• The Reconstruction Years

    At the end of the Civil War, America was bitterly divided. In his second inaugural address, President Lincoln asked Americans to “bind up the nation’s wounds.” He hoped Americans would forgive each other and work for peace. After Lincoln’s assassination, Vice President Andrew Johnson became President. He also wanted to help the South rejoin the Union; heIp wanted to help freed slaves.

    The Republican Congress disagreed. They wanted harsh terms for the South. They insisted on dividing the South into five military areas and placing Northern army officers over those areas. When Johnson disagreed, Congress tried to impeach him. Southerners were deeply angered and humiliated to have Northerners in charge of them.

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    Fun Facts

    • The Fourteenth Amendment guaranteed citizenship to freed slaves, known as freedmen. The Fifteenth Amendment guaranteed their right to vote. The Freedman’s Bureau was a government agency formed to help freed slaves adjust to their new life. The Freedman’s Bureau opened more than 4,000 schools.
    • In spite of this help, life for freed slaves was very hard. Most of them could not read or write. They had no property. Many people discriminated against them. Some freedmen became tenant farmers, renting land to grow crops. Others became sharecroppers. They borrowed money for land, seed, and tools and then had to repay the lender at harvest time. Unfortunately, they rarely earned enough to pay their debt and have enough money left over to pay for the next season’s seed and land.
    • Many Southerners believed in the idea of “white supremacy,” that they were morally and intellectually superior to freed slaves. Some joined secret groups like the Klu Klux Klan or KKK. This group wore hooded robes and terrorized freed slaves and anyone who tried to help them. They burned houses and barns and even killed people.
    • Southerners hated scalawags, their name for white Southerners who voted Republican or tried to help freedmen. They also despised carpetbaggers, white people who came to the South to help with the Reconstruction. These people carried bags made from leather and carpet, hence the name. Southerners believed carpetbaggers came to the South with no real desire to help, but for their own financial gain.

    Vocabulary

    1. Impeach: to attempt to remove a political officer from duty by vote
    2. Citizenship: to become a citizen of a country and be entitled to specific rights and protections
    3. Sharecropper: a farmer who doesn’t own his own land, tools, or seeds, but must borrow money from a lender

    Learn More

    Visit Encyclopedia Brittanica to learn more.

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