Reconstruction in the South: Positive & Negative Effects

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  • 0:06 Two Sides of Reconstruction
  • 0:55 Opportunities for…
  • 2:12 Growth in the South
  • 3:48 Resentment and Violence
  • 5:03 Backtracking
  • 6:29 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Amy Troolin

Amy has MA degrees in History, English, and Theology. She has taught college English and religious education classes and currently works as a freelance writer.

In this lesson, we'll explore the positive and negative effects of Reconstruction on the people of the South. We'll look at rights and opportunities for African Americans, economic growth, resentment and violence, and the sharecropping system.

Two Sides of Reconstruction

The Radical Republican takeover of Reconstruction in 1867 produced a mixed bag of results for the people of the South. On one hand, rights and opportunities for African Americans reached a pinnacle, and many former slaves held bright hopes for the future. The South's economy seemed to be improving, too.

On the other hand, many Southerners strongly resented the changes thrust upon them by the federal government, and some of them protested with violence. Others fought to regain political control and force African Americans back into some form of servitude, using the sharecropping system as one of their basic tools. In this lesson, we will explore both sides of Reconstruction in the South.

Opportunities for African Americans

One of the high points of Reconstruction was the new rights and opportunities it brought to African Americans. For the first time, they were free. Slavery was a thing of the past, and many African Americans hoped for a bright future.

Through Republican efforts, federal laws, and constitutional amendments, former slaves could vote, own property, receive an education, legally marry and sign contracts, file lawsuits, and even hold political office. By the beginning of 1868, 700,000 African Americans were registered voters, 14 held seats in the U.S. House of Representatives, and many more took positions in state legislatures.

African Americans formed their own churches, schools, and organizations. About 200,000 of them learned to read with the help of the Freedmen's Bureau. Many settled down with their families, relieved that there was no longer any chance that a family member would be sold. Others decided to travel, seeking new employment opportunities in cities or looking for lost loved ones. African Americans had discovered a new way of life.

Growth in the South

Many white Southerners also had high hopes for the future. State governments throughout the South were making economic and social improvements designed to launch the region into a new era. Manufacturing, which had never been a Southern strong point, was on the rise during Reconstruction. All Southern states showed improvement in this area, but seven of them could boast an increase of over 50% in capital investments. This led to new factories, new products, and new jobs.

The Southern transportation system also experienced a revolution as manufacturers needed a steady way of transporting their goods to market. The railroads expanded rapidly as hundreds of miles of track were laid throughout the South. Small farmers were especially interested and inspired by these changes. They further applauded the division of many large plantations and hurried to purchase more land. They were also excited by the chances to increase their political power by cooperating with the Republican state governments.

Moreover, they appreciated the growth of the South's educational system, which gave their children more opportunities than ever before. Louisiana's 1868 state constitution, for instance, mandated one public school in each parish that would be free to white or black children ages six to 18. In five years, the number of Louisiana schools grew from about a hundred to about a thousand.

Resentment and Violence

Not everything in the South was rosy, however. Southerners, many of them grieving for lost loved ones, faced the difficulty of rebuilding their homes, their cities, and their lives. Some greatly resented the North and everything that the federal government was doing in the South. They despised the Republicans and were horrified by the African Americans' newly-gained rights and the government's corruption.

This resentment often broke out in violence as terrorist organizations, like the Ku Klux Klan (KKK), spread a reign of terror across the South, targeting African Americans and white Republicans. KKK members in their white robes and pointed hoods intimidated, attacked, and murdered throughout the South, striking fear into anyone who disagreed with them - no one was safe.

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