Political Inequality

To what extent did Reconstruction create political equality for freedmen.

In the last lesson we discussed the effectiveness of
reconstruction in dealing with the problems faced by freedmen. We
specifically discussed whether or not reconstruction brought about
economic equality. We determined that instead, freedmen were faced
with economic slavery. Today we will examine the how effective
reconstruction was in bringing about political equality.

I. The road towards political equality runs due south…and there
is a road block in the middle!

A. If you were a southerner what laws would you pass
to deal with freedmen?

1. Southerners fearing Black political power passed a
series of laws in each state called Black Codes. Black Codes enforced
in Southern States during Reconstruction prevented freed slaves from
exercising many rights.

2. Here is an edited example of one of the Black Codes:

The Black Codes

Now that the slaves have become emancipated, it is necessary to
pass regulations that preserve public order. These regulations must
also preserve the comfort and correct behavior of the former slaves.
Therefore, the following rules have been adopted with the approval of
the United States military authorities who have commanded this

1) Every Negro is required to be in the regular
service of some white person or former owner, who shall be held
responsible for the conduct of that Negro.

2) No public meetings or congregations of Negroes shall be
allowed after sunset. Such public meetings may be held during the day
with the permission of the local captain in charge of the

3) No Negro shall be permitted to preach or otherwise speak
out to congregations of colored people without special permission in
writing from the government.

4) Negroes may legally marry, own property and sue and be
sued in a court of law.

5) Negroes may not serve on juries.

6) A Negro may not testify against a white person in a Court
of Law.

7) It shall be illegal for a Negro or a person of Negro
descent to marry a white person.

8) No Negro shall be permitted outside in public after
sundown without permission in writing from the government. A Negro
conducting business for a white person may do so but only under the
direct supervision of his employer.

9) No Negro shall sell, trade, or exchange merchandise
within this area without the special written permission of his

10) No Negro who is not in the military service shall be
allowed to carry firearms or any kind or weapons of any type without
the special written permission of his employers.

B. How do you think the Radical Republicans reacted to the Black

1. They were outraged. The Black Codes clearly did two
things. It created a political situation tantamount to slavery and it
also placed the same southerners in political power who had power
before the war!

C. How did the Radical Republicans attempt to create political
equality for freedmen?

1. Passage of the Reconstruction Amendments

13th – Ended Slavery

14th – Equal protection under the law, no state may deprive any
person of life, liberty and property without due process of law.

15th – Gave blacks right to vote.

D. How do you think the South responded to these amendments?

1. Refused to ratify 14th amendment. Amendment was
passed after the First Reconstruction Act which created military
districts and mandated that the state constitutions include suffrage
for blacks. The Act also mandated that states must ratify the 14th
amendment before being readmitted to the Union.

E. Who helped run Southern governments after the reconstruction
acts threw out the old Southern leaders?

1. Scalawags (means scoundrel) -White southerners who
joined the Republican Party. There were mixed motivations. Some
wanted rapid industrialization, some opposed slavery and secession,
some were selfish office seekers who used blacks to gain elective
office by stuffing ballot boxes etc.

2. Carpetbaggers (from pictures of all belongings rolled in a
carpet carried on their shoulders.)-Northerners who moved South.
There were again various motives to support reconstruction. Some were

teachers and clergy who really wanted to help former slaves, some
were Union soldiers who preferred a warm climate, some were
entrepreneurs, some were dishonest profit seekers.

3. Scalawags and Carpetbaggers both took political power away from

blacks because they were the ones to fill the void in political
leadership, not blacks as had been intended.

In the end freed slaves did not receive the political equality
they sought. The black codes created segregation by law, known as
de jure segregation to go along with existing de facto
segregation. The south quickly became a divided society, and it
placed the black family at the bottom of the economic, social and
political heap.