Why, despite the victory of the Unionin the Civil War, did former slaves fail to secure full civil rights 1865 - 77?

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Why, despite the victory of the Union in the Civil War, did former slaves fail to secure full civil rights 1865 – 77?

The end of the Civil War provided America with the perfect opportunity to start again as a united and democratic country. The Northern victory had put an end to the threat of a rupture in the Union, and the future of the country had been established. However, there was also the far more significant chance to unite the country under the flag of liberty and equality, for which the North had won their devastating success. Surely victory would be useless if it was not pursued by a radical change in the situation and status of the African Americans, who, after all, had played a significant part in the war effort. Unfortunately, there were several obstacles in the way of true racial equality, which were destined to remain insurmountable for nearly one hundred years.

At the end of the war, the challenge for the Northern leaders seemed intricate and thorny, but not necessarily impossible. The most important question still to be answered was what to do with the rebel states. Should they be treated leniently and allowed back into the union relatively easily, or should they be punished and reformed in order to ensure that Northern values and principles were extended to the South. Lincoln believed in the former view, so proposed the “ten-percent plan,” under which ten percent of the white voters in a state had to pledge their allegiance to the union before the state was readmitted. Congress, which was mostly composed of Radical Republican Northerners, disagreed, and felt that the South should be punished. In 1863 Thaddeus Stevens said, “We have the right to treat them as we would any other province that we might conquer.” However, they were partly mollified by the fact that Lincoln had eventually endorsed emancipation of the slaves.

Five days after the end of the war, the problem became far more difficult, as Lincoln was assassinated and replaced as President by Andrew Johnson. An adroit, politically sensitive and discerning President, with a skill for compromise and concession was replaced by a rash, obdurate man with a talent for disagreement. In murdering Lincoln, John Wilkes Booth did more damage to the South than any other man, because the consensus seems to be that Lincoln, although he might not have had the perfect solution, could not have done any worse than Johnson. Along with the question of what was to happen to the South came the question of who was to decide what happened to the South. Johnson, a Southern democrat, was always at odds with Congress. Like Lincoln, he supported the “ten-percent plan,” and was willing to bypass Congress in order to implement it. However, unlike Lincoln, he did not understand the fundamental problems in the South. He believed that Congress could not legislate on issues affecting the South unless representatives from the South were present. In effect, he was saying that the issue of Southern blacks could not be decided until the Southern whites had regained most of their power.

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At first, Johnson seemed anxious to punish the ex-confederates: he was disappointed that he could not hang Jefferson Davies. Then he started issuing pardons to everyone he could find, which meant that the confederate leaders soon found themselves back in government. The old confederate vice president, Alexander Stephens, was elected to Congress in 1865. In the same year Johnson signed a proclamation which insisted that all land confiscated during the war and given to the freedmen should be returned to its former owners. The blacks’ belief that they were each to receive “40 acres and a mule” was sadly mistaken.


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