The south did not just cause reconstruction to fail, they murdered it, literally. Rampant violence throughout the South against all people who wished to advance the rights of blacks and the Reconstruction was the main reason for the failure of the Reconstruction. Although it is clear that the failure of the Reconstruction was facilitated by both the northern neglect and the southern violence, the south is more at fault for the tragedy. The Reconstruction begun following the Civil War, in 1865, and continued through the late 1860’s and most of the 1870’s. Despite the best efforts of the Radical Republican party to enfranchise blacks, and the efforts of the Grant to reinvigorate the southern economy, the southern violence all but stopped their efforts.
Even though the failure of the Reconstruction was primarily caused by the south, the north also played a role in its downfall. Many northerners were in favor of the Reconstruction when it begun, and advocated for Black equality. However, by the mid-late 1870’s the Northerner’s interest in the south began to wane, and it lost public support. (Doc C). The people of the north begin to swing their opinion toward more national problems such as corruption in Grant’s Administration. In addition to this shift in public opinion, Grant himself began to lose focus on the problems of the south and civil reform. Grant is determined to root out any and all corruption in his administration that he did not pay attention to other problems in the country.
|This cartoon shows that Grant cannot "see out of the barrel of government"|
Grant is so absorbed in the government’s problems that he was not able to attend to the ongoing problem of reconstruction. In addition, most northerners did not think that freedpeople; the blacks who were recently freed from slavery, were fit for government. Northerners were anti-slavery, but also believed that blacks needed time to adjust to their newfound freedom, and to be educated on how the system works. (Doc D). The white northerners viewed the blacks as rambunctious and “monkey-like” in government; limiting effectiveness of the governing body.
Despite the neglect by northerners and the government, the south is still more at fault for the failure of the reconstruction. Violent terrorist groups who opposed reconstruction and rights for freedmen such as the Ku Klux Klan targeted blacks, and white scalawags and carpetbaggers. (Doc A). Scalawags and carpetbaggers were whites who supported the reconstruction and expanding the rights of blacks One case was when the KKK targeted a black member of the Georgia State Legislature; Abram Colby. They first tried to pay him off to prevent him from voting on the radical republican ticket, which favored civil rights. However, Colby bravely stood by his own conviction and risked his life in defying the white men. A couple of days later, the KKK took Abram Colby into the woods and beat him mercilessly. They left him for dead, but by sheer determination and the grace of god he was able to survive and continue his quest for equality. Colby believed that “no man can make a free speech in my county. I do not believe it can be done anywhere in Georgia.” (Doc B). This shows how the terrorist actions of the KKK and other groups are restricting the Democratic process of America, and threatening the government and the economy. In other case, a white Republican Senator for North Carolina was brutally murdered in the courtroom. They KKK scared politicians and advocates for advancement of civil rights from the south.
|This cartoon is a threat from the KKK to carpetbaggers|
This allowed more racist politicians to take their place, and to further oppress the newly-freed black population. Congress is urged to take action against these “outrages” which are restricting American freedom.
The South’s violent actions against republican whites and freed people caused the downfall of the reconstruction. Although the neglect of the north made it easier for the southern terrorist groups such as the KKK to perform violent acts, it was the fault of the southerners for committing the acts in the first place. The northerners and southerners were both unprepared for the equality of blacks, and the residual racism allowed the white supremacist groups in the south to scare Radical Republicans and black seat holders out of the governments. This meant that less progressive, racist government officials were able to obtain seats and put a halt to the reconstruction.
A: Independent Monitor, September 1, 1868. Alabama Department of Archives and History, Montgomery, Alabama.
B: Abram Colby, testimony to a joint House and Senate Committee in 1872
C: Cartoon of Ulysses S. Grant, Harper’s Weekly, 1876D: Heather Cox Richardson, The Death of Reconstruction: Race, Labor and Politics in the Post-Civil War North, 1865-1901. Harvard University Press, Cambridge, Massachusetts, 2001.