Columbia Southern University Economic Expansion on Civil Rights Discussion


Discuss the influence of organized labor and the economic expansion on civil rights from 1870 to 1910. Was the need for organized labor in this period perception or reality? To what extent were reforms achieved by the end of the period, and how were marginalized groups affected? Open your response with a brief explanation of your perspective, and discuss significant developments from the period to support your discussion.

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Figure 16.1 In this political cartoon by Thomas Nast, which appeared in Harper’s Weekly in
October 1874, the “White League” shakes hands with the Ku Klux Klan over a shield that shows
a couple weeping over a baby. In the background, a schoolhouse burns, and a lynched freedman
is shown hanging from a tree. Above the shield, which is labeled “Worse than Slavery,” the text
reads, “The Union as It Was: This Is a White Man’s Government.”
Chapter Outline
16.1 Restoring the Union
16.2 Congress and the Remaking of the South, 1865–1866
16.3 Radical Reconstruction, 1867–1872
16.4 The Collapse of Reconstruction
Few times in U.S. history have been as turbulent and transformative as the Civil War and the
twelve years that followed. Between 1865 and 1877, one president was murdered and another
impeached. The Constitution underwent major revision with the addition of three amendments.
The effort to impose Union control and create equality in the defeated South ignited a fierce
backlash as various terrorist and vigilante organizations, most notably the Ku Klux Klan, battled
to maintain a pre–Civil War society in which White people held complete power. These groups
unleashed a wave of violence, including lynching and arson, aimed at freed Black people and
their White supporters. Historians refer to this era as Reconstruction, when an effort to remake
the South faltered and ultimately failed.
The above political cartoon (Figure 16.1) expresses the anguish many Americans felt in the
decade after the Civil War. The South, which had experienced catastrophic losses during the
conflict, was reduced to political dependence and economic destitution. This humiliating
condition led many southern White people to vigorously contest Union efforts to transform the
South’s racial, economic, and social landscape. Supporters of equality grew increasingly
dismayed at Reconstruction’s failure to undo the old system, which further compounded the
staggering regional and racial inequalities in the United States
Learning Objectives
By the end of this section, you will be able to:

Describe Lincoln’s plan to restore the Union at the end of the Civil War
Discuss the tenets of Radical Republicanism
Analyze the success or failure of the Thirteenth Amendment
Figure 16.2
The end of the Civil War saw the beginning of the Reconstruction era, when former rebel Southern
states were integrated back into the Union. President Lincoln moved quickly to achieve the war’s
ultimate goal: reunification of the country. He proposed a generous and non-punitive plan to return
the former Confederate states speedily to the United States, but some Republicans in Congress
protested, considering the president’s plan too lenient to the rebel states that had torn the country
apart. The greatest flaw of Lincoln’s plan, according to this view, was that it appeared to forgive
traitors instead of guaranteeing civil rights to formerly enslaved people. President Lincoln oversaw
the passage of the Thirteenth Amendment abolishing slavery, but he did not live to see its
From the outset of the rebellion in 1861, Lincoln’s overriding goal had been to bring the Southern
states quickly back into the fold in order to restore the Union (Figure 16.3). In early December 1863,
the president began the process of reunification by unveiling a three-part proposal known as the ten
percent plan that outlined how the states would return. The ten percent plan gave a general pardon
to all Southerners except high-ranking Confederate government and military leaders; required 10
percent of the 1860 voting population in the former rebel states to take a binding oath of future
allegiance to the United States and the emancipation of the enslaved; and declared that once those
voters took those oaths, the restored Confederate states would draft new state constitutions.
Figure 16.3 Thomas Le Mere took this albumen silver print (a) of Abraham Lincoln in April 1863. Le
Mere thought a standing pose of Lincoln would be popular. In this political cartoon from 1865 (b),
Lincoln and his vice president, Andrew Johnson, endeavor to sew together the torn pieces of the
Lincoln hoped that the leniency of the plan—90 percent of the 1860 voters did not have to swear
allegiance to the Union or to emancipation—would bring about a quick and long-anticipated
resolution and make emancipation more acceptable everywhere. This approach appealed to some in
the moderate wing of the Republican Party, which wanted to put the nation on a speedy course
toward reconciliation. However, the proposal instantly drew fire from a larger faction of Republicans
in Congress who did not want to deal moderately with the South. These members of Congress,
known as Radical Republicans, wanted to remake the South and punish the rebels. Radical
Republicans insisted on harsh terms for the defeated Confederacy and protection for formerly
enslaved people, going far beyond what the president proposed.
In February 1864, two of the Radical Republicans, Ohio senator Benjamin Wade and Maryland
representative Henry Winter Davis, answered Lincoln with a proposal of their own. Among other
stipulations, the Wade-Davis Bill called for a majority of voters and government officials in
Confederate states to take an oath, called the Ironclad Oath, swearing that they had never
supported the Confederacy or made war against the United States. Those who could not or would
not take the oath would be unable to take part in the future political life of the South. Congress
assented to the Wade-Davis Bill, and it went to Lincoln for his signature. The president refused to
sign, using the pocket veto (that is, taking no action) to kill the bill. Lincoln understood that no
Southern state would have met the criteria of the Wade-Davis Bill, and its passage would simply
have delayed the reconstruction of the South.
Despite the 1863 Emancipation Proclamation, the legal status of enslaved people and the institution
of slavery remained unresolved. The news of the Proclamation wouldn’t even reach the entire
country for another two and a half years. To deal with the remaining uncertainties, the Republican
Party made the abolition of slavery a top priority by including the issue in its 1864 party platform. The
platform read: “That as slavery was the cause, and now constitutes the strength of this Rebellion,
and as it must be, always and everywhere, hostile to the principles of Republican Government,
justice and the National safety demand its utter and complete extirpation from the soil of the
Republic; and that, while we uphold and maintain the acts and proclamations by which the
Government, in its own defense, has aimed a deathblow at this gigantic evil, we are in favor,
furthermore, of such an amendment to the Constitution, to be made by the people in conformity with
its provisions, as shall terminate and forever prohibit the existence of Slavery within the limits of the
jurisdiction of the United States.” The platform left no doubt about the intention to abolish slavery.
The president, along with the Radical Republicans, made good on this campaign promise in 1864
and 1865. A proposed constitutional amendment passed the Senate in April 1864, and the House of
Representatives concurred in January 1865. The amendment then made its way to the states, where
it swiftly gained the necessary support, including in the South. In December 1865, the Thirteenth
Amendment was officially ratified and added to the Constitution. The first amendment added to the
Constitution since 1804, it overturned a centuries-old practice by permanently abolishing slavery.
Explore a comprehensive collection of documents, images, and ephemera related to Abraham
Lincoln on the Library of Congress website.
President Lincoln never saw the final ratification of the Thirteenth Amendment. On April 14, 1865,
the Confederate supporter and well-known actor John Wilkes Booth shot Lincoln while he was
attending a play, Our American Cousin, at Ford’s Theater in Washington. The president died the
next day (Figure 16.4). Booth had steadfastly defended the Confederacy and White supremacy, and
his act was part of a larger conspiracy to eliminate the heads of the Union government and keep the
Confederate fight going. One of Booth’s associates stabbed and wounded Secretary of State William
Seward the night of the assassination. Another associate abandoned the planned assassination of
Vice President Andrew Johnson at the last moment. Although Booth initially escaped capture, Union
troops shot and killed him on April 26, 1865, in a Virginia barn. Eight other conspirators were
convicted by a military tribunal for participating in the conspiracy, and four were hanged. Lincoln’s
death earned him immediate martyrdom, and hysteria spread throughout the North. To many
Northerners, the assassination suggested an even greater conspiracy than what was revealed,
masterminded by the unrepentant leaders of the defeated Confederacy. Militant Republicans would
use and exploit this fear relentlessly in the ensuing months.
Figure 16.4 In The Assassination of President Lincoln (1865), by Currier and Ives, John Wilkes
Booth shoots Lincoln in the back of the head as he sits in the theater box with his wife, Mary Todd
Lincoln, and their guests, Major Henry R. Rathbone and Clara Harris.
Despite the Emancipation Proclamation and the ratification progress of the Thirteenth Amendment,
slavery endured for some time. The news of the war’s end and the freedom of the enslaved people
traveled slowly, and in some cases was likely deliberately withheld. When Major General Gordan
Granger arrived in Galveston, Texas to assert control, he brought with him a stunning
“The people of Texas are informed that, in accordance with a proclamation from the Executive of the
United States, all slaves are free. This involves an absolute equality of personal rights and rights of
property between former masters and slaves, and the connection heretofore existing between them
becomes that between employer and hired labor.”
The date, June 19, 1865, would become the most popular annual celebration of the end of slavery,
known as Juneteenth. The order was met with resistance and outright opposition. Some
slaveholders chose to keep the news from enslaved people. And when people who learned about
their emancipation decided to take advantage of their freedom, many were captured or killed. While
the pathway to full freedom remained difficult, and discrimination and segregation would remain in
place, newly freed Texans began organizing celebrations (also referred to as Jubilee Day and
Emancipation Day) as early as 1866. Austin held its first Juneteenth celebration in 1867.
Lincoln’s assassination elevated Vice President Andrew Johnson, a Democrat, to the presidency.
Johnson had come from very humble origins. Born into extreme poverty in North Carolina and
having never attended school, Johnson was the picture of a self-made man. His wife had taught him
how to read and he had worked as a tailor, a trade he had been apprenticed to as a child. In
Tennessee, where he had moved as a young man, he gradually rose up the political ladder, earning
a reputation for being a skillful stump speaker and a staunch defender of poor southerners. He was
elected to serve in the House of Representatives in the 1840s, became governor of Tennessee the
following decade, and then was elected a U.S. senator just a few years before the country
descended into war. When Tennessee seceded, Johnson remained loyal to the Union and stayed in
the Senate. As Union troops marched on his home state of North Carolina, Lincoln appointed him
governor of the then-occupied state of Tennessee, where he served until being nominated by the
Republicans to run for vice president on a Lincoln ticket. The nomination of Johnson, a Democrat
and a slaveholding southerner, was a pragmatic decision made by concerned Republicans. It was
important for them to show that the party supported all loyal men, regardless of their origin or
political persuasion. Johnson appeared an ideal choice, because his nomination would bring with it
the support of both pro-Southern elements and the War Democrats who rejected the conciliatory
stance of the Copperheads, the northern Democrats who opposed the Civil War.
Unexpectedly elevated to the presidency in 1865, this formerly impoverished tailor’s apprentice and
unwavering antagonist of the wealthy southern planter class now found himself tasked with
administering the restoration of a destroyed South. Lincoln’s position as president had been that the
secession of the Southern states was never legal; that is, they had not succeeded in leaving the
Union, therefore they still had certain rights to self-government as states. In keeping with Lincoln’s
plan, Johnson desired to quickly reincorporate the South back into the Union on lenient terms and
heal the wounds of the nation. This position angered many in his own party. The northern Radical
Republican plan for Reconstruction looked to overturn southern society and specifically aimed at
ending the plantation system. President Johnson quickly disappointed Radical Republicans when he
rejected their idea that the federal government could provide voting rights for formerly enslaved
people. The initial disagreements between the president and the Radical Republicans over how best
to deal with the defeated South set the stage for further conflict.
In fact, President Johnson’s Proclamation of Amnesty and Reconstruction in May 1865 provided
sweeping “amnesty and pardon” to rebellious Southerners. It returned to them their property, with
the notable exception of the people they had enslaved, and it asked only that they affirm their
support for the Constitution of the United States. Those Southerners exempted from this amnesty
included the Confederate political leadership, high-ranking military officers, and persons with taxable
property worth more than $20,000. The inclusion of this last category was specifically designed to
make it clear to the southern planter class that they had a unique responsibility for the outbreak of
hostilities. But it also satisfied Johnson’s desire to exact vengeance on a class of people he had
fought politically for much of his life. For this class of wealthy Southerners to regain their rights, they
would have to swallow their pride and request a personal pardon from Johnson himself.
For the Southern states, the requirements for readmission to the Union were also fairly
straightforward. States were required to hold individual state conventions where they would repeal
the ordinances of secession and ratify the Thirteenth Amendment. By the end of 1865, a number of
former Confederate leaders were in the Union capital looking to claim their seats in Congress.
Among them was Alexander Stephens, the vice president of the Confederacy, who had spent
several months in a Boston jail after the war. Despite the outcries of Republicans in Congress, by
early 1866 Johnson announced that all former Confederate states had satisfied the necessary
requirements. According to him, nothing more needed to be done; the Union had been restored.
Understandably, Radical Republicans in Congress did not agree with Johnson’s position. They, and
their northern constituents, greatly resented his lenient treatment of the former Confederate states,
and especially the return of former Confederate leaders like Alexander Stephens to Congress. They
refused to acknowledge the southern state governments he allowed. As a result, they would not
permit senators and representatives from the former Confederate states to take their places in
Instead, the Radical Republicans created a joint committee of representatives and senators to
oversee Reconstruction. In the 1866 congressional elections, they gained control of the House, and
in the ensuing years they pushed for the dismantling of the old southern order and the complete
reconstruction of the South. This effort put them squarely at odds with President Johnson, who
remained unwilling to compromise with Congress, setting the stage for a series of clashes.
Learning Objectives
By the end of this section, you will be able to:

Describe the efforts made by Congress in 1865 and 1866 to bring to life its vision of
Explain how the Fourteenth Amendment transformed the Constitution
President Johnson and Congress’s views on Reconstruction grew even further apart as Johnson’s
presidency progressed. Congress repeatedly pushed for greater rights for freed people and a far
more thorough reconstruction of the South, while Johnson pushed for leniency and a swifter
reintegration. President Johnson lacked Lincoln’s political skills and instead exhibited a
stubbornness and confrontational approach that aggravated an already difficult situation.
Freed people everywhere celebrated the end of slavery and immediately began to take steps to
improve their own condition by seeking what had long been denied to them: land, financial security,
education, and the ability to participate in the political process. They wanted to be reunited with
family members, grasp the opportunity to make their own independent living, and exercise their right
to have a say in their own government.
However, they faced the wrath of defeated but un-reconciled southerners who were determined to
keep Black people an impoverished and despised underclass. Recognizing the widespread
devastation in the South and the dire situation of freed people, Congress created the Bureau of
Refugees, Freedmen, and Abandoned Lands in March 1865, popularly known as the Freedmen’s
Bureau. Lincoln had approved of the bureau, giving it a charter for one year.
The Freedmen’s Bureau engaged in many initiatives to ease the transition from slavery to freedom.
It delivered food to Black people and White people alike in the South. It helped freed people gain
labor contracts, a significant step in the creation of wage labor in place of slavery. It helped reunite
families of freedmen, and it also devoted much energy to education, establishing scores of public
schools where freed people and poor White people could receive both elementary and higher
education. Respected institutions such as Fisk University, Hampton University, and Dillard University
are part of the legacy of the Freedmen’s Bureau.
In this endeavor, the Freedmen’s Bureau received support from Christian organizations that had
long advocated for abolition, such as the American Missionary Association (AMA). The AMA used
the knowledge and skill it had acquired while working in missions in Africa and with Native American
groups to establish and run schools for those freed from slavery in the postwar South. While men
and women, White and Black, taught in these schools, the opportunity was crucially important for
participating women (Figure 16.5). At the time, many opportunities, including admission to most
institutes of higher learning, remained closed to women. Participating in these schools afforded
these women the opportunities they otherwise may have been denied. Additionally, the fact they
often risked life and limb to work in these schools in the South demonstrated to the nation that
women could play a vital role in American civic life.
Figure 16.5 The Freedmen’s Bureau, as shown in this 1866 illustration from Frank Leslie’s
Illustrated Newspaper, created many schools for Black elementary school students. Many of the
teachers who provided instruction in these southern schools, though by no means all, came from
northern states.
The schools that the Freedmen’s Bureau and the AMA established inspired great dismay and
resentment among the White populations in the South and were sometimes targets of violence.
Indeed, the Freedmen’s Bureau’s programs and its very existence were sources of controversy.
Racists and others who resisted this type of federal government activism denounced it as both a
waste of federal money and a foolish effort that encouraged laziness among Black people. Congress
renewed the bureau’s charter in 1866, but President Johnson, who steadfastly believed that the work
of restoring the Union had been completed, vetoed the re-chartering. Radical Republicans continued
to support the bureau, igniting a contest between Congress and the president that intensified during
the next several years. Part of this dispute involved conflicting visions of the proper role of the
federal government. Radical Republicans believed in the constructive power of the federal
government to ensure a better day for freed people. Others, including Johnson, denied that the
government had any such role to play.
The Freedmen’s Bureau
The image below (Figure 16.6) shows a campaign poster for Hiester Clymer, who ran for governor of
Pennsylvania in 1866 on a platform of White supremacy.
Figure 16.6 The caption of this image reads, “The Freedman’s Bureau! An agency to keep the
Negro in idleness at the expense of the White man. Twice vetoed by the President, and made a law
by Congress. Support Congress & you support the Negro. Sustain the President & you protect the
White man.”
The image in the foreground shows an indolent Black man wondering, “Whar is de use for me to
work as long as dey make dese appropriations.” White men toil in the background, chopping wood
and plowing a field. The text above them reads, “In the sweat of thy face shall thou eat bread. . . .
The White man must work to keep his children and pay his taxes.” In the middle background, the
Freedmen’s Bureau looks like the Capitol, and the pillars are inscribed with racist assumptions of
things Black people value, like “rum,” “idleness,” and “White women.” On the right are estimates of
the costs of the Freedmen’s Bureau and the bounties (fees for enlistment) given to both White and
Black Union soldiers.
What does this poster indicate about the political climate of the Reconstruction era? How might
different people have received this image?
In 1865 and 1866, as Johnson announced the end of Reconstruction, southern states began to pass
a series of discriminatory state laws collectively known as Black codes. While the laws varied in
both content and severity from state to state, the goal of the laws remained largely consistent. In
effect, these codes were designed to maintain the social and economic structure of racial slavery in
the absence of slavery itself. The laws codified White supremacy by restricting the civic participation
of freed enslaved people—depriving them of the right to vote, the right to serve on juries, the right to
own or carry weapons, and, in some cases, even the right to rent or lease land.
A chief component of the Black codes was designed to fulfill an important economic need in the
postwar South. Slavery had been a pillar of economic stability in the region before the war. To
maintain agricultural production, the South had relied on the enslaved to work the land. Now the
region was faced with the daunting prospect of making the transition from a slave economy to one
where labor was purchased on the open market. Not surprisingly, planters in the southern states
were reluctant to make such a transition. Instead, they drafted Black laws that would re-create the
antebellum economic structure with the façade of a free-labor system.
Black codes used a variety of tactics to tie formerly enslaved people to the land. To work, the
formerly enslaved people were forced to sign contracts with their employer. These contracts
prevented Black people from working for more than one employer. This meant that, unlike in a free
labor market, Black people could not positively influence wages and conditions by choosing to work
for the employer who gave them the best terms. The predictable outcome was that formerly
enslaved people were forced to work for very low wages. With such low wages, and no ability to
supplement income with additional work, workers were reduced to relying on loans from their
employers. The debt that these workers incurred ensured that they could never escape from their
condition. Those formerly enslaved people who attempt to violate these contracts could be fined or
beaten. Those who refused to sign contracts at all could be arrested for vagrancy and then made to
work for no wages, essentially being reduced to the very definition of an enslaved person.
The Black codes left no doubt that the former breakaway Confederate states intended to maintain
White supremacy at all costs. These draconian state laws helped spur the congressional Joint
Committee on Reconstruction into action. Its members felt that ending slavery with the Thirteenth
Amendment did not go far enough. Congress extended the life of the Freedmen’s Bureau to combat
the Black codes and in April 1866 passed the first Civil Rights Act, which established the citizenship
of African Americans. This was a significant step that contradicted the Supreme Court’s 1857 Dred
Scott decision, which declared that Black people could never be citizens. The law also gave the
federal government the right to intervene in state affairs to protect the rights of citizens, and thus, of
African Americans. President Johnson, who continued to insist that restoration of the United States
had already been accomplished, vetoed the 1866 Civil Rights Act. However, Congress mustered the
necessary votes to override his veto. Despite the Civil Rights Act, the Black codes endured, forming
the foundation of the racially discriminatory Jim Crow segregation policies that impoverished
generations of African Americans.
Questions swirled about the constitutionality of the Civil Rights Act of 1866. The Supreme Court, in
its 1857 decision forbidding Black citizenship, had interpreted the Constitution in a certain way; many
argued that the 1866 statute, alone, could not alter that interpretation. Seeking to overcome all legal
questions, Radical Republicans drafted another constitutional amendment with provisions that
followed those of the 1866 Civil Rights Act. In July 1866, the Fourteenth Amendment went to state
legislatures for ratification.
The Fourteenth Amendment stated, “All persons born or naturalized in the United States and subject
to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they reside.” It
gave citizens equal protection under both the state and federal law, overturning the Dred Scott
decision. It eliminated the three-fifths compromise of the 1787 Constitution, whereby an enslaved
person had been counted as three-fifths of a free White person, and it reduced the number of House
representatives and Electoral College electors for any state that denied suffrage to any adult male
inhabitant, Black or White. As Radical Republicans had proposed in the Wade-Davis bill, individuals
who had “engaged in insurrection or rebellion [against] . . . or given aid or comfort to the enemies
[of]” the United States were barred from holding political (state or federal) or military office unless
pardoned by two-thirds of Congress.
The amendment also answered the question of debts arising from the Civil War by specifying that all
debts incurred by fighting to defeat the Confederacy would be honored. Confederate debts,
however, would not: “[N]either the United States nor any State shall assume or pay any debt or
obligation incurred in aid of insurrection or rebellion against the United States, or any claim for the
loss or emancipation of any slave; but all such debts, obligations and claims shall be held illegal and
void.” Thus, claims by former slaveholders requesting compensation for slave property had no
standing. Any state that ratified the Fourteenth Amendment would automatically be readmitted. Most
former Confederate states, except for Tennessee, refused to ratify the amendment in 1866.
President Johnson called openly for the rejection of the Fourteenth Amendment, a move that drove a
further wedge between him and congressional Republicans. In late summer of 1866, he gave a
series of speeches, known as the “swing around the circle,” designed to gather support for his mild
version of Reconstruction. Johnson felt that ending slavery went far enough; extending the rights
and protections of citizenship to freed people, he believed, went much too far. He continued to
believe that Black people were inferior to White people. The president’s “swing around the circle”
speeches to gain support for his program and derail the Radical Republicans proved to be a
disaster, as hecklers provoked Johnson to make damaging statements. Radical Republicans
charged that Johnson had been drunk when he made his speeches. As a result, Johnson’s
reputation plummeted.
Read the text of the Fourteenth Amendment and then view the original document at Our Documents.
Learning Objectives
By the end of this section, you will be able to:

Explain the purpose of the second phase of Reconstruction and some of the key legislation
put forward by Congress
Describe the impeachment of President Johnson
Discuss the benefits and drawbacks of the Fifteenth Amendment
During the Congressional election in the fall of 1866, Republicans gained even greater victories. This
was due in large measure to the northern voter opposition that had developed toward President
Johnson because of the inflexible and overbearing attitude he had exhibited in the White House, as
well as his missteps during his 1866 speaking tour. Leading Radical Republicans in Congress
included Massachusetts senator Charles Sumner (the same senator whom proslavery South
Carolina representative Preston Brooks had thrashed with his cane in 1856 during the Bleeding
Kansas crisis) and Pennsylvania representative Thaddeus Stevens. These men and their supporters
envisioned a much more expansive change in the South. Sumner advocated integrating schools and
giving Black men the right to vote while disenfranchising many southern voters. For his part, Stevens
considered that the southern states had forfeited their rights as states when they seceded, and were
no more than conquered territory that the federal government could organize as it wished. He
envisioned the redistribution of plantation lands and U.S. military control over the former
Their goals included the transformation of the South from an area built on slave labor to a free-labor
society. They also wanted to ensure that freed people were protected and given the opportunity for a
better life. Violent race riots in Memphis, Tennessee, and New Orleans, Louisiana, in 1866 gave
greater urgency to the second phase of Reconstruction, begun in 1867.
The 1867 Military Reconstruction Act, which encompassed the vision of Radical Republicans, set a
new direction for Reconstruction in the South. Republicans saw this law, and three supplementary
laws passed by Congress that year, called the Reconstruction Acts, as a way to deal with the
disorder in the South. The 1867 act divided the ten southern states that had yet to ratify the
Fourteenth Amendment into five military districts (Tennessee had already been readmitted to the
Union by this time and so was excluded from these acts). Martial law was imposed, and a Union
general commanded each district. These generals and twenty thousand federal troops stationed in
the districts were charged with protecting freed people. When a supplementary act extended the
right to vote to all freed men of voting age (21 years old), the military in each district oversaw the
elections and the registration of voters. Only after new state constitutions had been written and
states had ratified the Fourteenth Amendment could these states rejoin the Union. Predictably,
President Johnson vetoed the Reconstruction Acts, viewing them as both unnecessary and
unconstitutional. Once again, Congress overrode Johnson’s vetoes, and by the end of 1870, all the
southern states under military rule had ratified the Fourteenth Amendment and been restored to the
Union (Figure 16.7).
Figure 16.7 The map above shows the five military districts established by the 1867 Military
Reconstruction Act and the date each state rejoined the Union. Tennessee was not included in the
Reconstruction Acts as it had already been readmitted to the Union at the time of their passage.
President Johnson’s relentless vetoing of congressional measures created a deep rift in Washington,
DC, and neither he nor Congress would back down. Johnson’s prickly personality proved to be a
liability, and many people found him grating. Moreover, he firmly believed in White supremacy,
declaring in his 1868 State of the Union address, “The attempt to place the White population under
the domination of persons of color in the South has impaired, if not destroyed, the kindly relations
that had previously existed between them; and mutual distrust has engendered a feeling of
animosity which leading in some instances to collision and bloodshed, has prevented that
cooperation between the two races so essential to the success of industrial enterprise in the
southern states.” The president’s racism put him even further at odds with those in Congress who
wanted to create full equality between Black people and White people.
The Republican majority in Congress by now despised the president, and they wanted to prevent
him from interfering in congressional Reconstruction. To that end, Radical Republicans passed two
laws of dubious constitutionality. The Command of the Army Act prohibited the president from
issuing military orders except through the commanding general of the army, who could not be
relieved or reassigned without the consent of the Senate. The Tenure of Office Act, which Congress
passed in 1867, required the president to gain the approval of the Senate whenever he appointed or
removed officials. Congress had passed this act to ensure that Republicans who favored Radical
Reconstruction would not be barred or stripped of their jobs. In August 1867, President Johnson
removed Secretary of War Edwin M. Stanton, who had aligned himself with the Radical Republicans,
without gaining Senate approval. He replaced Stanton with Ulysses S. Grant, but Grant resigned and
sided with the Republicans against the president. Many Radical Republicans welcomed this blunder
by the president as it allowed them to take action to remove Johnson from office, arguing that
Johnson had openly violated the Tenure of Office Act. The House of Representatives quickly drafted
a resolution to impeach him, a first in American history.
In impeachment proceedings, the House of Representatives serves as the prosecution and the
Senate acts as judge, deciding whether the president should be removed from office (Figure 16.8).
The House brought eleven counts against Johnson, all alleging his encroachment on the powers of
Congress. In the Senate, Johnson barely survived. Seven Republicans joined the Democrats and
independents to support acquittal; the final vote was 35 to 19, one vote short of the required twothirds majority. The Radicals then dropped the impeachment effort, but the events had effectively
silenced President Johnson, and Radical Republicans continued with their plan to reconstruct the
Figure 16.8 This illustration by Theodore R. Davis, which was captioned “The Senate as a court of
impeachment for the trial of Andrew Johnson,” appeared in Harper’s Weekly in 1868. Here, the
House of Representatives brings its grievances against Johnson to the Senate during impeachment
In November 1868, Ulysses S. Grant, the Union’s war hero, easily won the presidency in a landslide
victory. The Democratic nominee was Horatio Seymour, but the Democrats carried the stigma of
disunion. The Republicans, in their campaign, blamed the devastating Civil War and the violence of
its aftermath on the rival party, a strategy that southerners called “waving the bloody shirt.”
Though Grant did not side with the Radical Republicans, his victory allowed the continuance of the
Radical Reconstruction program. In the winter of 1869, Republicans introduced another
constitutional amendment, the third of the Reconstruction era. When Republicans had passed the
Fourteenth Amendment, which addressed citizenship rights and equal protections, they were unable
to explicitly ban states from withholding the franchise based on race. With the Fifteenth Amendment,
they sought to correct this major weakness by finally extending to Black men the right to vote. The
amendment directed that “[t]he right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or
abridged by the United States or by any State on account of race, color, or previous condition of
servitude.” Unfortunately, the new amendment had weaknesses of its own. As part of a compromise
to ensure the passage of the amendment with the broadest possible support, drafters of the
amendment specifically excluded language that addressed literacy tests and poll taxes, the most
common ways Black people were traditionally disenfranchised in both the North and the South.
Indeed, Radical Republican leader Charles Sumner of Massachusetts, himself an ardent supporter
of legal equality without exception to race, refused to vote for the amendment precisely because it
did not address these obvious loopholes.
Despite these weaknesses, the language of the amendment did provide for universal manhood
suffrage—the right of all men to vote—and crucially identified Black men, including those who had
been enslaved, as deserving the right to vote. This, the third and final of the Reconstruction
amendments, was ratified in 1870 (Figure 16.9). With the ratification of the Fifteenth Amendment,
many believed that the process of restoring the Union was safely coming to a close and that the
rights of the formerly enslaved were finally secure. African American communities expressed great
hope as they celebrated what they understood to be a national confirmation of their unqualified
Figure 16.9 The Fifteenth Amendment. Celebrated May 19th, 1870, a commemorative print by
Thomas Kelly, celebrates the passage of the Fifteenth Amendment with a series of vignettes
highlighting Black rights and those who championed them. Portraits include Ulysses S. Grant,
Abraham Lincoln, and John Brown, as well as Black leaders Martin Delany, Frederick Douglass, and
Hiram Revels. Vignettes include the celebratory parade for the amendment’s passage, “The Ballot
Box is open to us,” and “Our representative Sits in the National Legislature.”
Visit the Library of Congress to take a closer look at The Fifteenth Amendment by Thomas Kelly.
Examine each individual vignette and the accompanying text. Why do you think Kelly chose these to
While the Fifteenth Amendment may have been greeted with applause in many corners, leading
women’s rights activists, who had been campaigning for decades for the right to vote, saw it as a
major disappointment. More dispiriting still was the fact that many women’s rights activists, such as
Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton, had played a large part in the abolitionist movement
leading up to the Civil War. Following the war, women and men, White and Black, formed
the American Equal Rights Association (AERA) for the expressed purpose of securing “equal Rights
to all American citizens, especially the right of suffrage, irrespective of race, color or sex.” Two years
later, with the adoption of the Fourteenth Amendment, section 2 of which specifically qualified the
liberties it extended to “male citizens,” it seemed as though the progress made in support of civil
rights was not only passing women by but was purposely codifying their exclusion. As Congress
debated the language of the Fifteenth Amendment, some held out hope that it would finally extend
the franchise to women. Those hopes were dashed when Congress adopted the final language.
The consequence of these frustrated hopes was the effective split of a civil rights movement that had
once been united in support of African Americans and women. Seeing this split occur, Frederick
Douglass, a great admirer of Stanton, struggled to argue for a piecemeal approach that should
prioritize the franchise for Black men if that was the only option. He insisted that his support for
women’s right to vote was sincere, but that getting Black men the right to vote was “of the most
urgent necessity.” “The government of this country loves women,” he argued. “They are the sisters,
mothers, wives and daughters of our rulers; but the negro is loathed. . . . The negro needs suffrage
to protect his life and property, and to ensure him respect and education.”
These appeals were largely accepted by women’s rights leaders and AERA members like Lucy
Stone and Henry Browne Blackwell, who believed that more time was needed to bring about female
suffrage. Others demanded immediate action. Among those who pressed forward despite the
setback were Stanton and Anthony. They felt greatly aggrieved at the fact that other abolitionists,
with whom they had worked closely for years, did not demand that women be included in the
language of the amendments. Stanton argued that the women’s vote would be necessary to counter
the influence of uneducated freedmen in the South and the waves of poor European immigrants
arriving in the East.
In 1869, Stanton and Anthony helped organize the National Woman Suffrage Association (NWSA),
an organization dedicated to ensuring that women gained the right to vote immediately, not at some
future, undetermined date. Some women, including Virginia Minor, a member of the NWSA, took
action by trying to register to vote; Minor attempted this in St. Louis, Missouri, in 1872. When
election officials turned her away, Minor brought the issue to the Missouri state courts, arguing that
the Fourteenth Amendment ensured that she was a citizen with the right to vote. This legal effort to
bring about women’s suffrage eventually made its way to the Supreme Court, which declared in
1874 that “the constitution of the United States does not confer the right of suffrage upon any one,”
effectively dismissing Minor’s claim.
Constitution of the National Woman Suffrage Association
Despite the Fifteenth Amendment’s failure to guarantee female suffrage, women did gain the right to
vote in western territories, with the Wyoming Territory leading the way in 1869. One reason for this
was a belief that giving women the right to vote would provide a moral compass to the otherwise
lawless western frontier. Extending the right to vote in western territories also provided an incentive
for White women to emigrate to the West, where they were scarce. However, Susan B. Anthony,
Elizabeth Cady Stanton, and others believed that immediate action on the national front was
required, leading to the organization of the NWSA and its resulting constitution. ARTICLE 1.—This
organization shall be called the National Woman Suffrage Association. ARTICLE 2.—The object of
this Association shall be to secure STATE and NATIONAL protection for women citizens in the
exercise of their right to vote. ARTICLE 3.—All citizens of the United States subscribing to this
Constitution, and contributing not less than one dollar annually, shall be considered members of the
Association, with the right to participate in its deliberations. ARTICLE 4.—The officers of this
Association shall be a President, Vice-Presidents from each of the States and Territories,
Corresponding and Recording Secretaries, a Treasurer, an Executive Committee of not less than
five, and an Advisory Committee consisting of one or more persons from each State and
Territory. ARTICLE 5.—All Woman Suffrage Societies throughout the country shall be welcomed as
auxiliaries; and their accredited officers or duly appointed representatives shall be recognized as
members of the National Association.
SUSAN B. ANTHONY, Rochester, N. Y.
How was the NWSA organized? How would the fact that it operated at the national level, rather than
at the state or local level, help it to achieve its goals?
Black voter registration in the late 1860s and the ratification of the Fifteenth Amendment finally
brought what Lincoln had characterized as “a new birth of freedom.” Union Leagues, fraternal
groups founded in the North that promoted loyalty to the Union and the Republican Party during the
Civil War, expanded into the South after the war and were transformed into political clubs that
served both political and civic functions. As centers of the Black communities in the South, the
leagues became vehicles for the dissemination of information, acted as mediators between
members of the Black community and the White establishment, and served other practical functions
like helping to build schools and churches for the community they served. As extensions of the
Republican Party, these leagues worked to enroll newly enfranchised Black voters, campaign for
candidates, and generally help the party win elections (Figure 16.10).
Figure 16.10 The First Vote, by Alfred R. Waud, appeared in Harper’s Weekly in 1867. The Fifteenth
Amendment gave Black men the right to vote for the first time.
The political activities of the leagues launched a great many African Americans and formerly
enslaved people into politics throughout the South. For the first time, Black people began to hold
political office, and several were elected to the U.S. Congress. In the 1870s, fifteen members of the
House of Representatives and two senators were Black. The two senators, Blanche K. Bruce and
Hiram Revels, were both from Mississippi, the home state of former U.S. senator and later
Confederate president Jefferson Davis. Hiram Revels (Figure 16.11), was a freeborn man from
North Carolina who rose to prominence as a minister in the African Methodist Episcopal Church and
then as a Mississippi state senator in 1869. The following year he was elected by the state
legislature to fill one of Mississippi’s two U.S. Senate seats, which had been vacant since the war.
His arrival in Washington, DC, drew intense interest: as the New York Times noted, when “the
colored Senator from Mississippi, was sworn in and admitted to his seat this afternoon . . . there was
not an inch of standing or sitting room in the galleries, so densely were they packed. . . . When the
Vice-President uttered the words, ‘The Senator elect will now advance and take the oath,’ a pin
might have been heard drop.”
Figure 16.11 Hiram Revels served as a preacher throughout the Midwest before settling in
Mississippi in 1866. When he was elected by the Mississippi state legislature in 1870, he became
the country’s first African American senator.
Senator Revels on Segregated Schools in Washington, DC
Hiram R. Revels became the first African American to serve in the U.S. Senate in 1870. In 1871, he
gave the following speech about Washington’s segregated schools before Congress.
Will establishing such [desegregated] schools as I am now advocating in this District
harm our white friends? . . . By some it is contended that if we establish mixed schools
here a great insult will be given to the white citizens, and that the white schools will be
seriously damaged. . . . When I was on a lecturing tour in the state of Ohio . . . [o]ne of
the leading gentlemen connected with the schools in that town came to see me. . . . He
asked me, “Have you been to New England, where they have mixed schools?” I replied,
“I have sir.” “Well,” said he, “please tell me this: does not social equality result from
mixed schools?” “No, sir; very far from it,” I responded. “Why,” said he, “how can it be
otherwise?” I replied, “I will tell you how it can be otherwise, and how it is otherwise. Go
to the schools and you see there white children and colored children seated side by
side, studying their lessons, standing side by side and reciting their lessons, and
perhaps in walking to school they may walk together; but that is the last of it. The white
children go to their homes; the colored children go to theirs; and on the Lord’s day you
will see those colored children in colored churches, and the white family, you will see
the white children there, and the colored children at entertainments given by persons of
their color.” I aver, sir, that mixed schools are very far from bringing about social
According to Senator Revels’s speech, what is “social equality” and why is it important to the issue of
desegregated schools? Does Revels favor social equality or social segregation? Did social equality
exist in the United States in 1871?
Though the fact of their presence was dramatic and important, as the New York Times description
above demonstrates, the few African American representatives and senators who served in
Congress during Reconstruction represented only a tiny fraction of the many hundreds, possibly
thousands, of Black people who served in a great number of capacities at the local and state levels.
The South during the early 1870s brimmed with formerly enslaved and freeborn Black people
serving as school board commissioners, county commissioners, clerks of court, board of education
and city council members, justices of the peace, constables, coroners, magistrates, sheriffs,
auditors, and registrars. This wave of local African American political activity contributed to and was
accompanied by a new concern for the poor and disadvantaged in the South. The southern
Republican leadership did away with the hated Black codes, undid the work of White supremacists,
and worked to reduce obstacles confronting freed people.
Reconstruction governments invested in infrastructure, paying special attention to the rehabilitation
of the southern railroads. They set up public education systems that enrolled both White and Black
students. They established or increased funding for hospitals, orphanages, and asylums for the
insane. In some states, the state and local governments provided the poor with basic necessities like
firewood and even bread. And to pay for these new services and subsidies, the governments levied
taxes on land and property, an action that struck at the heart of the foundation of southern economic
inequality. Indeed, the land tax compounded the existing problems of White landowners, who were
often cash-poor, and contributed to resentment of what southerners viewed as another northern
attack on their way of life.
White southerners reacted with outrage at the changes imposed upon them. The sight of onceenslaved Black people serving in positions of authority as sheriffs, congressmen, and city council
members stimulated great resentment at the process of Reconstruction and its undermining of the
traditional social and economic foundations of the South. Indignant southerners referred to this
period of reform as a time of “negro misrule.” They complained of profligate corruption on the part of
vengeful freed people and greedy northerners looking to fill their pockets with the South’s riches.
Unfortunately for the great many honest reformers, southerners did have a handful of real examples
of corruption they could point to, such as legislators using state revenues to buy hams and perfumes
or giving themselves inflated salaries. Such examples, however, were relatively few and largely
comparable to nineteenth-century corruption across the country. Yet these powerful stories,
combined with deep-seated racial animosity toward Black people in the South, led to Democratic
campaigns to “redeem” state governments. Democrats across the South leveraged planters’
economic power and wielded White vigilante violence to ultimately take back state political power
from the Republicans. By the time President Grant’s attentions were being directed away from the
South and toward the Indian Wars in the West in 1876, power in the South had largely been returned
to White people and Reconstruction was effectively abandoned. By the end of 1876, only South
Carolina, Louisiana, and Florida still had Republican governments.
The sense that the South had been unfairly sacrificed to northern vice and Black vengeance, despite
a wealth of evidence to the contrary, persisted for many decades. So powerful and pervasive was
this narrative that by the time D. W. Griffith released his 1915 motion picture, The Birth of a Nation,
White people around the country were primed to accept the fallacy that White southerners were the
frequent victims of violence and violation at the hands of unrestrained Black people. The reality is
that the opposite was true. White southerners orchestrated a sometimes violent and generally
successful counterrevolution against Reconstruction policies in the South beginning in the 1860s.
Those who worked to change and modernize the South typically did so under threats of violence.
Black Republican officials in the South were frequently terrorized, assaulted, and even murdered
with impunity by organizations like the Ku Klux Klan. When not ignoring the Fourteenth and Fifteenth
Amendments altogether, White leaders often used trickery and fraud at the polls to get the results
they wanted. As Reconstruction came to a close, these methods came to define southern life for
African Americans for nearly a century afterward.
Learning Objectives
By the end of this section, you will be able to:

Explain the reasons for the collapse of Reconstruction
Describe the efforts of White southern “redeemers” to roll back the gains of
The effort to remake the South generated a brutal reaction among southern White
people, who were committed to keeping Black people in a subservient position. To
prevent Black people from gaining economic ground and to maintain cheap labor for the
agricultural economy, an exploitative system of sharecropping spread throughout the
South. Domestic terror organizations, most notably the Ku Klux Klan, employed various
methods (arson, whipping, murder) to keep freed people from voting and achieving
political, social, or economic equality with their White neighbors.
The degraded status of Black men and women had placed them outside the limits of what
antebellum southern White people considered appropriate gender roles and familial hierarchies.
Slave marriages did not enjoy legal recognition. Enslaved men were humiliated and deprived of
authority and of the ability to protect enslaved women, who were frequently exposed to the
brutality and sexual domination of White enslavers and vigilantes alike. Enslaved parents could
not protect their children, who could be bought, sold, put to work, brutally disciplined, and
abused without their consent; parents, too, could be sold away from their children (Figure 16.12).
Moreover, the division of labor idealized in White southern society, in which men worked the
land and women performed the role of domestic caretaker, did not apply to the enslaved. Both
enslaved men and women were made to perform hard labor in the fields.
Figure 16.12 After emancipation, many fathers who had been sold from their families as
enslaved people—a circumstance illustrated in the engraving above, which shows an enslaved
man forced to leave his wife and children—set out to find those lost families and rebuild their
In the Reconstruction era, African Americans embraced the right to enjoy the family bonds and
the expression of gender norms they had been systematically denied. Many thousands of freed
Black men who had been separated from their families while enslaved took to the road to find
their long-lost spouses and children and renew their bonds. In one instance, a journalist reported
having interviewed a freed person who traveled over six hundred miles on foot in search of the
family that was taken from him while in bondage. Couples that had been spared separation
quickly set out to legalize their marriages, often by way of the Freedmen’s Bureau, now that this
option was available. Those who had no families would sometimes relocate to southern towns
and cities, so as to be part of the larger Black community where churches and other mutual aid
societies offered help and camaraderie.
Most freed people stayed in the South on the lands where their families and loved ones had
worked for generations while enslaved. They hungered to own and farm their own lands instead
of the lands of White plantation owners. In one case, formerly enslaved people on the Sea Islands
off the coast of South Carolina initially had hopes of owning the land they had worked for many
decades after General Sherman directed that freed people be granted title to plots of forty acres.
The Freedmen’s Bureau provided additional cause for such hopes by directing that leases and
titles to lands in the South be made available to formerly enslaved people. However, these efforts
ran afoul of President Johnson. In 1865, he ordered the return of land to White landowners, a
setback for those freed people, such as those on the South Carolina Sea Islands, who had begun
to cultivate the land as their own. Ultimately, there was no redistribution of land in the South.
The end of slavery meant the transition to wage labor. However, this conversion did not entail a
new era of economic independence for formerly enslaved people. While they no longer faced
relentless toil under the lash, freed people emerged from slavery without any money and needed
farm implements, food, and other basic necessities to start their new lives. Under the crop-lien
system, store owners extended credit to farmers under the agreement that the debtors would pay
with a portion of their future harvest. However, the creditors charged high interest rates, making
it even harder for freed people to gain economic independence.
Throughout the South, sharecropping took root, a crop-lien system that worked to the advantage
of landowners. Under the system, freed people rented the land they worked, often on the same
plantations where they had been enslaved. Some landless White citizens also became
sharecroppers. Sharecroppers paid their landlords with the crops they grew, often as much as half
their harvest. Sharecropping favored the landlords and ensured that freed people could not attain
independent livelihoods. The year-to-year leases meant no incentive existed to substantially
improve the land, and high interest payments siphoned additional money away from the farmers.
Sharecroppers often became trapped in a never-ending cycle of debt, unable to buy their own
land and unable to stop working for their creditor because of what they owed. The consequences
of sharecropping affected the entire South for many generations, severely limiting economic
development and ensuring that the South remained an agricultural backwater.
Paramilitary White-supremacist terror organizations in the South helped bring about the collapse
of Reconstruction, using violence as their primary weapon. The “Invisible Empire of the South,”
or Ku Klux Klan, stands as the most notorious. The Klan was founded in 1866 as an oath-bound
fraternal order of Confederate veterans in Tennessee, with former Confederate General Nathan
Bedford Forrest as its first leader. The organization—its name likely derived from kuklos, a
Greek word meaning circle—devised elaborate rituals and grandiose names for its ranking
members: Grand Wizard, Grand Dragon, Grand Titan, and Grand Cyclops. Soon, however, this
fraternal organization evolved into a vigilante terrorist group that vented southern White people’s
collective frustration over the loss of the war and the course of Radical Reconstruction through
acts of intimidation and violence.
The Klan terrorized newly freed Black people to deter them from exercising their citizenship
rights and freedoms. Other anti-Black vigilante groups around the South began to adopt the Klan
name and perpetrate acts of unspeakable violence against anyone they considered a tool of
Reconstruction. Indeed, as historians have noted, Klan units around the South operated
autonomously and with a variety of motives. Some may have sincerely believed they were
righting wrongs, others merely satisfying their lurid desires for violence. Nor was the Klan the
only racist vigilante organization. Other groups, like the Red Shirts from Mississippi and the
Knights of the White Camelia and the White League, both from Louisiana, also sprang up at this
time. The Klan and similar organizations also worked as an extension of the Democratic Party to
win elections.
Despite the great variety in Klan membership, on the whole, the group tended to direct its
attention toward persecuting freed people and people they considered carpetbaggers, a term of
abuse applied to northerners accused of having come to the South to acquire wealth through
political power at the expense of southerners. The colorful term captured the disdain of
southerners for these people, reflecting the common assumption that these men, sensing great
opportunity, packed up all their worldly possessions in carpetbags, a then-popular type of
luggage, and made their way to the South. Implied in this definition is the notion that these men
came from little and were thus shiftless wanderers motivated only by the desire for quick money.
In reality, these northerners tended to be young, idealistic, often well-educated men who
responded to northern campaigns urging them to lead the modernization of the South. But the
image of them as swindlers taking advantage of the South at its time of need resonated with a
White southern population aggrieved by loss and economic decline. Southern White people who
supported Reconstruction, known as scalawags, also generated great hostility as traitors to the
South. They, too, became targets of the Klan and similar groups.
The Klan seized on the pervasive but largely fictional narrative of the northern carpetbagger as a
powerful tool for restoring White supremacy and overturning Republican state governments in
the South (Figure 16.13). To preserve a White-dominated society, Klan members punished Black
people for attempting to improve their station in life or acting “uppity.” To prevent freed people
from attaining an education, the Klan burned public schools. In an effort to stop Black citizens
from voting, the Klan murdered, whipped, and otherwise intimidated freed people and their
White supporters. It wasn’t uncommon for Klan members to intimidate Union League members
and Freedmen’s Bureau workers. The Klan even perpetrated acts of political assassination,
killing a sitting U.S. congressman from Arkansas and three state congressmen from South
Figure 16.13 The Ku Klux Klan posted circulars such as this 1867 West Virginia broadside to
warn Black people and White sympathizers of the power and ubiquity of the Klan.
Klan tactics included riding out to victims’ houses, masked and armed, and firing into the homes
or burning them down (Figure 16.14). Other tactics relied more on the threat of violence, such as
happened in Mississippi when fifty masked Klansmen rode out to a local schoolteacher’s house
to express their displeasure with the school tax and to suggest that she consider leaving. Still
other tactics intimidated through imaginative trickery. One such method was to dress up as
ghosts of slain Confederate soldiers and stage stunts designed to convince their victims of their
supernatural abilities.
Figure 16.14 This illustration by Frank Bellew, captioned “Visit of the Ku-Klux,” appeared
in Harper’s Weekly in 1872. A hooded Klansman surreptitiously points a rifle at an unaware
Black family in their home.
Regardless of the method, the general goal of reinstating White supremacy as a foundational
principle and returning the South to a situation that largely resembled antebellum conditions
remained a constant. The Klan used its power to eliminate Black economic independence,
decimate Black peoples’ political rights, reclaim White dominance over Black women’s bodies
and Black men’s masculinity, tear apart Black communities, and return Black people to earlier
patterns of economic and political subservience and social deference. In this, they were largely
Visit Freedmen’s Bureau Online to view digitized records of attacks on freed people that were
reported in Albany, Georgia, between January 1 and October 31, 1868.
The president and Congress, however, were not indifferent to the violence, and they worked to
bring it to an end. In 1870, at the insistence of the governor of North Carolina, President Grant
told Congress to investigate the Klan. In response, Congress in 1871 created the Joint Select
Committee to Inquire into the Condition of Affairs in the Late Insurrectionary States. The
committee took testimony from freed people in the South, and in 1872, it published a thirteenvolume report on the tactics the Klan used to derail democracy in the South through the use of
Abram Colby on the Methods of the Ku Klux Klan
The following statements are from the October 27, 1871, testimony of fifty-two-year-old
formerly enslaved Abram Colby, which the joint select committee investigating the Klan took in
Atlanta, Georgia. Colby had been elected to the lower house of the Georgia State legislature in
1868. On the 29th of October, they came to my house and broke my door open, took me out of
my bed and took me to the woods and whipped me three hours or more and left me in the woods
for dead. They said to me, “Do you think you will ever vote another damned Radical ticket?” I
said, “I will not tell you a lie.” They said, “No; don’t tell a lie.” . . . I said, “If there was an
election to-morrow, I would vote the Radical ticket.” They set in and whipped me a thousand
licks more, I suppose. . . . They said I had influence with the negroes of other counties, and had
carried the negroes against them. About two days before they whipped me they offered me
$5,000 to turn and go with them, and said they would pay me $2,500 cash if I would turn and let
another man go to the legislature in my place. . . . I would have come before the court here last
week, but I knew it was no use for me to try to get Ku-Klux condemned by Ku-Klux, and I did
not come. Mr. Saunders, a member of the grand jury here last week, is the father of one of the
very men I knew whipped me. . . . They broke something inside of me, and the doctor has been
attending to me for more than a year. Sometimes I cannot get up and down off my bed, and my
left hand is not of much use to me.
—Abram Colby testimony, Joint Select Committee Report, 1872
Why did the Klan target Colby? What methods did they use?
Congress also passed a series of three laws designed to stamp out the Klan. Passed in 1870 and
1871, the Enforcement Acts or “Force Acts” were designed to outlaw intimidation at the polls
and to give the federal government the power to prosecute crimes against freed people in federal
rather than state courts. Congress believed that this last step, a provision in the third Enforcement
Act, also called the Ku Klux Klan Act, was necessary in order to ensure that trials would not be
decided by White juries in southern states friendly to the Klan. The act also allowed the president
to impose martial law in areas controlled by the Klan and gave President Grant the power to
suspend the writ of habeas corpus, a continuation of the wartime power granted to President
Lincoln. The suspension meant individuals suspected of engaging in Klan activity could be jailed
President Grant made frequent use of the powers granted to him by Congress, especially in South
Carolina, where federal troops imposed martial law in nine counties in an effort to derail Klan
activities. However, the federal government faced entrenched local organizations and a White
population firmly opposed to Radical Reconstruction. Changes came slowly or not at all, and
disillusionment set in. After 1872, federal government efforts to put down paramilitary terror in
the South waned.
While the president and Congress may have seen the Klan and other clandestine White
supremacist, terrorist organizations as a threat to stability and progress in the South, many
southern White people saw them as an instrument of order in a world turned upside down. Many
White southerners felt humiliated by the process of Radical Reconstruction and the way
Republicans had upended southern society, placing Black people in positions of authority while
taxing large landowners to pay for the education of formerly enslaved people. Those committed
to rolling back the tide of Radical Reconstruction in the South called themselves redeemers, a
label that expressed their desire to redeem their states from northern control and to restore the
antebellum social order whereby Black people were kept safely under the boot heel of White
people. They represented the Democratic Party in the South and worked tirelessly to end what
they saw as an era of “negro misrule.” By 1877, they had succeeded in bringing about the
“redemption” of the South, effectively destroying the dream of Radical Reconstruction.
Although Ulysses S. Grant won a second term in the presidential election of 1872, the
Republican grip on national political power began to slip in the early 1870s. Three major events
undermined Republican control. First, in 1873, the United States experienced the start of a long
economic downturn, the result of economic instability in Europe that spread to the United States.
In the fall of 1873, the bank of Jay Cooke & Company failed to meet its financial obligations and
went bankrupt, setting off a panic in American financial markets. An economic depression
ensued, which Democrats blamed on Republicans and which lasted much of the decade.
Second, the Republican Party experienced internal squabbles and divided into two factions.
Some Republicans began to question the expansive role of the federal government, arguing for
limiting the size and scope of federal initiatives. These advocates, known as Liberal Republicans
because they followed classical liberalism in championing small government, formed their own
breakaway party. Their ideas changed the nature of the debate over Reconstruction by
challenging reliance on federal government help to bring about change in the South. Now some
Republicans argued for downsizing Reconstruction efforts.
Third, the Grant administration became mired in scandals, further tarnishing the Republicans
while giving Democrats the upper hand. One scandal arose over the siphoning off of money from
excise taxes on whiskey. The “Whiskey Ring,” as it was called, involved people at the highest
levels of the Grant administration, including the president’s personal secretary, Orville Babcock.
Another scandal entangled Crédit Mobilier of America, a construction company and part of the
important French Crédit Mobilier banking company. The Union Pacific Railroad company,
created by the federal government during the Civil War to construct a transcontinental railroad,
paid Crédit Mobilier to build the railroad. However, Crédit Mobilier used the funds it received to
buy Union Pacific Railroad bonds and resell them at a huge profit. Some members of Congress,
as well as Vice President Schuyler Colfax, had accepted funds from Crédit Mobilier in return for
forestalling an inquiry. When the scam became known in 1872, Democratic opponents of
Reconstruction pointed to Crédit Mobilier as an example of corruption in the Republicandominated federal government and evidence that smaller government was better.
The Democratic Party in the South made significant advances in the 1870s in its efforts to wrest
political control from the Republican-dominated state governments. The Ku Klux Klan, as well
as other paramilitary groups in the South, often operated as military wings of the Democratic
Party in former Confederate states. In one notorious episode following a contested 1872
gubernatorial election in Louisiana, as many as 150 freedmen loyal to the Republican Party were
killed at the Colfax courthouse by armed members of the Democratic Party, even as many of
them tried to surrender (Figure 16.15).
Figure 16.15 In this illustration by Charles Harvey Weigall, captioned “The Louisiana
Murders—Gathering the Dead and Wounded” and published in Harper’s Weekly in 1873,
survivors of the Colfax Massacre tend to those involved in the conflict. The dead and wounded
all appear to be Black, and two White men on horses watch over them. Another man stands with
a gun pointed at the survivors.
In other areas of the South, the Democratic Party gained control over state politics. Texas came
under Democratic control by 1873, and in the following year Alabama and Arkansas followed
suit. In national politics, too, the Democrats gained ground—especially during the 1874
elections, when they recaptured control of the House of Representatives for the first time since
before the Civil War. Every other southern state, with the exception of Florida, South Carolina,
and Louisiana—the states where federal troops remained a force—also fell to the Democratic
Party and the restoration of White supremacy. Southerners everywhere celebrated their
“redemption” from Radical Republican rule.
By the time of the 1876 presidential election, Reconstruction had come to an end in most
southern states. In Congress, the political power of the Radical Republicans had waned, although
some continued their efforts to realize the dream of equality between Black and White people.
One of the last attempts to do so was the passage of the 1875 Civil Rights Act, which required
equality in public places and on juries. This law was challenged in court, and in 1883 the
Supreme Court ruled it unconstitutional, arguing that the Thirteenth and Fourteenth Amendments
did not prohibit discrimination by private individuals. By the 1870s, the Supreme Court had also
undercut the letter and the spirit of the Fourteenth Amendment by interpreting it as affording
freed people only limited federal protection from the Klan and other terror groups.
The country remained bitterly divided, and this was reflected in the contested election of 1876.
While Grant wanted to run for a third term, scandals and Democratic successes in the South
dashed those hopes. Republicans instead selected Rutherford B. Hayes, the three-time governor
of Ohio. Democrats nominated Samuel Tilden, the reform governor of New York, who was
instrumental in ending the Tweed Ring and Tammany Hall corruption in New York City. The
November election produced an apparent Democratic victory, as Tilden carried the South and
large northern states with a 300,000-vote advantage in the popular vote. However, disputed
returns from Louisiana, South Carolina, Florida, and Oregon, whose electoral votes totaled
twenty, threw the election into doubt.
Hayes could still win if he gained those twenty electoral votes. As the Constitution did not
provide a method to determine the validity of disputed votes, the decision fell to Congress, where
Republicans controlled the Senate and Democrats controlled the House of Representatives. In
late January 1877, Congress tried to break the deadlock by creating a special electoral
commission composed of five senators, five representatives, and five justices of the Supreme
Court. The congressional delegation represented both parties equally, with five Democrats and
five Republicans. The court delegation had two Democrats, two Republicans, and one
independent—David Davis, who resigned from the Supreme Court (and from the commission)
when the Illinois legislature elected him to the Senate. After Davis’s resignation, President Grant
selected a Republican to take his place, tipping the scales in favor of Hayes. The commission
then awarded the disputed electoral votes and the presidency to Hayes, voting on party lines, 8 to
7 (Figure 16.16). The Democrats called foul, threatening to hold up the commission’s decision in
the courts.
Figure 16.16 This map illustrates the results of the presidential election of 1876. Tilden, the
Democratic candidate, swept the South, with the exception of the contested states of Florida,
Louisiana, and South Carolina.
In what became known as the Compromise of 1877, Republican Senate leaders worked with the
Democratic leadership so they would support Hayes and the commission’s decision. The two
sides agreed that one Southern Democrat would be appointed to Hayes’s cabinet, Democrats
would control federal patronage (the awarding of government jobs) in their areas in the South,
and there would be a commitment to generous internal improvements, including federal aid for
the Texas and Pacific Railway. Perhaps most important, all remaining federal troops would be
withdrawn from the South, a move that effectively ended Reconstruction. Hayes believed that
southern leaders would obey and enforce the Reconstruction-era constitutional amendments that
protected the rights of freed people. His trust was soon proved to be misguided, much to his
dismay, and he devoted a large part of his life to securing rights for freedmen. For their part, the
Democrats took over the remaining southern states, creating what became known as the “Solid
South”—a region that consistently voted in a bloc for the Democratic Party.
Black codes
laws some southern states designed to maintain White supremacy by keeping
freed people impoverished and in debt
a term used for northerners working in the South during Reconstruction; it implied
that these were opportunists who came south for economic or political gain
Compromise of 1877
the agreement between Republicans and Democrats, after the contested election
of 1876, in which Rutherford B. Hayes was awarded the presidency in exchange
for withdrawing the last of the federal troops from the South
crop-lien system
a loan system in which store owners extended credit to farmers for the purchase
of goods in exchange for a portion of their future crops
Freedmen’s Bureau
the Bureau of Refugees, Freedmen, and Abandoned Lands, which was created
in 1865 to ease Black peoples’ transition from slavery to freedom
Ironclad Oath
an oath that the Wade-Davis Bill required a majority of voters and government
officials in Confederate states to take; it involved swearing that they had never
supported the Confederacy
Ku Klux Klan
a White vigilante organization that engaged in terroristic violence with the aim of
stopping Reconstruction
Radical Republicans
northern Republicans who contested Lincoln’s treatment of Confederate states
and proposed harsher punishments
the twelve-year period after the Civil War in which the rebel Southern states were
integrated back into the Union
a term used for southern White people committed to rolling back the gains of
a pejorative term used for southern White people who supported Reconstruction
a crop-lien system in which people paid rent on land they farmed (but did not
own) with the crops they grew
ten percent plan
Lincoln’s Reconstruction plan, which required only 10 percent of the 1860 voters
in Confederate states to take an oath of allegiance to the Union
Union Leagues
fraternal groups loyal to the Union and the Republican Party that became political
and civic centers for Black people in former Confederate states
16.1 Restoring the Union
President Lincoln worked to reach his goal of reunifying the nation quickly and proposed a
lenient plan to reintegrate the Confederate states. After his murder in 1865, Lincoln’s vice
president, Andrew Johnson, sought to reconstitute the Union quickly, pardoning Southerners en
masse and providing Southern states with a clear path back to readmission. By 1866, Johnson
announced the end of Reconstruction. Radical Republicans in Congress disagreed, however, and
in the years ahead would put forth their own plan of Reconstruction.
16.2 Congress and the Remaking of the South, 1865–1866
The conflict between President Johnson and the Republican-controlled Congress over the proper
steps to be taken with the defeated Confederacy grew in intensity in the years immediately
following the Civil War. While the president concluded that all that needed to be done in the
South had been done by early 1866, Congress forged ahead to stabilize the defeated Confederacy
and extend to freed people citizenship and equality before the law. Congress prevailed over
Johnson’s vetoes as the friction between the president and the Republicans increased.
16.3 Radical Reconstruction, 1867–1872
Though President Johnson declared Reconstruction complete less than a year after the
Confederate surrender, members of Congress disagreed. Republicans in Congress began to
implement their own plan of bringing law and order to the South through the use of military
force and martial law. Radical Republicans who advocated for a more equal society pushed their
program forward as well, leading to the ratification of the Fifteenth Amendment, which finally
gave Black men the right to vote. The new amendment empowered Black voters, who made
good use of the vote to elect Black politicians. It disappointed female suffragists, however, who
had labored for years to gain women’s right to vote. By the end of 1870, all the southern states
under Union military control had satisfied the requirements of Congress and been readmitted to
the Union.
16.4 The Collapse of Reconstruction
The efforts launched by Radical Republicans in the late 1860s generated a massive backlash in
the South in the 1870s as White people fought against what they considered “negro misrule.”
Paramilitary terrorist cells emerged, committing countless atrocities in their effort to “redeem”
the South from Black Republican rule. In many cases, these organizations operated as an
extension of the Democratic Party. Scandals hobbled the Republican Party, as did a severe
economic depression. By 1875, Reconstruction had largely come to an end. The contested
presidential election the following year, which was decided in favor of the Republican candidate,
and the removal of federal troops from the South only confirmed the obvious: Reconstruction
had failed to achieve its primary objective of creating an interracial democracy that provided
equal rights to all citizens.
Figure 17.1 A widely held belief in the nineteenth century contended that Americans
had a divine right and responsibility to settle the West with Protestant democratic
values. Newspaper editor Horace Greely, who coined the phrase “Go west, young
man,” encouraged Americans to fulfill this dream. Artists of the day depicted this
western expansion in idealized landscapes that bore little resemblance to the difficulties
of life on the trail.
Chapter Outline
17.1 The Westward Spirit
17.2 Homesteading: Dreams and Realities
17.3 Making a Living in Gold and Cattle
17.4 The Assault on American Indian Life and Culture
17.5 The Impact of Expansion on Chinese Immigrants and Hispanic Citizens
In the middle of the nineteenth century, farmers in the “Old West”—the land across the
Allegheny Mountains in Pennsylvania—began to hear about the opportunities to be
found in the “New West.” They had long believed that the land west of the Mississippi
was a great desert, unfit for human habitation. But now, the federal government was
encouraging them to join the migratory stream westward to this unknown land. For a
variety of reasons, Americans increasingly felt compelled to fulfill their “Manifest
Destiny,” a phrase that came to mean that they were expected to spread across the
land given to them by God and, most importantly, spread predominantly American
values to the frontier (Figure 17.1).
With great trepidation, hundreds, and then hundreds of thousands, of settlers packed
their lives into wagons and set out, following the Oregon, California, and Santa Fe
Trails, to seek a new life in the West. They imagined open lands, economic opportunity,
and greater freedom to fulfill the democratic vision originally promoted by Thomas
Jefferson despite Native American communities living in the region. Whatever their
motivation, the great migration was underway. The American pioneer spirit was born.
Learning Objectives
By the end of this section, you will be able to:

Explain the evolution of American views about westward migration in the midnineteenth century
Analyze the ways in which the federal government facilitated Americans’
westward migration in the mid-nineteenth century
Figure 17.2 (credit “barbed wire”: modification of work by the U.S. Department of
While a small number of settlers had pushed westward before the mid-nineteenth
century, the land west of the Mississippi was largely unexplored by the United States.
Most Americans, if they thought of it at all, viewed this territory as an arid wasteland
suitable only for American Indians. The reflections of early explorers who conducted
scientific treks throughout the West tended to confirm this belief. Major Stephen
Harriman Long, who commanded an expedition through Missouri and into the
Yellowstone region in 1819–1820, frequently described the Great Plains as an arid and
useless region, suitable as nothing more than a “great American desert.” But, beginning
in the 1840s, a combination of economic opportunity and ideological encouragement
changed the way Americans thought of the West. The federal government offered a
number of incentives, making it viable for Americans to take on the challenge of seizing
these rough lands from their Native American and Hispanic owners. Still, most
Americans who went west needed some financial security at the outset of their journey;
even with government aid, the truly poor could not make the trip. The cost of moving an
entire family westward, combined with the risks as well as the questionable chances of
success, made the move prohibitive for most. While the economic Panic of 1837 led
many to question the promise of urban America, and thus turn their focus to the promise
of commercial farming in the West, the Panic also resulted in many lacking the financial
resources to make such a commitment. For most, the dream to “Go west, young man”
remained unfulfilled.
While much of the basis for westward expansion was economic, there was also a more
philosophical reason, which was bound up in the American belief that the country—and
the Indigenous peoples who populated it—were destined to come under the civilizing
rule of Euro-American settlers and their superior technology, most notably railroads and
the telegraph. While the extent to which that belief was a heartfelt motivation held by
most Americans, or simply a rationalization of the conquests that followed, remains
debatable, the clashes—both physical and cultural—that followed this western migration
left scars on the country that are still felt today.
The concept of Manifest Destiny found its roots in the long-standing traditions of territorial
expansion upon which the nation itself was founded. This phrase, which implies divine
encouragement for territorial expansion, was coined by magazine editor John O’Sullivan in
1845, when he wrote in the United States Magazine and Democratic Review that “it was our
manifest destiny to overspread the continent allotted by Providence for the free development of
our multiplying millions.” Although the context of O’Sullivan’s original article was to encourage
expansion into the newly acquired Texas territory, the spirit it invoked would subsequently be
used to encourage westward settlement throughout the rest of the nineteenth century. Land
developers, railroad magnates, and other investors capitalized on the notion to encourage
westward settlement for their own financial benefit. Soon thereafter, the federal government
encouraged this inclination as a means to further develop the West during the Civil War,
especially at its outset, when concerns over the possible expansion of slavery deeper into western
territories was a legitimate fear.
The idea was simple: Americans were destined—and indeed divinely ordained—to expand
democratic institutions throughout the continent. As they spread their culture, thoughts, and
customs, they would, in the process, expose the native inhabitants to Protestant institutions and,
more importantly, new ways to develop the land. O’Sullivan may have coined the phrase, but the
concept had preceded him: Throughout the 1800s, politicians and writers had stated the belief
that the United States was destined to rule the continent. O’Sullivan’s words, which resonated in
the popular press, matched the economic and political goals of a federal government increasingly
committed to expansion.
Manifest Destiny justified in Americans’ minds their right and duty to govern any other groups
they encountered during their expansion, as well as absolved them of any questionable tactics
they employed in the process. While the commonly held view of the day was of a relatively
empty frontier, waiting for the arrival of the settlers who could properly exploit the vast
resources for economic gain, the reality was quite different. Hispanic communities in the
Southwest, diverse tribes throughout the western states, as well as other settlers from Asia and
Western Europe already lived in many parts of the country. American expansion would
necessitate a far more complex and involved exchange than simply filling empty space.
Still, in part as a result of the spark lit by O’Sullivan and others, waves of Americans and
recently arrived immigrants began to move west in wagon trains. They travelled along several
identifiable trails: first the Oregon Trail, then later the Santa Fe and California Trails, among
others. The Oregon Trail is the most famous of these western routes. Two thousand miles long
and barely passable on foot in the early nineteenth century, by the 1840s, wagon trains were a
common sight. Between 1845 and 1870, considered to be the height of migration along the trail,
over 400,000 settlers followed this path west from Missouri (Figure 17.3). Despite emphasis on
conflict with Native Americans in movies, tribe members often served as guides or traded with
the emigrants.
Figure 17.3 Hundreds of thousands of people travelled west on the Oregon, California, and
Santa Fe Trails, but their numbers did not ensure their safety. Illness, starvation, and other
dangers—both real and imagined— made survival hard. But despite popular images of wagons
circled to defend against Native American attacks, more Native people than emigrants died from
the violence associated with the overland routes.(credit: U.S. National Archives and Records
Who Will Set Limits to Our Onward March?
America is destined for better deeds. It is our unparalleled glory that we have no reminiscences
of battle fields, but in defense [sic] of humanity, of the oppressed of all nations, of the rights of
conscience, the rights of personal enfranchisement. Our annals describe no scenes of horrid
carnage, where men were led on by hundreds of thousands to slay one another, dupes and victims
to emperors, kings, nobles, demons in the human form called heroes. We have had patriots to
defend our homes, our liberties, but no aspirants to crowns or thrones; nor have the American
people ever suffered themselves to be led on by wicked ambition to depopulate the land, to
spread desolation far and wide, that a human being might be placed on a seat of supremacy. . . .
The expansive future is our arena, and for our history. We are entering on its untrodden space,
with the truths of God in our minds, beneficent objects in our hearts, and with a clear conscience
unsullied by the past. We are the nation of human progress, and who will, what can, set limits to
our onward march? Providence is with us, and no earthly power can.
—John O’Sullivan, 1839
Think about how this quotation resonated with different groups of Americans at the time. When
looked at through today’s lens, the actions of the westward-moving settlers were fraught with
brutality and racism. At the time, however, many settlers felt they were at the pinnacle of
democracy, and that with no aristocracy or ancient history, America was a new world where
anyone could succeed. Even then, consider how the phrase “anyone” was restricted by race,
gender, and nationality. Also consider how the idea of “untrodden space” ignores specific groups
of people.
Visit Across the Plains in ‘64 to follow one family making their way westward from Iowa to
Oregon. Click on a few of the entries and see how the author describes their journey, from the
expected to the surprising.
To assist the settlers in their move westward and transform the migration from a trickle into a
steady flow, Congress passed two significant pieces of legislation in 1862: the Homestead Act
and the Pacific Railway Act. Born largely out of President Abraham Lincoln’s growing concern
that a potential Union defeat in the early stages of the Civil War might result in the expansion of
slavery westward, Lincoln hoped that such laws would encourage the expansion of a “free soil”
mentality across the West.
The Homestead Act allowed any head of household, or individual over the age of twenty-one—
including unmarried women—to receive a parcel of 160 acres for only a nominal filing fee. All
that recipients were required to do in exchange was to “improve the land” within a period of five
years of taking possession. The standards for improvement were minimal: Owners could clear a
few acres, build small houses or barns, or maintain livestock. Under this act, the government
transferred over 270 million acres of public domain land to private citizens.
The Pacific Railway Act was pivotal in helping settlers move west more quickly, as well as
move their farm products, and later cattle and mining deposits, back east. The first of many
railway initiatives, this act commissioned the Union Pacific Railroad to build new track west
from Omaha, Nebraska, while the Central Pacific Railroad moved east from Sacramento,
California. The law provided each company with ownership of all public lands within two
hundred feet on either side of the track laid, as well as additional land grants and payment
through load bonds, prorated on the difficulty of the terrain it crossed. Because of these
provisions, both companies made a significant profit, whether they were crossing hundreds of
miles of open plains, or working their way through the Sierra Nevada Mountains of California.
As a result, the nation’s first transcontinental railroad was completed when the two companies
connected their tracks at Promontory, Utah, in the spring of 1869. Other tracks, including lines
radiating from this original one, subsequently created a network that linked all corners of the
nation (Figure 17.4).
Figure 17.4 The “Golden Spike” connecting the country by rail was driven into the ground in
Promontory, Utah, in 1869. The completion of the first transcontinental railroad dramatically
changed the tenor of travel in the country, as people were able to complete in a week a route that
had previously taken months.
In addition to legislation designed to facilitate western settlement, the U.S. government assumed
an active role on the ground, building numerous forts throughout the West to aid settlers during
their migration. Forts such as Fort Laramie in Wyoming (built in 1834) and Fort Apache in
Arizona (1870) aimed to facilitate trade and limit conflict between migrants and local American
Indian tribes. Others located throughout Colorado and Wyoming became important trading posts
for miners and fur trappers. Those built in Kansas, Nebraska, and the Dakotas served primarily to
provide relief for farmers during times of drought or related hardships. Forts constructed along
the California coastline provided protection in the wake of the Mexican-American War as well as
during the American Civil War. These locations subsequently serviced the U.S. Navy and
provided important support for growing Pacific trade routes. Whether as army posts constructed
to aid American migration, or as trading posts to further facilitate the development of the region,
such forts proved to be vital contributions to westward migration.
In the nineteenth century, as today, it took money to relocate and start a new life. Due to the
initial cost of relocation, land, and supplies, as well as months of preparing the soil, planting, and
subsequent harvesting before any produce was ready for market, the original wave of western
settlers along the Oregon Trail in the 1840s and 1850s consisted of moderately prosperous,
White, native-born farming families of the East. But the passage of the Homestead Act and
completion of the first transcontinental railroad meant that, by 1870, the possibility of western
migration was opened to Americans of more modest means. What started as a trickle became a
steady flow of migration that would last until the end of the century.
Nearly 400,000 settlers had made the trek westward by the height of the movement in 1870. The
vast majority were men, although families also migrated, despite incredible hardships for women
with young children. More recent immigrants also migrated west, with the largest numbers
coming from Northern Europe and Canada. Germans, Scandinavians, and Irish were among the
most common. These ethnic groups tended to settle close together, creating strong rural
communities that mirrored the way of life they had left behind. According to U.S. Census Bureau
records, the number of Scandinavians living in the United States during the second half of the
nineteenth century exploded, from barely 18,000 in 1850 to over 1.1 million in 1900. During that
same time period, the German-born population in the United States grew from 584,000 to nearly
2.7 million and the Irish-born population grew from 961,000 to 1.6 million. As they moved
westward, several thousand immigrants established homesteads in the Midwest, primarily in
Minnesota and Wisconsin, where, as of 1900, over one-third of the population was foreign-born,
and in North Dakota, whose immigrant population stood at 45 percent at the turn of the century.
Compared to European immigrants, those from China were much less numerous, but still
significant. More than 200,000 Chinese arrived in California between 1876 and 1890, albeit for
entirely different reasons related to the Gold Rush.
In addition to a significant European migration westward, several thousand African Americans
migrated west following the Civil War, as much to escape the racism and violence of the Old
South as to find new econo…

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