The Civil War destroyed slavery. The whole power passed into the hands of the bourgeoisie. The government created conditions for the development of capitalism in agriculture in the West by way of farming. However, not all the problems were resolved. The freed slaves did not get the land, as well as civil and political rights while the South preserved plantation estates. The Reconstruction Era laid the foundation for the unity of the country and played a huge role in the final abolition of slavery in the southern states.
The First Stage
The first stage of Reconstruction lasted from mid-April of 1865 to the end of May (Stroud & Schomp, 2007). The Confederate government was not functioning. There were no governors, judges, elders, sheriffs, and other officials. About 250 thousand soldiers of the Northern Army remained in the South for a few weeks after the surrender (Stroud & Schomp, 2007). They performed a variety of duties without proper training. The commanders and generals often had to act on their own, without training for managing civilian agencies (Gao, 2015).
President Andrew Johnson issued two proclamations on May 5, 1865 (Stroud & Schomp, 2007). The first one required southerners to take an oath, specified the terms of amnesty, and established the procedure for a petition for clemency. The second proclamation appointed an interim governor of North Carolina and outlined the process of restoring governance in the former Confederacy and the election of local authorities (Stroud & Schomp, 2007). These events led to the beginning of the second stage of Reconstruction.
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The Second Stage
The second stage lasted until December 1865 (Stroud & Schomp, 2007). The army was still a major power, but it finally attempted to establish proper governance in the occupied territory. Soon, President Johnson issued a proclamation of the creation of a transitional government in South Carolina, Georgia, Florida, Alabama, Mississippi, and Texas (Gao, 2015).
In December 1865, Congress expressed its dissatisfaction with the program of President Johnson, who proposed to introduce representatives from the South into Congress (Stroud & Schomp, 2007). However, Congress refused to accept the return of the former Confederate States back into the Union. This decision meant that the military presence would continue, and southern states would still be the occupied territory that did not have the right to own power (Gao, 2015). This led to a legal struggle between President Johnson and Congress, which lasted until March 1867 and ended with Johnsons resignation (Stroud & Schomp, 2007). After a lengthy debate in Washington, the armys role remained unclear, so the overall situation entered the third stage.
The Third Stage
The interim governments in southern states remained, but the radical Republicans in Congress demanded to increase the military control over them. Conflicts over the appointment and removal of civil servants arose. Military courts in the territory of the South began to be used more widely. The army reduced its numbers, reaching 58 thousand men in 1866, but its intervention in the affairs of the South increased on the contrary (Gao, 2015). On March 2, 1867, Congress vetoed Johnsons plan and developed its own plan for reconstruction (Stroud & Schomp, 2007). This can be called the fourth stage of Reconstruction, which lasted until the spring of 1871.
The Fourth Stage
During this period, military power in the South was particularly strong due to its intervention in civil cases. Congress established the five military districts and demanded the appointment of army generals to govern each one. The military were appointed to protect all persons in their rights of person and property, to suppress insurrection, disorder, and violence, and to punish or cause to be punished all disturbers of the public peace or criminals (Rodriguez, 2007). The military also had the right to dismiss civilians of every position and control the elections.
These years were marked by a bitter struggle of black people. The former slaves became an important political force in the South. African-American communities demanded the abolition of black codes and equal economic and political rights for black and white people. The most popular organizations in the South were the Union Leagues, organized by the Republican Party. They included both black and white people. Black people actively participated in the 1868 elections of the constitutional conventions in the southern states (Gao, 2015). These conventions developed a new bourgeois-democratic Constitution that proclaimed reconstruction of socio-economic system of the southern states based on the bourgeoisie. They included the recognition of the 13th, 14th, and 15th amendments to the US Constitution, which prohibited slavery and provided the civil rights to black people (Gao, 2015).
After General Ulysses S. Grant had been elected as president in 1868, the big bourgeoisie concentrated the government power in their hands and implemented internal and external policies for their own benefits. The removal of paper money (greenbacks) impaired during the war and the introduction of the gold standard marked the presidency of Grant. This fact dealt a blow to the interests of farmers in debt (Gao, 2015). Tariff legislation maintained a high customs taxation of the wartime. During the 8-year tenure of Grant as president, corruption grew to an unprecedented size (Stroud & Schomp, 2007).
After all, Congress approved the representatives of some of the southern states in the summer of 1868. Other states were admitted to the United States and, therefore, gained representation in Congress only in 1870-1871. The latest state approved by Congress was Texas.
The Last Stage
The fifth and the final stage of Reconstruction lasted until the inauguration of President Rutherford Hayes in the spring of 1877 (Stroud & Schomp, 2007). Terror reigned in the South while Grants Government did nothing. Both major parties reconstructed themselves. The Republican Party departed from the radical principles of the 1860s. Their party machine came under the control of big business (Gao, 2015). The Democratic Party became more bourgeois. Its southern and northern units merged. These processes contributed to the rapprochement between the parties and laid the foundation for a new period in the history of the US two-party system.
Completion of the Reconstruction period was due to the election campaign of 1876 (Gao, 2015). Neither candidate Hayes nor Democratic candidate Tilden received the required majority. More than a controversial victory in the presidential election was recognized for Hayes. In exchange for the presidency for their candidate, the Republican Party leaders agreed to withdraw federal troops from the South.
Reconstruction could not solve all the problems of the transformation of the South into such region of the United States as the North and the West. One would have taken away the land from the planters and given it to blacks and poor whites for the perfect outcome. The leaders of the Radical Republicans were determined to take a risk, but such measures would have meant long years of bloodshed and turmoil for the United States. Thus, the events could have turned out better, but the price would have been too high.
The Reconstruction Era was marked by the reintegration of the southern states back in the United States and the final abolition of slavery in the South. The war destroyed the economy and political system of the South. Almost until 1871, most of the Southern states were in the position of occupied territories, without having any political rights. The US Army controlled the territory of the South to varying degree. The political leaders of the North could not agree exactly how and to what extent the military might intervene in the peaceful lives of the citizens. The three amendments to the Constitution affected the whole country. Reconstruction began and ended at different times in different southern states. In the end, the compromise of 1877 marked the completion of this process as a whole.