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What Factors Led to the End of Reconstruction?

By Sandi Johnson
Updated May 17, 2024
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The end of reconstruction efforts in the United States after the Civil War came in 1877. Some of the general factors contributing to the failure of Civil War reconstruction included resistance, economics, and poor law enforcement. Specific factors which finally ended the Reconstruction Era included the disputes surrounding the 1876 presidential election, increasing violence by the Ku Klux Klan and other extremist groups, as well as Democratic candidates once again assuming power in Southern states. Violence and shifting political climates, more so than any other factors, brought about the end of reconstruction.

Before and after the Civil War, Confederate loyalists and influential white leaders vehemently opposed any form of government in the South that was not based on white supremacy. As Republican politicians and carpetbaggers — a term used for Northern Republicans who moved south during reconstruction — pushed harder for African-Americans to participate as equals, aggression and violence from the opposition increased. The actions of the Ku Klux Klan, originally formed as a social club in Pulaski, Tennessee during 1866, advanced quickly from civil protests to acts of violence with the intended purpose of intimidation of black voters. Public officials increasingly sided with African-Americans in disputes regarding labor and equal rights, which prompted violent responses and the increased prominence of the Klan.

While Klansmen and other extremists engaged in acts of violence meant to intimidate African-Americans and supporters of reconstruction, Southern politicians worked to garner anti-reconstruction supporters at the polls. Using racial imagery that played on fears and exaggerated claims, Southern Democrats worked tirelessly to vilify the policies of reconstruction and bring about its end. Undecided Southerners were bombarded with broadsides, political cartoons, and other campaign efforts that focused on the unsavory idea of slaves having the right to vote or hold public office and placed blame for economic conditions on African-Americans. Feelings of shame over military defeats during the Civil War, as well as subsequent poverty, made efforts to vilify Northerners, Republicans, and supporters of racial equality easier.

The 1876 presidential election brought about the final end of reconstruction, when Rutherford B. Hayes, a Northern Republican, ran in direct competition with Samuel J. Tilden, a Southern Democrat. South Carolina, Florida, and Louisiana were the only remaining Southern states where Republican Reconstruction Era governments remained in power. Both candidates claimed to carry these states in the election. The Bargain of 1877 ended the heated, violence-inducing dispute, with Hayes taking the presidency and Democrats regaining control of governmental affairs in the three remaining reconstruction states. As part of the Bargain, Hayes agreed to ending federal involvement in racial issues or interference in Southern affairs.

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Discussion Comments

By anon294815 — On Oct 03, 2012

What I really want to know is how many other extremist groups are there besides the KKK?

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