4.3.2 Mountain South (1861-1877): The Restoration and Reconstruction Eras


  • During the months after the Civil War’s close, “Restoration” governments (consisting mainly of pre-war leaders willing to take prospective oaths of loyalty to the Union) enacted new black codes in the former Confederate states.  Some states enacted harsh codes, explicitly designed to keep newly-freed blacks in a state as close to slavery as possible; others enacted milder codes.  Key features of the codes included:
  • Labor contract laws:  Some laws limited black workers’ right to choose their employment by preventing employers from competing for their labor once they had signed a contract.  Other laws restricted black workers’ rights to object to working conditions or even leave the plantations where they worked.  Some states provided a measure of protection to illiterate workers by requiring employers to put contracts in writing and explain them.
  • Apprenticeship laws, which many former masters used as a tool to try to effectively re-enslave former slave children.
  • Vagrancy laws, which were often used to temporarily re-enslave blacks who could not pay their debts or could not pay fines assessed for petty crimes. 
  • Testimonial and jury laws prohibiting blacks from testifying against whites and serving on juries.
  • Criminal laws imposing harsher criminal penalties on blacks than whites.
  • Miscegenation laws prohibiting interracial marriage.
  • Restoration-era black codes outraged many in the North and played an important role in Congress’s 1867 decision to impose its own reconstruction program on the former Confederate states.  Under Congressional Reconstruction, ex-Confederate states were required to adopt new constitutions providing for black suffrage and were required to ratify the 14th Amendment as a condition of being readmitted to representation in Congress. 
  • Many features of the Restoration codes were eliminated or softened as soon as the new Reconstruction governments took office, and new civil rights laws were enacted.  Reconstruction brought to power a southern Republican party, consisting of coalitions of native white Unionists, newly-enfranchised blacks and a few northern emigrants.  The balance of power between the three elements and the time the coalition was able to hold onto power differed from state to state.
  • The course of Reconstruction differed greatly among mountain South states.  West Virginia, Missouri and Kentucky never seceded and so were not subject to the 1867 Reconstruction laws.  But the first two states followed a political pattern similar to ex-Confederate states:  Republican coalitions held power for a few years and were then replaced by conservative Democrats, many of whom had served the Confederacy.  The new regimes were called “Redeemers” by their allies and “Bourbons” by their opponents.  Arkansas and Tennessee followed similar patterns, although Tennessee Unionists agreed to Congress’s terms in late 1865 and so did not officially come under the Reconstruction laws.   Thus, Arkansas was the only state to fully experience Congressional Reconstruction.

Restoration Black Laws

West Virginia

Kentucky

Tennessee

Missouri

Arkansas

Black labor contracts:  laws prohibiting competition for labor

X

 

 

 

X

Black labor contracts:   must be in writing

X

 

 

 

X

Black labor contracts:  laborers forfeit all wages if quit before end of contract term

 

X

 

 

X

Apprenticeship:  Parental poverty is sufficient grounds for forced apprenticeship of children

 

X

 

 

 

Apprenticeship:  “bad character” is sufficient grounds for forced apprenticeship of children

 

 

 

 

 

Apprenticeship:  former master given preference as new master

 

X

 

 

 

Apprenticeship:  apprentice must be given trade and education

X

X

 

 

 

Vagrancy laws toughened

 

X

 

 

 

Restrictions on black immigration into state preserved

 

 

 

 

X

Statutory prohibition of black jury service

 

 

X

 

X

Restrictions on assembly of blacks

 

 

 

 

 

Court testimony:  blacks allowed to testify only against other blacks

X

 

 

 

 

Explicit discriminatory criminal penalties against blacks

 

X

 

 

 

Restrictions on blacks’ use of weapons

 

 

 

 

 

Anti-miscegenation laws

 

 

 

 

X

 Reconstruction-Era Constitutions and Civil Rights Laws

Reconstruction-era constitutions

 

West Virginia

Kentucky

Tennessee

Missouri

Arkansas

Year enacted

1862

None

1865

1865

1868

Suffrage provisions

 

 

 

 

 

Oath requirements

 

 

 

 

 

Other civil rights granted to blacks

 

 

 

 

 

Reconstruction civil rights laws

 

 

 

 

 

Suffrage granted (prior to 15th Amendment of U.S. Constitution)

 

 

 

X

X

Right to serve on juries granted

 

 

X

 

 

Discrimination in places of public accommodation prohibited

 

 

 

 

X

Black testimony allowed in all situations

X

X

X

X

 

Laws against terrorism (anti-Ku Klux Klan laws)

 

 

X

 

X

Right to serve in militia granted

 

 

 

 

 

Schools integrated

 

 

 

 

 

Year that Redeemers/Bourbons regained political control

1870

N/A

1870

1870

1874

 



File:Freedmens Bureau 1866.jpg

Freedman's Bureau, Memphis, Tennessee (Harper's Weekly, 1866) - courtesy New York Public Library and Wikimedia Commons

File:Mustered out, harper's weekly, little rock, AR.jpgMustering out of black Union soldiers, LIttle Rock, Arkansas


File:Charles D. Drake - Brady-Handy.jpg

Charles Drake, leader of Missouri radical Unionists during Reconstruction - courtesy Library of Congress

































“[A]dmit us into the sanctum sanctorum of justice – the jury box – give us a fair show in the courts.  The idea of giving a negro justice, in a court where the judge has sucked the milk of prejudice from his mother’s breast, where the lawyers, though they may be the most thorough radicals extant, honestly believe me immeasurably their inferior, and the jurors there assembled … do not believe that I have any right to be protected from the encroachment of that class looked upon as my superiors.”  - William Gray, in 1868 Arkansas constitutional convention

“The question before the Convention … is that of political equality merely.  The people will arrange the question of social equality for themselves, irrespective of anything that we may do.” –Isaiah Montgomery, in 1868 Arkansas constitutional convention

“We are under imperative obligations to do this [educate black children], from a sense of justice to them, and from a regard to our own safety … We do not expect, and have not sought, to obliterate what has been termed an ‘antipathy of the races,’ by constitutional or legislative enactments.” – Education Committee report, Missouri constitutional convention, 1865