who refused to resign during the Civil War, and President Abraham Lincoln during Reconstruction in 1865. Cartoon shows Andrew Johnson, then considered a traitor by most Southerners, sitting atop a globe, dictating Reconstruction terms to Lincoln while attempting to stitch together the map of the United States with needle and thread. Lincoln responds by saying that "A few more stitches Andy and the good old Union will be mended." (Right) The carpetbagger was an unscrupulous opportunist from the Northern states who went to the South after the Civil War to profit from Reconstruction. Similar to the carpetbagger, the scalawag was a white Southerner -- usually a local -- who collaborated with Northern Republicans (often called Radical Republicans) during Reconstruction for personal gain. The term was also used derisively by white Southern Democrats who opposed Reconstruction legislation. Although Gen. Sherman coined the phrase that war is all hell, the carpetbagger and scalawag had to continually look over his shoulders because most Southerners were now eager with an opportunity to assist in filling the hot place.

Ruins, Rubble, and Reconstruction in Richmond
Richmond Reconstruction.jpg
Because of Civil War, the Confederate capital of Richmond lay in ruins and rubble. April 1865.

(About) As a result of Civil War, the large Southern city was generally a target, including Richmond, which was hemorrhaging from high casualties and a decimated infrastructure. Rural areas in the South were known for agriculture, but absent manpower, including slaves, farms eroded and became large lots overrun with brush, weeds, and small trees. Most men from the local community often enlisted in the same company or regiment, and when the unit was in battle, a single volley fired from an artillery piece often spelled disaster for entire families and communities alike. After the war, with little if any available manpower, widows and orphans often cleared and tended a meager parcel in an attempt to grow and harvest their necessary sustenance. While a poor yield or an illness in the family generally defined disaster, Reconstruction and Civil Rights Acts were rarely given much thought. Surviving the four year war was a partial victory, but to battle Reconstruction and Civil Rights Acts, and carpetbaggers and scalawags, that was for folks that already had  enough   to sustain that was necessary to for
removed the  and then raked with canister from an artillery battery, it  of  When the war concluded, several communities had lost nearly all their men due to military service.
lots, were neglected, overgrown, inhabited by deserters, raided by guerrillas, -- with most of the men wearing Confederate gray -- local men who were on the battlefield,  and  subjected to the average farms overgrown because they lacked manpower   during the Civil War as well as

  Summer 1865:  President Johnson implements his reconstruction plan. It offers general amnesty to those taking an oath of future loyalty, although high-ranking Confederate officials and wealthy Confederates have to petition the president for individual pardons. The plan also requires states to ratify the 13th Amendment which prohibits slavery and to repudiate Confederate debts.  
  December 1865:  Congress refuses to recognize the state governments reconstructed under Johnson’s plan. Republicans are disturbed by the reluctance of white Southerners to ratify the 13th Amendment, their refusal to grant voting rights to black men, their enactment of black codes which limit the rights and liberties of blacks, and their election of former Confederates, such as Confederate Vice President Alexander Stephens, to state and national offices.  
  February 1866:  Congress passes the Freedmen’s Bureau Act, which extends the temporary agency’s life indefinitely and gives the military the responsibility of protecting the civil rights of black Americans in the former Confederate states. President Johnson vetoes the bill, surprising many Republicans.  
  April 1866:  Congress enacts the Civil Rights Act of 1866. It grants citizenship to all persons born or naturalized in the United States, and guarantees them equal rights under the law. The statute makes it a federal crime, punishable by fine and imprisonment, to deprive any person of his or her civil rights. Judicial authority over the act is assigned to the federal courts. President Johnson vetoes the bill, but Congress overrides the veto and the bill becomes law.  
  May 1866:  A race riot erupts in Memphis.  
  June 1866:  Congress approves a proposed 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. Its text begins with the first definition of citizenship in the Constitution: all persons born or naturalized in the United States. It thereby attempts to give the citizenship clause of the Civil Rights Act of 1866 more legitimacy and permanency by incorporating it into the Constitution. The amendment also denies states the authority to deprive citizens of their privileges and immunities, the due process of law, or the equal protection of the law.  
  July 1866:  Congress passes the Freedmen’s Bureau Act a second time. President Johnson vetoes it again, but this time Congress overrides his veto.
Congress votes to readmit representatives from Tennessee after that state’s ratification of the 14th Amendment.
A race riot occurs in New Orleans.   
  August - September 1866:  President Johnson, joined by key administration figures, embarks on a speaking tour called the "swing around the circle." The president is trying to build support for the election that fall of politicians sympathetic to his policies. He imprudently, if sarcastically, suggests the execution of leading Radical Republicans and sincerely blames Congress for the New Orleans riot (they blame him). Rumors fly of Johnson’s alleged drunkenness. The tour is a public relations fiasco, undermining popular and Congressional support for the president.  
  Fall 1866:  The Congressional elections are seen as a national referendum on the proposed 14th Amendment. Republicans score a major victory, gaining seats to give them over a two-thirds margin in the next Congress—more than enough to override any presidential vetoes.  
  March 1867:  Congress passes the first Reconstruction Act. The former Confederacy is divided into five military districts under the direction of military officers, who are supported by federal troops. Military courts can be used to try cases involving civil and property rights violations, as well as criminal trials. States have to enact new constitutions that grant voting rights to black men. High-ranking Confederate officials are temporarily barred from political participation. States must ratify the 14th Amendment in order to be represented in Congress. President Johnson vetoes the bill, but Congress overrides the veto. The Southern states, though, refuse to carry out the law.
Congress passes the second Reconstruction Act. It gives the military district commanders directions on holding state constitutional conventions. The president vetoes the bill and Congress overrides his action. The president is forced to implement Congressional reconstruction, but the Johnson administration interprets it as narrowly as possible.

Reconstruction was accompanied with great loss
Reconstruction Timeline and Gettysburg.jpg
Dead Soldiers on Gettysburg Battlefield, July 1, 1863

  July 1867:  Congress enacts the third Reconstruction Act. It affirms the authority of the military district commanders to remove state officials from office.   
  Fall 1867:  The remaining ten unreconstructed states vote to hold constitutional conventions and thus begin the process of reconstruction under the Congressional military plan. At this time there are 15,000 troops in the South—only 1 soldier per 725 inhabitants. By 1870, the number is down to 6,600, falling further to 3,000 by 1876.  
  March 1868:  Congress passes the fourth Reconstruction Act. It allows the proposed state constitutions to be ratified by a simple-majority vote in each state.
The House of Representatives impeaches President Andrew Johnson: Johnson had angered Republicans by his interference with and intransigence on various recontruction policies and the Tenure of Office Act.  
  May 1868:  The Senate votes to acquit Johnson. He remains in office, but is denied renomination by the Democratic party.   
  June 1868:  Congress readmits representatives from seven states: Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, North Carolina, and South Carolina.   
  July 1868:  The 14th Amendment is ratified by the requisite number of states and becomes a part of the U.S. Constitution. It is one of the most consequential additions to the Constitution in American history.  
   November 1868:  Republican Ulysses S. Grant, hero of the Civil War, is elected president over his Democratic rival, Horatio Seymour, the former governor of New York. 
  1869 - 70:  "Redeemer" governments begin to be elected across the South. The majority of white Southern voters replace the biracial Republican state governments, created under Congressional reconstruction, with white-only Democratic state governments, which are sympathetic to the former Confederate cause and opposed to racial equality. In 1869, Tennessee establishes a "redeemer" government, with Georgia, North Carolina, and Virginia following suit in 1870.  
  February 1869:  Congress passes the proposed 15th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. It attempts to shore up the constitutional protection of black voting rights by stipulating that voting rights cannot be denied on the basis of "race, color, or previous condition of servitude." It also gives Congress the enforcement authority through appropriate legislation.  
  April 1869:  The U.S. Supreme Court announces its decision in Texas v. White, upholding the constitutionality of Congressional Reconstruction. In a 5-3 decision, Chief Justice Salmon Chase declares that the Union is "composed of indestructible states," thus making secession illegal; that although Texas had never left the Union, it no longer has a legitimate state government; and Congress has the authority to restore a republican government to the state.  
  Early 1870:  Congress votes to admit representatives from the remaining three unreconstructed states: Mississippi, Texas, and Virginia.  
  March 1870:  The 15th Amendment is adopted by the requisite number of states and becomes part of the U.S. Constitution.  
  May 1870:  Congress enacts the first Enforcement Act to enforce the 14th and 15th Amendments. The law makes the bribing, intimidation, or racial discrimination of voters into federal crimes. The statute also strengthens federal authority against anti-black groups like the Ku Klux Klan by outlawing conspiracies aimed at preventing the exercise of constitutional rights.  
  February 1871:  Congress passes the second Enforcement Act authorizing federal supervision of Congressional elections in cities with populations exceeding 20,000. The South was largely unaffected by this law, however, since there were few cities of that size in the region.  
 April 1871:  In response to President Grant’s request for more federal authority to combat anti-black violence in the South, Congress enacts the Ku Klux Klan Act. It grants the federal government the authority to punish the denial of equal protection or privileges and immunities. In addition, the statute bestows on the president the power to suspend habeas corpus and to use the military against anti-civil rights conspiracies. 
 October 1871:  President Grant, acting under the authority of the Ku Klux Klan Act, imposes martial law  and suspends the writ of habeas corpus in South Carolina.   
  November 1872:  President Grant wins reelection against his Democratic/Liberal Republican opponent, New York Tribune editor Horace Greeley.   
  1873:  A redeemer government is elected in Texas.  
  Fall 1874:  Democrats win control of both houses of Congress for the first time since before the Civil War. Redeemer governments win control in Arkansas and Alabama.   
 March 1875:  The outgoing Republican Congress enacts the Civil Rights Act of 1875, long advocated by Senator Charles Sumner, who died shortly before its passage. It outlaws racial segregation in all public accommodations regulated by law, such as hotels, theaters, steamships, and railroads. The U.S. Supreme Court will rule the law unconstitutional in 1883.  
  1875:  A redeemer government is elected in Mississippi.
   Nov. 1876 - Feb. 1877: Samuel Tilden, the Democratic presidential nominee, wins a narrow majority of the popular vote against Rutherford Hayes, the Republican nominee.  The electoral votes in three states—South Carolina, Florida, and Louisiana—are disputed. They are the only Southern states left with federal troops stationed there under Reconstruction policy. A bipartisan electoral commission is appointed by Congress to settle the controversy. On a party-line vote, it gives all the disputed electoral votes to Hayes, making him president. After his inauguration, President Hayes removes the final federal troops from the three states. 
   1877: After his inauguration, President Hayes removes the remaining federal troops in South Carolina, Florida, and Louisiana from political duty (guarding the statehouses).  Redeemer governments assume power in South Carolina, Florida, and Louisiana. 
Following a bitterly disputed presidential contest between Republican Rutherford B. Hayes and Democrat Samuel Tilden, in which both candidates claim victory, Hayes is declared president. In a back-room political deal, the Republicans agree to abandon Reconstruction policies in exchange for the presidency. Reconstruction policies officially end.  And, although the South had been defeated in Civil War, it claimed that it had won the "War for Reconstruction."

Recommended Reading: Reconstruction: America's Unfinished Revolution, 1863-1877. Review: This "masterful treatment of one of the most complex periods of American history" (New Republic) made history when it was originally published in 1988. It redefined how Reconstruction was viewed by historians and people everywhere in its chronicling of how Americans -- black and white -- responded to the unprecedented changes unleashed by the war and the end of slavery. This "smart book of enormous strengths" (Boston Globe) has since gone on to become the classic work on the wrenching post-Civil War period -- an era whose legacy reverberates still today in the United States. Continued below...

About the Author: Eric Foner, DeWitt Clinton Professor of American History at Columbia University, is the author of numerous works on American history, including Free Soil, Free Labor, Free Men: The Ideology of the Republican Party Before the Civil War; Tom Paine and Revolutionary America; and The Story of American Freedom. He has served as president of both the Organization of American Historians and the American Historical Association, and has been named Scholar of the Year by the New York Council for the Humanities.

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Recommended Reading: A Short History of Reconstruction. Review: In an attempt to document the important issues of reconstruction, Eric Foner compiled his book Reconstruction: America's Unfinished Revolution, 1863-1877. Foner addresses all the major issues leading up reconstruction, and then finishing his book shortly after the end of reconstruction and the election of Rutherford B. Hayes in 1876.  In the preface of his book, Foner discusses the historiography of Reconstruction. He notes that during the early part of the twentieth century many historians considered Reconstruction as one of the darkest periods of American history. Foner notes that this viewpoint changed during the 1960s as revisionists shed new "light" on reconstruction. The revisionists saw Andrew Johnson as a stubborn racist, and viewed the Radical Republicans as "idealistic reformers genuinely committed to black rights." The author notes that recent studies of reconstruction argue that the Radicals were actually quite conservative, and most Radicals held on to their racist views and put up very little fight as the whites once again began to govern the south. Continued below...

Foner initially describes the African-American experience during the Civil War and Reconstruction. He argues that African-Americans were not simply figures that took little or no action in the events of the day, and notes the enlistment of thousands of African-Americans in the Union army during the war. Foner also notes that many of the African-Americans that eventually became civil leaders had at one time served in the Union Army. He states, "For men of talent and ambition, the army flung open a door to advancement and respectability." He notes that as reconstruction progressed, African-Americans were the targets of violence and racism. Foner believes that the transition of slaves into free laborers and equal citizens was the most drastic example of change following the end of the war. He notes how African-Americans were eventually forced to return to the plantations, not as slaves but as share croppers, and were thus introduced to a new form of slavery. He argues that this arrangement introduced a new class structure to the South, and states "It was an economic transformation that would culminate, long after the end of Reconstruction, in the consolidation of a rural proletariat composed of a new owning class of planters and merchants, itself subordinate to Northern financiers and industrialists.” The author illustrates how both blacks and whites struggled to use the state and local governments to develop their own interests and establish their respective place in the evolving social orders. Another theme that he addresses in this excellent study is racism itself and the interconnection of race and class in the South.

Another subject he addresses is the expanded presence of federal authority, as well as a growing idea and commitment to the idea that equal rights belonged to all citizens, regardless of race. Foner shows how both Northern and Southern blacks embraced the power to vote, and, as Reconstruction ended, many blacks saw the loss of suffrage and the loss of freedom. Foner illustrates that because the presence of blacks at the poll threatened the established traditions, corruption increased, which helped to undermine the support for Reconstruction. The former leaders of the Confederacy were barred from political office, who were the regions "natural leaders," a reversal of sympathies took place which portrayed the Southern whites as victims, and blacks unfit to exercise suffrage.

Reconstruction affected the North as well, but argues that it was obviously less revolutionary than it was in the South. Foner notes that a new group of elites surfaced after the war, industrialists and railroad entrepreneurs emerged as powerful and influential leaders alongside the former commercial elite. The Republicans in the North did attempt to improve the lives of Northern blacks. However, there were far fewer blacks in the North, so it was more difficult for blacks to have their agendas and needs addressed in the local legislatures. He states, "Most Northern blacks remained trapped in inferior housing and menial and unskilled jobs." Foner adds that the few jobs blacks were able to acquire were constantly being challenged by the huge influx of European immigrants.

Foner's subject is definitely worthy of his original volume. Reconstruction is a subject that can still be interpreted in several ways, including the revisionist school of thought. Foner, however, seems to be as objective as possible on this subject, and has fairly addressed all major issues that apply.


Recommended Viewing: American Experience - Reconstruction: The Second Civil War (DVD) (175 minutes). Description: Spanning the years from 1863 to 1877, this dramatic mini-series recounts the tumultuous post-Civil War years. America was grappling with rebuilding itself, with bringing the South back into the Union, and with how best to offer citizenship to former slaves. Stories of key political players in Washington are interwoven with those of ordinary people caught up in the turbulent social and political struggles of Reconstruction.


Recommended Reading: Forever Free: The Story of Emancipation and Reconstruction. Description: In Forever Free, Eric Foner, the leading historian of America's Reconstruction Era, reexamines one of the most misunderstood periods of American history: the struggle to overthrow slavery and establish freedom for African Americans in the years before, during, and after the Civil War. Forever Free is extensively illustrated, with visual essays by scholar Joshua Brown discussing the images of the period alongside Foner's text. (From Publishers Weekly: Starred Review.) Probably no period in American history is as controversial, as distorted by myth and as "essentially unknown" as the era of emancipation and Reconstruction, award-winning historian Foner (The Story of American Freedom; Reconstruction; etc.) argues in this dense, rectifying but highly readable account. His analysis of "that turbulent era, its successes and failures, and its long-term consequences up until this very day" addresses the debates among historians, corrects the misrepresentations and separates myth from fact with persuasive data. Continued below…

Foner opens his work with an overview of slavery and the Civil War and concludes with a consideration of the Civil Rights movement and the continuing impact of Reconstruction upon the current political scene, a framework that adds to the clarity of his history of that era, its aftermath and its legacy. Joshua Brown's six interspersed "visual essays," with his fresh commentary on images from slavery through Reconstruction to Jim Crow, buttress Foner's text and contribute to its accessibility. In his mission to illuminate Reconstruction's critical repercussions for contemporary American culture, Foner balances his passion for racial equality and social justice with disciplined scholarship. His book is a valuable, fluid introduction to a complex period.

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