Lesson Plan 9 | Reconstruction (1863-1877)


President Lincoln, in his reelection bid in 1864, chose a Democrat, Andrew Johnson, as his running mate to show national unity after the bitter Civil War. Not only was Andrew Johnson a Democrat, but he also represented the Confederate state of Tennessee in the U.S. Senate. By choosing a Southern Democrat, Lincoln hoped to show the South that it would be dealt fairly and humanly once the war was over. The decision won over his party at the time. After the assassination of President Lincoln, President Johnson did not follow through with Lincoln’s policies after taking office in 1865.

Johnson believed in slavery and blamed the planter class for the Civil War, but convinced that only the planter class could restore the South. The South lacked industrial manufacturing. Devastated by war, their currency had no value, crops were destroyed, and the planter class decimated. With Congress in recess, Johnson implemented his reconstruction policy.

 “Reconstruction was a time of momentous changes in American political and social life. In the aftermath of slavery’s demise, the federal government guaranteed equality before the law of all citizens, black as well as white. In the South, former masters and former slaves struggled to shape the new labor systems that arose from the ashes of slavery, and new institutions – black churches, public schools, and many others – redefined the communities of both blacks and whites and relations between them. However, no development during the turbulent years that followed the Civil War marked so dramatic a break with the nation’s traditions, or aroused such bitter hostility for the Reconstruction’s opponents, as the appearance of large numbers of black Americans in public office only a few years after the destruction of slavery.

Before the Civil War, blacks did not form part of America’s “political nation.” Black officeholding was unknown in the slave South and virtually unheard of in the free states as well. Four years before the outbreak of the Civil War, the Supreme Court decreed in the Dred Scott case that no black person could be a citizen of the United States. In 1860, only five Northern states, all with tiny black populations, allowed black men to vote on the same terms as white.

During Presidential Reconstruction (1865 – 67), voting and elective office in the South continued to be restricted to whites, although a handful of blacks became appointed to local offices and federal patronage posts. Black officeholding began in earnest in 1867, when Congress ordered the election of new Southern governments under suffrage rules that did not discriminate based on race. By 1877, after the last Radical Reconstruction governments ended, around 2,000 black men held federal, state, and local public offices, ranging from a member of Congress to justice of the peace.  Although much reduced after the abandonment of Reconstruction, black office-holding continued to the turn of the century, when most Southern blacks became disenfranchised. The next large group of black officials emerged in urban centers of the North, a product of the Great Migration that began during the World War I. Not until the passage of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 did significant numbers of black Southerners again hold public office.”   Freedom’s Lawmakers, by Eric Foner


  • To examine the experiment of interracial democracy
  • To study the Emancipation Proclamation, January 1, 1863
  • To understand Lincoln’s Ten Percent Plan
  • To examine the Wade – Davis Bill 
  • To study the effects of the Freedmen’s Bureau
  • To contrast Andrew Johnson Presidential Reconstruction 1865 – 1867 with Congressional Reconstruction Efforts
  • The effect of Black Codes on the South
  • To examine the Civil Rights Act of 1875, Robert B. Elliott (The Shackle is Broken)
  • To Read black leaders speeches on the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1875
  • Compare carpetbaggers and scalawags
  • The rise of the Ku Klux Klan
  • The Compromise of 1877
  • To understand the effect of the collapse of Reconstruction on black leadership

Time: Approximately four to five class periods


  • The content of the Black Codes
  • Freedmen’s Bureau analysis
  • Congressional Speeches of black leaders – like Robert B. Elliot -  who help pass the Civil Rights Act of 1875
  • Illustration The Shackle Broken – By The Genus of Freedom
  • Illustrations of prominent black leaders during Reconstruction

Background Information:

Many authors wrote about this eventful period of Reconstruction and some books are slanted according to the viewpoints of the author. The unsuccessful experiment in interracial democracy was a watershed moment in our history.  Nowhere in our history did the percentage of so many blacks occupy the responsibilities of governance on the local, state, and national levels, as they did in some of the Southern states during Reconstruction. We will examine this experiment in interracial democracy from the Ten Percent Plan to the collapse of Reconstruction and its effect on black leadership.

Eric Foner writes in Freedom’s Lawmakers (1996), “Today, of the nation’s approximately 350,000 elected officials, 7,480 (or 2 percent) are black Americans, including 436 state legislators (the majority in states of the North and West) and mayors of some of the nation’s largest cities.  It is safe to say, however, that nowhere do black officials as a group exercise the political power that they enjoyed in at least some Southern states during Reconstruction. I hope that Freedom’s Lawmakers not only offers new information about the years after the Civil War but helps to bring to life the forgotten protagonists in the nation’s most remarkable experiment in interracial democracy.” (Freedom’s Lawmakers contains 1,510 collective biographies of black officeholders during Reconstruction)

Emancipation Proclamation, January 1, 1863; Thomas Nast, Harper’s Weekly
 Emancipation Proclamation, January 1, 1863; Thomas Nast, Harper’s Weekly 

"The Emancipation Proclamation culminated the antislavery movement. President Abraham Lincoln promulgated the act on January 1, 1863, in the midst of the Civil War. At the top of his cartoon celebrating this event, Nast links emancipation to patriotism with the cheering female figure of Columbia, an early symbol of the United States. As he seeks to answer those who utilized racism to oppose abolition, Nast predicts that free (and northern) institutions will make self-reliant, respectable, and cheerful workers of the formerly brutalized slaves. At the bottom right-center, a plantation owner treats his workers with respect, tipping his hat to them, in contrast to whip-wielding master pursuing a runaway slave opposite. But also note that Nast assumes that freedmen will continue to work as farm laborers who remove their hats completely in respect to their employers. As laborers, they will remain subordinate, while planters will learn that fair treatment will make their workers more reliable and productive."

The Great Negro Emancipation,  “Sensation among ‘our colored brethren’
The Great Negro Emancipation,  “Sensation among ‘our colored brethren’ on ascertaining that the Grand Performance to which they had invited on New Year’s Day was unavoidably postponed to the year 1900!”  Harper’s Weekly, December 20, 1862.  From the Civil War Timeline at http://blackhistory.harpweek.com

Abraham Lincoln had been cautious about emancipation. Before becoming president, he had insisted that there be no federal authority to abolish slavery in states where it already existed. His goal was to stop its spread into the Western territories.

Once the Civil War began, President Lincoln rescinded an emancipation order issued by Union General John C. Frémont in Missouri. The president feared that the border states (slave states still loyal to the Union: Missouri, Kentucky, Maryland, and Delaware) might join the Confederacy. He did make several unsuccessful attempts to convince the border states to free their slaves on a plan of gradual, compensated emancipation.

In August 1862, Horace Greeley, radical editor of the New York Tribune, chastised the president in a widely-read editorial for dragging his feet on emancipation. In an open letter to Greeley, Lincoln responded that if freeing the slaves would help win the war, he would do it, but if not freeing the slaves would help win the war, he would do that.

Lincoln and his cabinet knew that he planned to issue an emancipation order following the next major Union victory. Therefore, after Confederate General Robert E. Lee’s invasion of the North was repelled at the battle of Antietam in September 1862, Lincoln issued his Preliminary Emancipation Proclamation.

The document declared that if the Confederacy did not cease its rebellion by the first of the year, then all the slaves in the Confederate-held territory would be freed. It excluded slaves in the Union border states and Southern areas controlled by the Union military on that date. The policy, aimed at inducing the Confederacy to surrender rather than lose their slaves, was based on what Lincoln considered to be a president’s augmented constitutional authority during a national emergency.

The Confederacy did not take the offer, so the Emancipation Proclamation went into effect on January 1, 1863. Thereafter, the federal forces had two war aims: to restore the union, and free the slaves. As the Union military forces advanced across the South, thousands of slaves became free.

The Great Negro Emancipation cartoon was published in Harper's Weekly after the Emancipation Proclamation was announced, but before it took effect. It criticizes Lincoln’s emancipation policies by poking fun at his previous advocacy of gradual emancipation and anticipating that he will turn the Emancipation Proclamation into a plan for gradual emancipation. The cartoon manifests the fears of some that the president would not carry out the new policy. The figure viewed from the back, reading the poster, is Horace Greeley ("HG N York").

Lincoln’s Ten Percent Plan 

“The national debate over Reconstruction began during the Civil War. On what terms should the defeated Confederacy be reunited with the Union? Who should establish these terms, Congress or the President? What should be the place of blacks in the political and social life of the South? These were the questions on which Reconstruction persistently turned, and they acquired increasing urgency as Emancipation became a Union war aim in 1863.

In December of that year, President Abraham Lincoln announced the first comprehensive program for Reconstruction, the Ten Percent Plan. The plan offered a pardon to all southerners, except Confederate leaders, who took an oath affirming loyalty to the Union and support for emancipation. When 10 percent of a state’s voters had made such an oath, they could establish a new state government. To Lincoln, the plan was more an attempt to weaken the Confederacy than a blueprint for the postwar South. Although found in Union-occupied Arkansas, Louisiana, Tennessee, and Virginia, none of the new governments achieved broad support or recognized by Congress. Many Republicans deemed Lincoln’s plan too lenient. In 1864, Congress enacted (and Lincoln pocket vetoed) the Wade-Davis bill, which proposed to delay the formation of new southern governments until a majority of voters had taken a loyalty oath. Some Republicans, moreover, were already convinced that equal rights for former slaves must accompany the South’s readmission to the Union. In his last speech, in April 1865, Lincoln himself expressed the view that some southern blacks ought to enjoy the right to vote.” (The Readers Companion to American History, by Eric Foner & John A. Garraty)

Wade-Davis Bill, 1864

The Republican Congress divided into three groups: the Radicals who favored the immediate eradication of slavery and full citizenship for blacks; the conservatives who favored gradual emancipation; and, the moderates who favored emancipation with reservations. Two Radical Republicans, Ohio senator Benjamin F. Wade and Maryland representative Henry W. Davis, proposed an alternative to Lincoln’s Ten Percent Plan. The Wade-Davis bill proposed to delay Reconstruction until a majority of white males pledged to support the federal Constitution and guarantee black equality. Then they would recognize or seat the new Representatives. Congress passed the bill in 1864 but Lincoln pocket-vetoed it. (An indirect veto by the president by retaining the bill unsigned until it is too late to be dealt during the legislative session.)

Lincoln then invited southerners to rejoin the Union under either plan; obviously, they chose Lincoln’s Ten Percent plan. Wade and Davis issued a “manifesto” accusing Lincoln of acting like a dictator. Congress supported the Wade-Davis bill because they wanted more of a role in shaping Reconstruction policy. The common thread that brought the factions of the Republican party together was more binding than their differences, so there was not an irreparable breach between these different factions. The assassination of Lincoln would soon change that relationship when Democratic President Johnson assumed office.

Benjamin F. Wade (Gilder Lehrman Collection)

Henry W. Davis (Library of Congress)

Guiding Questions:
  • Why do you think that President Lincoln offered the more lenient Ten Percent Plan to the southerners?
  • What did the Wade-Davis Bill hope to achieve?
  • What did President Lincoln do with the Wade-Davis bill?  What did he offer the southerners?

President Reconstruction v. Congressional Reconstruction

When General Lee surrendered in April 1865, there was no plan that the Union had for a Reconstruction policy. Lincoln’s successor, Andrew Johnson, outlined plans for the South’s readmission while Congress was out of session. His Presidential Reconstruction period (1865 -1867), offered a pardon for southern whites but not the Confederate leaders and the wealthy planters. However, most of these leaders and planters did receive a pardon anyway. Johnson also appointed interim governors, outlined steps whereby new state governments were established and returned federal land to the ex-Confederates. He did require abolishment of slavery, repudiation of succession and to abrogate the Confederate debt. All the southern governments had a free hand in managing their affairs as Johnson became convinced that only the planter class could restore the South. It was not long before southern elections restored the elite to power and the North turned against the Presidential Reconstruction.

“When Congress assembled in December 1865, Radical Republicans like Thaddeus Stevens and Charles Sumner called for the abrogation of the Johnson governments and the establishment of new ones based on equality before the law and manhood suffrage. But the more numerous moderate Republicans hoped to work with Johnson while modifying his program. Congress refused to seat the congressmen and senators elected from the southern states and in early 1866 passed and sent to Johnson the Freedmen’s Bureau and civil rights bills. The first extended the life of an agency Congress had created in 1865 to oversee the transition from slavery to freedom. The second defined all persons born in the United States as national citizens and spelled out rights they were to enjoy equally without regard to race – making contracts, bringing lawsuits, and enjoying 'full and equal benefit of all laws and proceedings for the security of person and property.'

As the first statutory definition of the rights of American citizenship, the civil rights bill embodied a profound change in federal-state relations. Traditionally, citizens’ rights had been delineated and protected by the states. Less than a decade earlier, Chief Justice Roger A. Taney, in the Dred Scott decision, had announced that a black person could not be a citizen of the United States. Now Congress proposed that the federal government guarantee the principle of equality before the law, regardless of race, against state violation.” (The Reader’s Companion to American History by Eric Foner and John A. Garraty)

President Johnson vetoed these bills and caused an everlasting separation between Congress and the president. Congress was successful in passing the Civil Rights Act despite Johnson’s veto. By 1867, the Radical Republicans grew in influence, and the northern voters rejected Johnson's policies. Most of the South continued to deny the Fourteenth Amendment, so Congress decided to begin anew. The Reconstruction Acts of 1867, known as Congressional Reconstruction, divided the South into five military districts. This Radical or Congressional Reconstruction lasted until the fall of 1877. The Republican party controlled nearly all former Confederate states during this time.

Harper’s Weekly, September 1, 1866, pages 552, 553

"In this and other cartoons, Thomas Nast uses the Memphis and New Orleans riots as symbols of the sustained and egregious violence against blacks committed by Southern whites. The scene of the slavery auction and the lashing underlines the continuity between the pre-war and post-war South. The artist intends to generate opposition to President Andrew Johnson’s lenient Reconstruction plan and, by implication, to build support for the Radical Reconstruction objectives of Congressional Republicans.

Nast applies a Shakespeare motif, as he often did, to cast Johnson as the evil Iago plotting against the heroic and innocent Otello, the Moor (African). Once again, Nast portrays the central black character as a wounded Union veteran who is being denied his just and earned place in the American polity. The artist reminds viewers of the president’s past promises, vetoes of Reconstruction legislation, and pardons of former Confederates.

In the bottom-center picture, Johnson-the-snake-charmer is joined by his top cabinet officials (l-r), Secretary of State William Henry Seward, Secretary of the Navy Gideon Welles, and Secretary of War Edwin Stanton. (Johnson’s later attempt to oust Stanton for working behind the scenes with Congressional Radicals would lead to the president’s impeachment.) The bottom side-panels contrast the situation in New Orleans during the Civil War and during the Johnson administration. On the left (1862), a humbled Confederate soldier must bow to Union General Benjamin Butler; on the right (1866), General Philip Sheridan is forced to submit to the same former Rebel." (Harper’s Weekly, September 1, 1866

Benjamin Butler; on the right (1866), General Philip Sheridan is forced to submit to the same former Rebel. (Harper’s Weekly, September 1, 1866)

The Black Codes, 1865

The North was startled by the ascendancy of the “rebels” and that the fact they enacted Black Codes in their southern legislatures.  The object of Black Codes was to ensure that no blacks became self-sufficient. The laws required blacks to sign work contracts (if they refused, they could be arrested), they could be declared vagrants (if found guilty, they could be “indentured”), their children could be assigned to white employers (“apprentice” laws) who often turned out to be former owners. 

The South sought other ways to limit the freedman’s economic options and reestablish plantation discipline: Blacks were forbidden to enter town without permission; with a permission slip, blacks had to give the nature of the visit and the length of expected stay; and they could be imprisoned if discovered out on the street after 10:00 p.m. without permission. Blacks could not dispute the word of whites, could not make insulting noises or speak disrespectfully or out of turn, must stand at attention when whites passed as well as step aside when a white woman was on the sidewalk. They must always remove their hats in the presence of whites, and states could determine the type of property and skill blacks could possess.

Freedmen did have the legal right to marry, own property, sue in court, but the codes made it illegal for blacks to serve on juries, testify against whites, or serve in state militias. Blacks resisted the implementation of these laws, and therefore, the North became less supportive of Johnson’s policies.

Guiding Questions:
  • What conditions made it possible for President Andrew Johnson to create his Presidential Reconstruction policies?
  • What conditions did he offer the South?
  • What group did Johnson put in control of the Southern government? Why?
  • How did the Presidential Reconstruction compare to Congressional Reconstruction? 
  • What did Thomas Nast want his viewers to understand about the differences of Presidential and Congressional Reconstruction?
  • How effective do you think Nast was in his symbolism in the political cartoon. Can you tell which plan he supported by studying the cartoon?
  • What were the Black Codes? How did they restrict the freedom of blacks?

Freedmen’s Bureau 1865 – 1872

Congress established the Bureau of Refugees, Freedmen and Abandoned Lands in 1865 to assist in the reconstruction of the South and to aid former slaves and impoverished Southern whites. Administered by the War Department, its purpose was to be a temporary institution and not a long-term guardianship for former slaves. The Bureau was to distribute clothing, food, medical care, fuel, and legal representation to destitute freedmen as well as help private aid societies to establish nearly three thousand schools by 1869. The Bureau was also responsible for protecting freedmen and women from terrorization and assaults by Southern whites.

The Freedmen’s Bureau came out of the American Freemen’s Inquiry Commission; its three members consisted of Samuel Howe, James McKaye and Robert Owen. These men visited the Union-occupied South and made recommendations which included the confiscation and redistribution of the planters’ land to the slaves. The Bureau appeared to promise permanently confiscated and abandoned property to the slaves – it was authorized to divide forty-acre plots for rental to freedmen and later eventual sale with “such title as the United States can convey.” An ambiguous legal offer at best.

The Freedmen’s Bureau set up offices in major cities in the Southern and border states as well as the District of Columbia. The Bureau was under-funded by Congress and opposed by Democratic President Andrew Johnson. Congress sustained a veto by President Johnson to extend the life of the Freedmen’s Bureau in 1866. 

Summary: One in a series of racist posters attacking Radical Republicans on the issue of black suffrage, issued during the Pennsylvania gubernatorial election of 1866. (See also "The Constitutional Amendment!" no. 1866-5.) The series advocates the election of Hiester Clymer, who ran for governor on a white-supremacy platform, supporting President Andrew Johnson's Reconstruction policies. In this poster, a black man lounges idly in the foreground as one white man plows his field and another chops wood. Accompanying labels are: "In the sweat of thy face shalt thou eat thy bread," and "The white man must work to keep his children and pay his taxes." The black man wonders, "Whar is de use for me to work as long as dey make dese appropriations."
 Above in a cloud is an image of the "Freedman's Bureau! Negro Estimate of Freedom!" The bureau is pictured as a large domed building resembling the U.S. Capitol and is inscribed "Freedom and No Work." Its columns and walls are labeled, "Candy," "Rum, Gin, Whiskey," "Sugar Plums," "Indolence," "White Women," "Apathy," "White Sugar," "Idleness," "Fish Balls," "Clams," "Stews," and "Pies." At right is a table giving figures for the funds appropriated by Congress to support the bureau and information on the inequity of the bounties received by black and white veterans of the Civil War. (Library of Congress)

Guiding Questions:

  • Who were the Radical Republicans? What did they want?
  • How is the freedman depicted in this political poster? What physical characteristics and clothing are used to propagandize the figures in this poster? 
  • Why would Democrats undermine the Freedmen’s Bureau?
  • What words are used to elicit prejudices towards the black man? Explain.  

Examining Primary Sources

The most successful program that the Freedmen’s Bureau established was the bureau’s education policy.  The bureau worked with fifty private aid societies and started three thousand schools by 1869. Many black colleges and universities were established, such as Atlanta University, Howard University, and Morehouse College. The education division of the Freedmen’s Bureau continued until 1870.

Before Reconstruction, it had been a crime to teach slaves to read. After the Civil War, schools were overflowing. Literate black men and women opened additional schools to meet the demand of these students.

Photograph 1
Freedmen’s colonies offered education for children and adults
     Freedmen’s colonies offered education for children and adults. (National Park Service, Fort Raleigh National Historic Site)

Photograph 2
The Bureau helped support schools like this one at James’ Plantation, North Carolina to educate newly freed children.
The Bureau helped support schools like this one at James’ Plantation, North Carolina to educate newly freed children. (Learn NC, University of North Carolina)

Photograph 3
Georgia’s freed slaves demanded a formal education.

Photograph 4

Guiding Questions:
  • Compare photograph 1 and 2. What differences do you see when comparing the two photos?
  • What are the ages of the participants in photos 3 and 4? Who are the teachers in the photos?
  • What can you tell about the interest in education by looking at all the pictures?

Forty Acres and a Mule

When General William T. Sherman and his 60,000 troops captured Atlanta in September 1864, he added additional vagueness to the slave land question. Thousands of slaves abandoned the plantations to follow General Sherman. Slaves cheered the devastation of the plantations and declined to obey Sherman’s orders when the troops tried to drive them away.  General Sherman wrote, “They flock to me, old and young, they pray and shout and mix my name up with Moses and Simon…as well as ‘Abram Linkom,’ the Great Messiah of ‘Dis Jubilee.’" (Memoirs of General W. T. Sherman, New York, 1891)

On January 12, 1865, after consulting with black leaders, mostly Baptist and Methodist ministers, General Sherman was told that the former slaves’ conception of freedom defined as “placing us where we could reap the fruit of our labor.” Four days later Sherman issued Field Order NO. 15 which set apart the Sea Islands and a portion of low country rice coast south of Charleston for select settlement of blacks. Each family was to receive 40 acres of land and Sherman later provided slaves with the loan of a mule. This Field Order NO. 15 was not seen as a transformation of the South, but merely a way to alleviate a large number of poor blacks that were following his army. According to Sherman, these land grants were supposed to be, ”temporary provisions for the freedmen and their families during the rest of the war.” (Reconstruction: America’s Unfinished Revolution, by Eric Foner, published 1988)

General Rufus Saxton was ordered to oversee Field Order 15, and he complicated the situation by instructing a large order of blacks that they were to be permanently assigned land where their families could work for themselves. Baptist minister Ulysses Houston led 1,000 blacks to Skidway Island, Georgia, and became the governor of this successful black community of 40,000 freedmen.

Examining Illustrations:

General William T. Sherman’s “total war” was a military tactic that grasped the brutal logic that civilian morale and economic resources were just as important as the enemies’ military targets. His army cut off supplies, destroyed their communications, and he refused to sentimentalize the killing and pillaging required for victory, which likely hastened the end of the war. He wanted to free his army from the impediment of thousands of black refugees, so he issued Special Field Order No. 15. Examine the following illustrations for discussion of General William T. Sherman’s “march to the sea.”

Illustration 1

Illustration 2

Illustration 3

Guiding Questions:
  • How did the confusion begin about the offer of “forty acres and a mule? What did General William T. Sherman hope to accomplish in the short term?
  • In illustration 1, what are General Sherman’s foragers doing?
  • In illustration 2, what is General Sherman’s army targeting? What was his tactic for doing so?
  • What are the slaves doing in Illustration 2? Can you find four locations where slaves are represented?
  • Explain what is happening in Illustration 3.
  • Do you think General William T. Sherman used justified tactics in his “march to the sea?” Explain.

Thirteenth Amendment: (1865) This amendment explicitly banned slavery and involuntary servitude in the United States. An exception made for the punishment of a crime. (Freedom did not immediately come with the ratification of this amendment nor with the end of the Civil War.  Only the institution of slavery died in 1865, blacks in the South would continue to be exploited, oppressed and segregated well into the 20th century).  

Founding of KKK: (1866)

Confederate General Nathan Bedford Forest, founded KKK in 1866
Confederate General Nathan Bedford Forest, founded KKK in 1866

During Reconstruction, fundamental civil rights for black Americans enacted into the U.S. Constitution with the 13th, 14th, and 15th Amendments. The Federal government required all states to ratify them in the North and the former Confederate States. A political reaction developed exclusively in the South with intimidation and physical violence against black and white Republicans alike; they were beaten, threatened, shot, and murdered. The primary objective of the KKK was to restore white supremacy. Other paramilitary groups with strong-arm tactics were: The White League, Red Shirts, Knights of the White Camelia, and the White Brotherhood. These organizations had a unity of purpose serving as military forces of the Democratic Party, the planter class, of the South.

The Ku Klux Klan was founded in 1866, in Tennessee, as a social club by Confederate General Nathan Bedford Forrest and quickly spread to nearly every Southern state.  Ku Klux Klan curtailed the political influence of the Republican Party in the black community, and its sole purpose was to break down the Republican government and pave the way for Democrats to regain control in the elections with a platform of white racial superiority.  The Klan only offered relief if individuals promised not to vote for Republican tickets or stayed away from the polls altogether. 

Guiding Questions:

How effective do you think the 13th Amendment was in freeing the slaves?
How effective was the KKK in destroying the Republican party’s influence in the South? What          measures did the KKK and other paramilitary groups use to intimidate blacks?
How active were other paramilitary groups in keeping blacks in “their place?”


“Northerners who moved south after the Civil War were called “carpetbaggers” by critics who claimed they carried all of their possessions in one bag (luggage made of carpeting). Most were educated people, ranging from business and political leaders to former soldiers. Some northern blacks, whose greater experience with freedom sometimes put them at odds with the goals of the newly freed people, also went south after the war.

Many carpetbaggers sought to invest in abandoned or repossessed lands and in partnerships with planters. Although at times they met with violence, ostracism, or derision because of their racial views, most capital-starved southerners seeking to rebuild their economy accepted them eagerly. At the height of Radical Reconstruction in 1867, some were also active in political and social reform. Because few southerners joined the Republican party, carpetbaggers won the lion’s share of southern political offices.

The carpetbaggers sought to modernize the southern economy through railroad building and other internal improvements. After the compromise of 1877, many of them, who had relied upon federal patronage, returned to the North or moved quietly into southern society.” (The Reader’s Companion to American History by Eric Foner and John A. Garraty)

This editorial cartoon by James Albert Wales shows a northern “carpetbagger” accompanied by Union soldiers. The heavy bag nearly crushes the “Solid South” on which it sits, suggesting the North's determination to destroy the former Confederacy. (
This editorial cartoon by James Albert Wales shows a northern “carpetbagger” accompanied by Union soldiers. The heavy bag nearly crushes the “Solid South” on which it sits, suggesting the North's determination to destroy the former Confederacy. (Know Louisiana; http://www.knowlouisiana.org/entry/carpetbaggers-and-scalawags)

The Fate of the carpetbagger and scalawag: A cartoon that the KKK would lynch carpetbaggers.
The Fate of the carpetbagger and scalawag: A cartoon that the KKK would lynch carpetbaggers.
 (Tuscaloosa, Alabama, Independent Monitor, 1868)


"During the period of Congressional Reconstruction after the Civil War (1867 – 1876), southern white Republicans called “scalawags” were considered traitors by many white southerners for supporting the party that had led the fight against the Confederacy and had now placed the defeated South under military rule. The fact that most southern Republicans were former slaves and free blacks and that others in the party were newcomers from the North (whom the southern conservatives called “carpetbaggers”) made the scalawags’ behavior seem even more disloyal. 

For many years, historians accepted the conservatives’ view that most scalawags were corrupt opportunists, the dregs of southern society. More recent analysis, however, has shown that they represented a much broader variety of backgrounds and motivations. Some undoubtedly were careerists: some were up-country yeoman farmers who had contested the domination of the planter aristocracy for decades; others were planters themselves, often former Whigs who had opposed secession but fought for the South once the war was declared. Moreover, though many scalawag officials were guilty of corruption, their political practices do not appear to have differed significantly from those of their opponents or of their contemporaries in other sections of the country.

With many former Confederates disfranchised and with freedmen hesitant at first to assert political leadership, the scalawags took the lead initially in establishing and administering the Republican state Government. Factionalism soon grew within the party, however, setting blacks against whites, carpetbaggers against scalawags, planters against men from the upcountry, and businessmen against farmers. In general, the scalawags supported a policy moderate reform, which they hoped would win over white southern Democrats. They stressed economic development and advocated only the most gradual increase in blacks’ political and civil status. The freedmen, on the other hand (often supported by the carpetbaggers), pressed for more rapid social improvements for enhanced civil rights provisions, and, most notably, for appointing more blacks to public office.

Convinced that such policies would doom the Republicans, the scalawags began to withdraw from the party. As their numbers diminished, the pressure on the remainder to leave became greater. Their departure was speeded as well by widespread intimidation and violence aimed at both black and white Republicans. The most flagrant of these actions were often carried out by groups like the Ku Klux Klan, but the increasing emphasis on white supremacy within the Democratic party exerted its own pressure, ranging from threats of social and economic ostracism to the most naked demands for racial solidarity. Beset by factionalism, economic crises, and white hostility, the southern Republicans were further weakened by the fact that they received hardly any support from the federal government. Within a few years, many of the scalawags had withdrawn from politics or returned to the Democratic party. By 1876 the Democrats had regained control of every southern state."  (The Reader’s Companion to American History by Eric Foner and John A. Garraty)

Harper’s Weekly, 1866; Nine men, called scalawags, at "Secret Meeting of Southern Unionists."
Harper’s Weekly, 1866; Nine men, called scalawags, at "Secret Meeting of Southern Unionists." (Library of Congress) 

Guiding Questions:
  • How were the goals of the carpetbaggers different from the scalawags’ goals in the South? 
  • Why do you think the South used these pejorative terms, carpetbaggers, and scalawags, during Reconstruction?
  • Why were the scalawags considered even more disloyal than the carpetbaggers?
  • Which group took the lead in political leadership in the South?
  • What events caused the factionalism in the South for the Republican state governments? 
  • What white supremacy groups used intimidation and violence aimed at both black and white Republicans?

Fourteenth Amendment: (1868) This amendment set the definitions and rights of citizenship in the United States. Anyone born or naturalized in the U.S. is a citizen of the U.S. and the state in which they live. It also confirmed the right for due process, life, liberty, and property. It banned any person who had engaged in insurrection or rebellion against the U.S. from holding civil or military office.  Finally, it declared that the United States would assume no debt undertaken by the Confederacy. (This overturned the Dred Scott v. Sanford (1857) Supreme Court ruling that stated that black people were not eligible for citizenship).

Freedmen’s Bureau Ended (1868) 

The Freedman’s Bureau, Harper’s Weekly, July 25, 1868 

In July 1868, Congress essentially ended the existence of the Freedmen's Bureau, a temporary federal agency established to provide basic relief to emancipated slaves.  Cartoonist A. R. Waud honors its three years of service by portraying it as the necessary line of defense protecting black Southerners from their hostile white neighbors.

In February 1862, George William Curtis, an abolitionist, and columnist for Harper's Weekly, wrote Treasury Secretary Salmon Chase suggesting the creation of a federal agency to assist the former slaves crossing into Union territory.  It was an idea already eagerly discussed among abolitionists, and Curtis publicly promoted it in his “Lounger” column in the March 1, 1862 issue of Harper's Weekly.  He placed such importance on the issue that he addressed it again in the first issue of the newspaper in which he assumed responsibility as an editorial writer, December 26, 1863.  Curtis and his father-in-law, Francis Shaw, president of the philanthropic Freedmen’s Relief Association, helped Senator Charles Sumner of Massachusetts draft the Freedmen’s Bill to establish the Freedmen’s Bureau.  

Radical Republicans like Curtis wanted the agency in the Treasury Department under the abolitionist Chase.  Others wanted it positioned within the War Department, so passage of the legislation was delayed until after Chase resigned in 1864.  On March 3, 1865, Congress created the Bureau of Refugees, Freedmen, and Abandoned Lands, commonly known as the Freedmen’s Bureau.  The final version of the bill established a temporary agency within the War Department, under the direction of General Oliver Otis Howard.  

The law granted relief to black and white persons displaced by the Civil War but was aimed at assisting the freed slaves in their transition from enslavement to liberty.  The freed slaves were provided basic shelter and medical care, assistance in labor-contract negotiation and the establishment of schools, and similar services.  The Freedmen's Bureau was the first federal agency dedicated to social welfare.

In February 1866, Congress passed a second Freedmen’s Bureau Act, which extended the temporary agency’s life for two years and gave the United States Army the responsibility of protecting the civil rights of black Americans in the former Confederate states.  President Andrew Johnson, however, vetoed the bill.  Although Congress had rejected Johnson's Reconstruction program in 1865 as too lenient, many Republicans were surprised by the president's veto.  It was the beginning, though, of an increasingly acrimonious relationship between the Democratic president and the Republican Congress over the shape and control of Reconstruction in the postwar South.

That spring, President Johnson sent Generals John Steedman and Joseph Fullerton on a tour of the South to gather information in an effort to discredit the Freedmen’s Bureau.  Southern blacks, however, expressed strong support for the continued presence of the Freemen’s Bureau in the South, believing that it gave them necessary aid and, especially, protection.  In one case, when General Steedman offered a crowd of 800 blacks a hypothetical choice between the Freedmen’s Bureau and the United States Army, the audience overwhelmingly chose the Bureau.  In July 1866, Congress passed the Freedmen’s Bureau Act a second time.  President Johnson vetoed it again, but Congress was able to override his veto, and it became law.

The Freedmen's Bureau helped Southern blacks build schools and churches, enforced civil rights and due process, facilitated the reunion of families separated by slavery, and allocated basic necessities of food and shelter until recipients could provide for themselves.  Yet, for all the good that it did, the agency's effectiveness was hampered by several obstacles.  During most of its three years of existence, it never had sufficient funding or personnel (at its peak, it only had 900 agents throughout the South).  It also faced opposition from segments of the Southern white population and their political representatives at the local, state, and federal level.  Furthermore, many whites in the North and their congressmen became increasingly uneasy about Reconstruction, and in this case over a federal social program targeting one specific group of Americans.  

On July 6, 1868, Congress passed a law that essentially instructed the Freedmen's Bureau to close up shop.  The federal legislation extended the agency's life to the end of the year but discontinued it in the former Confederate states that were reconstructed (all but three).  On January 1, 1869, General Howard brought most of the agency's activities to a halt.

In an editorial appearing in the same issue as this cartoon, George William Curtis reflected on the vital role the Freedmen's Bureau had played.  "No institution was ever more imperatively necessary, and none has been more useful."  Harper's Weekly editor agreed with cartoonist Waud's perspective that the Freedmen's Bureau had prevented a "war of races" in the postwar South.  The Civil War ended with the slaves freed but left them without resources and hated in the land they knew.  "The Freedmen's Bureau was the conscience and common-sense of the country stepping between the hostile parties and saying to them, with irresistible authority, 'Peace!'"  The agency "stood between the freedmen and starvation and cruel laws, meanwhile giving them arms and schools and civil and political equality, that they might start fair in the common race."  (by Robert C. Kennedy)

Fifteenth Amendment (1870) This amendment prohibited governments from denying U.S. citizens the right to vote based on race, color, or past servitude. There were other methods used to block blacks from voting, such as poll taxes and literacy tests. These methods undermined the Reconstruction Amendments and set the stage for Jim Crow laws and the Civil Rights movement. (Note: Representative George Julian (R-IN) asked for voter’s rights for women and blacks, 1868. It would not be until 1920, with the 19th Amendment, that women had the right to vote.)

The First Vote,” Harper’s Weekly, November 16, 1867, artist is Alfred R. Ward
The First Vote,” Harper’s Weekly, November 16, 1867, artist is Alfred R. Ward, http://blackhistory.harpweek.com.

This illustration shows the newly-franchised citizens of the United States patiently waiting for their turn to vote. Unlike some other contemporary images of blacks, these men: an elderly freed slave; businessman; and soldier; are not depicted as ignorant, unkempt, or lazy, but portrayed as responsible citizens ready to cast their first vote. Their expressions were not defiant, but serious, solemn, and determined - they understood the great privilege of voting.

Guiding Questions:
  • What did the 14th Amendment guarantee? How did it affect the Dred Scott v. Sanford decision?
  • How did the Freedmen’s Bureau attempt to help the newly freed blacks?
  • Why did it fail? What was the Bureau’s most successful program?
  • What did the 15th Amendment guarantee? How did southern Democrats usurp the rights of blacks to vote?
  • How would you characterize the demeanor of each newly franchised voter in Alfred R. Ward’s illustration?

Colored Rule is a Reconstruction (?) State (1874) Harper’s Weekly, March 14, 1874, from The Reconstruction Timeline at  http://blackhistory.harpweek.com.

Document A: Harper’s Weekly Cartoon, Thomas Nast

(The members call each other thieves, liars, rascals, and cowards.)
Columbia.  "You are Aping the lowest Whites.  If you disgrace your Race in this way, you had better take Back Seats."


If we may trust the following report, taken from a recent number of the Charleston News, some of the colored members of the South Carolina Legislature must be men of a very different stamp from the cultivated and able gentleman who represents the State in the Congress of the United States. During a recent debate in the House on the appropriation for the penitentiary, a motion for a reduction of the amount named in the bill led to the following scene:

Minort (colored). "The proposed appropriation is not a whit too large."

Humbert (colored). "The institution ought to be self-sustaining. The member only wants a grab at the money."

Hurley (coming to Minort’s relief). "Mr. Speaker, I rise—"

Humbert (to Hurley). "You shet you mouf, Sah." (Roars of laughter)

Greene (colored). "That thief from Darlington." (A delicate allusion to Humbert.)

Humbert. "If I have robbed anything, I expect to be Ku-Kluxed by just such highway robbers as the member [Greene] from Beaufort. If I get in the penitentiary, I won’t ask for $65,000 to support me."

Greene (to Hurley). "You know as much about it as you do the Governor’s contingent fund."

Hurley. "At least no one has been able, or ever attempted, to refute my charges against the Governor, and his Excellency will not dare deny them."

Greene (colored). "No; but if the Governor were not such a coward, he would have cowhided you before this, or got somebody else to do it."

Hurley. "If the gentleman from Beaufort [Greene] would allow the weapon named to be sliced from his cuticle, I might submit to the castigation."

The next day Mr. Greene attempted to explain that he did not mean to say Governor Moses was a coward.

Greene (rising to a question of privilege). "It was not the Governor to whom I referred, but his aids. What I said was that if the Governor’s aides were not cowards, they would have cowhided Hurley, and if I were a member of the Governor’s staff, I would have done it before this."

Hurley (rising to a counter-question of privilege). "Nobody on the Governor’s staff, nobody he could put on there, not the doughty gentleman from Beaufort, nor the valiant Governor himself, dare undertake to cowhide me."

This, says the Charleston News, "is the usual style in which the business of law-making and money-grabbing is conducted in the South Carolina Legislature. The radical members call each other thieves, liars, and rascals without any provocation, and do not appear to have any idea that they are insulting anybody, or that they are not telling the Gospel truth. Roars of laughter on the part of the House and increased consumption of pea-nuts follow these outpourings of fish-fag rhetoric, but for the honest citizens of the State the farce threatens to have a tragic ending." The moral to be drawn from this is indicated in Mr. Nast’s cartoon on our front page. These ignorant and incompetent legislators must give place to those who will more faithfully represent the worth and intelligence of the people of the State, both white and colored. But it must be confessed that the colored members of the South Carolina Legislature could point to very unsavory precedents as to manner and language among white legislators of Southern and Northern States.


While the Reconstruction effort faced an opposition in the South, characterized by intimidation and violence, a political backlash against those policies developed in the North. Many Northern white Americans became wary of the continued use of the military to enforce a political agenda. Concerns about national priorities were exacerbated when an economic depression began in 1873-74, provoking much of the Northern electorate to insist that the government concentrate on economic affairs. Adding to the Northern white reaction against the federal Southern policy was the conventional wisdom that the Reconstruction governments had become corrupt. Those sentiments combined in the fall 1874 elections to allow the Democratic party to win control of Congress for the first time since before the Civil War.

In fact, there had been corruption in the Reconstruction governments. Most historians, however, have concluded that it was no worse, and often not as bad, as the corruption in other state governments at that time or in the past. Yet, the commonly-held belief that Reconstruction governments were especially corrupt would continue well into the twentieth century. Much of the blame for the alleged malfeasance was placed unfairly on black office-holders. The South Carolina legislature was particularly targeted as a symbol of corruption because it was the only state legislature in which blacks held a majority of the seats.

For years, Thomas Nast had used his artistic talents in Harper’s Weekly to generate sympathy for the plight of black Americans and support for black civil rights. This illustration, though, demonstrates that he was not immune from accepting the standard line on Reconstruction corruption or from using racial stereotypes to make his point. The imagined scene takes place in the South Carolina legislature. The corresponding text in Harper’s Weekly contains a fictional and stereotyped exchange between black legislators. The newspaper notes, however, that the corruption was probably no worse than other instances of political graft.

Document B: Biographies of South Carolina Representatives Mentioned in Nast’s Cartoon above (biographies from Freedom’s Lawmakers, by Eric Foner)
Charles S. Minort (b.1840) South Carolina Mulatto. Literate. Restaurant owner.
A native of South Carolina, Minort served as a Columbia alderman, 1870, and 1876, and represented Richland County in the state House of Representatives, 1872 – 74 and 1876 – 77. He also held a civil service post. In 1868, Minort nearly provoked a riot when he and his wife took seats in the front row of a Columbia theater. According to the census of 1870, he owned $1,500 in real estate and $500 in personal property. Minort won $30,000 in an 1875 poker game, holding a straight flush to defeat William J. Whipper’s four acres.

Richard H. Humbert (1835 – 1905) South Carolina. Born a slave. Mulatto. Literate. Carpenter, minister, storekeeper.
Born a slave in Savannah, Georgia, Humbert enlisted in March 1865 in Company J, 128th U.S. Colored Infantry, and rose to the rank of first sergeant. He served until 1868 and was educated in the army. Humbert represented Darlington County in the South Carolina constitutional convention of 1868 and the state House of Representatives, 1870 – 77. He also organized militia units in the county. According to the census of 1870, Humbert owned $250 in real estate and $100 in personal property. He died in Darlington County.

Samuel Greene (Green) (b. 1825) South Carolina. Born a slave. Black. Literate. Carpenter, farmer.
Born a slave in South Carolina, Greene was a field hand; he worked as a carpenter after the Civil War and owned a farm on Lady’s Island. He represented Beaufort County in the state House of Representatives, 1870 – 75, and in the Senate, 1875 – 77, resigning when Democrats assumed control of state government. He was also an officer of the state militia and a railroad incorporator. Greene allegedly received a bribe of $300 for his vote on a railroad measure. In 1874, he owned a coach and team of horses worth $1,000. He served as a U.S. Customs official in 1880. Greene lived at least to 1910 when he was listed in the census. (Biographies were taken from Freedom’s Lawmakers by Eric Foner)

Note: By comparing the Thomas Nast cartoon and text that appeared in Harper’s Weekly with the biographies from Freedom’s Lawmakers by Eric Foner, we see some discrepancies in the portrayal of these lawmakers initially found in the Charleston News. The biographies seem to indicate that these men were literate and not as uncultured as the South Carolina paper, Charleston News would have us believe.

Guiding Questions:
  • Should primary documents be trusted without question?  Examine this excerpt from Charleston News, what inflammatory words were used to characterize black leaders? Why?
  • Compare the biographies from Freedom’s Lawmakers found in Document B to the dialog and cartoon that appeared in the Charleston News in Document A. What discrepancies do you find? 
  • The Harper’s Weekly text is supposedly fictional, but why do you think that real people were used in the dialog? Why was stereotypical language used?
  • Do you think that Nast’s illustration (Colored Rule is a Reconstruction (?) State) was indicative of his personal belief or merely an illustration for the article from Charleston News?
  • How did the South react to the efforts of Reconstruction? What kind of backlash occurred in the North?
  • Why do you think Thomas Nast changed his portrayal of the freedman and his thoughts on Reconstruction?
  • Compare the illustrations: The Freedman’s Bureau; First Vote; Colored Rule is a Reconstruction State. How do they differ?

Slaughterhouse Case 1873

The Supreme Court ruling in 1873 had profound effects on the interpretation of the 14th Amendment with the challenge of Privileges or Immunities Clause. The amendment was originally passed to protect the freedoms of former slaves.

Slaughterhouse held that the state of Louisiana had not violated the Privileges or Immunities Clause of the 14th Amendment when it granted to a single slaughtering company a monopoly on the butchering of animals within the city of New Orleans. Going far beyond the analysis necessary to reject the plaintiffs’ claims, the Court’s 5-4 ruling drained the Privileges or Immunities Clause of any meaning, and it has been little more than a dead letter ever since.

The framers of the 14th Amendment had written the Privileges or Immunities Clause to protect the fundamental right of all Americans, a critically important guarantee of substantive liberty necessary to ensure that the newly freed slaves would be equal citizens in the nation. Rejecting this original intent and the plain history of the Clause, the Court in Slaughterhouse held that the Clause only protected a narrow set of rights connected to the workings of the federal government, such as the right to access federal waterways or come to the seat of government. According to the Court, the Clause did not protect free speech or bodily integrity, and these rights were critical to the freed slaves’ liberty and security in the South.

This narrow and incorrect reading effectively rendered the Clause meaningless. Indeed, the few rights Slaughterhouse recognized as 14th Amendment “privileges” or “immunities” were already protected by the Supremacy Clause, which forbids state action that interfered with the workings of the federal government or the Union. Justice Samuel Miller, who wrote for the Court in Slaughterhouse, was no fan of the Privileges or Immunities Clause from the start. During debates over the ratification of the 14th Amendment, Justice Miller favored a version of the Amendment that did not include the Clause. He wanted the Clause out of the 14th Amendment, and in Slaughterhouse effectively had his way.

Slaughterhouse is an embarrassment…it essentially removed from the Constitution one of the document’s most important protections of human and civil rights…without any clear textual basis in the Constitution for protecting substantive fundamental rights against the actions of state and local governments, debates over the basic human rights that all people possess have run aground, mired in endless questions over whether the Constitution’s text, in fact, protects substantive fundamental rights against state infringement.” https://www.theusconstitution.org/blog/this-day-in-supreme-court-history-the-slaughterhouse-cases/

Background of Representative Robert B. Elliot

“Representative Robert B. Elliot “was one of the most brilliant political organizers in South Carolina during Reconstruction…he was born of West Indian parents…was well educated…married a member of the prominent free black Rollin family, became associate editor of the South Carolina Leader, and helped to organize the Republican party in rural areas, He also established a law practice in 1868. According to his Law partner, Daniel A Straker, Elliot ‘knew the political condition of every nook and corner throughout the state…He knew every important person in every county, town or village and the history of the entire state as it related to politics.’ Elliot served as chairman of the state Republican executive committee, 1872-79. ‘Some think he is the ablest negro, intellectually, in the South,’ declared the Chicago Tribune (2 November 1872) …His most celebrated speech was his defense, in January 1874, of Charles Sumner’s Civil Rights Bill. Elliot himself had been denied service in the restaurant of a railroad station on his way to Washington.”
(Freedom’s Lawmakers by Eric Foner)

Representative Robert B. Elliot Speech, The Shackle Broken, on Civil Rights Bill of 1875

Representative Robert B. Elliot Speech, The Shackle Broken, on Civil Rights Bill of 1875 

 “While I am sincerely grateful for this high mark of courtesy that has been accorded to me by this House, it is a matter of regret to me that it is necessary at this day that I should rise in the presence of an American Congress to advocate a bill which simply asserts equal rights and equal public privileges for all classes of American citizens. I regret, sir, that the dark hue of my skin may lend a color to the imputation that I am controlled by motives personal to myself in my advocacy of the great measure of national justice. Sir, the motive that impels me is restricted by no such narrow boundary, but as broad as your Constitution. I advocate it, sir, because it is right…In the events that led to the achievement of American Independence, the negro was not an inactive or unconcerned spectator. He bore his part bravely upon many battle-fields…brave men of the African race who there cemented with their blood the corner-stone of the Republic…The Constitution of a free government ought always to be construed in favor of human rights. Indeed, the thirteenth, fourteenth, and fifteenth amendments in positive words, invest Congress with the power to protect the citizen in his civil and political rights…In other days, when the whole country was bowing beneath the yoke of slavery, when press, pulpit, platform, Congress, and courts felt the fatal power of slave oligarchy…but those days are past…These amendments, one and all, are thus declared to have as their all-pervading design and end the security to the recently enslaved race, not only their nominal freedom but their complete protection from those who had formerly exercised unlimited dominion over them. It is in this broad light that all these amendments must be read, the purpose to secure the perfect quality before the law of all citizens of the United States. What you can give to one class you must give to all: what you deny to one class you shall deny to all, unless in the exercise of the common and universal police power of the state you find it needful to confer exclusive privileges on certain citizens, to be held and exercised still for the common good of all…There are privileges and immunities which belong to me as a citizen of the United States, and there are privileges and immunities which belong to me as a citizen of my State…Are the rights which I now claim---the right to enjoy the common public conveniences of travel on public highways, of rest and refreshment at public inns, of education in public schools, of burial in public cemeteries---rights which I hold as a citizen of the United States or my State?... For it is under this clause of the fourteenth amendment that we place the present bill, no state shall ‘deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.’ …he is equally protected by this amendment…. All discrimination is forbidden…The results of the war, as seen in Reconstruction, have settled forever the political status of my race. The passage of this bill will determine the civil status not only of the negro but of any other class of citizens who may feel themselves discriminated against…The Holy Scriptures tell us of a humble hand-maiden who long, faithfully, and patiently gleaned in the rich fields of her wealthy kinsman; and we are told further that at last, in spite of her humble antecedents, she found complete favor in his sight. For over two centuries our race had ‘reaped down your fields.’The cries and woes which we have uttered have ‘entered into the ears of the Lord of Sabbath,’ and we are at last politically free. The last vestiture only is needed—civil rights.”

(Representative Elliott’s address was so brilliant that the Democrats claimed that the speech was not his – someone else must have written it – they felt that no black American could have created such a powerful speech. He completely puzzled them with his oratorical skills.)

More Speeches by Black Leaders on Civil Rights Bill of 1875

(Elliott’s speech and the following speeches of black representatives addressed the Civil Rights Bill of 1875 and enriched the meanings of liberty and citizenship. Their speeches addressed the argument that the Bill was unconstitutional under the reasoning of the Slaughterhouse Cases of 1873.)
Joseph H. Rainey, SC Congressman, http://www.law.nyu.edu/sites/default/files/RaineyDec101873.pdf
Alonzo J. Ransier, http://www.law.nyu.edu/sites/default/files/RansierJan051874.pdf
Josiah T. Walls, FL Congressman, http://www.law.nyu.edu/sites/default/files/WallsJan061874.pdf
Richard H. Cain, http://www.law.nyu.edu/sites/default/files/CainJan101874.pdf
John R. Lynch, http://www.law.nyu.edu/sites/default/files/LynchFeb031875.pdf
James T. Rapier, AL Congressman, http://www.law.nyu.edu/sites/default/files/RapierFeb041875.pdf

"South Carolina representative Robert B. Elliott's famous speech in favor of the Civil Rights Act, delivered in the House of Representatives on January 6, 1874, is memorialized here. The Act, which guaranteed equal treatment in all places of public accommodation to all people regardless of their "nativity, race, color, or persuasion, religious or political," was passed on March 1, 1875. The central image shows Congressman Elliott speaking from the floor of the House of Representatives. Hanging from the ceiling is a banner with a quotation from his speech: "What you give to one class you must give to all. What you deny to one class. You deny to all." Above are two Civil War scenes of black troops in action. On the left is a full-length statue of Abraham Lincoln, holding a bundle of arrows and his Emancipation Proclamation, standing before the U.S. Capitol. On the right is another statue, of Civil Rights advocate Charles Sumner holding the "Bill of Civil Rights," in front of Faneuil Hall in Boston. Below Sumner are his words, "Equality of rights is the first of rights." Beneath the central scene is a view of a small farm with its black owner, family, and laborers. The caption below is "American Slave Labour is of the Present--We Toil for our Own Children and Not for Those of Others." At the far left are two black soldiers, and on the right black sailors. Below them are Lincoln's words, "Of those who were slaves at the beginning of the rebellion full one hundred thousand are now in the U. S. Service" and "So far as tested, it is difficult to say they are not as good soldiers as any." The words "Army," "Navy," "Jury," "Ballot," "Liberty," and "Equality" are inscribed in the borders." (Library of Congress)

  These are the first blacks elected to U.S. Congress. In the front row: Hiram R. Revels (First Black Senator), Benjamin S. Turner, Josiah T. Walls, Joseph H. Rainey, and Robert B. Elliot; back row: Robert D. De Large and Jefferson Long
The era of Reconstruction had some brilliant moments of success with the election of blacks to local, state, and national offices, including both houses of Congress.  These are the first blacks elected to U.S. Congress. In the front row: Hiram R. Revels (First Black Senator), Benjamin S. Turner, Josiah T. Walls, Joseph H. Rainey, and Robert B. Elliot; back row: Robert D. De Large and Jefferson Long. All six Representatives were from former Confederate states, served in the 41st and 42nd Congress of the United States.

Guiding Questions:
  • How did the Slaughterhouse Case affect the 14th Amendment?
  • What did Robert B. Elliot’s speech hope to accomplish for the passage of the Civil Rights Bill of 1875?
  • Explain Elliot’s quote, "what you give to one class, you must give to all. What you deny to one class, you must deny to all?"
  • Identify the positive examples of symbolism in The Shackle Broken – By the Genius of Freedom.
  • Why did the Democrats question the authorship of The Shackle Broken speech?

Compromise of 1877

The Hayes-Tilden controversy was an effort to settle the contested 1876 election between Democrat Samuel J. Tilden and Republican Rutherford B. Hayes that also ended Reconstruction. “The controversy was based on two issues: (1) The Democrats won several state elections; (2) the Republicans still controlled the electoral boards. To settle the matter, Congress created a fifteen-member electoral commission consisting of ten members of Congress and five Supreme Court Justices, divided by party, with one independent. When the independent backed out, a Republican replaced him and voted for Hayes, giving Hayes the victory.  The Democrats threatened to use their favorite obstructive tactic to prevent Hayes’ confirmation - the filibuster.

…A meeting of the party leaders produced the following compromise: The Democrats would not oppose Hayes if (1) the Republicans would agree to provide investment capital to the South; and (2) the South would be allowed to govern itself…The Democrats promised to protect the rights of blacks. The bargain was struck; the commission awarded the election to Hayes who, per the agreement, immediately removed the remaining federal troops from the South, including those Union troops protecting the black legislatures in several state houses. Redeemer governments were in – civil rights gains were out. These governments stubbornly opposed any possible form of racial equality. White-only redeemer governments, composed mostly of ex-Confederate officials, replaced the biracial Republican governments voted in during Reconstruction.” (Black Yellow-Dogs by Ben Kinchlow)

The final southern Republican governments collapsed, leading to the Democratic Solid South with its violence and discrimination toward blacks.

Effect of Collapse of Reconstruction 1877

The Compromise of 1877, ended the army intervention of the South, Republican control collapsed in the last remaining state governments, and southerners began their “Redemption Governments.”  White-dominated Democratic state governments enacted Jim Crow laws which further disenfranchised blacks and many poor whites. White supremacy and second-class citizenship returned to the South.

The Radical Republicans efforts were unfulfilled and events such as early Supreme Court rulings, the end of the Freedman’s Bureau, the establishment of paramilitary groups like the KKK. “the Age of Jim Crow”, white supremacy, state constitutional amendments and electoral laws, erased all the optimistic hope for the freedmen of the South. Full federal enforcement of the 14th and 15th Amendments would not occur until the passage of legislation during the Civil Rights Movement between the years 1955 – 1968.

Guiding Questions:

How did the redeemer governments affect the civil rights of blacks?
What methods did the Democratic South use to disenfranchise blacks?
Why do history books eliminate the sordid history of democrats against blacks?