The only thing certain at the end of the Civil War was that many thousands had died. There was no peace treaty. President Lincoln was killed days after Lee’s surrender at Appomattox. Many wondered, what would all the sacrifice be for? How could the Union be restored? What would freedom mean for the millions of former slaves?
Michael Ross considers the era—sometimes called “America’s Unfinished Revolution”—and how its bitter conflicts redefined the rights of all Americans.
10 to 11:15 a.m. Andrew Johnson, Congress, and the Meaning of Reconstruction
President Andrew Johnson battled with Republicans in Congress for control of the Reconstruction process, which resulted in race riots and “black codes” in the South, Johnson’s impeachment, and the passage of the 14th Amendment.
11:30 a.m. to 12:45 p.m. The Rise and Fall of “Radical Reconstruction”
From 1868 to 1877, forces ranging from the economy to Klansmen thwarted biracial Southern legislatures’ attempts to remove the vestiges of the Old South.
12:45 to 2 p.m. Lunch
Participants provide their own lunch.
2 to 3:15 p.m. The Supreme Court and the Retreat from Reconstruction
How and why did a Supreme Court filled with Lincoln’s and Grant’s appointees undermine the guarantees of the 13th, 14th, and 15th amendments and help lead “the retreat from Reconstruction”?
3:30 to 4:30 p.m. Reconstruction and American Memory
One way the South “lost the war, but won the peace,” was how Reconstruction was remembered in books, poems, songs, and films that followed. When did the white South’s version of events change? Does the contested memory of Reconstruction still haunt America today?
Ross is an associate professor of history at the University of Maryland, College Park.
See objects from the Reconstruction era at the Museum of American History by clicking here.