American History after the Civil War
The USA has always been the nation of immigrants. Those who came from faraway lands were used to struggling for their rights and freedoms. For a long time, African-American people were brought to the USA as slaves. The Declaration of Independence, proclaimed by the Foundation Fathers, stated that all people had equal rights and freedoms in their pursuit of happiness. However, it took a long time for American citizens to reconsider and transform the stereotypes and false vision of the principles of democracy. Though the official abolition of slavery took place in 1861, it took about a century before real changes in relationships between white, black and colored people started taking place.
The book under analysis is Reconstruction after the Civil War by John Hope Franklin, issued in 2012. It addresses the times after the American Civil War, from1864 till 1877, and the time of severe segregation and discrimination of different minor layers of the population, and especially black people. The social tension accumulated during the century after the slavery abolition resulted into the Civil Rights movement in the middle of the 20th century. At the beginning of the new millennium, ethnic African-American managed to win the president elections for the first time in the USA history. The fact proves to a large extent the rightness and fulfillment of the dreams of the most prominent fighters for freedom, equality and American democracy.
The Significance and Features of the Reconstruction Period
Before the Civil War, colored people in America had experienced a period of slavery for about two hundred years. They were used to working and succumbing to their white masters. The slave mentality was much more difficult to transform or abolish. The freedmen hardly knew what to do with their new rights, and they did not have any initial capital. Former slaves had to work for their former masters for a small payment. The freedmen were engaged in the same jobs as they had done before the slavery abolition, however, they received little money for it and did not have any stability or habitat. In fact, the discrimination of non-white citizens was socially acknowledged. It continued to thrive at least for fifty years after the slavery abolition (Franklin 15). The Southern states became the area of Afro-American terror. The contradiction between the white extinguished the value of lives of colored people.
Abraham Lincoln abolished slavery on the territory of the United States of America by issuing the Emancipation Proclamation. The Civil War Amendments to the Constitution confirmed and established that original position. The Thirteenth Amendment was ratified in 1865 and banned slavery on the whole territory of the U.S.A.; the Fourteenth Amendment (1868) provided all people with equal state citizenship; the Fifteenth Amendment (1870) proclaimed franchise for all citizens without “race, color, or previous condition of servitude” discrimination (Franklin 45).
Nevertheless, Southern states refused to accept former slaves’ rights, and the idea of African Americans’ freedom and equality was not approved by Southern states’ representatives in Congress. Neither was it appraised by the elite planter class or progressive business owners. Southern leaders proclaimed the Confederation (Southern states) separate from the Union. It resulted into a furious and severe war between the North and the South, which ended with the North’s victory and devastation of the South’s states’ infrastructure and economy.
Confederate leaders and the elite planter class refused to accept slavery abolition and applied different legal and illegal methods to restore slavery.
There appeared an illegal organization Ku Klux Klan, which operated up to 1868 in order to preserve white supremacy. White men burned schools, homes, churches of non-white citizens mercilessly. Ku Klux Klan members assassinated about ten percent of Afro- American electoral candidates in former Confederate states in 1867-1868 (Franklin 66).
There were numerous examples when former slaves’ rights were violated and abused. Especially it referred to the African Americans who had to stay in destroyed Southern states.
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The most cherished desire of freedmen was to hold a piece of land and to cultivate it to their profit. Though the idea was relevant for the freedmen and the North governors, it was not fulfilled in the Reconstruction period. Those times can be characterized by rising fear and hatred between former white masters and new non-white citizens. Southern leaders were not ready to lose their property and claimed compensation. Instead, they got the devastation of once profitable lands. The slaves were not ready for sudden changes in their lives, and were distracted by newly acquired freedoms, which they could not exercise and protect.
The Reconstruction period faced the problem of the country reunion. The Amnesty proclaimed on December 8, 1863 offered pardon to all former Confederates, who would take an oath to support the Constitution of the United States (Franklin 16). On one hand, the Union leaders freed colored people from their bondage. They gave former slaves the right to vote, marry, receive education, choose employment and move freely around the country. On the other hand, Federal authorities returned most of the power to former masters of the freedmen. In 1865-1866, Northern leaders entitled former Southern executives and planters to additional rights to improve the economic situation after the destructive years of the Civil War.
In some Southern states, South Carolina, for example, local authorities tried to legalize Black Codes (Wilson 53). Those were law issues concerning non-white people only. They worked out on the racial principal. For example, freedmen could own property and marry officially for the first time in American history. Nevertheless, the Codes stipulated that black people could not marry people of the white race. A man of color could not work for white employers under contract and receive wages for their work. Though contracts provided former slaves with some protection against being whipped and stipulated “unreasonable” tasks, working hours and other black people advantages, they forced the servants not to quit until the end of the contract.
There were special black courts separated from the white ones, which involved only colored people’s plaintiffs and disputes. Vagrancy in Black Codes implied that freedmen were obliged to work for the white under contract if they could not employ or engage themselves. Children of vagrants and other destitute parents were another source of free labor for former slave owners. The institution of apprenticeship was established. The Black Codes did not allow people of color to sell any products of their labor or to move into another state without special permission that evidenced good behavior.
The Black Codes were strongly criticized by Northern authorities and were completely abolished by 1868 by ratification of the Fourteenth and the Fifteenth Amendments. The Reconstruction period was marked by democratic efforts to establish freedmen’s rights. The aim of slavery abolition was to give non-white people equal possibilities in their exercising citizenship and freedoms. The purpose was partially achieved. The attempts to restrict the opportunities for colored people were resumed in Jim Crow laws in the years after Reconstruction. The Black Codes were the sprouts of racial segregation, which thrived throughout the USA in the twentieth century.
Franklin’s book proves that the problem of segregation originates from a historically stipulated mentality of black people in America. They had been slaves and had grown up as servants of white people for centuries before the Civil Rights Movement of the last century, which made black people reconsider and esteem their social and public roles.
Only Martin Luther King and The Civil Rights movement in the 1950th -1960th managed to change a lot in common approaches to the white and non-white people’s rights. Exclusion and segregation on a racial basis were legally forbidden and criticized. African-American citizens began attending the same educational institutions as the white people and received an opportunity to claim for their career promotion. However, the starting point of the white and non-white people was different.
Franklin’s book explains why after some centuries of the formal and informal exploitation, black people still had the mentality of servants even after the victories of the Civil Rights Movement. They had to start building their households, while white people had to improve theirs. At first, the situation showed progress. However, with the start of the technological age, the process got into a phase of stagnation. Black and colored people have still been experiencing silent and non-official abuse, and the living and working conditions of African-American people need significant changes and development.
It should be noted that while political officials proclaim a prohibition of segregation and exclusion, they do not guarantee the rehabilitation of African-Americans in a new high-tech environment. A natural reaction of traditionally abused people would be a cultural shock and frustration. Politicians offer social protection and monetary welfare. However, they do not look for natural motives for the self-development and personal growth of those people.
The problem of racial discrimination, which started in the years of Reconstruction and was raised by Martin Luther King, remains urgent as black people traditionally tend to exclusion and creation of their own areas within cities and towns.
The Reconstruction period was an attempt to establish and promote former slaves’ rights and freedoms. It was the first step towards eliminating social inequality in multinational conditions of the United States. Though the idea was progressive and actual, the consequences of slavery abolition evidenced the harshness of those reforms (Franklin 41). The contradiction between two white camps led to severe violations of the non-white people rights and devaluation of their lives. Though the freedmen’s rights had been proclaimed, they could be hardly guaranteed.
Modern American National Government has considerably improved in the question of tolerance to African-Americans and other minors. Nowadays, every American citizen is aware that his or her rights should be guaranteed by the state, and the highly developed institution of justice encourages fighting for one’s rights at court in any dubious case. The Civil Rights movement of the 1950s and 1960s managed to change a lot in common approaches to the white and non-white people’s rights. Exclusion and segregation on the racial basis were legally forbidden and criticized. African-American citizens began attending the same educational institutions as the white people and received an opportunity to claim for career promotion.
In my opinion, the book can be very instructive for students who strive to understand the evolution of American democracy. It provides many examples of human rights violation and helps in forming a tolerant vision of the problem of multi-national coexistence. Historical facts and vivid pictures of the past help in forming a personal vision of some race stipulated problems, which persist.