After the Civil War, the federal government set conditions for the former Confederate states to be readmitted to the Union, beginning a period known as the Reconstruction. Chief among these was the requirement that those states had to ratify the 13th and 14th Amendments to the Constitution, which abolished slavery and guaranteed political rights for former slaves. The Reconstruction Acts of 1866 divided those states into five military districts occupied by federal troops.
Compromising a Contested Election
The 1876 presidential election pitted Republican Rutherford B. Hayes against Democrat Samuel J. Tilden. The electoral vote was too close to call, and three of the contested states -- Florida, Louisiana, and South Carolina -- were former Confederate states. Although they still had Republican-controlled electoral boards, Democrats had won state government offices, in part through campaigns of violence and fraud. In a series of secret negotiations, the southern Democrats agreed to approve Hayes as president provided he pull federal troops from the South and increase funding for infrastructure improvements in their states. This deal decided the election in Hayes' favor.
Democrats Regain Control
Northern Republicans and African-Americans largely controlled Reconstruction Era governments in the South. Whites rallied behind the Democratic Party, which promised a return of white control and supremacy. The Ku Klux Klan used violence and intimidation to assist southern Democrats in winning elections, and by the 1870s, most southern governments were controlled by members of the Democratic party. The withdrawal of federal troops from the South in 1877 enabled white southern Democrats to reverse many of the political and social gains African-Americans had realized during the Reconstruction. Then, in 1878, Congress passed a law forbidding federal troops from intervening to protect African-American voters from harassment and intimidation.
The Legacy of Reconstruction
Despite the roll-back of many measures that ensured racial equality in the South, the former-Confederate states benefited to some extent from Reconstruction. Southern state courts were reorganized and judicial procedures were improved. The first statewide public schools, state-run hospitals and asylums were established. Although most African-Americans worked as laborers on farms owned by whites, the first African-American institutions of higher learning were established. Former slaves became preachers, teachers and business owners. By 1880, around 20 percent of southern African-Americans owned property, according to the University of Houston's Digital History site.
The Rise of Jim Crow
Southern segregation of the races began soon after the Civil War ended. Although segregation was more flexible during Reconstruction, more rigid laws were passed after federal troops withdrew from the South. These laws, which became known as Jim Crow laws after the name of a minstrel from the 1800s, prohibited African-Americans from using the same facilities and services as whites. In 1875, Congress had passed a Civil Rights Act that made racial discrimination in public places, including hotels and trains, illegal. However, in 1883 the Supreme Court declared that law unconstitutional. The court reasoned that refusing to accommodate someone because of their race was not the same as slavery, and did not violate the constitutional amendments abolishing slavery. The decision paved the way for extensive legalized segregation in the South.
- PBS: The Rise and Fall of Jim Crow -- Reconstruction
- PBS: The Rise and Fall of Jim Crow -- A National Struggle
- PBS: The Rise and Fall of Jim Crow -- Hayes-Tilden Election
- University of Houston Digital History: The Significance of Reconstruction
- PBS: The Rise and Fall of Jim Crow -- Civil Rights Act of 1875 Overturned
- Photos.com/Photos.com/Getty Images