Protecting Life, Liberty, or Property?
Source: Harper’s Weekly
September 1, 1868
Overview: The twelve years after the Civil War proved to be a difficult time for America. Called Reconstruction by historians, this era saw an increase of freedom for former slaves. However, there was also great resistance to change. In 1877, attempts to reconstruct the South officially ended, leaving white-only governments in power. This DBQ asks you to decide who, North or South, was most responsible for the end of Reconstruction.
North or South: Who Killed Reconstruction
…the slave went free; stood a brief moment in the sun; then moved back again toward slavery. -W.E.B. Dubois
1876 was an exciting year for America. It was the 100th anniversary of The Declaration of Independence and America was on the move. Homesteaders and ranchers were filling up the land west of the Mississippi River. Railroads were being built at an astounding rate. It seemed the United States was creating enough opportunity that all Americans and millions of immigrants could pursue their hopes for happiness just as Thomas Jefferson had envisioned 100 years earlier.
So it is a great irony of history that the election of 1876 officially crushed the American dream for millions of black Americans. This election saw Rutherford B. Hayes, the Republican candidate and eventual winner, square off against Samuel J. Tilden, the Democratic nominee. Although Tilden won the popular vote by a wide margin, election results in Florida, South Carolina, and Louisiana were so close that a winner could not be determined. If these three states went for Hayes, he would win the Electoral College vote and become President.
Talk of a new Civil War was in the air as the opponents in the disputed states submitted separate sets of electoral ballots. An informal agreement, now called The Compromise of 1877, avoided the crisis by granting Hayes the Presidency. In return, Hayes promised to remove the last Federal soldiers from the South, almost guaranteeing that all-white governments would rise to power. The dream of Reconstruction was officially dead.
For a while, however, it had seemed that the dream of Reconstruction might be realized. The 13th Amendment ended slavery. The 14th Amendment gave black Americans citizenship and civil rights. A Military Reconstruction Act was passed to make sure African-Americans’ new rights were protected. Black churches were founded. Public schools were built for black children, and universities like Howard, Fisk, Morehouse, and Hampton were founded for black students seeking higher education. Sixteen African-Americans were elected to Congress and numerous others served at state and local levels. Finally, the 15th Amendment was ratified making it illegal to deny someone the right to vote based on race. Indeed, real progress was made.
However, in the early 1870s, the tide shifted. Southern states began to elect governments dedicated to whites-only rule. Between 1870 and 1876 all but three Southern states turned back Reconstruction efforts. When Rutherford B. Hayes agreed to remove federal soldiers, he was simply putting an end to an already dying effort. But dying or dead, what had gone wrong? Your job is to read the documents that follow and answer the question: North or South: Who killed Reconstruction?
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