1. Dr. Eric Foner Calls Reconstruction “America’s Unfinished Revolution.” Was It?

The end of the American Civil War left the nation in a dire state. The North had laid waste to the South by waging a total war on the region and this left the southern states in a condition of social unrest, economic straits and abject poverty. Resultantly, the government, specifically the Northern states, was left with the task of recovering the South and reuniting the nation. Reconstruction involved the task of improving the condition in which the southern states were so that the entire nation could flourish. Accordingly, the term refers to the process of rebuilding the states in the south, changing their politics, societies and economies and reintegrating them with the northern region to unite the country. The period of Reconstruction lasted seven years (between 1865 and 1877) during which some gains were made in the intended areas. However, scholars are still in disagreement over the real success of the process, with some arguing that Reconstruction failed to reap the benefits that the politicians had intended of it. Foner takes a new perspective of the period as he equates Reconstruction to an American revolution that failed to come to completion.

Foner’s analysis of the Reconstruction starts out with the scrutiny of various schools of thought that have subjected the period to an evaluation. One of the evaluations of the Reconstruction comes from the traditionalists who argued that the period oversaw the oppression of white southerners from northerners who were overcome with greed. For the traditionalists, Reconstruction allowed the blacks, who were unfit for leadership, to rule the South with their greed and corruption[1]. Another school of thought that Foner looks at is the revisionists. For the revisionists, Reconstruction was a progressive period in American history, as African Americans took center stage and pushed for their own suffrage. During this period, there was remarkable progress for black Americans and the foundation was built for future gains[2]. The last perspective that Foner delves into is the post-revisionist school of thought, which is much more reserved in its claims. It argues that Reconstruction failed to achieve the change that black people needed[3]. Guided by these perspectives, Foner’s own analysis of Reconstruction seems to be in agreement with the post-revisionist school. His main premise is that Reconstruction offered a great deal of hope for African Americans, but ultimately failed to bring the sort of change that was desperately needed. Accordingly, the period was a revolution that failed to achieve its full aims.

Foner was correct in claiming that Reconstruction was a revolution that failed to complete its aims. Firstly, the reconstruction was a revolution in every sense of the term. On paper, the process promised to change almost every aspect of the lives of African Americans and Southerners. The abolition of slavery was itself a great stride forward, but the suffrage of black Americans would have placed them on an equal footing with their white counterparts. Considering the suffering that the black Americans had been through in the past, this equality would have been a tremendous development for them. Additionally, the issuing of equal rights and liberties to African Americans would have changed the way that the economies in the South were run. Abolition had already denied the white southerners their largest source of labor, by granting the black people numerous rights, Reconstruction made social mobility a possibility for them. This meant that they would soon be competing with white farmers in different markets and industries.

Despite the promises that Reconstruction held for African Americans, it failed to achieve much for black people in the South. The white southerners opposed abolition, Reconstruction and black suffrage right from the moment that they were proposed.  This opposition started out with some slave owners barring blacks from leaving the plantations by forming armed groups that hunted down freed slaves[4]. Eventually, the opposition grew into an open form of resistance as the southern governments passed laws that placed restrictions against black people, many of which went against the policies of Reconstruction. The fact that the northern governments were reluctant to act against this resistance meant that the gains of Reconstruction were being undone steadily. In 1877, President Hayes ordered federal troops out of the South and ended Reconstruction. This paved the way many of the gains that the former governments had made to be undone[5].

The unceremonious end of Reconstruction in the US confirms Foner’s argument that process was an unfinished revolution. The period promised many changes and achieved several significant ones, but it ultimately failed to revolutionize the lives of African Americans as many people hoped it would. Despite this Reconstruction was not a total failure because it laid the foundation for civil rights movements that successfully achieved full black suffrage almost a century later.


  1. Was Reconstruction More of a Success or a Failure?

Berkin et al. defines Reconstruction as the process that was set out to rebuild the southern states after the American Civil War by reconfiguring their social, economic and political structure and eventually facilitating their reunion with the United States[6]. Reconstruction is an important period in American history because it contributed towards the eventual reunification of the nation and by so doing laid the foundation for the future success of the country. Despite this, there is still a significant amount discourse regarding the period and whether it was a success or failure. As such, a clear understanding of whether Reconstruction succeeded or not would require an analysis of the policy’s aims and the level to which they were achieved.

Berkin et al. identify three main issues that encompassed Reconstruction[7]. These issues were instrumental to the future of the United States in many ways, as they would affect the social, economic and political aspects of the country for a long time. The first aim of Reconstruction, and perhaps the most important, was to reunite the federal union. The American Civil War was sparked by attempts by the Southern states to secede and form a new nation. This action divided the United States of America into two blocks. The North, which recognized the legitimacy and power of the federal government, and the South, which sought to establish its own country. The victory of the North over the South may have stopped the secession of the southern states but it still left them alienated from the rest of the country. Through Reconstruction, the government sought to reconfigure these states so that they could become part of the union once more[8]. Through Reconstruction, the federal government also sought to push for the suffrage of Freemen. The victory of the North over the South soon allowed the emancipation of slaves in the USA but it still left them in a situation where white people considered them second-class citizens. By helping them gain equal rights, Reconstruction would make it possible for them to achieve an equal social standing as white Americans. Lastly, Reconstruction was supposed to reverse the damage that the American Civil War had done to the southern states and help their economy recover[9].

The ineffectiveness of Reconstruction towards achieving some of the aims that the government had set out implies that the entire process was a failure. Indeed, two of the main objectives of the process only saw limited success as white Americans continued to persecute their black counterparts and the south lagged behind the north. The issue of abolishing slavery was a main concern for the federal government during the Reconstruction. Presidents Lincoln and Johnson both pushed for the southern states to free all black men still working under slavery and this was for a long period of time a key requirement for the reunification of the South and the North. In 1866, the South met this requirement and many slaves became free[10]. However, this did not translate to the success of Reconstruction.

Even though the slaves were free, they still faced many difficulties that were related to their pasts. For instance, their position as slaves had barred them from owning any property and once they were free, they were resigned to work in plantations as the only way that they could earn their livelihoods[11]. An attempt at solving this problem saw General Sherman of the Union army distribute land to the freed slaves. This program grew to cater for thousands of African-Americans in a few months before President Johnson scrapped it. After President Johnson had ended the program, African-Americans were forced to take part in sharecropping, where they leased land from white people and repaid them with their harvest[12]. This meant that once again the lives of the former slaves were tied to those of white landowners, marking a regression in the policies of Reconstruction. The fact that African Americans were the subjects of oppressive policies of segregation and violent attacks from white supremacist groups also denotes the failure of the policies of Reconstruction[13].

Despite the fact that most policies of Reconstruction failed to achieve the desirable changes, the fact that the process facilitated the reunification of the United States means that it was a success. Most scholars agree that the primary aim of Reconstruction was to reunite the South and the North. This was the primary objective for President Lincoln as he implemented the “Ten Percent Plan” in the hope that the leniency he was showing the South would increase the speed at which the two regions reunited. Indeed, any attempts by the Radical Republicans to increase the severity of the punishment on the South were blocked by President Lincoln himself, as he feared they would jeopardize the reunification plan. Similarly, the policy that President Johnson implemented was structured to ensure that the reunification the North and the South[14]. The fact that these policies ultimately succeeded means that Reconstruction was a success.

The restoration of the union had numerous positive implications for the United States as a whole. The federal government was able to exercise its power over the South once again, and this facilitated the emancipation of black people as the Union troops could protect them from white opposed to abolition. Additionally, the reunification of the South and the North bolstered the economic and social growth of the United States, which is one of the reasons why the Moderates in Congress had been pushing for the restoration of the union[15]. Because of these reasons, Reconstruction was a success for the United States solely because it facilitated the reunification of the North and South, allowing the development and progress of the nation.


  1. Just How Free Were the Freemen by 1877?

            Slavery was one of the central issues encompassing the American Civil War. When the war started, the northern states were primarily concerned with the restoration of the union. However, the Republican Party had certain commitments concerning slavery that soon resulted in the emancipation of African Americans in the South. The emancipation of African Americans initially became a concern for Lincoln because the Republican Party had several influential abolitionists in it[16]. This resulted in the President promising to abolish slavery during the 1860 election campaign. This eventually became a central issue in the conflict because the South was unwilling to free African Americans, considering them a key aspect of the economy of southern states. However, the victory of the North resulted in the abolition of slavery. Despite this situation, certain political, social and economic situations left the black people relying on white Americans, a condition that effectively meant that they had not yet achieved emancipation.

One issue that implies that African Americans were not free after the war is the fact that southern states did not enforce President Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation or the Thirteenth Amendment. When the government first created the policies, they had little effect because the southern states were rejecting the jurisdictional legitimacy of the federal government. However, all of the states in the South had rejoined the Union by 1866, thus forcing them to abolish slavery[17]. This did not deter the slave owners from maintaining their control over African Americans. Although, many slaves left on their own and exercised their freedom, some African Americans were not aware of their liberation and their owners took advantage of this situation to keep them on the plantations. The fact that some white people attacked freed slaves in rural areas of the South further exacerbated this issue[18]. By allowing such situations to happen, the Southern governments were therefore denying African Americans their freedom in covert ways.

After their emancipation, African Americans were still not fully free because they had to rely on white Americans for their livelihoods. African Americans had been slaves in the United States for many years. Their status as slaves meant that they could not own any property. The emancipation of the slaves meant that those who chose to act on their freedom were likely to be without any accommodation and employment. In 1865, General William Sherman attempted to provide a solution by issuing Special Field Order No. 15 that would see thousands of former slaves receive acres of land. However, President Johnson revoked this order and saw that the land former owners of the land reclaimed it[19]. This paved the way for sharecropping, a system that many scholars have similarized to legal slavery. In sharecropping, individuals entered contracts with landowners where the latter would rent land to the former, who would pay their rent through a share of their harvests. Landowners used this system because they did not have the capital to hire labor for their farms, while the tenants acceded to the demands because they were desperate[20]. Sharecropping allowed white landowners to exploit and oppress African Americans in a manner that was discrete. The system plunged many tenants in debt and once again, their lives were under the control of the white Americans. Additionally, a combination of the sharecropping and open ballot voting systems meant that landowners could coerce the African Americans into voting for one side or another. This coercion meant that many African Americans were not capable of fully exercising their voting rights.

The South’s blatant disregard for the rights of black people also undermined the freedom of African Americans. Many people in the South were angry at the result of the war and the status in which it left them. The emancipation of black people meant that many farms had labor shortages, an issue that was aggravated by the floundering economy of the South. The initial reaction of the Southern governments towards emancipation had been to ignore them, but this soon changed to see the South implement laws that went directly against the principles that black suffrage had established. The new state legislatures in the South passed various black codes that described the official statuses of African Americans. Through these codes, the South placed numerous restrictions on African Americans that effectively limited their freedom and even attempted to take away some of the rights that they had gained through emancipation. For instance, some of the codes limited the ownership of land of African Americans, a factor that tried to inhibit their success and condemn them to futures where they would continue to work for the white Americans. Other black codes placed restrictions on movement in the countryside and in doing so seemingly restored some of the limitations that the government had previously placed on slaves[21].

The existence of various white supremacist groups that threatened the safety of black people also undermined the freedom of African Americans during the Reconstruction. Immediately after their emancipation in the South, freed slaves became the subject of attacks and persecution from white southerners who were opposed to the abolition of slavery. This situation escalated further after the white southerners started forming groups that used violence to force black people to accept their position as a lower social class in the American society. Groups such as the Ku Klux Klan operated with the main objective of restoring white supremacy and sought to achieve this by undermining the freedom of African Americans[22]. The fact that such groups were able to operate freely in the South meant that African Americans were never truly emancipated, even during Reconstruction.





Berkin, Carol, Miller, Christopher, Cherny, Robert, Gormly, James, Egerton, Douglas. Making America: A history of the United States. Boston: Wadsworth Publishing Company, 2013.


Du Bois, W. E. Burghardt. “Reconstruction and its benefits.” The American Historical Review, 15, no. 4 (1910): 781-799.


Foner, Eric. “Reconstruction revisited.” Reviews in American History 10, no. 4 (1982): 82-100.





[1] Eric Foner, “Reconstruction Revisited,” Reviews in American History 10, no.4 (1982): 82.

[2] Foner, “Reconstruction Revisitied,” 83.

[3] Foner, “Reconstruction Revisitied,” 84.

[4] Du Bois, “Reconstruction and its benefits,” 784.

[5] Berkin et al., Making America: A History of the United States, 444.

[6] Carol Berkin et al., Making America: A History of the United States (Boston: Wadsworth Publishing Company, 2013), 417.

[7] Berkin et al., Making America: A History of the United States, 417.

[8] Ibid.

[9] Berkin et al., Making America: A History of the United States, 417.

[10] Berkin et al., Making America: A History of the United States, 421.

[11] Berkin et al., Making America: A History of the United States, 423.

[12] Berkin et al., Making America: A History of the United States, 427.

[13] W. E. Burghardt Du Bois, “Reconstruction and its Benefits,” The American Historical Review, 15, no. 4 (1910): 784.

[14] Berkin et al., Making America: A History of the United States, 419.

[15] Berkin et al., Making America: A History of the United States, 419.

[16] Berkin et al., Making America: A History of the United States, 417.

[17] Berkin et al., Making America: A History of the United States, 421.

[18] Du Bois, “Reconstruction and its benefits,” 784.

[19] Berkin et al., Making America: A history of the United States, 426.

[20] Berkin et al., Making America: A history of the United States, 427.

[21] Berkin et al., Making America: A history of the United States, 428.

[22] Berkin et al., Making America: A history of the United States, 428.

Calculate your order
275 words
Total price: $0.00

Top-quality papers guaranteed


100% original papers

We sell only unique pieces of writing completed according to your demands.


Confidential service

We use security encryption to keep your personal data protected.


Money-back guarantee

We can give your money back if something goes wrong with your order.

Enjoy the free features we offer to everyone

  1. Title page

    Get a free title page formatted according to the specifics of your particular style.

  2. Custom formatting

    Request us to use APA, MLA, Harvard, Chicago, or any other style for your essay.

  3. Bibliography page

    Don’t pay extra for a list of references that perfectly fits your academic needs.

  4. 24/7 support assistance

    Ask us a question anytime you need to—we don’t charge extra for supporting you!

Calculate how much your essay costs

Type of paper
Academic level
550 words

How to place an order

  • Choose the number of pages, your academic level, and deadline
  • Push the orange button
  • Give instructions for your paper
  • Pay with PayPal or a credit card
  • Track the progress of your order
  • Approve and enjoy your custom paper

Ask experts to write you a cheap essay of excellent quality

Place an order