Reconstruction, which began during the Civil War, had two main goals: to reincorporate the former Confederate states into the Union, and to transition the entire Southern population from slavery to freedom. President Andrew Johnson and the Republican-controlled Congress disagreed over what a “reconstructed” South should look like. Johnson instituted a plan for Reconstruction that put many ex-Confederates back into power in the Southern states, where Black Codes that severely restricted the rights of former slaves were sanctioned. By the end of 1865, Congress was so irritated with Johnson’s discriminatory policies that it seized Reconstruction, placed the South under military rule, and enacted new laws that empowered the federal government to implement equal rights. Johnson was impeached but avoided conviction and remained in office, although his power was greatly weakened.

Between 1866 and 1869, Congress passed civil rights laws and the 14th and 15th Amendments in an attempt to make America a more inclusive democracy. These initiatives encountered widespread resistance from whites in both the South and the North. The 14th amendment promised all American citizens equal protection under the law, while the 15th Amendment guaranteed black men the right to vote.

The Right to Vote

The 15th Amendment gave black men the right to vote in 1867, although some people made it difficult, even dangerous, for black men to register to vote and to cast their ballots. Voting rights issues remained a problem for the African American community until it became a major issue of the modern civil rights movement in the 1960s.