Ethnic Studies 112
24 July 2012 The ideals of President Abraham Lincoln’s Reconstruction plan were noble yet not carried out to their entirety. The act was put into place as an attempt to bring the country back together and give the newly liberated African Americans the ability to make their own way and be a part of American society. The combination of several factors caused the Reconstruction effort to fail. The South’s resistance to change along with the lack of effort by the federal government to enforce the laws put into place during Reconstruction is what ultimately led to the movement’s demise. Previously enslaved African Americans were left without any means to make money or representation in government following their liberation. Plans put into place to assist them were not pursued vigorously enough to make a difference. Reconstruction was meant to provide change for African Americans but was aborted before it could be a success.
President Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation on January 1st, 1863, declaring all slaves held in the rebelling Southern states would henceforth be free (The Emancipation Proclamation). It was added to the Constitution as the 13th amendment. This decree was issued in the midst of the American Civil War as a war tactic to create turmoil in the South. Following the Union’s victory, Lincoln was forced to find ways to assimilate African Americans into a new American society. The addition of the 14th and 15th amendments to the Constitution granted all people born in the United States full citizenship, including the right to vote and run for office, and that these rights could not be taken away based on an individual’s race (The Constitution). These amendments gave African Americans the ability to have representation in government and opened the door for black politicians. The 14th amendment also entailed that Southern states were to be divided into five sections headed by military commanders. These states would be readmitted to the U.S. following ratification of the amendment.
The United States Congress served as advocates for Reconstruction as they passed the 13-15th amendments as well as making decisions to further enable Reconstruction to take course (Spartacus Educational). It passed the Reconstruction Act on March 2nd, 1867, allowing the plan to get off the ground. It overrode vetoes by President Andrew Johnson to pass the 14th amendment and a supplementary Reconstruction Act that stated that elections were to be monitored by the appointed military officials. Unfortunately they did not do enough to see the Reconstruction Act that they passed come to fruition. Southern states were required to acknowledge African Americans’ suffrage as a part of the 14th amendment, but that did not mean that they would be accepting to change. They utilized several methods to effectively disenfranchise African Americans and Republicans alike. To keep African Americans from voting they applied requirements unreachable to African Americans. They installed poll taxes that most African Americans could not pay (Poll Tax). Ludicrous prerequisites were compulsory such as the requirement that an individual’s grandfather must have voted in an election in order for them to cast a vote, which of course excluded African American’s who had just recently been given the right to vote. Unjust tactics like these were employed to keep blacks from voting without interference from their governing military official. Southerners who opposed black suffrage found little resistance in ensuring that African Americans did not have a say in any elections. Southern Democrats also resorted to violence to keep African Americans and Republicans away from the polls. Organizations such as the Ku Klux Klan and the Red Coats were formed to intimidate blacks by violent means. The Klan was a loosely organized group of political and social terrorists who set out to maintain white supremacy