Date of Award

5-15-2011

Degree Type

Thesis

Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)

Department

History

Abstract

Freedom, citizenship, and manhood suffrage became rights promised by the 13th, 14th and 15th Amendments to the United States Constitution. These rights became part of the social, political, and economic fabric of America after a long and bloody Civil War. Though Democrats and Republicans differed dramatically on their principles of equality for African Americans, these rights became part of the Constitution and propelled a nation and its citizens into a protracted and racialized civil war that lasted into the l 960's. The Reconstruction Amendments granted former enslaved persons rights and privileges that were previously reserved for whites only. However, rights on paper were far different from the realities faced by many African Americans and their white Republican allies. White southern Democrats challenged these amendments, and eventually nullified them in practice, with the objective of repressing and re-enslaving African Americans inside the post Civil War South. Violence, Black Codes, and economic as well as political oppression inflicted through literacy tests and poll taxes ushered in a new era of American slavery by 1877.

Between 1865 and 1877, African Americans who had fought for freedom from chattel slavery and had won emancipation were being targeted because of the laws guaranteed by the Constitution. The Reconstruction Amendments along with the Civil Rights Act of 1866 and 1875 challenged the racial hierarchy of the South and white supremacy. Due in large part to white fears and attitudes, the implications of the Reconstruction Amendments had lasting effects on both Northern and Southern Black communities that carried over and into the 20th century. The violence and social unrest of Reconstruction were an extension of the Civil War and its consequences had a direct and profound impact on the Civil Rights era which came to fruition almost one hundred years later.

This thesis will argue that the Reconstruction Amendments while promising rights and equality on paper did little to help African Americans facing violence, discrimination, and segregation in the post Civil War South. The 13th, 14th, and 15th Amendments made the volatile situation in the South worse for African Americans because the Federal government established no groundwork and provided little meaningful enforcement of the vague principles it guaranteed in the Constitution. These guarantees had no practical application and only served to inspire violence and facilitate white racism. What was needed were reforms and enforcement, on both federal and state levels, which promoted economic independence. While it is important to remember the positive potential of rights granted during Reconstruction by the Federal government and the Constitution, these laws propelled white supremacists into violent and malicious actions that had far reaching and devastating consequences for not only African Americans but the country as a whole.

Share

COinS