Reconstruction Era was the time following the end of the Civil War when the post-war government made attempts to heal the nation and reconcile the conflicting parties. It was supposed to implement a series of political and economic measures to foster recovery and reintegration of the society.
It seems the biggest achievement of Reconstruction was adoption of three amendments to the U.S. Constitution: the thirteenth (it abolished slavery), the fourteenth (it provided citizenship rights for African Americans), and the fifteenth (fixed their right to vote). Those were the achievements of Radical Republicans, who advanced many non-racist laws. Civil Rights Act of 1875 was a great achievement in the matter of equality of races and African Americans’ access to public goods. Other important events during this era was establishment of the Women’s Loyal League. It was the first neatly structured political organization of women in the United States, and it not only contributed a lot to abolition of slavery, but gave a powerful start for the women rights’ movement further in American history. Next, sharecropping was an important economic phenomenon of the Reconstruction Era; it provided very poor farmers (both black and white) with a chance to earn a living. Freedman’s Bureau operated to aid freed slaves in solving multiple everyday problems; it made a great contribution into education of black people (especially higher learning). Impeachment of Andrew Johnson was important, since it enabled the Congress to go on providing black people with rights. Carpetbagging, too, was a part of the Reconstruction era: while Southerners condemned carpet-baggers, the movement led to money flow to the South as well as to opening of many public schools. Ku Klux Klan was an inseparable part of that era, but the movement was unable to wear down the state authority by armed force. At the same time, it prevented former slaves from enjoying all their rights in accordance with the newly adopted laws. Black Codes were an assault on freed slaves’ civil liberties and hard-won rights. Election of 1876 and compromise of 1877 marked the end of the Reconstruction Era, and, for the freed slaves, were bad, since they led to return of many pre-war conditions and restriction of black people’s rights in the South.
The Southern states were reconstructed only formally at the end of the Reconstruction Era. While the laws that guaranteed civil rights to former slaves were formally in place, they were not enforced. Moreover, Ku Klux Klan’s violence was so pervasive that it prevented black people from exercising any civil rights in the South. Adoption of black codes, too, restricted legal rights of black people and fixed the supremacy of the whites. Besides, all or almost all Confederate military men were pardoned; they remained politically active. Election of 1876 and compromise of 1877, which are believed to have been the final events of the Reconstruction Era, returned South its pre-war prerogatives in exchange for the victory of Republicans. This further led to unprecedented segregation of black people and adoption of Jim Crow laws, which ruined all previous achievements in terms of racial equality and civil rights of black people. Only some progress was achieved during Reconstruction, which was the result of political leaders’ lack of consistent integrative policy and conformism. The biggest progress was achieved in terms of black people’s education. Political and economic progress was minimal for the former slaves; it was minimal for the region, too.
In summary, the most significant achievements of the Reconstruction Era were laws that guaranteed legal rights for former slaves and laws aimed at eradication of inequality in public and political life. The Reconstruction Era could have been a great success had it been carefully planned and made more progressive in terms of the society integration initiatives. It ended with the return of South to its anti-black rhetoric and segregation, and failed to achieve the majority of its declared ideals.