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Reconstruction of the United States facts for kids

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Reconstruction Era 1865–1877
The ruins of Richmond, Virginia after the American Civil War, newly freed African Americans voting for the first time in 1867, Office of the Freedmen's Bureau in Memphis, Tennessee, Memphis Riots of 1866
Date January 1, 1863 (1863-01-01) to March 31, 1877 (1877-03-31)
(14 years, 2 months and 30 days)
Location United States, Southern United States
Also known as Reconstruction; Radical Reconstruction

The Reconstruction was after the American Civil War. It was the remaking of the Southern United States, after it had lost its war of rebellion and slavery was ended. The southern states were occupied territory. Andrew Johnson became President of the U.S. after the assassination of Abraham Lincoln in 1865. He wanted to make it easy to restore local rule in the previously rebellious states, and he permitted some of them to hold elections in 1865. Former leaders of the Confederate States of America who ran as Democrats were elected to Congress, and states passed laws that denied rights to former slaves.

Many members of the Republican Party wanted stricter terms before local rule was returned to the South. After the Republicans won a large majority of the Congressional seats in the 1866 elections, they refused to let former Confederate leaders take seats in the Congress. The Republicans then passed laws that former leaders of the rebellion were not allowed to hold office and were not allowed to vote. Three new amendments to the U.S. Constitution were passed that ended slavery, made former slaves citizens, and gave them the right to vote. Some newly freed black slaves won elected offices.

Many white people resisted having former slaves having equal rights and being able to vote. The Ku Klux Klan was formed to force black people out of political and economic power. After Reconstruction ended in 1877, white people in the South used their regained political powers to pass Jim Crow Laws. These laws enforced segregation (keeping blacks and whites separate) and took the vote away from African Americans whose parents or grandparents were slaves. After Reconstruction, white Southerners voted mostly against the Republican Party for about 80 years.


The Reconstruction era is typically dated from the Emancipation Proclamation in 1863 until the withdrawal of the final federal troops stationed in the South in 1877. However, some scholars offer later dates, such as 1890, when Republicans failed to pass the Lodge Bill to secure voting rights in the South.


In the American Civil War, the state governments of eleven southern states, all of which permitted the practice of slavery, seceded from the United States following the election of President Abraham Lincoln and formed the Confederate States of America. Though Lincoln initially declared secession "legally void" and declined to negotiate with Confederate delegates to Washington, following the Confederate assault on the Union garrison at Fort Sumter, Lincoln declared "an extraordinary occasion" existed in the South and raised an army to quell "combinations too powerful to be suppressed by the ordinary course of judicial proceedings." Over the next four years, 237 named battles were fought between the Union and Confederate armies, resulting in the dissolution of the Confederate States in 1865. During the war, Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation, which declared that "all persons held as slaves" within the Confederate territory "shall be then, thenceforward, and forever free."


  • August 6, 1861: The Confiscation Act of 1861 becomes law.
  • March 3, 1862: Lincoln appoints Andrew Johnson of Tennessee as the first military governor of a Southern state.
  • July 17, 1862: The Confiscation Act of 1862 becomes law, providing the legal basis for the Emancipation Proclamation.
  • January 1, 1863: Lincoln issues the Emancipation Proclamation, freeing all persons held in slavery in Confederate territory.
  • December 8, 1863: Lincoln announces his "ten percent plan" for the recognizing unionist governments in Union-controlled Confederate territory.
  • January 16, 1865: General William Tecumseh Sherman issues Special Field Orders No. 15.
  • February 3, 1865: Lincoln meets to discuss reconciliation with Southern representatives at the Hampton Roads Conference.
  • March 3, 1865: The Freedmen's Bureau Act becomes law.
  • April 9, 1865: General Robert E. Lee surrenders the Army of Northern Virginia to Ulysses S. Grant, effectively ending hostilities on land.
  • April 14, 1865: Lincoln is assassinated by John Wilkes Booth. Andrew Johnson becomes President.
  • December 6, 1865: The Thirteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution is ratified.
  • March 27, 1866: Johnson vetoes the Civil Rights Act of 1866.
  • May 1 to 3, 1866: Riots in Memphis, Tennessee kill forty-eight, primarily freed African Americans, and injure seventy-five.
  • July 24, 1866: Tennessee is the first state reestablished or readmitted to the Union.
  • July 30, 1866: At least thirty-eight people are killed and 146 wounded in New Orleans at a racially integrated constitutional convention.
  • August 27 through September 15, 1866: President Johnson launches a national speaking tour to rally support for his policies.
  • October 9 through November 6, 1866: Congressional elections return large majorities for the radicals, ending presidential reconstruction under Johnson.
  • March 4, 1867: Congress passes the first Reconstruction Act, establishing requirements for the readmission of additional states, over Johnson's veto.
  • July 19, 1867: Congress passes the third Reconstruction Act, creating a system of military government throughout the South.
  • August 12, 1867: Johnson suspends Secretary of War Edwin Stanton from office over his military reconstruction policies.
  • March 2 and 3, 1868 : Congress impeaches President Johnson on eleven articles of impeachment for violating the Tenure of Office Act.
  • May 26, 1868: The Senate narrowly votes against convicting Johnson.
  • July 9, 1868: The Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution is ratified.
  • February 3, 1870: The Fifteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution is ratified.
  • May 31, 1870: The Enforcement Act of 1870 becomes law.
  • February 24, 1871: Representatives from Georgia, the final Confederate state to be readmitted, are seated in Congress.
  • February 28, 1871: The Second Enforcement Act becomes law.
  • April 20, 1871: The Ku Klux Klan Act becomes law.
  • May 22, 1872: The Amnesty Act becomes law.
  • March 1, 1875: The Civil Rights Act of 1875 becomes law.
  • November 6, 1876: The presidential election between Hayes and Tilden results in an electoral dispute over Florida, South Carolina, and Louisiana.

Major milestones

Emancipation Proclamation

Celebration of the Emancipation Proclamation in Massachusetts, 1862

In July 1862, Lincoln became convinced that "a military necessity" was needed to strike at slavery in order to win the Civil War for the Union. The Confiscation Acts were only having a minimal effect to end slavery. On July 22, he wrote a first draft of the Emancipation Proclamation that freed the slaves in states in rebellion. After he showed his Cabinet the document, slight alterations were made in the wording. Lincoln decided that the defeat of the Confederate invasion of the North at Sharpsburg was enough of a battlefield victory to enable him to release the preliminary Emancipation Proclamation that gave the rebels 100 days to return to the Union or the actual proclamation would be issued.

On January 1, 1863, the actual Emancipation Proclamation was issued, specifically naming 10 states in which slaves would be "forever free". The proclamation did not name the states of Tennessee, Kentucky, Missouri, Maryland, and Delaware, and specifically excluded numerous counties in some other states. Eventually, as the U.S. Army advanced into the Confederacy, millions of slaves were set free. Many of these freedmen joined the U.S. Army and fought in battles against the Confederate forces. Yet hundreds of thousands of freed slaves died during emancipation from illnesses that devastated army regiments. Freed slaves suffered from smallpox, yellow fever, and malnutrition.

Lincoln's 10% plan

Lincoln was determined to effect a speedy restoration of the Confederate states to the Union after the Civil War. In 1863, he proposed a moderate plan for the Reconstruction of the captured Confederate state of Louisiana. The plan granted amnesty to rebels who took an oath of loyalty to the Union. Black freedmen workers were tied to labor on plantations for one year at a pay rate of $10 a month. Only 10% of the state's electorate had to take the loyalty oath in order for the state to be readmitted into the U.S. Congress. The state was required to abolish slavery in its new state constitution. Identical Reconstruction plans would be adopted in Arkansas and Tennessee. By December 1864, the Lincoln plan of Reconstruction had been enacted in Louisiana and the legislature sent two senators and five representatives to take their seats in Washington. However, Congress refused to count any of the votes from Louisiana, Arkansas, and Tennessee, in essence rejecting Lincoln's moderate Reconstruction plan. Congress, at this time controlled by the Radicals, proposed the Wade–Davis Bill that required a majority of the state electorates to take the oath of loyalty to be admitted to Congress. Lincoln pocket vetoed the bill and the rift widened between the moderates, primarily concerned with preserving the Union and winning the war, and the Radicals, who wanted to effect a more complete change within Southern society. Frederick Douglass denounced Lincoln's 10% electorate plan as undemocratic since state admission and loyalty only depended on a minority vote.

Legalization of slave marriages

Before 1864, slave marriages had not been recognized legally; emancipation did not affect them. When freed, many sought official marriages. Before emancipation, slaves could not enter into contracts, including the marriage contract. Not all free people formalized their unions. Some continued to have common-law marriages or community-recognized relationships. The acknowledgement of marriage by the state increased the state's recognition of freed people as legal actors and eventually helped make the case for parental rights for freed people against the practice of apprenticeship of Black children. These children were legally taken away from their families under the guise of "providing them with guardianship and 'good' homes until they reached the age of consent at twenty-one" under acts such as the Georgia 1866 Apprentice Act. Such children were generally used as sources of unpaid labor.

Freedmen's Bureau

Freedmen richmond sewing women
Northern teachers traveled into the South to provide education and training for the newly freed population.

On March 3, 1865, the Freedmen's Bureau Bill became law, sponsored by the Republicans to aid freedmen and White refugees. A federal bureau was created to provide food, clothing, fuel, and advice on negotiating labor contracts. It attempted to oversee new relations between freedmen and their former masters in a free labor market. The act, without deference to a person's color, authorized the bureau to lease confiscated land for a period of three years and to sell it in portions of up to 40 acres (16 ha) per buyer. The bureau was to expire one year after the termination of the war. Lincoln was assassinated before he could appoint a commissioner of the bureau.

With the help of the bureau, the recently freed slaves began voting, forming political parties, and assuming the control of labor in many areas. The bureau helped to start a change of power in the South that drew national attention from the Republicans in the North to the Democrats in the South. This is especially evident in the election between Grant and Seymour (Johnson did not get the Democratic nomination), where almost 700,000 Black voters voted and swayed the election 300,000 votes in Grant's favor.

Even with the benefits that it gave to the freedmen, the Freedmen's Bureau was unable to operate effectively in certain areas. Terrorizing freedmen for trying to vote, hold a political office, or own land, the Ku Klux Klan was the nemesis of the Freedmen's Bureau.

Bans color discrimination

Other legislation was signed that broadened equality and rights for African Americans. Lincoln outlawed discrimination on account of color, in carrying U.S. mail, in riding on public street cars in Washington, D.C., and in pay for soldiers.

Constitutional amendments

Three constitutional amendments, known as the Reconstruction amendments, were adopted. The Thirteenth Amendment abolishing slavery was ratified in 1865. The Fourteenth Amendment was proposed in 1866 and ratified in 1868, guaranteeing United States citizenship to all persons born or naturalized in the United States and granting them federal civil rights. The Fifteenth Amendment, proposed in late February 1869, and passed in early February 1870, decreed that the right to vote could not be denied because of "race, color, or previous condition of servitude". Left unaffected was that states would still determine voter registration and electoral laws. The amendments were directed at ending slavery and providing full citizenship to freedmen. Northern congressmen believed that providing Black men with the right to vote would be the most rapid means of political education and training.

Many Blacks took an active part in voting and political life, and rapidly continued to build churches and community organizations. Following Reconstruction, White Democrats and insurgent groups used force to regain power in the state legislatures, and pass laws that effectively disenfranchised most Blacks and many poor Whites in the South. From 1890 to 1910, Southern states passed new state constitutions that completed the disenfranchisement of Blacks. U.S. Supreme Court rulings on these provisions upheld many of these new Southern state constitutions and laws, and most Blacks were prevented from voting in the South until the 1960s. Full federal enforcement of the Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendments did not reoccur until after passage of legislation in the mid-1960s as a result of the civil rights movement.

Enforcement Acts (1870–1871)

During the presidency of Ulysses S. Grant Congress passed three powerful civil rights Enforcement Acts, designed to protect blacks and Reconstruction governments. These were criminal codes that protected the freedmen's right to vote, to hold office, to serve on juries, and receive equal protection of laws. Most important, they authorized the federal government to intervene when states did not act. Urged by Grant and his Attorney General Amos T. Akerman, the strongest of these laws was the Ku Klux Klan Act, passed on April 20, 1871, that authorized the president to impose martial law and suspend the writ of habeas corpus.

Grant also recommended the enforcement of laws in all parts of the United States to protect life, liberty, and property.

Civil Rights Act of 1875

The Civil Rights Act of 1875 was one of the last major acts of Congress to preserve Reconstruction and equality for African Americans. The initial bill was created by Senator Charles Sumner. President Grant endorsed the measure, signing it into law on March 1, 1875. The law, ahead of its times, outlawed discrimination for blacks in public accommodations, schools, transportation, and selecting juries. Although weakly enforceable, the law spread fear among whites opposed to interracial justice and was overturned by the Supreme Court in 1883. The later enforceable Civil Rights Act of 1964 borrowed many of the earlier 1875's law's provisions.

Withdrawal of the federal troops

After assuming office on March 4, 1877, President Hayes removed troops from the capitals of the remaining Reconstruction states, Louisiana and South Carolina, allowing the Redeemers to have full control of these states. President Grant had already removed troops from Florida, before Hayes was inaugurated, and troops from the other Reconstruction states had long since been withdrawn. Hayes appointed David M. Key from Tennessee, a Southern Democrat, to the position of postmaster general. By 1879, thousands of African American "Exodusters" packed up and headed to new opportunities in Kansas.

The Democrats gained control of the Senate, and had complete control of Congress, having taken over the House in 1875. Hayes vetoed bills from the Democrats that outlawed the Republican Enforcement Acts; however, with the military underfunded, Hayes could not adequately enforce these laws. African-Americans remained involved in Southern politics, particularly in Virginia, which was run by the biracial Readjuster Party.

Numerous African-Americans were elected to local office through the 1880s, and in the 1890s in some states, biracial coalitions of populists and Republicans briefly held control of state legislatures. In the last decade of the 19th century, Southern states elected five Black U.S. congressmen before disenfranchising state constitutions were passed throughout the former Confederacy.

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Kids robot.svg In Spanish: Reconstrucción (Estados Unidos) para niños

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