The South and West
Reconstruction was one of the most challenging and turbulent periods in U.S. history. The South and West faced different issues. After the end of the Civil War, the country was deciding how it would treat the South and whether it would punish it for its misdeeds. Equally important were the questions surrounding the future status of the newly freed African Americans. Simultaneously, the Civil War opened new opportunities for the rapid, even radical, westward expansion. Coupled with industrialization and an unprecedented pace of socioeconomic development in the country, the discussed expansion threatened the historical position of Native Americans, turning them into a marginalized group.
Reconstruction and the South
When it comes to Reconstruction, the American South deserves particular attention. After everything that had taken place during the Civil War, the U.S. had to decide if the South deserved punishment. “National politics produced new constitutional amendments, a presidential impeachment, and some of the most ambitious domestic legislation ever enacted by Congress, the Reconstruction Acts of 1867-1868”. It launched new processes that had to improve the quality of life in the country. Yet, despite certain achievements, Reconstruction in the South could hardly be considered as a success.
Since its inception, Reconstruction in the South failed to follow the predetermined route. It started in 1865. Almost immediately, President Johnson gave up his intention to punish treason. The seven southern states that joined the U.S. immediately gave up their offices to confederate generals, who restored the positions they had taken during the Civil War. Meanwhile, radical republicans were struggling to dismantle the promised value of Johnson’s Reconstruction plan, provide suffrage to freed African Americans, and disempower former Confederates, so that they could not influence the direction of politics in Congress. The passage of the Fourteenth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution was one of the greatest accomplishments in the Reconstruction politics. However, those successes were at least temporary.
Following the Civil War, the rights of African Americans were determined on the basis of the so-called black codes. The latter were developed to regulate the rights and freedoms of former slaves. In reality, they resembled the terms and conditions of slavery. During the Reconstruction era, the tough limitations imposed on former slaves were loosened, engaging them in politics and disenfranchising ex-Confederates. The Reconstruction Act of 1867 was one of the most radical pieces of legislation enacted during Reconstruction. The Fifteenth Amendment strengthened the vision of equality and justice in post-war America. Blacks enjoyed the growing influence on American politics and actively participated in American government. However, as Black voters outnumbered whites, they quickly became the objects of public discontent. The emerging racist tensions compelled freedmen to hide from racial abuse. Jim Crow laws enforced segregation as an official politics of the state. This being said, the Reconstruction politics failed to fulfill its promise and eventually restored the racist status quo that had existed prior to the Civil War. With the addition of sharecropping, the position of African Americans was considerably weakened. The Reconstruction led to racial equality in the American South.
The West was another area of concern after the Civil War. Native Americans suffered huge losses due to the westward expansion in the middle of the 19th century. For centuries, freedom had been a distinguishing feature of life for Native Americans. They enjoyed the stability of their daily routines and followed their religious, social, and cultural rituals. The Great Plains gave them enough space to move from one valley to another, seeking comfort and minimizing the negative effects on the natural habitat. Native Americans moved to a different place, once their horses consumed all grasses.
The way Native Americans lived came in conflict with the expectations and ambitions of the white population in the middle of the 19th century. As early as the 1860s, whites came to the Great Plains, looking for profits. They engaged in hunting activities to produce industrial belting and carriage robes for the eastern market. The commercialism and profit orientation of whites contradicted the sustainable development priorities of Native Americans. Besides, thousands of whites breached into their territory, looking for gold. They viewed Native Americans as a serious threat to their mercenary interests. The government quickly withdrew from the conflict, leaving Native Americans alone in their struggle for survival. The conflict turned out to be one of the bloodiest encounters between Native Americans and whites in the history of America.
Beyond industrial manufacturing and the gold rush, the Great Plains represented vast opportunities for the development of national transportation. Railroads were still in the state of infancy, but they had to become a breakthrough in the development of the U.S. economy. To accomplish their economic mission, whites would have to steal the land that had historically belonged to Native Americans. They would have to deprive Native Americans of the land that had supplied them with food and goods for their survival.
Frequent conflicts and bloody encounters with Native Americans raised concerns among whites. Many of them were outraged by the destruction of Native American tribes and their culture with the silent support of the federal government. The emerging desire to “protect” Native Americans from violence led to an erroneous belief that the tribes would benefit from being assimilated into the mainstream American culture. Reservations were only part of the story. The ways in which Native Americans reacted to white encroachment varied considerably, based on the position they enjoyed by the end of the 19th century. Some of them received land plots and gradually transformed into rich farmers. Meanwhile, most Native Americans kept struggling to survive. While nomadic western Sioux experienced major difficulties adjusting themselves to the principles of the reservation system, the Navajos of the Southwest transformed themselves into essential members of Arizona communities. Overall, the period following the Civil War became one of the most memorable pages in the history of the U.S., leaving a deep trace in the American politics and social life. Conclusion The end of the Civil War exposed the African Americans of the South and the Native Americans of the West to the new conditions of political decision making in the U.S. The dramatic shifts that followed the Civil War did not improve but, on the contrary, deprived African Americans and Native Americans of their rights, reinforcing the atmosphere of discrimination and fostering racial segregation in the U.S. Few of them managed to adjust to the changing patterns of life in the U.S. The period of Reconstruction left a deep trace in the lives and minds of African American and Native Indian people.