Wy, it's just ez clear ez Aggers, Clear ez one an' one make two, Chaps thet make black slaves o' niggers, Want to make wite slaves o' you

НазваниеWy, it's just ez clear ez Aggers, Clear ez one an' one make two, Chaps thet make black slaves o' niggers, Want to make wite slaves o' you
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Sharecropping became an oppressive system in the postwar South. At plantation stores like this one, photographed in Mississippi in 1868, merchants recorded in their ledger books debts that few sharecroppers were able to repay. (Recordbook: Smithsonian Institute, Division of Community Life; Plantation store: Amistad Foundation Collection at the Wadsworth Athenaeum, Hartford, Connecticut)

Black farmers and white landowners therefore turned to sharecropping, a system in which farmers kept part of their crop and gave the rest to the landowner while living on his property. The landlord or a merchant "furnished" food and supplies needed before the harvest, and he received payment from the crop. Republican laws gave laborers the first lien, or legal claim, on the crop, enhancing their sense of own­ership. Although landowners tried to set the laborers' share at a low level, black farmers had some bargaining power, at least at first. Sharecroppers would hold out, or move and try to switch employers from one year to another.

The sharecropping system, which materialized as early as 1868 in parts of the South, originated as a de­sirable compromise. It eased landowners' problems with cash and credit, and provided them a permanent, dependent labor force; blacks accepted it because it gave them more freedom from daily supervision. In­stead of working under a white overseer, as in slavery, they farmed a plot of land on their own in family groups. But sharecropping later proved to be a disas­ter. Owners and merchants developed a monopoly of control over the agricultural economy, as sharecrop­pers found themselves riveted into ever-increasing debt (see pages 563-564).

The fundamental problem, however, was that southern farmers as a whole still concentrated on cot­ton, a crop with a bright past and a "*mmm*mm,mm'mm'mm dim future. During the Civil War, In-Overdependence „ a j? ,u a u on Cotton Brazil, and Egypt had begun to

supply cotton to Britain, and the South lost markets as well as income. In freedom, black women, like their white counter­parts, often stayed away from the fields. Black families placed greater value on human dignity than on reach­ing higher levels of production. By 1878 the South had recovered its prewar share of British cotton purchases. But even as southerners grew more cotton, their re­ward diminished. Cotton prices began a long decline, as world demand fell off.

In these circumstances overspecialization in cot­ton was a mistake, but for most southern farmers there was no alternative. Landowners required sharecrop­pers to grow the salable cash crop. Thus southern agri­culture slipped deeper and deeper into depression. Black sharecroppers struggled under a growing bur­den of debt that reduced their independence and bound them to landowners and to furnishing mer­chants almost as oppressively as slavery had bound them to their masters. Many white farmers became debtors, too, and gradually lost their land. This

Chapter 16 Reconstruction: An Unfinished Revolution, 1865-1877

economic transformation took place as the nation struggled to put its political house back in order.

Johnson's Reconstruction Plan

When Reconstruction began under Presi­dent Andrew Johnson, many expected his policies to be harsh. Throughout his ca­reer in Tennessee he had criticized the wealthy planters and championed the small farmers. When an assassin's bullet thrust Johnson into the pres­idency, many former slaveowners shared the dismay of a North Carolina woman who wrote, "Think of Andy Johnson [as] the president! What will become of us— 'the aristocrats of the South' as we are termed?" North­ern Radicals also had reason to believe that Johnson would deal sternly with the South. When one of them suggested the exile or execution of ten or twelve lead­ing rebels to set an example, Johnson replied, "How are you going to pick out so small a number?... Trea­son is a crime; and crime must be punished."

Like his martyred predecessor, Johnson followed a path in antebellum politics from obscurity to power.

With no formal education, he be-"* came a tailor's apprentice. But from 1829, while in his early twenties, he held nearly every office in Tennessee politics: alderman, state representa­tive, congressman, two terms as gov­ernor, and U.S. senator by 1857. Although elected as a southern Democrat, Johnson was the only senator from a seceded state who refused to follow his state out of the Union. Lincoln appointed him war governor of Tennessee in 1862, and hence, his symbolic place on the ticket in the president's bid for reelection in 1864.

Johnson's political beliefs made him look a little like a Republican, but at heart he was an old Jackson-ian Democrat. And as they said in the mountainous re­gion of east Tennessee, where Johnson established a reputation as a stump speaker, "Old Andy never went back on his 'raisin." Although a staunch Unionist, he was also an ardent states' rightist. Before the war, Johnson had supported tax-funded public schools and homestead legislation, fashioning himself as a cham­pion of the common man. Although he vehemently opposed secession, Johnson advocated limited govern­ment. Above all, when it came to race, Johnson was a thoroughgoing white supremacist. He shared none of the Radicals' expansive conception of federal power. Johnson accepted emancipation as a result of the war, but he did not favor black civil and political rights. His

Who Was



philosophy toward Reconstruction may be summed up in the slogan he adopted: "The Constitution as it is, and the Union as it was."

Through 1865 Johnson alone controlled Recon­struction policy, for Congress recessed shortly before he became president and did not jJJJjJjj^Jjjjjg""™-' reconvene until December. In the following eight months, Johnson put

Leniency and Racial Views

into operation his own plan, forming new state governments in the South by using his power to grant pardons. Johnson followed Lincoln's leniency by extending even easier terms to southerners. But which southern­ers would be allowed to vote?

Johnson held that black suffrage could never be imposed on a southern state by the federal govern­ment. His racism put him on a collision course with the Radicals. Johnson held what one politician called "unconquerable prejudices against the African race." In perhaps the most blatantly racist official statement ever delivered by an American president, Johnson de­clared in his annual message of 1867 that blacks pos­sessed less "capacity for government than any other race of people. No independent government of any form has ever been successful in their hands; . . . wherever they have been left to their own devices they have shown a constant tendency to relapse into bar­barism."

This racial conservatism had an enduring effect on Johnson's policies. Where whites were concerned, however, Johnson seemed to be pursuing changes in class relations. He proposed rules that would keep the wealthy planter class at least temporarily out of power. White southerners were required to swear an oath of loyalty as a condition of gaining amnesty or pardon, but Johnson barred several categories of people from taking the oath: former federal officials, high-ranking Confederate officers, and political leaders or graduates of West Point or Annapolis who had violated their oaths to support the United States by aiding the Con­federacy. To this list Johnson added another important group: all southerners who aided the rebellion and whose taxable property was worth more than $20,000. These individuals had to apply personally to the presi­dent for pardon and restoration of their political rights.

Thus it appeared that the leadership class of the Old South would be removed from power, for virtually all the rich and powerful whites of prewar days needed Johnson's special pardon. The president, it seemed, meant to take revenge on the haughty

Johnson's Pardon Policy

Johnson's Reconstruction Plan

aristocrats and thereby promote a new leadership of deserving yeomen.

Johnson appointed provisional governors who be­gan the Reconstruction process by calling constitu­tional conventions. The delegates chosen for these conventions had to draft new constitutions that elimi­nated slavery and invalidated secession. After ratifica­tion of these constitutions, new governments could be elected, and the states would be restored to the Union with full congressional representation. But only those southerners who had taken the oath of amnesty and been eligible to vote on the day the state seceded could participate in this process. Thus unpardoned whites and former slaves were not eligible.

If Johnson intended to strip the old elite of its power, he did not hold to his plan. The old white lead­ership proved resilient and influential; prominent Con­federates (a few with pardons but many without) won elections and turned up in various appointive offices. Then, surprisingly, Johnson helped to subvert his own plan: he started pardoning aristocrats and leading rebels who should not have been in office. He hired additional clerks to write out the necessary documents and then began to issue pardons to large categories of people. By September 1865 hundreds were being is­sued in a single day. These pardons, plus the rapid re­turn of planters' abandoned lands, restored the old elite to power and quickly gave Johnson the image as the South's champion. He further gained southern loyalty with his hostility to the Freedmen's Bureau.

Why did Johnson allow the planters to regain power? Perhaps vanity betrayed his judgment. Too long an isolated outsider, Johnson may have succumbed to the attention and flattery of the pardon seekers. He was also determined upon a rapid Reconstruction in order to deny the Radicals the opportunity for the more thorough racial and political changes they de­sired in the South. And, given Johnson's need for southern support in the 1866 elections, he decided to endorse the new governments and declare Recon­struction complete only eight months after Appomat­tox. Thus in December 1865 many Confederate congressmen traveled to Washington to claim seats in the U.S. Congress. Even Alexander Stephens, vice president of the Confederacy, returned to Capitol Hill as a senator-elect.

The election of such prominent rebels troubled many northerners. So did other results of Johnson's program. Some of the state conventions were slow to repudiate secession; others admitted only grudgingly that slavery was dead. Two refused to take any action

Combative and inflexible, President Andrew Johnson con­tributed greatly to the failure of his own Reconstruction program. (Library of Congress)

to repudiate the large Confederate debt, which north­erners felt should not be paid. Even Johnson admitted that these acts showed "something like defiance, which is all out of place at this time."

Furthermore, to define the status of freed men and women and control their labor, some legislatures merely revised large sections of the ^j^^^^^mm slave codes by substituting the word freedmen for slaves. The new black codes compelled the former slaves, now supposedly free, to carry passes, observe a curfew, live in housing provided by a landowner, and give up hope of entering many desirable occupations. Stiff vagrancy laws and restrictive labor contracts bound supposedly free laborers to plantations, and "anti-enticement" laws punished anyone who tried to lure these workers to other employment. State-supported schools and orphanages excluded blacks entirely.

It seemed to northerners that the South was intent on returning African Americans to servility and that

Chapter 16 Reconstruction: An Unfinished Revolution, 1865-1877

Johnson's Reconstruction policy held no one responsi­ble for the terrible war. But memories of the war—not yet a year over—were still raw, and would dominate political behavior for several elections to come. Thus the Republican majority in Congress decided to call a halt to the results of Johnson's plan. On reconvening, the House and Senate considered the credentials of the newly elected southern representatives and de­cided not to admit them. Instead, they bluntly chal­lenged the president's authority and established a joint committee to study and investigate a new direction for Reconstruction.

The Congressional Reconstruction Plan

Northern congressmen were hardly uni­fied, but they did not doubt their right to shape Reconstruction policy. The Consti­tution mentioned neither secession nor reunion, but it gave Congress the primary role in the admission of states. Moreover, the Constitution de­clared that the United States shall guarantee to each state a republican form of government. This provision, legislators believed, gave them the authority to devise policies for Reconstruction.

They soon found that other constitutional ques­tions affected their policies. What, for example, had rebellion done to the relationship between southern states and the Union? Lincoln had always insisted that states could not secede—they had engaged in an "in­surrection"—and that the Union remained intact. Not even Andrew Johnson, however, accepted the southern position that state governments of the Confederacy could simply reenter the nation. Johnson argued that the Union had endured, though individuals had erred—thus the use of his power to grant or withhold pardons. Congressmen who favored vigorous Recon­struction measures argued that the war had broken the Union, and that the South was subject to the victor's will. Moderate congressmen held that the states had forfeited their rights through rebellion and thus had come under congressional supervision.

These theories mirrored the diversity of Congress itself. Northern Democrats, weakened by the war most of them had opposed in its final

................' year, denounced any idea of racial

equality and supported Johnson's pol­icies. Conservative Republicans, de­spite their party loyalty, favored a limited federal role in Reconstruction. The Radical Republicans, led by

The Radicals

Thaddeus Stevens, Charles Sumner, and George Julian, wanted to transform the South. Although they were a minority within their party, they had the advan­tage of a clearly defined goal. They believed it was es­sential to democratize the South, establish public education, and ensure the rights of freed people. They favored black suffrage, often supported land confisca­tion and redistribution, and were willing to exclude the South from the Union for several years if necessary to achieve their goals. Born of the war and its outcome, the Radicals brought a new civic vision to American life; they wanted to create an activist federal govern­ment and the beginnings of racial equality. A large group of moderate Republicans did not want to go as far as the Radicals but believed some reworking of Johnson's policies was necessary.

One overwhelming political reality faced all four groups: the 1866 elections were approaching in the fall. Having questioned Johnson's program, Congress needed to develop an alternative plan and avoid going before the voters empty-handed. Ironically, Johnson and the Democrats sabotaged the possibility of a con­servative coalition. They refused to cooperate with conservative or moderate Republicans and insisted that Reconstruction was over, that the new state gov­ernments were legitimate, and that southern represen­tatives should be admitted to Congress. To devise a Republican program, conservative and moderate ele­ments in the party had to work with the Radicals, whose influence grew in proportion to Johnson's in­transigence.

Trying to work with Johnson, Republicans be­lieved a compromise had been reached in the spring of 1866. Under its terms Johnson would agree to two modifications of his pro­gram: extension of the life of the Freedmen's Bureau for another year and passage of a civil rights bill to counteract the black codes. This bill would force southern courts to practice equality before the law by allowing federal judges to remove from state courts cases in which blacks were treated unfairly. Its provisions applied to public, not private, acts of dis­crimination. The civil rights bill of 1866 was the first statutory definition of the rights of American citizens.

Johnson destroyed the compromise, however, by vetoing both bills (they later became law when Con­gress overrode the president's veto). Denouncing any change in his program, the president condemned Con­gress's action and revealed his own racism. Because the civil rights bill defined U.S. citizens as native-born
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