6.4 Deep South: War and Reconstruction (1861-1877)



 

1860

(33 states)

1880

(37 states)

South Carolina

703,708

18th

995,577

21st

Georgia

1,057,286

11th

1,542,180

13th

Florida

140,424

31st

269,493

34th

Alabama

964,201

13th

1,262,505

17th

Mississippi

791,305

14th

1,131,597

18th

Louisiana

708,002

17th

939,946

22nd

Percent of U.S. population

13.9%

 

12.2%

 


Key events that shaped law and society:

  • The Civil War and emancipation, together with continuing industrialization and westward migration, fundamentally re-shaped American society between 1861 and 1877.  This was particularly true in the South.
  • Unlike the coastal upper South and mountain South states, all of the Deep South states left the Union early and unhesitatingly after Abraham Lincoln’s election to the presidency in 1860.  The Deep South did not become a theater of war until near the war’s end, but like the rest of the South it experienced severe economic hardship throughout the war and lost a large portion of its men of military age.  By 1865, much of the Deep South was in physical and economic ruin.  
  • The former Confederate states went through several phases following the war.  With encouragement from Washington, local Unionists formed new governments immediately after the war’s close in 1865.  They abolished slavery but also enacted codes designed to keep Southern blacks in a state as close to slavery as possible.  The North reacted strongly against this, and in 1867 Congress divided the former Confederate states into military districts and refused to readmit them until they had enacted new constitutions giving the vote and a meaningful political voice to blacks.  Blacks, who composed a large portion of the region’s population, played a significant role in Reconstruction governments.  Those governments enacted laws giving basic civil and political rights to blacks but they, like other southern (and many northern) states, balked at expanding social rights:  segregation would remain the norm.  Reconstruction governments also tried to bring the South more into the mainstream of the industrial and transportation revolution and they belatedly enacted Jacksonian reforms such as homestead laws and married women’s property rights.
  • Reconstruction ended in the Deep South in 1877, and conservatives quickly reasserted control of state governments.   But they did not wipe out all reform.  No Deep South state immediately replaced its Reconstruction constitution with a new constitution.  Most Reconstruction laws were kept in place, partly in order to avoid further intervention by Congress, and the courts generally enforced the laws.  The Reconstruction era was marred by violence and oppression of blacks, but most of it took place outside the law.  Law could not immediately overcome racial attitudes forged by 250 years of slavery, but a surprising number of Reconstruction-era reforms survived into the 20th century and provided tools that proved useful a century years later, when the second great American civil rights revolution began.  


"There was a wager of law, as well as of battle, and ... the question was decided against us." - Edmund Goode, in Mississippi's 1865 constitutional convention 


“I do desire we shall use the opportunities we now have to our best advantage, as we may not ever have a more propitious time.  We know when the old aristocracy and ruling power of this State get into power, as they undoubtedly will … they will never pass such a law as this.”  - Francis Cardozo, in South Carolina’s 1868 constitutional convention