The physical, political, and economic landscape of the southern states was decimated in the wake of the Civil War. A search on the term, Reconstruction, yields books chronicling some of the struggles of the South. Books such as The South Since the War (1866) tour the decimated cities and describe the “very wholesome fear of the government, and a very wholesome respect for the power of the North” among “subdued [and] conquered Rebels,” (page 49).
Readmission into the Union required states to demonstrate their allegiance to the federal government. The proceedings of the constitutional conventions of Louisiana (1864), Mississippi (1865), and Tennessee (1870), are available for review along with correspondence from Georgia Governor Rufus Bullock to his Republican colleagues in the United States Congress.
Bullock became the first Republican governor of Georgia in 1868 but after a tumultuous three years in office, he abruptly resigned from the post. A May 21, 1870 letter describes the “threats of personal violence and assassination . . .[and] the most villainous slanders that rebel ingenuity could invent” that marred his first two years in office (page 7). Bullock later asked that the Union accept Georgia's new constitution for the sake of the Georgia General Assembly:
There is no ‘amnesty’ with rebels for men in Georgia who have dared to be Republicans and to sustain measures which enfranchised the black man . . . Under this action by Congress we will . . . [secure] the privileges of free education and of a free ballot to all citizens. Deny this to us . . . [and] the lives and the property of the men who have been destroyed for daring to uphold your measures . . . will be with yourselves and not with us.
- Which elements of the South do you think that it was most important to rebuild?
- What types of concerns were raised during the state constitutional conventions?
- Why do you think that southerners often harbored an animosity towards the federal government?
- Why do you think that Governor Bullock was the target of death threats and slander? Why do you think that the governor endured such treatment for a few years?
- Why would it have been important to ensure a free ballot to all citizens?
Whitelaw Reid’s After the War (1866) describes similar political problems as well as the need to reinvent the area’s agricultural system. For example, the improvised system by which black tenant farmers and sharecroppers worked the land of white owners often amounted to another form of slavery:
Negroes were hired at nominal monthly wages, ‘with board;’ and whatever debts they incurred . . . were to be subsequently ‘worked out’ at the same rates. The result was . . . certain to be that the masters would encourage the Negroes to run in debt; and . . . would hold them forever by a constantly strengthening chain.
- Why do you think that free blacks endured the tenant farming and sharecropping systems?
- How do you think that the South fared under Reconstruction policies?
- Do you think that white and black southerners had different perceptions of the federal government? Why or why not?