The Five Phases of Reconstruction

The Reconstruction Era was the time period immediately following the Civil War where an effort was made to rebuild the war-devastated South. During this period, several key events moved freedmen (former slaves) toward, and in some cases away from full citizenship (equality with whites). African Americans often gained rights only to have them limited or taken away. The reconstruction era is divided into five phases (stages).

Þ First phase: Presidential Reconstruction

President Andrew Johnson’s reconstruction had two main aims. The first, was that the southern states had to create new governments that were loyal to the Union and respected federal authority. Second was that slavery had to be abolished (destroyed completely) once and for all. President Johnson’s reconstruction required former Confederate states to ratify (approve) the Thirteenth Amendment before they could rejoin the Union. This amendment was the first of the three Reconstruction Amendments adopted following the Civil War.

Þ Second phase: Congressional Reconstruction

In 1865, President Johnson announced the Reconstruction was over and that the southern states were ready to rejoin the Union. Republican leaders in Congress did not agree with him and started their own version of Reconstruction resulting in Johnson’s impeachment (removal from office). This allowed Republicans in Congress to pass more radical (extreme) programs to assure complete rights for African Americans. They believed that the South would not be reconstructed until freedmen were granted full rights of citizenship. The Civil Rights Act of 1866 that said freedmen were full citizens with the same right as whites. The fourteenth Amendment made former slaves citizens with full rights and the Military Reconstruction Act declared that new state governments in the former Confederacy had to be elected (chosen) by both blacks and whites.

Þ Third phase: Southern Reconstruction

Southern Reconstruction came when African Americans gained the right to vote under the Fifteenth Amendment which protected the right of African American males to vote. These new voters elected other African Americans into office. This resulted in about a fifth of all office holders (person filling a governmental position) in the South being African American and increased freedmen’s representation in the new government. The New State Constitutions guaranteed the right to vote to every adult male, ended imprisonment for debt, and called for the establishment of public schools in the South.

Þ Fourth phase: The End of Reconstruction

Many whites in the South resented the southern Reconstruction governments and hated the fact that these governments had been forced on them by Northerners and that they allowed former slaves to vote and hold public office. This resentment led to the rise of white terrorist groups, such as the Ku Klux Klan. In 1877, an end would be declared to Reconstruction and white southerners would regain power in southern governments. The Ku Klux Klan was a secret society of whites formed to drive African Americans out of political life. The Enforcement Acts made it illegal to prevent another person from voting by bribery, force, or intimidation but he Amnesty Act of 1872 permitted former Confederates to vote, which allowed whites to regain control of most Southern states. The Compromise of 1877 removed federal troops from the South and returned rule throughout the South to former slave owners.