Civil Rights and Protests


What was the Reconstruction?

The Reconstruction was the twelve-year period (1865–1877) of rebuilding that followed the Civil War. The last battle over, the South lay in ruins: food and other supplies were scarce, people were homeless, city centers had been destroyed, schools were demolished, railways torn up, and government was nonexistent. Furthermore, the nation had new citizens to enfranchise—and protect—the freed slaves. There was also the question of how to readmit each Southern state to the Union (they had seceded from the Union before the Civil War ended).

In short, the nation’s wounds needed to heal. But the long years of the Reconstruction brought only more divisiveness and quarrels. This time the battlefield was not Gettysburg or Chattanooga, but Washington, D.C. President Andrew Johnson (1808–1875), a Southern Democrat and former slave owner, squared off with Congress, led by a radical Republican faction. The two branches of government fought over who should guide Reconstruction policy. Johnson favored a more tolerant and swifter approach to reuniting the nation, but his measures failed to protect the country’s black citizens. Congress proceeded more cautiously, setting up military administrators in the South as an interim form of government until readmission of the states could be effected. In the end, Congress won out by overriding President Johnson’s vetoes again and again.


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