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Reconstruction Acts

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

The Reconstruction Acts, or Military Reconstruction Acts, (March 2, 1867, 14 Stat. 428-430, c.153; March 23, 1867, 15 Stat. 2-5, c.6; July 19, 1867, 15 Stat. 14-16, c.30; and March 11, 1868, 15 Stat. 41, c.25) were four statutes passed during the Reconstruction Era by the 40th United States Congress addressing requirement for Southern States to be readmitted to the Union. The actual title of the initial legislation was "An act to provide for the more efficient government of the Rebel States" and it was passed on March 2, 1867. Fulfillment of the requirements of the Acts was necessary for the former Confederate States to be re-admitted to the Union from military and Federal control imposed during and after the American Civil War. The Acts excluded Tennessee,[1] which had already ratified the 14th Amendment and had been readmitted to the Union.

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>> So this situation cuts the ground out from under the moderate Republicans. Remember, the moderate plan had always been to amend Johnson's Reconstruction by guaranteeing the rights of the former slaves. Civil Rights Act, 14th Amendment, but keeping those governments in place. But now the Johnson governments are seen to be completely intransigent. They will not consider any effort to give protection to the former slaves. And you know, so when Congress meets in December 1866 and then for a short session into March 1867, the moderates basically decide there is no alternative but to go for black male suffrage in the South, to get new governments. They finally decide, we've got to get rid of these governments in the South set up by Andrew Johnson and set up new ones based on male suffrage, non-racial male suffrage. Now this was not exactly what the Radicals wanted. Stevens, again, is further ahead. Stevens just wants military rule of the South. He said, there's violence, things are out of control. Long-term military rule will create stability, will create time for people to kind of get used to the new situation, and it will enable us to divide up the land of the leading planters among the blacks. But Congress never approves that plan of Stevens' to redistribute land in the South. But, so, the story is told in my book and I'm not going to just give all the details. But, you know, in January, February 1867 a bill passes the House for military rule in the South. It goes to the Senate. They put other things on. It goes back to the House. And eventually, they pass this law, the Reconstruction Act of 1867, the pivotal law of this period, which inaugurates what we call Congressional Reconstruction or Radical Reconstruction. It sets the terms for Southern admission, readmission, and it divides the South temporarily into five military districts. It says, no legal government exists in the South now, the military is going to take over five districts, but it's not for long-term rule. The purpose of military rule is to start registering voters to have elections, new elections, in the South. In those elections, black men can vote. First time in American history that significant numbers of black men will be allowed to vote. First experiment in interracial democracy in American history. And at the same time (this is complicated and a lot of people don't understand it) the people who are denied the right to hold office in the 14th Amendment cannot vote in these new elections. Now, you'll read in the old thing, well, they disenfranchised all the whites. They gave the right to vote to the blacks and -- No, that is not, this is not all the whites. Nobody knew how many it was. It might've been 10,000 voters, 8,000 voters, there were estimates. But it was the old political leaders who, according to the 14th Amendment, cannot hold office, cannot vote in these new elections. The elections are to elect constitutional conventions, which will write new constitutions for the Southern states, which will include nondiscriminatory voting. They must also ratify the 14th Amendment. Once they do those two things, have new constitutions and ratify the 14th Amendment, Congress will readmit their delegates and they will be back as part of the Union. The Reconstruction Act of 1867, like all the measures here, is a compromise. It's much closer to the Radical position, because it has given black men the right to vote, which is what the Radicals have demanded since the end of the Civil War. But it is not for indefinite military rule. It's based on the idea of the states being quickly restored back into the Union. And the South could choose not even to do this and just remain under military rule. But no state decides they want to do that. So the radical part is black suffrage. An amazing leap into the unknown. Today, well, the right to vote, you know (of course, it's under attack in some places), but it's not so amazing. But at this time, no country that abolished slavery so quickly tried to bring the former slaves into real positions of political power. Two years after the end of slavery. Even Haiti, where a black revolution overturned slavery, was then ruled by a series of basically military dictatorships for quite a while. In the British West Indies, you had to have so much property to vote that the vast majority of the former slaves were disenfranchised. But here we're talking about, in a political democracy, which is what the United States prides itself on being, the former slaves, two years after the end of slavery, at least the male ones, being brought in as equal participants in American democracy. Nobody knew what the outcome would be. Would these former slaves be manipulated and controlled by their former owners? Nobody knew. That's what Andrew Johnson had said. Would the fact that they were economically dependent make it impossible for them to act politically? Maybe because they were dependent on whites for their livelihood they could not really mobilize themselves. Nobody knew. So it was a leap in the dark, and it came, the black suffrage comes out of the impasse (that's what I said last time), it comes out of the crisis itself. It comes out of the fact that the crisis created by Johnson's intransigence and the failure of his Reconstruction plan and the inability to compromise, pushes the great majority of the Republican party now into the Radical position. Maybe it was doomed to fail at the beginning, who knows. In my book, I quote Senator Timothy Howe of Wisconsin, this dramatic letter or wonderful quote where he said, we have pulled up our anchor and "cast [it] out a hundred years" into the future. They have jumped 100 years into the future, in 1867. That's exactly what it turned out to be. It took 100 years for these rights to actually be guaranteed in this country in the 1960s. And it took an entire new generation, obviously, and an entire new social movement and new ideas, and a whole different world 100 years later, to finally implement, in part, the agenda of Reconstruction. So it's certainly a remarkable moment in our history in this country, and in the history of democracy.



A key feature of the Acts included the creation of five military districts in the South, each commanded by a general, which would serve as the acting government for the region. In addition, Congress required that each state draft a new state constitution, which would have to be approved by Congress. The states also were required to ratify the Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution and grant voting rights to black men. President Andrew Johnson's vetoes of these measures were overridden by Congress.

General George Meade (of the Third Military District) appointed Brig. General Thomas H. Ruger[2] to replace Governor of Georgia Charles J. Jenkins, who had been elected as the only candidate in 1865 to succeed James Johnson, who had been appointed by President Andrew Johnson.

After Ex parte McCardle (1869) came before the United States Supreme Court, Congress feared that the Court might strike the Reconstruction Acts down as unconstitutional. To prevent this, Congress repealed the Habeas Corpus Act 1867, eliminating the Supreme Court's jurisdiction over the case.

See also


  1. ^
  2. ^ Knight, Lucian Lamar (1917). A Standard History of Georgia and Georgians. 2. Lewish publishing Company. p. 830. OCLC 1855247.

External links

This page was last edited on 9 October 2018, at 20:46
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