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The period of Reconstruction

The Civil War was the bloodiest war to be fought on American soil. Although both sides expected the conflict to be over in a matter of days, it lasted four tumultuous years, from 1861-1865. The war pitted brother against brother, neighbor against neighbor. The period of Reconstruction, the time when our nation attempted to mend its broken relations with the South and rebuild after the destructive war, lasted until 1877. What many people dont know is that the original intent of the Civil War was to preserve the Union. Many factors went into Lincolns decision to also address slavery through this war.

For one, the number of men enlisting in the war was dwindling, and it became apparent that black manpower would be absolutely necessary to win the war. Also, the increasingly upset Radical Republicans and abolitionists let their opinions be known and persuaded the citizens of the North that the war could not be won without attacking the issue of slavery. Finally, Lincoln believed that transforming the dispute from a conflict to preserve the Union to a crusade against slavery would dissuade the threatening British and French from supporting the Confederacy.

With its new stated purpose, the Civil War would now have huge societal repercussions. The largest and most complex issue of Reconstruction was how to go about admitting the Confederate states back into the Union. President Lincolns plans were quite lenient, accepting the seceded states back into the Union even if by vote only a minority of a states white males took an oath of loyalty to the United States. However, John Wilkes Booth assassinated him before any of his plans could go into action. His replacement, vice president Andrew Johnson, a democrat, was left in a difficult predicament.

Public opinion at the time favored that the South should face some sort of retribution for their past acts, and promise loyalty for the future before they were to be pardoned. At the time, many Northerners were Republicans; Southerners were largely democratic. The biggest supporters of an extreme Reconstruction process were the Radicals. Many of them argued that the confederate states had lost their constitutional identity; however the Republicans would only go so far as to say that by seceding the southerners had forfeited their rights.

They were to be kept out of the Union until they had demonstrated a proper spirit of repentance. Radicals convinced enough moderate Republicans of this that Congress passed the Wade-Davis bill, which postponed Reconstruction until a majority of a states white males (not just 10%) took an oath of loyalty. Lincoln, however, not wanting to abandon his own approach, pocket-vetoed the bill. Another issue to be dealt with was blacks voting rights. Although this was once only an issue among radicals, a clear minority, all of Congress was beginning to give it light.

The republicans now realized that only black voters would guarantee loyalty in the South. As a result Johnsons Reconstruction Acts gave black males suffrage. The time period known as Reconstruction was a huge turning point in our history. By abolishing slavery, the industrial North forced the South to abandon its agricultural-based economy. Blacks, now free, were adjusting to this new world where they could become educated and live on their own. Acceptable relations between the seceded states and the national government had been fashioned. America truly was The United States once again.

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