American History as It Happened

MODULE ONE: 1865–1877

This module offers firsthand accounts of the enormous dislocations, injustices, and challenges that African Americans faced immediately after the Civil War; describes the raw feelings and racism of the defeated Confederate population; and explores the ways the federal government dealt with those factors as it moved to reconstitute the southern states into the Union.

Your students will review excerpts from The Nation’s coverage of the situation in the South during these years, exploring and explaining what needed to be done to reunite the nation and what made the task so difficult. Students and teachers have links to PDFs of every article cited in the document section.

Students work with this content to hone the skills necessary for the DBQ portion of the AP US History exam. The practice DBQ to be answered in this module is: Explain why Reconstruction was such a complex, difficult task for the federal government after the Civil War ended.

PERIOD SUMMARY: The Confederacy surrendered to the Union Army on April 9, 1865, ending the Civil War. Five days later, President Lincoln was assassinated, and the daunting task of reincorporating the 11 defeated secessionist states became even more difficult. Between 1865 and 1870, the US Congress passed three amendments to the Constitution (the 13th, 14th, and 15th) that, respectively, abolished slavery; granted African-Americans citizenship and “equal protection of the laws”; and prohibited denying the right to vote based on “race, color, or previous condition of servitude.

These Reconstruction Acts inaugurated the period of Radical Reconstruction, when a politically mobilized black community, with its white allies, brought the Republican Party to power throughout the South. For the first time, African-Americans voted in large numbers and held public office at every level of government. It was a remarkable, unprecedented effort to build an interracial democracy on the ashes of slavery.

Reconstruction also made possible the consolidation of black families, so often divided by sale during slavery, and the establishment of the independent black church as the core institution of the emerging black community. 

During the first 12 years after the war ended (known as the Reconstruction era), Union troops were stationed across the South to help enforce the new federal laws. At the same time, white supremacists across the South founded organizations such as the Ku Klux Klan to terrorize and suppress blacks and mounted a campaign of murder, assault and arson that can only be described as homegrown American terrorism. 

Meanwhile, in the early 1870s, as the Northern Republican Party became more conservative, Reconstruction came to be seen as a misguided attempt to uplift the lower classes of society and the federal commitment to Reconstruction policies waned. In 1877, the newly elected President Rutherford B. Hayes withdrew the remaining federal troops from southern states.



OBJECTIVE: Provide students with an understanding of the complex history of Reconstruction, the 12-year period of federal occupation of the states of the former Confederacy, while exploring the challenges of reconfiguring and rebuilding southern society and ultimately reintegrating the southern states into the Union.

STANDARDS: Related Thematic Learning Objectives (Focus of AP Exam Questions)
— NAT-2.0: Explain how interpretations of the Constitution and debates over rights, liberties, and definitions of citizenship have affected American values, politics, and society.
— POL-3.0: Explain how different beliefs about the federal government’s role in American social and economic life have affected political debates and policies.

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RH.11-12.1: Cite specific textual evidence to support analysis of primary and secondary sources, connecting insights gained from specific details to an understanding of the text as a whole.

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RH.11-12.2: Determine the central ideas or information of a primary or secondary source; provide an accurate summary that makes clear the relationships among the key details and ideas.

MATERIALS: Seven Document Excerpts
Document One: “The South as It Is,” by Our Special Correspondent, The Nation, July 20, 1865
Document Two: “What the South Needs First” (unsigned article), The Nation, January 18, 1866
Document Three: “Education in the Late Rebel States” (unsigned article), The Nation, March 22, 1866
Document Four: “The Moral of the Memphis Riots” (unsigned article), The Nation, May 15, 1866
Document Five: 15th Amendment to the US Constitution. Passed by Congress: February 26, 1869. Ratified: February 3, 1870
Document Six: “The End at Last” (unsigned article), The Nation, May 19, 1870
Document Seven: “The Week” (unsigned article), The Nation, August 3, 1871

BEFORE reading, ask:

  • What were the goals of Reconstruction? What policies were enacted to meet these goals?
  • What were the challenges of Reconstruction? How did various forces try to reverse Reconstruction?
  • Was Reconstruction successful? Why or why not?

Have the class read the student-page content (including introduction and the seven documents). Encourage students to read and attempt to answer all scaffolding questions (“As You Read: Things to Look For”).

AFTER reading, ask:

  • What new information did you glean from the documents? Identify specific events or ideas that you found interesting, and explain why.
  • What was the biggest threat to Reconstruction efforts? Why?
  • Why was the 15th Amendment important? What actions were used to prevent African Americans from exercising their right to vote?
  • What is the “true democratic theory of government” the author refers to in Document Three? What solution does the author present for reaching this goal?

AS YOU READ: Things to Look For (Scaffolding questions also provided to students on their web pages)

  • Review the titles of publication for the documents that are excerpts from The Nation. What additional information can you glean from the titles? Which title do you think is most significant? Why?
  • Note the different ways the use of force is mentioned in these excerpts. When is it mentioned in support of Reconstruction? When is it proposed, or used, to impede Reconstruction’s goals?
  • Two of the documents from The Nation focus on voting rights. One explains southern people’s views on voting; the other discusses the 15th Amendment. Why was voting such an issue?
  • Several documents mention concerns and fears about Reconstruction. Find at least two examples. Which issues concerned southerners? Which mattered to northerners?
  • Consider the points of view expressed by The Nation’s writers in Documents One through Four. Were they optimistic or pessimistic about the prospects for Reconstruction’s success? What solutions did they see to the problems they described?

Students are given a list of these words; only the teacher site includes the definitions.

Franchise: The right to vote
Ku Klux Klan: A white-supremacist group formed in 1866 by young veterans of the former Confederacy in response to the Republican plan for Reconstruction
Memphis Riot of 1866: A violent three-day riot in which white mobs, including policemen, attacked and killed newly freed black residents of Memphis, Tennessee
Secessionist: A person who supported the withdrawal of the southern states from the Union