Reconstruction Moves Ahead Summary

  • Last updated on November 10, 2022

Despite all of its troubles and set-backs, Reconstruction lurched forward through the mid-1870s. By then, state governments in the South had experienced an evolution. In the years immediately following the war many of them had become redoubts of radical Republicanism and included many black Republicans in their numbers. At the same time, they also included former Confederate lawmakers who formally were to have been barred from office but under the presidency of Andrew Johnson found a place in government. Finally, in the years leading up to the contentious 1876 presidential election some of those state governments started to reject Republicans, particularly those of the radical variety, in favor of greater numbers of Democrats. That by the 1870s clear evidence existed of corruption in Republican-controlled governments did not help the cause of Reconstruction and its proponents.

Despite all of its troubles and set-backs, Reconstruction lurched forward through the mid-1870s. By then, state governments in the South had experienced an evolution. In the years immediately following the war many of them had become redoubts of radical Republicanism and included many black Republicans in their numbers. At the same time, they also included former Confederate lawmakers who formally were to have been barred from office but under the presidency of Andrew Johnson found a place in government. Finally, in the years leading up to the contentious 1876 presidential election some of those state governments started to reject Republicans, particularly those of the radical variety, in favor of greater numbers of Democrats. That by the 1870s clear evidence existed of corruption in Republican-controlled governments did not help the cause of Reconstruction and its proponents.

In this section we sample some of the conflicting points of view that this evolution produced. We start with a strong and eloquent African American supporter of Reconstruction, Hiram Revels, who in a speech in Congress points to the positive contributions “the colored race” has made to the war effort and the nation at large. Next we hear from a Republican governor of Georgia, Rufus Bullock, who is accused of corruption and forced to leave office under pressure from the Ku Klux Klan and others. Then we hear from the prominent German-American thinker, general, and moderate Republican government official Carl Schurz, who writes of the need to authorize a broad amnesty for former Confederates who were officially barred from holding office or participating in the military. Next, in the person of James Rapier, an African American Republican representative from Alabama, we hear of the urgent need to push ahead with Reconstruction, including the enactment of additional civil rights laws to help those who were still “half free, half slave.” Finally, we look at the fruits of Rapier's and others' urging, the Civil Rights Act of 1875, the last best hope of the radical reformers.

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