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Reconstruction was the period of time after the Civil War during which the Southern states were rebuilt and readmitted to the Union. After the Civil war, much of the South lay in ruins. Cities were destroyed, railroad tracks had been pulled up, and the South's financial system was wrecked (Confederate money was worthless and southern bank depositors lost all their money). Republicans in Congress felt President Lincoln's and President Johnson's plans to reconstruct the South were too lenient. Congress took control of Reconstruction from Johnson, sought to break the power of the southern planters, and ensure the freedmen's right to vote. During Reconstruction laws and Amendments were adopted to ensure African Americans rights and opportunities. Unfortunately, those rights and opportunities were for the most part lost after Reconstruction ended.
Lincoln wanted to quickly restore the Union. In a speech in 1865 he said "With malice towards none, with charity toward all...let us strive to bind up the nation's wounds." Republicans in Congress felt his plan was too lenient and rejected it. Congress and Lincoln were able to agree on the creation of the Freedmen's Bureau. It provided food and clothing to former slaves and set up schools to educate them. Lincoln was assassinated and his Vice President, Andrew Johnson became President.
Johnson's Reconstruction plan was also seen as too easy on the South by Republicans in Congress. Radical Republicans wanted to take control of Reconstruction from President Johnson. Although under his plan the 13th Amendment, forbidding slavery, was ratified, his plan also allowed former Confederates to remain in power in the South and even to be elected to Congress. After the election of 1866, Radical Republicans in Congress took control of Reconstruction. The period of time that the Radical Republicans were in control of Reconstruction is know as Radical Reconstruction.
The South underwent many changes during Radical Reconstruction. Radical Republicans worked to achieve two additional goals - to protect the rights of freedmen, particularly the right to vote, and to break the power of the southern planters. The Civil Rights Act of 1866 and the 14th Amendment made freedmen citizens. The 15th Amendment granted African American men the right to vote. Efforts were made to broaden the southern economy by building up industry - after Reconstruction these new industries came be known as the "New South." Republicans came to power in the southern state governments. They were opposed by white Conservatives, who worked to regain control. The Ku Klux Klan, a terrorist hate group, tried to deny African American rights by committing acts of violence against them and others. By 1877, Republican control had ended in the South.
After Reconstruction ended, African American lost rights and opportunities. Jim Crows laws established segregation, the legal separation of the races. The Supreme Court case Plessy v. Ferguson upheld those laws. Poll taxes, a tax paid to vote, and literacy tests, which required voters to explain a passage of the Constitution, were used to prevent African Americans from voting. The system of sharecropping kept many Africans Americans locked into a cycle of poverty and dependent on the former planters.