Lesson Plans -- Student

The Failure of Reconstruction
A Document-Based Question
by Kathleen Burrell

HIST 530A, Fall 2002

Historical Context:

After the Civil War the nation had about four million newly freed slaves. The victorious Union was faced with the extraordinary task of protecting the new freedmen's rights of citizenship. First, the former Confederacy was divided into five military districts. Then amendments were passed to protect freed people's natural rights. Southern states were not pleased, and made compromises were in order to rid themselves of these "military dictatorships."
By 1870, all of the former Confederate states had ratified these amendments and were readmitted into the Union. Reconstruction ended in 1877 with the removal of Union troops from Confederate territory. After Southern state governments were restored, the citizenship rights of the freedmen declined. Soon these former slaves were once again in servitude; this time through a system of state-enforced segregation and discrimination.

Question: Why is the South's Reconstruction considered a failure?

Part I: Examine each document carefully and answer the question or questions that follow. Each document relates to Reconstruction's failure to protect the rights of newly freed slaves.

Document 1: The Thirteenth Amendment

Section 1. neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment of a crime wherof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist in the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction.

1.Section 2. Congress shall have the power to enforce this article by sppropriate legislation.

1. What does this Amendment guarantee and for whom?

2. What does Congress have the right to do in order to enforce this law?

Document 2: The Fourteenth Amendment

Section 1. All persons born or naturalized in the United States and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they reside. No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.

1. What does this Amendment guarantee?

2. For whom?

Document 3: The Fifteenth Amendment

Section 1. The right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of race, color, or previous condition of servitude.

1. Section 2 The Congress shall have power to enforce this article by appropriate legislation.

1. Who is not protected by this amendment?

Document 4: "The Freedman's Bureau" political cartoon

"One in a series of racist posters attacking Radical Republicans on the issue of black suffrage, issued during the Pennsylvania gubernatorial election of 1866. (See also "The Constitutional Amendment!," no. 1866-5.) The series advocates the election of Hiester Clymer, who ran for governor on a white-supremacy platform, supporting President Andrew Johnson's Reconstruction policies. In this poster a black man lounges idly in the foreground as one white man ploughs his field and another chops wood. Accompanying labels are: 'In the sweat of thy face shalt thou eat thy bread,' and 'The white man must work to keep his children and pay his taxes.'"

-- HarpWeek

1. What is this cartoon suggesting?

2. How do you think this message reflects the views of Southern Democrats in the South, and how might these attitudes affect the progress of Freedmen?

Document 5: Plessy v. Ferguson

May 18, 1896
For over 50 years, the states of the American South enforced a policy of separate accommodations for blacks and whites on buses and trains, and in hotels, theaters, and schools. On May 18, 1896, the Supreme Court ruled in the Plessy v. Ferguson law case that separate-but-equal facilities on trains were constitutional.

1. What was the impact of Plessy v. Ferguson beyond its effects on train passengers?

Document 6: "Worse than Slavery"

1. Based on the image above, what was the purpose of the Ku Klux Klan?

2. How did the Ku Klux Klan help to undermine Congress's efforts to protect freedpeople's equal rights?

Document 7: W.E.B. DuBois, Black Reconstruction in America

"But the decisive influence was the systematic and overwhelming economic pressure. Negroes who wanted work must not dabble in politics. Negroes who wanted to increase their income must not agitate the Negro problem. . . in order to earn a living, the American Negro was compelled to give up his political power."

-- Dr. W.E.B. DuBois, Black Reconstruction in America,
1. According to DuBois, why did freedmen stop voting?

Document 8: Sharecropping maps

"Sharecropping was very distinctive to the South after the Civil War until the 1940s. As late as 1936, about 60 percent of plantations were organized into sharecropper units."
--Ingolf Vogeler

1. Based on the document above, what has changed on the plantation land since the War between the States?

2. Based on the document above and your knowledge of U.S. history, what was the real end result of sharecropping?

Document 9: Susie Taylor King: Reminiscences of My Life

Living here in Boston where the black man is given equal justice, I must say a word on the general treatment of my race, both in the North and South, in this twentieth century. I wonder if our white fellow men realize the true sense or meaning of brotherhood? For two hundred years we had toiled for them; the war of 1861 came and was ended, and we thought our race was forever freed from bondage, and that the two races could live in unity with each other, but when we read almost every day of what is being done to my race by some whites in the South, I sometimes ask, "Was the war in vain? Has it brought freedom, in the full sense of the word, or has it not made our condition more hopeless?"

In this "land of the free" we are burned, tortured, and denied a fair trial, murdered for any imaginary wrong conceived in the brain of the negro-hating white man. There is no redress for us from a government which promised to protect all under its flag. It seems a mystery to me. They say, "One flag, one nation, one country indivisible." Is this true? Can we say this truthfully, when one race is allowed to burn, hang, and inflict the most horrible torture weekly, monthly, on another? No, we cannot sing, "My country, 't is of thee, Sweet land of Liberty"! It is hollow mockery. The Southland laws are all on the side of the white, and they do just as they like to the negro, whether in the right or not.

--Susie Taylor King
1. How does this excerpt from Susie Taylor King's memoir suggest that black Americans are still not free?

Document 10: The Election of 1876

Election results:

Candidate (party) Popular vote
(7 Nov 1876)
Electoral vote
(6 Dec 1876)
Rutherford B. Hayes (Republican) 4,034,311 1852
Samuel J. Tilden (Democratic) 4,288,546 184
Peter Cooper (Greenback) 75,973 0
other 14,271 0

1. How was it possible that Hayes won the election of 1876?

2. How did this disputed election lead to the end of Reconstruction? Explain.

Rationale for using documents:

I chose the first three documents to illustrate how Congress did in fact try to protect the rights of the newly freed men and women. It is important to understand that this legislation did not benefit freed people as much as it did whites.

I chose documents four, five, and six to emphasize the anti-Negro feeling that was prevalent in the Southern states during this period. The constitutional amendments did not eradicate racial prejudice. Furthermore, it is important for students to see how the South undermined the North's plan to establish and protect the rights of the newly freed slaves.

Documents seven, eight, and nine examine the actions of the freedmen and how their methods of survival were actually detrimental to the advancement of the American Negro. These documents also require students to pull in outside information regarding sharecropping and its endless cycle of debt, as well as the atrocities inflicted on freed people that kept them oppressed.

Finally I felt document ten was essential, as the election of 1876 signifies the end of the Reconstruction era, at least with regard to Northern participation. Responding to this document requires students to pull in outside knowledge and show their understanding of the electoral process and the effect of political parties in general.

This is such a fascinating time period and it was difficult to narrow down the documents I felt would be effective. I am pleased with the final outcome and am anxious to use it with my students when we study the Reconstruction era.

Scoring Rubric: See http://www.projectview.org/PointsofVIEW/Projects/rubric.dbq.01.pdf


Document 1: The Thirteenth Amendment

Document 2: The Fourteenth Amendment

Document 3: The Fifteenth Amendment

Document 4: "The Freedman's Bureau" political cartoon

Document 5: Plessy v. Ferguson

Document 6: "Worse than Slavery" political cartoon

Document 7: W.E.B DuBois' Black Reconstruction

Document 8: Sharecropping maps

Document 9: Susie Taylor King's Reminiscences of My Life

Document 10: The Election of 1876