The reconstruction was a time of rebuilding that is considered, by some, to be a time of great progress in terms of race relations and civil rights. Not every shares this vision of the reconstruction as a time of jubilation. Some scholars argue that it was a complete failure. This research will examine both sides of this argument and will determine which is more persuasive.

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Reconstruction: Success or Failure?

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Congressmen from the north were shocked when former Congressional enemies from the south came back to reclaim their seats (Marcus, p. 255). These Southern Congressmen had tainted reputations that would harm them for many years to come. Supposed advanced in Civil Rights, such as the rights of women and blacks to vote was taken back a few steps when language was added to the Constitution prohibiting it (Marcus, p. 459). Blacks had made only the gain that they were no longer slaves, but their rights were by no means equal. Women and blacks would remain suppressed groups for many decades after the reconstruction. In the South, the reconstruction was viewed as more of an insult than the war itself (Marcus, p. 463). They would struggle to maintain control through passing state laws and local ordinances that allowed them to retain the cultural flavor of the South that had existed before the war.

There was a concern the power of the Southern States would allow them to eventually gain control of national interests and once again reinstate their brand of government. Congress felt the need to take safeguards to make certain that this did not happen. For instance, they wanted to pass a law that former Southern states that had succeeded could only be reinstated when a certain percentage of the voters had sworn allegiance to the United States (Marcus, p. 457). There was still a considerable atmosphere of distrust between Northern and Southern States. The Northern states wanted to make certain that they would be able to retain solid control over the direction of the nation.

Blacks and women might not have achieved true equality in the right to vote, but they did gain new political roles. Blacks were admitted to positions in Congress and women would become a new political and social force (Marcus, p. 460). From the standpoint of reuniting the United States geographically, the reconstruction could be considered a success. From the standpoint of abolishing slavery, the reconstruction could be considered a success, at least on the surface. When one looks below the surface of these issues, the reconstruction might be considered a failure. The tenuous relationship between Northern state and former succeeded states of the South represented one of mistrust and caution regarding mechanisms to gain control. In terms of civil rights, slavery was abolished, but the South quickly make it clear that blacks were in no way equal. Women gained more freedom, but they too were far from equal rights. When one looks below the surface of the issues, one could conclude that the reconstruction was only a minimal success at best. It did not achieve all of its goals completely.

  • Marcus, Robert, Burner, David, and Marcus, Anthony. American Firsthand. Boston, Massachusetts: Bedford/St. Martin’s. 2009.