Reconstruction: Successes and Reasons of Failure

Reconstruction is a process that occurred after the Civil War when the federal Union was rebuilding its territories after the Southern states destroyed them. Reconstruction continued from 1865 to 1877, and its main goal was to restructure the South and help it reunite with the federal Union again (Guelzo, 2018). However, the main problem of the Reconstruction was that no one knew how a successful reconstruction should look like. The federal troops occupied the Southern states to ensure that other strikes would not occur. Abraham Lincoln planned to reunite the Southern states with the Union and make slavery illegal (Guelzo, 2018). However, even though some of the Reconstruction initiatives were successful, it ended with failure, harming race relationships and returning the white elite to the government.

Although Reconstruction was not well-planned, some of its goals were successfully achieved. One of its successes was amending the American constitution and creating more laws, protecting the rights and liberties of the freed slaves. For example, acknowledging the 13th, 14th, and 15th Amendments influenced the lives of African Americans significantly. These Amendments outlawed slavery, protected all residents of the United States of America, and granted suffrage to all men (Stoner, 2019). African-Americans were allowed to participate at all governmental levels and received the right to participate in elections at the end of Reconstruction.

State governments solved different social problems successfully. For example, public school systems received funding from the government and were open to all citizens (Stoner, 2019). African-Americans were able to create establishments that were previously denied to them without fear to be judged for it. They established schools, hospitals, railroads, asylums, and churches and created families. Charitable organizations were created to help African Americans improve their literacy and advance skills. Finally, since the plantation systems were destroyed, the distribution of land became another success of Reconstruction.

At the same time, Reconstruction faced many challenges that led to its failure. One of its failures was the Ku Klux Klan groups that emerged to propagate and preserve authority of whites and threaten all African American voters and those whites who favored them. As a response to these groups’ activities, the Ku Klux Klan Act was passed in the 1870s (Stoner, 2019). The Act was aimed to eliminate violence against African Americans and protect their rights. However, the Ku Klux Klan activists were everywhere, and the local law enforcement members either belonged to it or did not take any action to stop its violent activities.

Another failure of Reconstruction was the inability of the government to break the cycle of poverty for the former slaves. The state continued to use sharecropping and tenant farming to ensure that African Americans would still work on the lands owned by white-skinned farmers (Guelzo, 2018). Former slaves had no access to economic resources, so they had no other choice and continued to work there. The governmental leaders were mostly inexperienced, and some of them were motivated by corruption and greed. They had no desire to liaise with the blacks, so white supremacy prevailed. Thus, African Americans had no chance to overcome poverty.

Racial segregation and discrimination did not vanish too. Southern Democrats wanted to restore the Old South and passed various laws to suppress African Americans. The laws were called “Jim Crow” laws, and they made segregation legal again (Jim Crow Laws, n.d.). These laws affected different spheres of daily life, and the signs “Whites Only” and “Colored” were constantly reminding of the segregation (Jim Crow Laws, n.d.). What is more, the Supreme Court maintained these restrictions and claimed that the 14th and 15th Amendments could only be used at the federal level. From this perspective, African Americans were “separate but equal” (Jim Crow Laws, n.d.). At the end of Reconstruction, the Democratic government eliminated most of the Reconstruction programs, which led to its failure.

The failures of Reconstruction harmed race relations in the former Confederate states. White Southerners did not want African Americans to be free, and they made everything to limit their rights and liberties. For example, the “Black Codes” were passed to regulate the former slaves’ labor and restrict their movements (Stoner, 2019, p. 4). Although public schools were open to all, they began to require too high taxes for many poor whites and blacks. Ex-Confederates created political alliances with African Americans, promising that if they helped put the white elite back in power, they would have better lives. However, as soon as the white elite restored its leadership, all promises were forgotten.

In addition, Reconstruction failures made many Northerners conclude that granting suffrage to African Americans was a mistake. Thus, anti-Reconstruction activities and strikes began to occur, and the government did not intervene in those violent actions. When Democrats came to power and controlled the Southern states, Reconstruction ended. Blacks were deprived of their suffrage, and economic inequality continued to exist. Only in the Civil Rights Movement could African Americans fight again for their rights and achieve equality and social justice in the world of white supremacy. To conclude, Reconstruction was the beginning of a new period in the history of African Americans in the United States. Its failures motivated blacks to fight for equality, even though they only managed to achieve this goal several decades later.


Guelzo, A.C. (2018). Reconstruction and the end of history. American Affairs, 2(3), 210-226. Web.

Jim Crow Laws. (n.d.). PBS. Web.

Stoner, J.R. (2019). (Why) did Reconstruction fail? Legislating and constitutionalizing civil rights. Perspectives on Political Science, 48(4), 224-233. Web.

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