History 102 dbq #1: Reconstruction’s Failure Historical Context



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History 102 DBQ #1: Reconstruction’s Failure
Historical Context: The Civil War may have settled some significant national problems, but it created many more. Yes, slavery was abolished, secession had been refuted, and the supremacy of the national government confirmed. But the cost of Union victory—in lost lives, destroyed property and sectional bitterness—was staggering, and created huge new problems and tasks.

Perhaps the most challenging task facing our exhausted nation was the future status of the four million newly freed slaves. After the death of President Lincoln and the failure of President Johnson, Congress, in 1867, took charge of the effort to “reconstruct” our divided nation. A large part of “Congressional Reconstruction” was an effort to establish and protect the citizenship rights of the freedmen. The former Confederacy was divided into five military districts, each governed by a Union general. The Southern states, in order to rid themselves of these “military dictatorships,” were required to ratify the Fourteenth Amendment, guaranteeing equal rights for all citizens—including former slaves. At the same time, large numbers of former Confederate soldiers and supporters were disfranchised—denied the right to vote. By 1870 all of the former Confederate states had ratified the Fourteenth Amendment and were readmitted to the union. In each state, the voting rights of freedmen were protected while voting was denied to many white Southerners. And so, with many whites not voting, and union troops remaining in the South to protect them, freedmen seemed to be enjoying some level of equal rights and full citizenship.

But this did not last long; by 1877 Reconstruction had ended. All Southern state governments were restored, and the citizenship rights of the freedmen rapidly eroded. African-American voting rates plummeted. Soon these former slaves fell into a “second class” citizenship characterized by a system of state-enforced segregation and discrimination.
Directions: The following essay question is based on the accompanying documents in Part A. As you analyze the documents, take into account both the source of the document and the author’s point of view.

Be sure to:


  • Carefully read the document based question.

    • Consider what you already know about the topic

    • How would you answer the question if you had no documents to examine?

  • Now, read each document carefully, underlining key phrases and words that address the document based question.

    • You may also wish to use the margin of your paper for notes

    • Answer the questions that follow each document

  • Based on your knowledge of the topic and on the information found in the documents, formulate a thesis that directly answers the question.

  • Organize supportive and relevant information using the attached 5 paragraph outline worksheet.

    • Completely write out your thesis statement in the appropriate place

    • Completely write out each paragraph topic sentence

    • The outline should be able to prove your thesis

    • The information in the outline should be logically presented

    • The outline should include both information from the documents and from your outside knowledge of the subject


Question: Why did Congress’ Reconstruction efforts to ensure equal rights to the freedmen fail?
Terms and concepts that do not appear in the documents but could be used in the final essay:
Dred Scott decision Wade-Davis Bill Impeachment Thaddeus Stevens Liberal Republicans

Radical Republicans Carpetbaggers Radical Reconstruction Freedman’s Bureau Amendments 13, 14, 15

Sharecroppers Radical Reconstruction state Tilden-Hayes election Scalawags Johnson’s Plan

Black codes Civil Rights Act Grant scandals Compromise of 1877 Force Acts



Document 1
In January 1866, soon after the Thirteenth Amendment ended slavery, radical Republicans in Congress began arguing that freedmen should be allowed to vote on equal terms with whites. A bill was introduced to give the vote to the freedmen of the District of Columbia. Most Democrats and many moderate Republicans opposed this bill, though most radical Republicans supported it (even though only five Northern states allowed African-American men to vote at this time). The following excerpts come from the speech of Pennsylvania Congressman Benjamin Boyer, a Democrat who opposed the bill to enfranchise the African Americans of District of Columbia.
It is common for the advocates of negro suffrage to assume that the color of the negro is the main obstacle to admission to political equality…But it is not the complexion of the negro that degrades him….(the Negro is) a race by nature inferior in mental caliber…the negroes are not the equals of white Americans, and are not entitled….to participate in the Government of this country…..
What type of source is this? (Primary or secondary and WHAT is it?) _________________________________

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What is the bias of the author, as it relates to the essay question? What might account for this bias? _________

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__________________________________________________________________________________________Why, according to Congressman Boyer, should African Americans be denied the right to vote? _____________

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Do you believe that this racial viewpoint was widely held at this time? Explain. ­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­_________________________

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Document 2
This excerpt from the report of General George Thomas about activity in Tennessee, was published in the New York Times on November 23, 1868.
With the close of the last, and the beginning of the new year the State of Tennessee was disturbed by the strange operations of a mysterious organization known as the “Ku Klux Klan”….its grand purpose being to establish a nucleus around which “the adherents of the late rebellion might safely rally.”
What type of source is this? (Primary or secondary and WHAT is it?) _________________________________

__________________________________________________________________________________________ What is the bias of the author, as it relates to the essay question? What might account for this bias? _________

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What, according the General Thomas, was the purpose of the Ku Klux Klan? ___________________________

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Look back to the document-based question. How did the Ku Klux Klan help to undermine Congress’ efforts to ensure equal rights to freedmen? _______________________________________________________________

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Document 3
This excerpt is from The Era of Reconstruction, 1865-1877, by Kenneth M. Stampp (Vintage Books, 1967, p. 193). Stampp was a professor of history at the University of California at Berkeley.
Meanwhile southern Democrats gained strength when Congress finally removed the political disabilities form most of the prewar leadership. In May 1872, because of pressure form the Liberal Republican, Congress passed a general amnesty act which restored the right of officeholding (and voting) to the vast majority of those who had been disqualified…..After the passage of this act only a few hundred ex-Confederates remained unpardoned.
What type of source is this? (Primary or secondary and WHAT is it?) _________________________________

__________________________________________________________________________________________ What is the bias of the author, as it relates to the essay question? What might account for this bias? _________

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__________________________________________________________________________________________How did the restoration of voting rights to white Southerners undermine efforts to preserve and protect the voting rights of the freedmen? _________________________________________________________________

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Document 4
These excerpts are from an editorial in the Atlanta News, dated September 10, 1874.
Let there be White Leagues formed in every town, village and hamlet of the South, and let us organize for the great struggle which seems inevitable.

We have submitted long enough to indignities, and it is time to meet brute-force with brute-force.

If the white democrats of the North are men, they will not stand idly by and see us borne down by northern radicals and half-barbarous negroes. But no matter what they may do, it is time for us to organize.
What type of source is this? ___________________________________________________________________

What is the bias of the author, as it relates to the essay question? What might account for this bias? _________

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What is this editorial advocating? ______________________________________________________________

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Document 5
Following are headlines and excerpts form front-page news stories in November 1874.
Headline text from the New York Times, November 4, 1874

DEMOCRATIC VICTORY

Congress to be democratic
Headline and story text from the New York Times, November 5, 1874

THE REPUBLICAN DEFEAT
Our later telegrams only add to the magnitude of the defeat experienced on Tuesday… In the House (of Representatives) the Democrats’ gains continue to increase in numbers.
What type of source is this? (Primary or secondary and WHAT is it?) _________________________________

__________________________________________________________________________________________ What is the bias of the author, as it relates to the essay question? What might account for this bias? _________

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__________________________________________________________________________________________How did this Democratic victory help to undermine Congress’ efforts to help the freedmen? _______________

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What factors discredited the Republican Party during the early 1870’s? Explain. ­­­­­­­­­­­­_________________________

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Document 6
In 1935, Dr. W.E.B. DuBois, a prominent African-American historian, published a major history of Reconstruction. Here is a brief excerpt from that book. (From Black Reconstruction in America, New York: Atheneum, 1970, p. 693.)
But the decisive influence was the systematic and overwhelming economic pressure. Negroes who wanted work must not dabble in politics. Negroes who wanted to increase their income must not agitate the Negro problem….in order to earn a living, the American Negro was compelled to give up his political power.
What type of source is this? (Primary or secondary and WHAT is it?) _________________________________

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What is the bias of the author, as it relates to the essay question? What might account for this bias? _________

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According to DuBois, how were freedmen “convinced” to stop voting or taking part in political events?

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Document 7
During the 1930’s, a major effort was made to interview elderly African Americans who could share recollections of their youth in slavery. The following document is an excerpt from an interview with a man named John McCoy. McCoy was born in 1838 and had lived 27 years as a slave in Texas. (Benjamin Botking, ed., Lay My Burden Down: A Folk History of Slavery, University of Chicago Press, 1945, p. 238.)
Freedom wasn’t no different I knows of. I works for Marse John just the same for a long time. He say one morning, “John, you can go out in the field iffenyou wants to or you can get out iffen you wants to, ‘cause the government say you is free. If you wants to work I’ll feed you and give you clothes but can’t pay you no money. I ain’t got none.” Humph, I didn’t know nothing what money was, nohow, but I knows I’ll git plenty victuals to eat, so I stays…..
What type of source is this? (Primary or secondary and WHAT is it?) _________________________________

__________________________________________________________________________________________ What is the bias of the author, as it relates to the essay question? What might account for this bias? _________

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__________________________________________________________________________________________What does this recollection by John McCoy suggest as a reason for the failure of efforts to guarantee freedmen full citizenship rights? _______________________________________________________________________

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Document 8
The disputed presidential election of 1876 set the stage for the final stage of Reconstruction—the removal of all federal troops from the last three “unreconstructed” Southern states: Louisiana, South Carolina, and Florida.
Candidate Uncontested Electoral Vote Electoral Total Popular Vote

Rutherford B. Hayes (R) 165 185 4,034,311

Samuel J. Tilden (D) 184 184 4,288,546


What type of source is this? (Primary or secondary and WHAT is it?) __________________________________

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What is the bias of the author, as it relates to the essay question? What might account for this bias? _________

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How was it possible that Hayes “won” the election of 1876? _________________________________________

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How did this disputed election lead to the end of Reconstruction? Explain. _________________________

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Document 9
The plantation police, or home guard, examine African-American passes on the levee road in the South. C. 1879.

What type of source is this? (Primary or secondary and WHAT is it?) __________________________________

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What is the bias of the author, as it relates to the essay question? What might account for this bias? _________

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What was the purpose of this picture? ___________________________________________________________

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What symbolism is present? __________________________________________________________________

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Part B—Essay: Why did Congress’ Reconstruction efforts to ensure equal rights to the freedmen fail?

Five Paragraph Outline Worksheet
Brainstorming notes: Why did Congress’ Reconstruction efforts to ensure equal rights to the freedmen fail?

Introduction Paragraph: Background- No more than two sentences. (What was going on at the time and the historical significance of the period-as it relates to the question)

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Main point #1- No more than one sentence.

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Main point #2- No more than one sentence.

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Main point #3- No more than one sentence.

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Thesis (must directly answer the question and tie the main points together)
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Body Paragraph #1


Topic sentence (Same as main point #1, limits paragraph to ONE idea and must directly support the thesis)

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Evidence (specific person, law, treaty, development…)

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Evidence (specific person, law, treaty, development…)

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Evidence (specific person, law, treaty, development…)

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Transition (Connects to the next paragraph in a complex manner using a connecting sentence) _________________________________________________________________________________________


Body Paragraph #2


Topic sentence (Same as main point #2, limits paragraph to ONE idea and must directly support the thesis)

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Evidence (specific person, law, treaty, development…)

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Evidence (specific person, law, treaty, development…)

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Evidence (specific person, law, treaty, development…)

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Transition (Connects to the next paragraph in a complex manner using a connecting sentence) _________________________________________________________________________________________

Body Paragraph #3


Topic sentence (Same as main point #3, limits paragraph to ONE idea and must directly support the thesis)

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Evidence (specific person, law, treaty, development…)

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Evidence (specific person, law, treaty, development…)

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Evidence (specific person, law, treaty, development…)

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Transition (Connects to the next paragraph in a complex manner using a connecting sentence) _________________________________________________________________________________________


Conclusion paragraph


Very brief review of the essay. Sum it up in no more than two sentences.

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Importance of the topic during its time

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Long term historical importance of the topic

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