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Back to Hypertext History: Critical Issues of American History

Reconstruction

The End of Reconstruction
Period: 1870s

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On average, the South's bi-racial Republican state governments lasted just four-and-a-half years. During the 1870s, internal divisions within the Republican party, white terror, and northern apathy allowed southern white Democrats to returned to power.

Retirement and death removed the more outspoken advocates of civil rights, such as Thaddeus Stevens, who died in 1868, from Congress. Corruption in the Grant administration divided the Republican party and helped the Democrats win control of the House of Representatives in 1874. Corruption in the South's Republican government also undercut support for Reconstruction. Northern outrage over southern intransigence gave way to helpless resignation or indifference.

As early as 1872, many former abolitionists believed that their aims had been achieved. Slavery had been abolished and citizenship and voting rights had been established by Constitutional Amendment. Democrats denounced "foreign" rule of the South by carpetbaggers and attacked corruption in President Grant's administration. In 1872, "Liberal Republicans," repelled by the supposed corruption of the radical regimes in the South, declared that the North had attained its goals and that Reconstruction should end. Many threw their support to the Democrats. The nationwide economic depression of 1873 further weakened the Republican party, and Democrats regained the House of Representatives in 1874.

The financial panic of 1873 and the subsequent economic depression helped bring Reconstruction to a formal end. Across the country, but especially in the South business failures, unemployment, and tightening credit heightened class and racial tensions and generated demands for government retrenchment.

Property owners in the South demanded that state budgets be cut and tax rates lowered. Southern penitentiaries were dismantled and convicts were leased to private contractors. Spending on public schools and the care of orphans, the sick, and the insane was sharply reduced. Budgets for schools for blacks were cut especially heavily.

It was the disputed presidential election of 1876 that brought Reconstruction to a formal end.

 

 

 

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The Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History, 2001.  This site was updated on January 20, 2003