How Did Reconstruction Change the United States?


The onset of reconstruction marked a very critical period in the development of the American history on different domains affecting the population. The events accompanying the implementation reconstruction objectives elementally led to the American society changing its fundamentals towards the achievement of Americanized goals that were to be reflected in the entire population’s daily pursuits. The existence of a conspicuous divide between the North and South was one of the major drives towards the formulation of reconstruction objectives. The era of reconstruction was a significant one in the development and progression of political, social, and economic elements of the contemporary society living during that time as it led to different impacts, failures, and success, which have been elementally felt across the entire population for an extended period of time.

Political Effects of Reconstruction

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The political influence of reconstruction was elementally felt during the first reconstruction process that was primarily aimed at significantly increasing participatory of black dominated south in the political decision making processes. The events of the reconstruction came to an end in 1877 when the South considered a significant achievement in terms of political gain. According to McGil (1984), “Reconstruction ended in 1877 after the election of 1876, which was almost certainly taken from the victorious Samuel J. Tilden, Democrat, and awarded to Rutherford B. Hayes, Republican. And Democrats in high places assisted in the machinations” (p.25). These events show the manner in which it was not an easy task to fundamentally achieve the aforementioned progresses. According to McGil (1984), “The price paid for Southern assistance was an end to Reconstruction and restoration of government to the Southern states. The south was given political autonomy…But what it really meant was that the North had politically abandoned the Negro” (p.25-26).

The events of reconstruction gave the southerners an opportunity to participate in the political system by increasing their participation significantly such that blacks could easily participate in the governance. According to Hine (2003), “The cumulative effects of the political and constitutional developments since Smith can be seen in the fact that by 1973 blacks held 2,627 elected offices nationwide. Approximately half of these black elected officials were in the South” (p.256).

Legal and Constitutional Effects of Reconstruction

The reconstruction saw the significant introduction of constitutional elements leading to a massive change in the previous legal and constitutional setting. In one study carried out by Marshall DeRosa it is claimed that the implementation of the Confederate constitution led to a fulfillment of attitudes that limited the government’s rule in a national context similar to the antelebelum period, and these views were supported by Donald Neiman (Brown, 2008). There was significant setting up of convenience courts aimed at easing legal processes for black dominated south especially the setting up of confederate courts and their subsequent integration with the constitutional setting. Apparently due to the development of an attachment to the historical events of constitution making this made the new framework was not operational for a long time leading to formulation of amendments. As Brown (2008) speculates, “but many questions about the Confederate courts still remain. How did Confederate courts operate from day to day? Did the absence a constitutional history to create a history of both institutions and social relations that fulfills not only Arthur Bestor’s forty-year-old vision of promise of constitutional history but more recent calls for an integration of social, political, and institutional history” (p.158). There was need to implement these changes in a more inclusive manner, in order to foster good representation based on racial motives. This literally crippled dispensation of a fair legal or judicial mechanism based on race. This form of integration has been the centre of focus by majority of reconstruction historians who are primarily focusing on the introduction of constitutional amendments.

Social Effects on Reconstruction

On the social arena the era of reconstruction significantly led to the enhancement of racial equality through uplifting black civil rights. This aided to socially integrate especially by giving them a distinct voice their grievances. However, the maintenance of the reconstruction initiatives primarily took a different turn of events during which the creation of redemption governments proved to be a tactical issue especially with regard to constitutional representation and recognition of the previous judicial setting. For instance, it was evident that the replacement of reconstruction Supreme Court judges by redemption governments led to the removal of previously enacted civil and federal rights even though other decisions were predominantly upheld (Ranney, 2006).  Ranney further affirms that the effects of Reconstruction extended past 1877 during which redemption governments sought to formalize the repudiation of reconstruction by creating nonracial reforms focusing primarily on the reconstruction era (Ranney, 2006).

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The fact that the events leading to the integration of reconstruction objectives in the Southern society took place within a short time span implied that the actual sustenance was going to be a matter of conflict among different racial representations. As Klose and Lader (2001) affirm that indeed the mere attempt to turn upside down the society fundamentals in a single day and achieve social revolution was unsustainable (Klose and Lader, 2001). This pushed forth for a struggle to convert one side into a predominant social belief that had already been rejected by the Southern masses.

Moreover, the attempt to convert the southerners into democrats was not attainable. Klose and Lader (2001) further state that, “The attempt to create a Republican party in the South backfired and created instead a deplorable one-party system under the Democrats. The African Americans became Republicans but were kept from the polls by various means so that effective party rivalry that might have brought better government to the South never developed. The term ‘solid South’ came to be applied to the unbroken loyalty to the Democratic Party that lasted until 1928” (p.19).

Economic Effects on Reconstruction

The reconstruction period led to enormous economic effects especially due to the massive steps taken to revamp the failing cotton industry, which most blacks depended upon as a main source of income. There was almost total failure in this main economic activity of the South leading to major problems.  According to McGil (1984), “Political control had been given over to non-farming interests, the banking and industrial entrepreneurs- all dependent on the North for capital…but though there was a rush of building, issuing of bonds, and much plunder, the region turned slowly back toward cotton” (p.26). The frustrations experienced especially towards the cotton industry led to major exit of trading partners in the north, and most credit facilities were elementally withdrawn as a strategy to jeopardize operations and subsequent flourishing of the vast cotton industry. McGil further affirms that most tariffs were set against the farmers; acquiring credit was difficult and accompanying interest rates were high; cartels were set up rigging the prices of farm implements through jute bagging; high rates crippled operations by leading to wide differences in the raw materials and fabricated goods; and reclaiming the lost potential of cotton in the region to the 1859 standards was only feasible in 1878 (McGil, 1984).

 This elementally led to poor performance of the cotton industry and this effect was felt in almost all strategic economic domains of the South thus crippling their livelihoods. This further led to the development of human rights concern with regard to the denying of the main economic activity to the Southern majority. McGil adds that, “And cotton was the only commodity which a man could take chance…the factors and supply merchants marked up their goods and charged interest rates which frequently were forty percent, sometimes higher. Debt and cotton came to be synonymous” (McGil, 1984). This led to development of a major discontent among different population groups especially black land owners and farm laborers who retrieved their livelihoods from the crop. This led to the development of a Populist Movement as cotton growers and workers sought to express their discontent (McGil, 1984).

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The reconstruction reflects the manner in which amendments made in the United States constitution led to the emancipation of new fundamentals, which consequently affected the American population with a bias on the American South. The effects had different levels of successes and failures depending on the fundamentals that were being promoted even though from an overall perspective there were major political advances as opposed to social and economic progression. As Stebbins and Canfield (2009) affirm, “Reconstruction movements produced a disorder which while more political than social or economic, nevertheless caused a general wave of disturbance to sweep over the Northern States” (p.7). The events accompanying the reconstruction era elementally serve to reflect the conspicuous racial struggle between the South and North during this period. In essence, the era of reconstruction was a significant one leading to the enhancement, development, and progression of political, social, and economic elements of the contemporary society living during that time as it led to different impacts, failures, and success, which have been elementally felt across the entire population for an extended period of time.

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