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U.S. History/Reconstruction and Employee/Employer Relationships

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Question
Two quick questions for you this evening...

1. In his second inaugural address, Abraham Lincoln proclaimed “with malice towards none; with charity for all; … let us strive on to finish the work we are in; to bind up the nation’s wounds; … to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace among ourselves, and with all nations.” Considering the events and aftermath of Reconstruction: a) How just and how lasting was the peace that eventually did occur? b) What role did both Andrew Johnson and the Radical Republicans play in shaping Reconstruction? c)How would you assess it final outcome? d) Would you consider Reconstruction a success or failure? Why?

2. The late nineteenth and early twentieth century was a time of great economic growth in the US. But, it was also often marred by conflict and struggle between employers and employees, especially those who worked as manual laborers or factory workers. a) How would you describe the relationship between employers and employees in the years between 1876 and 1920? b)What larger effects do you think these conflicts had on American society? c) What type of efforts were made to lessen that problem?

Thank you in advance, expert!

Answer
Hello,

I guess the success of the Reconstruction era depends on what you think the goal was.  No matter what you did, the southern whites who were defeated by military force were not going to fall in love again with the federal government which had just destroyed their world.  They also were not going accept the notion that their former slaves should become full citizens along side them.  Racism was too completely ingrained in their mentality, and you don't change anyone's opinion by holding a gun to their head.  You might change the way they act, but not what they believe.

Andrew Johnson generally took the same position as Lincoln had before his assassination.  He wanted to end the conflict as soon as possible, bringing the southern States back into the union as full partners in the Republic.  The Radical Republicans, however, wanted to impose revenge on the South for starting the war, and also to bring justice to the slaves by improving their legal, social, and economic status.  This had to be done against the will of southern whites, meaning preventing democratic local government from reflecting the will of the majority.  Johnson did not have the necessary political power, so the Radical Republican Congress' position prevailed, ate least until 1877 when Reconstruction ended.

The twelve years between the end of the war and the end of reconstruction essentially held most of the south under a military dictatorship.  It was relatively effective in keeping the peace, and its end eventually helped the southern states rejoin the Union as full partners.  To that extent, it was a success.  Since the end of the Civil War, no State has made any serious attempt to secede from the Union.  To the extent one looks at reconstruction in terms of ending slavery, I'd call that a failure.  While slavery ended technically, former slaves ended up being held in virtual slavery through peonage laws, racist governments that denied them any political say, and extralegal terrorist groups that compelled them to remain in slave like conditions.  While conditions might have been slightly better during Reconstruction, that situation could not last forever in a free society.  There were not enough changes to bring about real reform in race relations.

With regard to your question about the labor movement in the late 19th and early 20th Centuries, the Industrial Revolution had made the country much wealthier overall, but must of the wealth became concentrated in a small number of extremely wealthy industrialists.  The labor movement attempted to spread around that wealth more to provide more to the working people.  Generally, conditions between management and labor, with some exceptions, were terrible.  Management typically wanted workers to work long hours under miserable conditions for barely subsistence wages.  

When workers tried to unionize or went on strike, employers often engaged in mass firings.  When fired workers refused to leave the property employers often hired thugs to physically assault them or even kill them.  Several labor riots left many dead.  Overall society was becoming increasingly divided between the workers who made up the vast majority of the country and a small but politically powerful group of highly wealthy industrialists.

Some small labor reforms occurred during this era, and there came some acceptance of labor unions in some industries.  However, the larger reforms came after this period, beginning in the 1930's when labor  unions received protection under federal law, and when laws regarding minimum wages, overtime, and worker safety laws went into place.

I hope this helps!
- Mike  

U.S. History

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Michael Troy

Expertise

I can answer just about any question on early American History. My specialties are the American Revolution through the Civil War/Reconstruction. I also have greater expertise in matters relating to military, political or legal history.

Experience

I have lectured at George Washington University regarding the Civil War, as well as several elementary school Civil War demonstrations. I was also a member of a Civil War reenactment group for about 10 years.

Publications
http://unlearnedhistory.blogspot.com

Education/Credentials
J.D. University of Michigan B.A. George Washington University

Awards and Honors
Truman Scholar

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