Reconstruction and Its Impact
Was Reconstruction a success?
The Reconstruction Era lasted from the end of the Civil War in 1865 to 1877. Its main focus was on bringing the southern states back into full political participation in the Union, guaranteeing rights to former slaves and defining new relationships between African Americans and whites. While very little fighting occurred on Iowa soil and Iowa had never legalized slavery, black migration of former slaves into the region and the national focus on civil rights forced Iowa to reconsider its own racial relations.
Amending the U.S. Constitution during Reconstruction
When southern states seceded from the Union, they withdrew their representatives from Congress, leaving both the Senate and the House under the control of the North. While most white Americans still held views that whites were superior to African Americans and were not yet ready to integrate society, many were sympathetic to the plight of freed slaves and wanted to promote their welfare. On the political front, Republicans were eager to give African Americans the right to vote because they anticipated that African Americans would strongly support them at the polls.
To achieve these goals, Republicans needed to amend the U.S. Constitution, a process that requires approval of two-thirds of each chamber of Congress and ratification by three-fourths of the states. Republicans felt an urgency to get these measures approved before southern congressmen returned to Washington, D.C., who could block the process. In 1865, Congress passed and states approved the 13th Amendment to the Constitution prohibiting slavery. In 1868, the 14th Amendment was ratified granting "equal protection of the law" and "due process" to all citizens to prevent southern states from passing laws that would discriminate against African Americans.
Constitutional Changes in Iowa
The Iowa legislature, controlled by Republicans, approved both amendments. Even though there was some opposition to measures that looked as if they were moving toward racial equality, Iowa Republicans realized they could not impose on the South restrictions that they were not willing to support at home. Before the Civil War, African Americans were denied the right to vote in northern as well as southern states. Iowa was no exception. The 1857 Constitution restricted suffrage to white males 21 years of age and over. Changing the state constitution required an affirmative vote on a referendum. In 1868, two years before the 15th Amendment prohibited denying the vote to anyone based on "race, color or previous condition of servitude" (slavery), the Iowa legislature submitted to the voters (all white males at the time) an amendment to strike the word "white" from voting requirements. The measure won a majority, and African-American males in Iowa could vote. In 1870, when the 15th Amendment came to the states ensuring African-American suffrage nationwide, Iowa became the 29th state to approve it, providing the final state necessary for passage.
The suffrage amendment was controversial on several fronts. Many white voters, primarily Democrats, opposed measures that brought African Americans more fully into mainstream society. Advocates for women’s suffrage were very disappointed that the measure stopped with African Americans — male only — suffrage, leaving all women out of the voter pool. Some Republican leaders urged the suffragists to wait their turn: "This is the black men's hour." And wait the women did. Women did not achieve full suffrage for another half century.
Race Relations in Iowa
There were other legal developments on race relations. In 1867, Susan Clark, a African-American youth in Muscatine, was denied admission to the public school on account of her race. Her father, Alexander Clark, challenged the policy in a case that went to the Iowa Supreme Court, which ruled in her favor. The Iowa Constitution granted the responsibility to the Board of Education to "provide for the education of all the youths of the State." The Court ruled that "all" meant all with no authority to deny education to any based on race. In another case, the Supreme Court ruled that there could be no discrimination based on race in public accommodations like railroads and steamboats. In practice, however, the laws were unevenly enforced.
Union soldiers continued to enforce law and order in the South until 1877. During those years and after, Iowa confronted new challenges to the American commitment that "all are created equal" as more African Americans migrated to river and southeastern Iowa cities and to Des Moines. While Iowa can be proud of several major steps toward equality, racial attitudes of most white Iowans of the period continued to oppose full integration.
How did the presidential election of 1876 end Reconstruction?
- "Shall We Call Home Our Troops? We Intend to Beat the Negro in the Battle of Life & Defeat Means One Thing — Extermination," 1875 (Political Cartoon)
- "A Speech from Gov. Hayes" Newspaper Article, November 9, 1876 (Document)
- "A Truce," 1877 (Political Cartoon)
- "The Political Farce of 1876," 1877 (Political Cartoon)
- "An Act To Provide For And Regulate The Counting Of Votes For President And Vice-President..." January 29, 1877 (Document)
- "The 'Strong' Government 1869-1877 -- The 'Weak' Government 1877-1881," 1880 (Political Cartoon)
How did the U.S. Supreme Court originally interpret the Constitution's Reconstruction amendments?
- U.S. Supreme Court: Slaughterhouse Cases, 1872 (Document)
- U.S. Supreme Court: United States v. Cruikshank et al., 1876 (Document)
- U.S. Supreme Court: Civil Rights Cases, 1883 (Document)
- Plessy v. Ferguson Opinions, March 4, 1956 (Video)
How did the South restore white supremacy after the fall of Reconstruction?
- Suppressing the African-American Vote
- Restricting Employment
- Migration (Colonization)
How did African Americans fight for the basic rights of citizenship granted by the Reconstruction amendments?
- Applying Pressure to Elected Officials
- Using the Ballot
- Booker T. Washington and W.E.B. DuBois
- Organizing the Public
"Shall We Call Home Our Troops? We Intend to Beat the Negro in the Battle of Life & Defeat Means One Thing — Extermination," 1875
"A Speech from Gov. Hayes" Newspaper Article, November 9, 1876
"A Truce," 1877
"The Political Farce of 1876," 1877
"An Act To Provide For And Regulate The Counting Of Votes For President And Vice-President..." January 29, 1877
"The 'Strong' Government 1869-1877 -- The 'Weak' Government 1877-1881," 1880
U.S. Supreme Court: Slaughterhouse Cases, 1872
U.S. Supreme Court: United States v. Cruikshank et al., 1876
U.S. Supreme Court: Civil Rights Cases, 1883
Plessy v. Ferguson Opinions, March 4, 1956
- Embedded resource
"Death at the polls, and free from 'federal interference'," 1879
"Congress - 14th Amendment 2nd section," 1902
Anti-Lynching Committee Report, January 21, 1912
"What a Colored Man Should Do To Vote," Date Unknown
"The 'Jim Crow' Car" Poem, September 15, 1900
"Kentucky's Idea of Education" Newspaper Article, February 22, 1904
"The Lessons of the Hour" Speech by Frederick Douglass, January 9, 1894
"Will You Ever Give the Colored Race A Show," 1898
"Negroes to the Philippines" Newspaper Article, February 1903
"Lynch Law in Georgia," June 20, 1899
"Taken From Court Room and Burned" - The Lynching of Jesse Washington, May 15, 1916 (Warning: Graphic Image)
"Lynchings by States and Counties in the United States, 1900-1931," ca. 1931
Letter from Cleveland Gailliard of Mobile, Alabama, to the Bethlehem Baptist Association in Chicago, Illinois, April 1, 1917
"Open Letter to President (William) McKinley by Colored People of Massachusetts," October 3, 1899
“A New Slavery!” Newspaper Article, September 21, 1900
Broadside Calling Out American Senators Who Voted Against the Dyer Anti-Lynching Bill, 1922
Booker T. Washington's Atlanta Exposition Speech, September 18, 1895
W.E.B. Du Bois: A Recorded Autobiography, 1961
- Embedded resource
"Prof. Washington Speaks Boldly" Newspaper Article, March 5, 1904
"Street Automobile Line," Newspaper Article, September 29, 1905
Platform Adopted by the National Negro Committee, 1909
Silent Protest Parade in New York City Against the East St. Louis Riots, July 28, 1917
- "The Disputed Presidential Election of 1876" from Digital History
This reading provides background information related to the presidential election of 1876, the electoral college controversy that followed, its resolution and its impact on Reconstruction.
- "Slaughterhouse Cases (1873)" from The Supreme Court PBS Documentary Series
This reading provides an explanation of the events leading up to the "Slaughterhouse" case and the U.S. Supreme Court's decision.
- U.S. v. Cruikshank (1875): This online resource from Encyclopedia.com is an overview of the important U.S. Supreme Court case, U.S. v. Cruikshank. This was one of the earliest Supreme Court cases to deal with the application of the Bill of Rights to state governments following the adoption of the 14th Amendment.
- "Civil Rights Cases" Video Excerpt from The Supreme Court PBS Documentary Series
This almost 7-minute video clip emphasizes the dissent of Justice John Marshall Harlan, the only dissenter in both the Civil Rights Cases (1883) and Plessy v. Ferguson (1896). His dissents eventually served as the template for the Supreme Court's majority opinions regarding civil rights beginning in the mid-1950s.
- "Jim Crow in America" Primary Source Set Teacher's Guide
This Library of Congress resource provides a historical background essay about the emergence of segregation after Reconstruction.
- "This Map Shows Over a Century of Documented Lynchings in the United States"
This online resource includes an interactive map that provides a detailed look at every documented lynching in America between the 1830s and 1860s. Information related to lynching itself and those who fought to end it also are included. The interactive map stems from the data collected by Monroe Nathan Work, an sociologist who founded the Tuskegee Institute's Department of Records and Research. Not only did Work alongside Booker T. Washington at Tuskegee, he also worked with W.E.B. Du Bois and was one of the attendees at the 1905 founding conference of the Niagara Movement.
- Equal Justice Initiative's Legacy Museum and National Memorial for Peace and Justice
Located in Montgomery, Alabama, this memorial commemorates the victims of lynching in the United States, while the museum is built on the site of a former warehouse where enslaved black people were imprisoned and works to acknowledge the legacy of slavery, lynching and racial segregation in America.
Iowa Core Social Studies Standards (9th-12th Grade)
Listed below are the Iowa Core Social Studies content anchor standards that are best reflected in this source set. The content standards applied to this set are elementary-age level and encompass the key disciplines that make up social studies for students 9th through 12th grade.
- SS-US.9-12.13. Analyze how diverse ideologies impacted political and social institutions during eras such as Reconstruction, the Progressive Era, and the Civil Rights movement.
- SS-US.9-12.15. Assess the impact of individuals and reform movements on changes to civil rights and liberties.
- SS-US.9-12.18. Analyze the effects of urbanization, segregation, and voluntary and forced migration within regions of the U.S. on social, political, and economic structures.
- SS-US.9-12.24. Critique primary and secondary sources of information with attention to the source of the document, its context, accuracy, and usefulness such as the Reconstruction amendments, Emancipation Proclamation, Treaty of Fort Laramie, Chinese Exclusion Act, Roosevelt’s Corollary to the Monroe Doctrine, Wilson’s Fourteen Points, New Deal Program Acts, Roosevelt’s Declaration of War, Executive Order 9066, Truman Doctrine, Eisenhower’s Farewell Speech, Gulf of Tonkin Resolution, Test Ban Treaty of 1963, Brown v. Board of Education decision, Letter From a Birmingham Jail, and the Voting Rights Act of 1965.
- SS-US.9-12.25. Analyze how regional, racial, ethnic and gender perspectives influenced American history and culture.
- SS-Gov.9-12.14. Analyze the role of citizens in the U.S. political system, with attention to the definition of who is a citizen, expansion of that definition over time, and changes in participation over time.
- SS-Gov.9-12.19. Evaluate the effectiveness of political action in changing government and policy, such as voting, debate, contacting officials, campaign contributions, protest, civil disobedience, and any alternative methods to participation.
- SS-Gov.9-12.24. Analyze how people use and challenge public policies through formal and informal means with attention to important judicial processes and landmark court cases.