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The era of Reconstruction in the 1870s in both the North and South experienced battle for equality for men freed by the 13th Amendment. America was on the brink of recreating the American government, showing genuine signs of a better and brighter future for the African American population. Economic and political practices limited the liberties of black men. Vicious hate groups struck fear unto those who supported the integration of freedmen. The political realm during the time saw a regression of pro-equality emotions in both the Union and in the South. In spite of the promising hope for African Americans that surfaced in 1876, political, economic, and social aspects laced throughout the American government altered the potential for the assurance of equal rights for freedmen.
The South exhibited extreme disdain for freed African-American men and women. Restrictions were placed on freedmen in order to hinder their success in a recently freed nation. These laws, often called “Black Codes”, prohibited the freedman from practicing basic rights. In Opelousas, Louisiana, black men and women were not allowed to live in town, go into town, or hold public meetings in town, and they were required to be “in the service of some white person, or former owner” (Document A). Enacted immediately after the Civil War, these laws suppressed the equal rights that freedmen were supposed to have. These laws were put into effect by state governments, and they desperately called for interference by the federal government that would not come as soon as it should have. In addition to the Black Codes, sharecropping in the south forced freedmen into an endless cycle of labor and death. This “cycle of poverty” received land, in turn for promising the landowner half the crop.
At the end of the harvesting cycle, after the sharecropper has given half the crop to the landowner, the sharecropper owes more than he has earned, and the in-debt sharecropper must remain in service next year for the owner (Document B). By 1870, sharecropping was the dominant means by which African Americans could gain access to land in the South, but the southern landowners made it so that the sharecroppers would forever remain owing money to the owner. These limitations placed on the freedmen did not allow them to practice their newfound freedom.
Groups of previously Confederate southern men sought out those who condoned the recognition of equality for all races. In a specific account, a white, Northern soldier by the name of Albion Tourgee alerted the North Carolinian Republican Senator of a murder of a man murder by the Ku Klux Klan. This murder was the murder of an honest Republican man, and his support for equality for freedmen got him killed (Document C). This murder acted as a precedent for Tourgee, showing him and any other person that defied the ideals of the KKK would not be tolerated. The KKK wished to abolish any racial toleration in society, and their efforts successfully made the Union members fearful of what they were capable of. In another account, a freed slave was kidnapped by the KKK and beaten mercilessly because he refused to allow a white man to take his place in the legislature.
The slave explained that the members of the Klan were in fact first-class men who would be expected to abide by higher morals. Abram Colby, the slave, states “no man can make a free speech in my country… it can not be done anywhere in Georgia” (Document D). There is a clear violation of rights that all men in United States are given. White men found it necessary to gang up on the innocent black population and let it be known that the participation of freedmen in government would not be tolerated. This example set by the KKK for the government portrayed the lack of support of equality in America.
The election of 1876 shaped the future of Reconstruction in the United States. In the election, electoral votes were disputed over, and the Electoral Commission was formed. The argued-over states of Florida, Louisiana, Oregon, and South Carolina saw accusations of fraud in the elections. Republicans dominated electoral commissions and they were able to throw out enough votes to allow Hayes to win (Document F). Despite the win for Democrat Samuel J. Tilden in terms of popular vote, Republican Rutherford B. Hayes ended up winning the election, thus crushing any chance of permanent Reconstruction for the nation. The Compromise of 1877 granted Hayes the presidency, and he removed all Federal soldiers from the South, ensuring success for all-white governments. The once promising future of Reconstruction was officially dismissed due to this election, and racial equality became a forgotten cause.
Despite the potential that the United States saw for a Reconstruction of the way of living in the country, key events catalyzed the digression of thoughts of equality in the 1870s. Democrats were steadily regaining control of the South, as the already-weak Republican presence in region only became weaker as northerners lost interest in Reconstruction. The Depression of 1873, along with continued pressure from the Ku Klux Klan, drove most white Unionists, carpetbaggers, and “scalawags” out of the South by the mid-1870s, leaving blacks alone to fight for radical legislation. By the end of the decade, the fight was over, and equality for freedmen remained an unsolved matter.