Johnson, Grant, and the Politics of Reconstruction

By Martin E. Mantell | Go to book overview

CHAPTER THREE
RECONSTRUCTION IN THE SOUTH

Until the passage of the Reconstruction Acts southern politics had been relatively simple. In general there seems to have been little interest in political questions, as most people had been much more concerned with the need to rebuild the section after the physical destruction of the war. Under the Confederacy there had been no organized two-party system, and this continued to be true for most of the South during the immediate postwar years. With the collapse of the war effort men who had been strongly identified as original supporters of secession had tended to drop out of public life, so that leadership in the Johnson governments had been taken by men who had held more moderate antebellum views, many of whom were ex-Whigs. These latter had retained a large measure of their old hostility to the Democratic Party and had had no desire to join it, preferring to apply the label "Conservative" to themselves. But, as has been seen, they had accepted the President's leadership, supporting his National Union coalition and then defeating the Fourteenth Amendment by almost unanimous votes. 1

It might have been expected that the southerners who had thus rejected the proposed Amendment almost out of hand, would now react even more quickly and decisively against the First Reconstruction Act, which demanded both ratification of the Amendment and the adoption of Negro suffrage. Such was not the case, however, for all of the expectations that had led the South to refuse to ratify the Amendment had proven false and the southern position required serious reexamination. Expectations of a deadlock in Congress or a split in the Republican Party had again proven false, and the strategy of "masterly inactivity" had only resulted in the formulation of a much tougher congressional policy. Hope that the implementation of the law could be prevented might prove to be equally illusory, as there was no assurance of a continuing conser

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