Reconstruction and its aftermath have had a massive impact on our society. The tensions and polarity developed as the United States reformed following the Civil War are reflected not only in our history, but in our workplaces, living spaces, and attitudes. Understanding the evolution of these ideas shows us how to more effectively manage and work with those around us of different backgrounds.
Political freedom is the ability to exercises the rights given to an individual through the laws of a country. Basically it means that a person has the power or freedom to act, speak, or think without outside moderation. This freedom affects Americans in a number of ways. Here are just five examples:
1. You can vote
2. You can practice any religion of your choice
3. You can write or say anything you want
4. You can own a firearm for protection
5. You can protest individually or in a group
Can you imagine if you weren’t able to do any one of these items listed above? How would this impact your personal or professional life? Personally, this could affect the way you choose to worship or how you desire and to express your views either on paper or vocally. You would be limited to what the government saw fit, and your own personal views and visions could be greatly affected. Professional workers have the ability to protest and “walk out” if they see their working conditions as undesirable. On the other hand, business owners and corporations can meet the needs and requests of protesting workers or they may decide to keep policies and working conditions the way they are. This all is possible because of political freedom.
These rights are all guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution and provide Americans with the ability to live their lives without fear and to make choices for their personal success and fulfillment. For example, the freedom to vote allows citizens to voice their political opinion as they select the individuals who will represent them in government positions.
When considering the Civil War and Reconstruction period, it is important to consider how this time affects the American economy today.
The following video is a John Green crash course where he discusses Reconstruction. Listen for ways Reconstruction changed the United States and think about how this time period and Reconstruction still affects our nation today.
(12:59 min) Reconstruction and 1876: Crash Course US History #22
The video discusses that after the destruction and division of the Civil War, Abraham Lincoln desired to make the country whole again. But how do you introduce former slaves and former rebellious citizens back into a country and have both groups move forward and get along? Lincoln desired to reunite the citizens of the country and encouraged reconciliation. Sadly, Lincoln was assassinated and his vision of Reconstruction was put into the hands of his successor, Andrew Johnson (0:45 minute mark). When Johnson took over office as President he appointed governors in each state to establish all white governments. He did not feel like African Americans had a role in Reconstruction.
Land ownership was the key to freedom for former slaves, but unfortunately these slaves did not receive the land they had been promised. President Johnson ordered all the land returned to its former owner. (2:04 minute mark)
In 1867 the Republican Party took over and had their part in Reconstruction because they felt like things looked too much the same from pre-Civil War times. The Civil Rights Bill was passed which gave persons born in the U.S. citizenship regardless of race. This encouraged nationwide equality. Andrew Johnson was quick to veto this law claiming it discriminated against white people. (3:37 minute mark). Congress overrode the Presidential veto and the Civil Rights Act became law. Congress then amended the Constitution with the 14th amendment. The 14th amendment defines citizenship, guarantees equal protection, and extends rights to all the states. (3:56 minute mark).
Along with these changes in 1867, Congress also passed the Reconstruction Act. (5:18 minute mark). The Reconstruction Act divided the South into five military districts and new governments had to be set up to include black men. The 15th Amendment to the Constitution was also added. This prohibited states from denying voters based on race.
About 2,000 African Americans held office during the Reconstruction. (7:15 minute mark) and the vast majority of them were not corrupt. There are two main reasons mentioned in the video to why Reconstruction ended. (8:28 minute mark)
1 – Taxes. The Republican government became unpopular because they were requesting people to pay taxes to pay for things like roads and schools. People did not like the idea of paying taxes.
2 – White Southerners could not accept African Americans exercising basic civil rights, holding office, or voting.
Because Southerners could not accept equality of African Americans they began taking matters into their own hands. The Klu Klux Klan was formed and violence was used to get things back to how they had once been. Much of this violence was politically motivated. (8:48 minute mark)
Sadly African American rights started to diminish and legal protections were taken away and Jim Crow laws limited African American rights access to public accommodations.
As seen in the video, it is clear that the American economy today has remnants of this time frame. First, the agricultural industry still has its roots in the South. Workers, while they are not held to sharecropping system, may work and live on the land owned by another. A second example of how the American economy was affected by the Civil War and Reconstruction time period is that the American economy is now focused on wage labor. No longer does the economy have a large portion of free labor in slaves. Businesses must consider the cost of employing laborers to complete tasks and manufacture products. Thirdly, the educational industry was expanded to educate all students regardless of race. This created a boom in those who spent time pursuing their education to attain better jobs.
In the area of “equality of opportunity” in America, this is important because it indicates that all individuals have the same opportunities to resources as everyone else. No one is prohibited access or denied their rights because of their race or gender. This “equality of opportunity” is defined by the Legal Dictionary (n.d.) as “a right supposedly guaranteed by both federal and many state laws against any discrimination in employment, education, housing or credit rights due to a person’s race, color, sex (or sometimes sexual orientation), religion, national origin, age or handicap.”
The concepts of equality and equity are different. According to Sun (2014), “Equity is giving everyone what they need to be successful. Equality is treating everyone the same. Equality aims to promote fairness, but it can only work if everyone starts from the same place and needs the same help. Equity appears unfair, but it actively moves everyone closer to success by ‘leveling the playing field.’ But not everyone starts at the same place, and not everyone has the same needs.” According to Johnson (2017), five areas in which equity and equality impacts the American workplace are the following:
Achievement – Workers are motivated to achieve when they find the workplace to be equitable.
Employee Retention – When workers believe they can have a bright future at a company due to equal treatment, they stay to see that future happen.
Attracting Talent – People of talent want to excel when they see that an investment of time, energy, and talent will pay off. This is true only in an equitable workplace.
Breadth by Diversity – Diversity is often the result of equitable workplaces which means that the employees have more experiences and perspective from which to draw in solving problems.
Enhanced Bottom Line – When a company’s culture is both equitable and equal, it keeps employees and maintains diversity. This inherently affects the bottom line in a positive way.
After reading the assigned materials (Course Media Page), answer the following questions:
. How did the events of Reconstruction affect American culture? How have these events affected equality among different groups as well as the American economy? Voice opinions on both positive and negative influences.
. How does our current culture reflect the issues of Reconstruction? What avenues in politics do you see the effects?
. What impact has Reconstruction and the Civil War had on workplaces today? How does the term, “equality of opportunity” relate to this impact on the workplace?