RETURN The Reconstruction Era 

Both the South and the North were much altered by the Civil War. In the South, the slave economy was devastated, but it was unclear whether the effective position of the black population would be much affected by the federal declarations freeing slaves. There was much uncertainty and disagreement in both the North and the South as to how the status of blacks should be redefined. In neither was there any enthusiasm for granting blacks the right to vote, for example, and there was no reason to think that social equality among blacks and whites was thought to be even desirable, let alone likely. Radical Republicans pressed for harsh measures to restructure the south, but their objectives appeared to be more to make the south into a replica of the Yankee North than to rebuild the South along other lines. For ten years the South was effectively occupied by northern forces while the political struggle between supporters of the Republican and Democratic parties contested for power. 

In the victorious North, the Republican dominated Congress enacted legislation which aimed to promote industrial capitalism by raising the levels of tariff protection for domestic manufacturers, providing government subsidies and other assistance to private business interests which would undertake railway construction, mining and other primary industrial ventures, establishing a uniform national currency, and setting up a system of land grants to support the founding of universities in every state so as to increase the supply of professional manpower. Interest in the race issue and other problems of the South faded and by the early 1870s national politics became focused on what at the time seemed to be more pressing problems of the day, notably coping with a serious depression which began in 1873. When the last federal troops were pulled out of the South in 1877, the southern state governments were in effect allowed to take control of the race issue. Northerners appear to have accepted that life in the south implied a restricted economic, social and political role for blacks and a blind eye was turned on the excesses of racial discrimination in the region, discrimination which at times extended to brutal violations of human rights. The judicial system, like the Congress and the Presidency, apparently could see no alternative. For example, in one of many Supreme Court decisions on the issue, the Court found that the 14th Amendment, which safeguarded individuals from discriminatory treatment by government, did not make discrimination when practised by individuals unconstitutional!