African Americans in the Post Civil War Era


Americans in the Post Civil War Era

Jefferson Davis stated in the pre-Civil

War years to a Northern audience, "You say you are opposed to the
expansion of slavery... Is the slave to be benefited by it? Not at all.

It is not humanity that influences you in the position which you now occupy
before the country," (Davis, The Irrepressible Conflict, 447). The

Northerners had not freed the slaves for moral issues; the white majority
did not have anything but its own economic prosperity on its mind. The

African Americans gained their emancipation and new rights through the
battling Northern and Southern factions of the United States, not because
a majority of the country felt that slavery possessed a ‘moral urgency’.

As the years passed and the whites began to reconcile, their economic goals
rose to the forefront of their policy, while racism spread throughout the
country and deepened in the South. Even with all of the good intentions
and ideals expressed in the 13th, 14th and 15th amendments, blacks watched
as their freedom disintegrated through the late 19th Century as a result
of the Supreme Court decisions that limited the implications of the new

After the passage of these amendments,
two of the three branches of government disconnected themselves with the
issue of black civil rights. Following Grant’s unenthusiastic approach
to protecting blacks in the South, the executive branch gradually made
its position on the issue clear in 1876. (Zinn, 199) When Hayes beat

Tilden in the presidential election by promising to end the Reconstruction
in the South, it was evident that the White House would no longer support
any calls for the protection of blacks. The compromise of 1877 brought

Hayes to office, but "doomed the black man to a second class citizenship
that was to be his lot for nearly a century afterward," (Davis, 160). The

Radical Republican’s in Congress, who were responsible for freeing the
blacks, were also responsible for letting their voices become silenced.

This occurred as the other, more industrial, interests of the broad based
party dominated their platform; leaving the blacks to face the wrath of
the Southerners. A final blow to the hopes for national protection
of African American civil rights was dealt with The Force Bill of 1890.

In this bill, the Senate objected to the idea of Congress protecting African-

American voters in the South through federal supervision of state elections.
(McDuffie, 117) It was sign that Congress, and its northern constituents,
had finally lost interest in the cause. As the opportunity for economic
advancement increased after the Civil War, the North felt as though it
had done its part and both the President and Congress hastily turned their
backs on the new, colored American Citizens.

With the protection and support
of Northerners lost, the blacks in the South were held hostage by white
supremacists. Although the 13th Amendment stated that "neither slavery
nor involuntary servitude... shall exist within the United States," a new
agricultural system, the crop lien, kept the blacks under the control of
their (former) ‘masters’. With unfair trade practices and a limited
amount of capital being exchanged, the blacks in the South were not free
to do as they pleased; once again they were caught in a system that profited
the white Southerners. These whites also expressed their extreme
racist tendencies through the acts of violence by the Klu Klux Klan.

The Klan performed acts of extreme violence, targeting blacks and whites,
who were considered to be Republicans or sympathetic to the black cause.

Their success resulted in violence becoming a successful political tool
in the Southern arena. Although the official title was gone, the whites
had managed to reassert their status as ‘masters’ to the Southern Blacks
through scare tactics and ‘economic policies’.

The Supreme Court between 1873
and 1898 expressed the weakness to resisting racism in all areas of the
nation through its successive decisions. The Court prompted discrimination
by implying that if blacks wanted legal protection, they would need to
seek it from their state, not national, government. This legislation
affected black citizen’s across the country, but was especially damning
to the Southern blacks. The amount of racism thriving in the Southern
states made any chances of the State support of Black rights virtually
nil. The Supreme Court supported the Southerners’ push for black
social subordination, when in 1883 the Civil Rights Act of 1875 was nullified.

That decision limited the interpretation of the 14th Amendment, applying
its jurisdiction over state actions only. The Court again limited
the role of the 14th Amendment further with its decision on Plessy vs.

Ferguson (1896).

"The object of the amendment was
undoubtedly to