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American History 1--HIST 2111 (OER): Chapter 15: Reconstruction

American Yawp Chapter Summary

After the Civil War, much of the South lay in ruins. “It passes my comprehension to tell what became of our railroads,” one South Carolinian told a Northern reporter. “We had passably good roads, on which we could reach almost any part of the State, and the next week they were all gone – not simply broken up, but gone. Some of the material was burned, I know, but miles and miles of iron have actually disappeared, gone out of existence.”1 He might as well have been talking about the entire antebellum way of life. The future of the South was uncertain. How would these states be brought back into the Union? Would they be conquered territories or equal states? How would they rebuild their governments, economies, and social systems? What rights did freedom confer upon formerly enslaved people?

The answers to many of Reconstruction’s questions hinged upon the concepts of citizenship and equality. The era witnessed perhaps the most open and widespread discussions of citizenship since the nation’s founding. It was a moment of revolutionary possibility and violent backlash. African Americans and Radical Republicans pushed the nation to finally realize the Declaration of Independence’s promises that “all men were created equal” and had “certain, unalienable rights.” Conservative white Democrats granted African Americans legal freedom but little more. When black Americans and their radical allies succeeded in securing citizenship for freedpeople, a new fight commenced to determine the legal, political, and social implications of American citizenship. Resistance continued, and Reconstruction eventually collapsed. In the South, limits on human freedom endured and would stand for nearly a century more. Read more from Chapter 15 of the American Yawp.

Things to Consider

Questions to be thinking about as you move through the content of this chapter

  1. What questions did Reconstruction seek to answer for the nation?
  2. What course did Presidential Reconstruction take?
  3. In what ways did Reconstruction recreate “slavery by another name?”
  4. What did freedom mean to African Americans?  How did they express their newfound freedom?
  5. Discuss the limits of Reconstruction with regard to the following issues:
    1. Land Distribution
    2. Political Rights for African-Americans
    3. Family reconstruction
    4. Education
    5. Economic opportunities for African Americans
  6. What made Radical Republicans “radical”?
  7. Describe the connection between the emergence of women’s rights movements and the Constitutional Revolution in the 1860s and 1870s.
  8. What was the role of Andrew Johnson in Reconstruction?  What were the circumstances under which he was impeached as president?
  9. What was the “Reign of Terror” during Reconstruction?
  10. Discuss the economic effects of the Civil War and Reconstruction on the north and the south.
  11. Why did Americans lose interest in Reconstruction in the 1870s and what impact did that have?  Be sure you can discuss the role played by the Depression of 1873 in this shift.
  12. How and why did Reconstruction end in 1877?

Learning Objectives and Assessment

Student Learning Outcomes

  • Recognize a range of viewpoints in historical narratives
  • Understand the dynamics of change over time.
  • Evaluate a variety of historical sources for their credibility, position, significance, and perspective.

Course Objectives

  • The student will be able to identify decisive events of the Civil War & explain the regional & national consequences of Reconstruction.
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