Reconstruction, in United States history, the political reorganization of the Southern states after the Civil War. The Reconstruction period began in 1865 and continued until 1877, ending during the administration of Rutherford B. Hayes.
Before the war ended, President Lincoln proclaimed a plan for permitting citizens in conquered states who would take loyalty oaths to form new state governments. These states would be recognized as having the same status as states that had not seceded—if they accepted emancipation of the slaves. Lincoln also made provision for pardoning former Confederates. Andrew Johnson, Lincoln's successor, favored a similar program. Congress, however, was controlled by Republicans, called “Radicals," who favored extreme measures. The struggle for power that ensued between President and Congress eventually led to Radical control of Reconstruction.
The Radical Republicans wanted the federal government to ensure the civil and political rights of the former slaves, or “freedmen." They also wanted to establish the supremacy of the Republican party in national politics and of Congress in the national government. The Radicals blocked the seating of senators and representatives from Southern states whose governments were organized under the Presidential reconstruction plan. They found the adoption of discriminatory “black codes" evidence of the South's unwillingness to accept the freedom of blacks. Congress then passed the Civil Rights Act of 1866 and also adopted the 14th Amendment, which provided that the rights of citizens not be abridged.
When the former Confederate states, except Tennessee, refused to ratify the 14th Amendment, Congress in 1867 placed them under military rule. The military commanders were authorized to See that constitutional conventions were held to form governments that would guarantee suffrage for blacks. Under these constitutions, governments came to power that were composed of Northerners, scornfully called “carpetbaggers," Southerners professing loyalty to the Union, called “scalawags," and freedmen.
Reconstruction aroused vigorous opposition, both legal and illegal, in the South. Secret organizations, such as the Ku Klux Klan, began actively to oppose Reconstruction governments. Terrorism was one of the methods used to keep blacks from the polls. Congress outlawed these societies and authorized the use of federal troops to protect the blacks' right to vote. However, the activities of the secret organizations, coupled with declining interest in the North in Reconstruction, led to the defeat of Radical governments in one state after another.
By 1876 Radical regimes existed only in Florida, South Carolina, and Louisiana. In 1877 President Hayes withdrew federal troops from the South. Conservative whites regained control of their states, and Reconstruction came to an end.
Despite the inefficiency, and often the corruption, of Reconstruction governments, much progressive legislation was enacted during this period. However, the goal of equality for blacks was not achieved. In the South following Radical Reconstruction, there was white political dominance, bitterness toward the North, and repression of blacks.