It might be tempting for a present-day person living in a relatively equal society and affected by a hindsight bias to view Reconstruction as a successful project. Nevertheless, Reconstruction overall was predominantly a social, economic, and political failure. From a social perspective, Reconstruction did not achieve its purpose but created more issues. Arguably, after the Civil War’s end, the goal was to return to normalcy and support the unity of the country. However, the political measures that the government and other parties took in the process led to high social tensions and continued conflicts. Reconstruction was not effective in the economic sphere either, since it hindered any development. Politically, the period of Reconstruction was confrontational and did not lead to any resolution. Therefore, it should not be considered a success in either area.
Racism flourished in the Reconstruction era and was the root of most of society’s problems. According to the Constitutional Amendments, the freed slaves received the right to vote, protection of their life and liberty by law (Document B). Despite that, southern states published the laws infringing upon freedmen’s rights. They made it virtually impossible for a black person to enjoy their freedoms by prohibiting entering cities, living in the towns, gathering, and working for a non-white person (Document C). Thus, the only available option for freedmen to make a living was sharecropping. The freed slaves continued to work on plantations, supposedly earning money and giving a share to the landowner, while in reality, accommodating debts (Document D). Therefore, the economic system in the South remained largely unchanged during the Reformation. As Dubois put it, “…the slave went free; stood a brief moment in the sun; then moved back again toward slavery” (Document A). De jure the Constitutional Amendments granted freedmen civil rights and freedoms. However, de facto the states, the planters, and other groups remained averse to such change.
Apart from structurally preventing African Americans from exerting their rights, some engaged in violence against freedmen and Republicans. Ku Klux Klan (KKK) and the White League were major organizations terrorizing the South. Their goal was to establish political and economic dominance of the white race. The methods they used in attaining it made freedmen’s lives worse than they had been before the Civil War (Document N). These groups threatened, tortured and killed African Americans to prevent them from expressing political will (Document G; Document H). Moreover, they continued to target the former war enemies – Republicans (Document E). Independent Monitor’ cartoon in which the Democrat’s donkey with “KKK” on its back is walking away from two hangmen shows a strong association between KKK and the Democrats (Document F). Reportedly, some of the society’s prominent members, such as doctors and lawyers, participated in Ku Klux Klan’s violence (Document G). Possibly, the white supremacists realized that they could be outnumbered by freedmen and the Republicans in legitimate political confrontation and resorted to illegal methods to protect their interests. Return to peace and normalcy was impossible under such circumstances.
At the same time, the North was losing interest in the South’s violence. People were dissatisfied with the corrupt “carpet-bag government” (Document I). It seemed that politicians in the North were seeking to make a career in the South, thus possibly making biased decisions. The distrust towards politicians caused people to stop supporting its policies, including Reconstruction (Document I). Congress then alleviated the ban on ex-Confederates’ participation in politics (Document J). This decision indirectly harmed the freed slaves, since the Democrats affiliated with KKK gained a platform to adopt white supremacist legislation. Moreover, it showed that the government valued the former enemy’s rights higher than freed slaves (Document M). Even pro-freedman politicians continued to limit African American’s rights due to inherent prejudice against them. They believed that the freed slaves were uncivilized, could not know how to behave in the political scene, and had a slave mentality (Document K; Document L). The prejudice against the African Americans clouded even the progressive politician’s judgment. It was impossible to separate biases from politics and produce significant changes during the short period of the Reformation.
To conclude, the Reformation was politically, economically, and socially unsuccessful. The Reformation’s goal was to return to everyday life after the Civil War and rebuild the South. However, it was unattainable because racism deep-rooted in the South’s social and economic structure and prevalent in the North was an obstacle to drastic changes. White supremacists unwilling to share the political platform and financial resources with the African Americans had a fresh memory of war-time tactics. They used such tactics to achieve their political goals during the Reformation. Diminishing support for the Republican government due to the corruption allegations also resulted in its programs’ neglect, including low engagement in the Reformation. Finally, the rigidity of the social and economic structure, the strong resistance from the Democrats, and their allies hindered the practical implementation of freedmen’s legal rights. On paper, the Reformation freed the slaves, united the country, allowed political representation, but instead of improving the people’s lives, it made them harder.