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Lloyd Sealy Library
John Jay College of Criminal Justice

American History: The Civil War and Reconstruction: Key Events and Figures of Reconstruction

Guide for Library Research on the Civil War and Post-Civil War Reconstruction

Reconstruction

Reconstruction

Reconstruction refers to the period immediately after the Civil War from 1865 to 1877 when several United States administrations sought to reconstruct society in the former Confederate states in particular by establishing and protecting the legal rights of the newly freed black population. Historians consider Reconstruction to be a total failure as the former Confederate states did not recover economically from the devastation of the war and the Black population was reduced to second class status with limited rights enforced through violence and discrimination.

Frederick Douglass

Frederick Douglass

Frederick Douglass
February 1818 - February 20 1895

Frederick Douglass was a major African-American abolitionist, reformer, and writer. Douglas, who escaped slavery himself, was famous before and during the Civil war as an orator and writer fighting for abolition. His 1845 autobiography, Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, detailed his life as a slave and is still read today.

Assassination of Abraham Lincoln

Assassination of Abraham Lincoln

On the night of April 14 1865, while watching a play at Ford's Theatre with his wife, Abraham Lincoln was shot in the head by actor John Wilkes Booth. He died the next day, April 15 1865. Lincoln was the first President of the United States to be assassinated.

The Ten-Percent Plan

The Ten-Percent Plan

The Ten Percent plan was a Reconstruction plan for the south put forward by Abraham Lincoln in 1863. The basics of the plan were that a state would be readmitted when 10 percent of its 1860 voting population had taken an oath of allegiance to the Union and accepted the end of slavery. Only high rank Confederates such as army officers and government officials would be exept from a full pardon for their role in the conflict. The plan was deeply unpopular with Radical Republicans in Congress who felt it was much too lenient towards the Confederates.

40 Acres and a Mule

40 Acres and a Mule

As part of the bill that created the Freedmen's Bureau, the Union Congress in the concluding months of the war began to debate on how to establish a system in which black ownership of land and property in the south could be encouraged. This policy became popularly known as "Forty Acres and a Mule". However under pressure from President Johnson and from the passage of Black Codes, the issue of ownership of land shifted to a a question of wage labor instead.

Sharecroppers

Black Sharecroppers Picking Cotton in Georgia by T.W. Ingersoll 1898

Black Sharecroppers Picking Cotton in Georgia by T.W. Ingersoll 1898

Sharecropping was a situation where a landowner provided a farmer with land and equipment including seed and tools to farm the landowners property. In exchange the sharecropper gave up a chunk of his harvest (usually one-third to one-half) to pay off his debt for using the land and for equipment provided. This system became widespread in the south following the Civil war and remained in force largely until the middle of the 20th century. Sharecroppers largely remained trapped on the land by debt and in crippling poverty.

Hiram Rhodes Revels

Hiram Revels

 

Hiram Revels
September 27 1827 - January 16 1901

Hiram Revels was the first African American to serve in the United States Senate. He was the Republican Senator from Mississippi from 1870-1871 during the period of Reconstruction. 

Blanche Kelso Bruce

Blanche Kelso Bruce

 

Blanche Kelso Bruce
March 1, 1841 – March 17, 1898

Blanche Kelso Bruce was the first black senator to serve a full term in the United States Congress. Bruce was the Republican Senator for Mississippi from 1875-1881 during Reconstruction.

Freedmen’s Bureau

Freedmen’s Bureau

The Freedmen's Bureau was a government agency that operated during the period of Reconstruction. It was officially titled the Bureau of Refugees, Feedmen and Abandoned Lands and was created by President Lincoln in 1865 with the intention to aid the newly freed population in the south. The Bureau operated as part of the Department of War (now called the Defense Department) and was originally intended to last one year. Its mission however was expanded to include duties such as education and employment of the newly freed population. The Bureau continued to function until 1872 when Congress shut it down.

Radical Republicans

Thaddeus Stevens Speech to House of Representatives on Johnson Impeachment by Harpers Weekly

Thaddeus Stevens Speech to House of Representatives on Johnson Impeachment by Harpers Weekly

 

The Radical Republicans were a faction of the Republican party that sought to impose a harsh version of Reconstruction over the former Confederate states following the Civil War. They were also very supportive of establishing and protecting the civil and voting rights of the newly freed Black population of the south. Following Lincoln's assassination and particularly during the Andrew Johnson's presidency, the Radical Republicans largely influenced the direction of Reconstruction. The high point of their power was the impeachment of President Johnson which failed by one vote. They splintered as a political movement within the Republican party once Reconstruction ended in 1877.

Thaddeus Stevens

Thaddeus Stevens

Thaddeus Stevens
April 4, 1792 – August 11, 1868

Thaddeus Stevens was one of the main leaders of the Radical Republican faction in Congress during Reconstruction. Stevens was an opponent of slavery before the war and after the war sought to secure the rights of the newly freed population in the former Confederacy. He was a political enemy of President Andrew Johnson and played a major role in bring about the failed impeachment proceedings against him.

Impeachment of Andrew Johnson

Impeachment of Andrew Johnson by the Senate 1866

Impeachment of Andrew Johnson by the Senate 1866

 

In 1866 the Radical Republican Congress sought to remove President Andrew Johnson from office. This was part of the power struggle between Johnson who sought highly lenient policies towards the former Confederate states and the Radical Republicans who wanted a harsher version of Reconstruction as well as more forceful protection of the rights of the newly freed southern black population. Ultimately the impeachment, which was not popular or supported by the general public, failed by one vote.

Ulysses S Grant

Ulysses S Grant

Ulysses S Grant
April 27 1822 - July 23 1885

Ulysses S Grant was the supreme Union general during the civil war and then later 18th President of the United States. Grant was instrumental in the battlefield defeat of the Confederacy and then as President worked to implement Reconstruction.

Joseph Rainey

Joseph Rainey

Joseph Rainey
June 21, 1832 – August 1, 1887

Joseph Rainey was the first African American elected to the House of Representatives and the second to serve in the United States Congress during Reconstruction. He was also the first black presiding officer of the House of Representatives. Rainey was the Republican representative from South Carolina.

Slavery

Gordon, a Louisiana slave who escaped to freedom in March 1863. He later joined the Union Army and served in the Sergeant in the 2nd Louisiana Regiment Infantry during the Siege of Port Hudson.

Gordon, a Louisiana slave who escaped to freedom in March 1863. He later joined the Union Army and served in the Sergeant in the 2nd Louisiana Regiment Infantry during the Siege of Port Hudson.

Slavery is a legal and economic system where people are treated as property. Slavery in North America existed since settlement began in the 17th century. Within the United States, by the time of the start of the civil war slavery had become extinct in the northern states, defined largely as north of the Mason-Dixon line that forms the boundary between Pennsylvania and Maryland. Slavery continued to exist in the south until put down by the Union Army and abolished officially by the 13th amendment to the Constitution in 1865. The international slave trade was ended by the British Navy in the early 19th century.

Carpetbaggers and Scalawags

Carpetbagger by Thomas Nast

Carpetbagger by Thomas Nast

 

Carpetbaggers was the term used to refere to Northerners who moved to the south during Reconstruction to profit from the situation in the territory. The name was a referece to the carpet bag luggage that many of the Northerners used.

Scalawags were Southern whites who supported the Republicans and the various policies of Reconstruction in the south. The name was originally a reference to low-grade farm animals.

Ku Klux Klan

Ku Klux Klan March in Washington D.C. 1925

Ku Klux Klan March in Washington D.C. 1925

 

The Ku Klux Klan or KKK is a violent extremist group. It has had three different manifestations in three different eras. The first era, when the group was founded, was in the aftermath of the Civil War, particularly during Reconstruction. The Klan operated as a vigilante group that targeted newly freed black populations and Republican politicians in the Reconstruction governments of the former Confederacy. Though it was officially disbanded in 1869, it continued to function well into the the early 1870s. The Federal government passed a variety of laws and acts to dismantle the Klan in that period which had some success. The KKK did not resurface again until the beginning of the 20th century.

Nathan Bedford Forrest

Nathan Bedford Forrest
Nathan Bedford Forrest
July 13 1821 - October 29 1877

Nathan Bedford Forrest was a Confederate cavalry leader. After the war he served in the Ku Klux Klan but distanced himself from them by denying any formal connection. He was responsible for officially dissolving the first incarnation of the Klan in 1869 though they continued to operate afterwards for many years.

Andrew Johnson

Andrew Johnson

Andrew Johnson
December 29, 1808 – July 31, 1875

Andrew Johnson was Lincoln's last Vice-President and succeeded to office as the 17th President following Lincoln's assassination. He was the first President to be impeached and avoided removal from office by a single vote.

Rutherford B. Hayes

Rutherford B Hayes

Rutherford B Hayes
October 4, 1822 – January 17, 1893

Rutherford B Hayes was the 19th President of the United States. The main accomplishments of his time in office was the end of Reconstruction and the begining of reforms to the civil service. Hayes lost the popular vote to Democrat Samuel Tildon in 1876 but won in the electoral college when Democrats agreed to his election on the condition that Reconstruction and the military occupation of the three states still being reconstructed be ended. This deal was known as the Compromise of 1877. Once Hayes took office he ended Reconstruction.