Communique "Reconstruction Junction, What's Your Function?" 6-8-2021
One of the more interesting yet often overlooked aspects about President Abraham Lincoln and his plan for Southern Reconstruction was his unwavering belief that in victory, the North needed to show leniency, forgiveness and grace to the former Confederate states with the most important goal being the preservation of the Union.
After major Northern triumphs at both the Battles of Gettysburg and Vicksburg leaving the Rebels all but incapable of continuing the Civil War, Lincoln began focusing his attention on his reunification plans for the North and South.
With the North weary of war and the John Q. Public becoming ever more vocal with their demands for a final and lasting resolution to what was always a bloody and unpopular war, Honest Abe was pressed into putting his post-war plans for reconciliation into action.
True to his word, our 16th President made clear to the far more radical Republicans in Congress, that he would not embark upon a path intending to punish the South and did not think it necessary for the Republicans to re-invent Southern society. His opening gambit for a quick fix was to offer re-admittance to the Union for any CSA state where 10% of its voting population would agree to swear an oath of allegiance to the Union.
In 1863, Lincoln issued his Proclamation of Amnesty and Reconstruction to achieve a lasting truce and take the first step on the long road toward re-unification. The Ten Percent Plan included additional incentives in the form of granting full pardons to everyone except high-ranking Confederate army officers and selected government officials.
He even went as far as to pledge his assistance in protecting the private property rights of former plantation owners in a move to entice southern aristocrats. Unfortunately, with his assassination, Lincoln’s plans for a kinder, gentler Age of Reconstruction never came to fruition.
As early as 1864, the more radical Republicans in Congress had started to take a more active role in their zeal to among other concerns “punishing” the South for their traitorous and seditious actions and overall role in fomenting an insurrection followed by their various declarations of independence, and willing participation on the battlefield as part and parcel of the US Civil War.
By the time Andrew Johnson replaced Abraham Lincoln as our 17th President, the Ku Klux Klan had already reared its ugly head and was by any accurate evaluation was back in action as a white supremacist terrorist organization whose activities, including the lynching of the newly freed slaves, that the Southerner Andrew Johnson showed little to no interest in curtailing, and as a result of a lack of interest on the part of We, the People as to the plight of the Southerners, including former slaves and the South in general, any ongoing plans for reconstruction were summarily forgotten, further efforts at reunification dried up and the Reconstruction died.
Even the enactment of the 13th, 14th and 15th Amendments to the Constitution and many new federal laws aimed at providing civil rights for all citizens of the United States, it was only a matter of time before institutionalized and systematic white privilege based on race became the Black Codes, that mutated its way into Jim Crow “separate but equal” laws that were never intended to do anything but relegate the newly freed slaves into second-class (if that) citizens in a land where supposedly all persons are created equal.
As an interesting but telling footnote about who won the battle but lost the war, the very first modern Civil Rights Act of 1866 was not significantly revised until the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
During the period of 1866 to 1964, and despite America’s efforts at enforcing voting rights under the 15th Amendment, state disfranchisement of African Americans in the South became so solidly implanted in the federal, state and local election process that in 1960, it was a fair estimation that less than 4% of the descendants of former slaves residing in Mississippi, who were otherwise eligible to vote, due to oppressive voter suppression laws and routine acts of violence including lynching, were actually legally registered and did cast their ballots for the candidates and/or causes of their choice.
Now do you know why the South still refuses to outlaw lynching as a hate crime? It is true that with the advent of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 (VRA) under which more than 750,000 persons of color became eligible to vote in a federal election, some for the first time, well, once the pre-clearance and enforcement provision that forced the States to stop discriminating against voters based on race became too effective, well, up stepped the not known for being friendly to minority rights of any kind Roberts Court to gut that provision of the VRA.
As if by magic? Or as an extension of a long and hateful tradition of denying the rights of minority voters who may not be fond of supporting a “closet” member of the local Ku Klux Klan as their choice for Sheriff, or mayor, or…you get the picture right?
We’re all still here, and yet, I am tempted to ask, where are we? And importantly why are we in 2021 still dealing with issues related to the basic right of all eligible Americans, meaning virtually every citizen over the age of 18, here? Why are we as Americans, all Americans regardless of race, shape, ethnicity or size, being subjected to the insult and injury of fighting battle after battle over who can and cannot vote?
You want to win the Civil War? The very real and still ongoing war that has moved back to the ballot box having devolved further into a fundamental fight for whether we are a true democracy beholden to the will of the People? Where the rule of one person, one vote should be inviolate, if not sacred?
This, is why we must not only re-instate the provisions of the VRA through the John Lewis Voting Rights Act, but also to break the circle of hatred, racism and intolerance that currently and will continue to plague our right to free and fair elections where the votes are counted and where the majority winner revealed and preserving our rights to live democratically by passing the For the People Act of 2021. Failure is not an option. Who’s in?
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