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Reconstruction Acts of 1867: Definition & History Video

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  • 0:02 The End of the Civil War
  • 0:38 What Is Reconstruction?
  • 2:18 The Acts
  • 4:21 The Aftermath
  • 5:15 The Consequences
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Lucia Reyes
This lesson will describe the Reconstruction Acts of 1867, including the historical context in which they were formed, their content and their impact on post-Civil War America.

The End of the Civil War

When the American Civil War ended in 1865 after four violent, devastating years of fighting, the reunited country found itself facing even more challenges. How would the two regions so recently at war come together again as one nation? Would Southerners be treated as war captives or as trusted citizens? How would millions of freed slaves be integrated into a country in which they were still viewed by so many as inferior? Questions such as these would be addressed by a series of laws known as the Reconstruction Acts of 1867.

What Is Reconstruction?

In order to fully grasp the significance of the Reconstruction Acts of 1867, it is first necessary to understand the historical context in which they were created. These laws were passed and enforced during Reconstruction, a tumultuous time period following the American Civil War and lasting from 1865 to 1877. Although the focus of Reconstruction was to reunify the country, the lives lost, dollars spent, cities destroyed, and economic damage that resulted from the war undoubtedly led to lingering resentments between the North and the South. Many Southern cities, like Charleston, South Carolina, suffered immense damage during the war.

Charleston, South Carolina, was one of the many Southern cities to suffer immense damage during the Civil War.

After all, former Confederates were forced to rejoin a country in which they had little say in the Reconstruction process. They had zero representation in Congress, which was dominated at the time by Republicans, including an influential group known as Radical Republicans. Radical Republicans believed the federal government should play an active role in rebuilding the country, working to limit the South's power, as well as fight for full citizenship rights for African Americans. Southerners, undoubtedly still reeling from the passing of the 13th Amendment, which ended slavery in 1865, responded to these limitations with force of their own. Southern states passed laws known as Black Codes, limiting the freedoms of African Americans. Terrorist organizations, such as the Ku Klux Klan, spread across the South, targeting African Americans and Radical Republicans in acts of violence and intimidation.

The Acts

It was during this conflicted time that the Reconstruction Acts of 1867 were introduced, debated, and eventually passed within Congress but not without controversy. Products of Republican efforts, the purpose of these laws was to reshape the South and secure equal rights for African Americans. They also set ultimatums for former Confederate states before they could officially rejoin the Union. The Reconstruction Acts of 1867 included the following terms:

  • New State Constitutions - Former Confederate states would have to create new state constitutions. Committees formed to create these constitutions were composed of mainly Republicans, including African Americans. A key component in all constitutions was that voting rights were extended to all adult men, including African Americans. Native American men on tribal lands were excluded.
  • Military Districts- the South was divided into the following five military districts:
    • Virginia
    • North Carolina and South Carolina
    • Georgia, Alabama, and Florida
    • Mississippi and Arkansas
    • Louisiana and Texas
  • Each district was under the charge of a military commander who had the power to appoint and remove state officials. These military leaders would also register voters and organize state elections.

Map showing military districts established by the Reconstruction Acts, 1867

  • Ratification of the 14th Amendment - Former Confederate states would have to ratify the Fourteenth Amendment, which states, 'All persons born or naturalized in the United States... are citizens of the United States.' It also guarantees 'no state shall ... deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.'

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