Post American Civil War for Kids - Congressional Reconstruction
After the Civil War, Congress was controlled by Republicans. In the 1866 Congressional elections, Republicans again won landslide victories. By the time the elections were over, Republicans controlled 2/3 of the seats in both the House and the Senate. The Republican majority in Congress focused on expansion of the railroads, settling the western territories, fighting Indian wars out west, adjusting laws to keep up with the rapid growth of industry in the North, and other business. But they did not forget about the South.
In 1866, after working for several months, the Congressional Committee on Reconstruction presented its plan for the unification of the country. It was a very different plan than that presented by the current U.S. president, Andrew Johnson, which was very lenient. The Congressional Reconstruction plan was very harsh. It was designed to keep Republicans in control of Congress. It was, however, sensitive to the plight of freed slaves in the South. The committee's proposal was accepted by Congress. The following was established:
1. Congress formed the Freedmen's Bureau, a temporary federal agency to help former slaves transition to freedom, by providing free food, clothing, medical care, and education to over 4 million freed slaves.
2. Congress replaced civilian governments in former Confederate states with military rule, to force Southerners to obey the new laws, such as the 13th Amendment.
3. Congress refused to recognize any state constitution until it had been changed to include the right of male African Americans to vote.
4. Congress did not allow any state to rejoin the Union until they had ratified the 14th Amendment, which further protected African American civil rights.
5. Congress barred all former Confederates from holding political office until they had received a pardon from Congress.
When the press called their actions harsh, Congress responded by pointing out they had forgiven the massive Confederate war debt. They had established programs that provided free food, clothing, medical care, education, and jobs for millions of people. What more did the South want?
What the South wanted of course was their prewar way of life back. But this was not going to happen. After the war, Northern economy boomed. But news from the South continued to be depressing. In spite of Republican claims of support and care, Republican corruption in both the North and the South was widespread. The South's reaction to the harsh controls placed upon them by the Republican Congress resulted in the rise of secret societies, whose purpose was to terrorize African Americans, carpetbaggers, and scalawags, in an attempt to regain control.
But Republicans remained in control. In 1868, Republican Ulysses S. Grant, former Union general, won the presidency. He served 2 terms. The first election was close, but he won his second term by a landslide, in spite of charges of incompetence, fraud, and scandal. And again, the Republicans gained a 2/3 majority in both houses. During his presidency, yet another Amendment was added to the Constitution, the 15th Amendment, extending African American civil rights. The Democratic South might have wanted their prewar culture back, but it simply was not going to happen.