Throughout time, Blacks had been given false hope that they could be viewed as equals to Whites. But because of Whites not willing to accept them as equals, it leads them to be continuously oppressed. It first came with the Emancipation Proclamation in 1863, where Abraham Lincoln set slaves free. Blacks were considered freedmen, because they were no longer tied down by slavery. This gave them temporary hope, but was not enough to give them complete freedom. It was next through the Thirteenth, Fourteenth, and Fifteenth Amendments, all created after the Emancipation Proclamation, to give Blacks equality. Reconstruction was the era after the Civil War, in which these Amendments were put into place to try and enforce that Blacks and Whites were now equals. This era, which went from 1865 to 1877, was excellent for Blacks, because military enforcement in the South made voting and becoming a government official possible. But it ended up not working well, with Blacks being attacked by Whites not yet ready for equality. The end of Reconstruction again ended Blacks temporary hope that they could be viewed as equals to Whites. Both the North and the South had a part in removing the military enforcements and putting down the false hope instilled in Blacks It was not the North ignoring the racist attacks down South that killed Reconstruction, but the South who instituted these attacks towards Blacks that put an end Reconstruction.
Although the North did not kill Reconstruction in the South, it gave white supremacist groups like the Ku Klux Klan the ability to kill it by ignoring the issue. The KKK was against Reconstruction and given Black’s rights. Without the North watching every move of the South, these groups were able to attack Blacks without worry of the North intervening. The North was not focused on the South because they believed they had bigger issues to deal with, like the Panic of 1873, or corruptness in the Grant’s administration. A political cartoon from Harper’s Weekly in 1876 shows President Grant digging himself out of a barrel, which is labeled with multiple different issues going on throughout the whole United States, not just the South. With his head in the barrel, there was no way for Grant to see other issues, which included Southern aggression towards Blacks. The North decided to focus on the economic problem of America, because it was something that affected everyone. They stopped caring about Reconstruction because it did not affect them as much, but also because they were not ready for Blacks to be viewed as equal.
Another cartoon from Harper’s Weekly depicts how a White illustrator viewed Blacks in government. These Black officials were drawn with monkey like facial expressions, and arguing. While these Black men are being aggressive towards each other, there are Whites in the background who are not arguing, looking very peaceful. This cartoon showed that even Northern Whites did not think Blacks should be allowed into the government. They may have been supporters of ending slavery, but Whites were not ready to fully accept Blacks as equals.
Northern Whites did not fully support the idea of Reconstruction because the did not want to see Blacks become a part of their government. This lack of interest with the added focus towards the financial problems of America gave the South space to kill Reconstruction.
The South killed Reconstruction because they forced Blacks away from government positions. This allowed racist Whites to take these open spots, and remove Reconstruction to continue their idea that Blacks should not be equal with Whites. They had many ways of keeping Blacks out of office, including lynching and bribery. In a testimony, given in 1872 against the Ku Klux Klan, a former slave who had become part of the Georgia State Legislature told about what they had done to him: “They said to me, ‘Do you think you will ever vote another damned Radical ticket?’ I said, ‘Id there was an election tomorrow, I would have voted the Radical ticket.’ They set in a whipped me a thousand licks more…” (B). The South attacked Blacks, and tried to scare them to the point where they would not vote in the elections. They stopped Blacks from voting for Radical Republicans, who supported Black citizenship and punishment for former Confederates. In the same testimony, the former slave spoke about how he was bribed to not continue his position in office: “About two days before they whipped me they offered me $5,000 to go with them and said they would pay me $2,5000 in cash if I would let another man go to the legislature in my place” (B). This tactic of luring Blacks out of holding position in government allowed Southern Whites to step in and claim these open spots. Not only did the KKK attack Blacks, but they also attacked Whites who were trying to aid Blacks, A print depicting two carpetbaggers being hung by the KKK, made in 1868, shows how white supremacist groups would go after anyone who supported Reconstruction. A carpetbagger is someone from the North who went down to the South to help with Reconstruction. Along with attacking these men, they would also attack Scalawags, who were Southern Whites supporting carpetbaggers and freedmen. Not even Whites were safe down South if they supported Reconstruction.
Even with aid from the North, the South used terror tactics to keep Blacks from gaining ground. With Blacks not running for office because they were scared for their lives, racist, Southern whites filled the spots. These White government officials in the South ended Reconstruction because they did not believe that Blacks and Whites should be equal.
Without the North’s focus, the South was able to end Reconstruction by keeping Blacks out of official government positions. The North was worried about the country’s finance problems, which outweighed Reconstruction to them because it directly affected all of America. With both the North and the South not fully ready for Blacks to be viewed as equals, the South seized the opportunity to oppress Blacks through terror attacks. These attacks were so horrifying that Blacks no longer would run for office in fear for their life. This gave Whites a clear path to government positions, where they killed Reconstruction. The South was responsible because they allowed the KKK to scare Blacks into not participating in government, and then electing racist, White Southerners who got rid of Reconstruction.
A: Independent Monitor, September 1, 1868. Alabama Department of Archives and History, Montgomery, Alabama.
B: Abram Colby, testimony to a joint House and Senate Committee in 1872
C: Cartoon of Grant, Harper’s Weekly, 1876
D: Cartoon of Blacks in legislature, The cover of Harper’s Weekly, March 14, 1874