Reconstruction Lesson Plan


            Reconstruction was a time of great change in American society. After the civil war, the nation was divided over how to treat the south. Lincoln’s plan never materialized as he was assassinated. The task of rebuilding the nation was passed on to his  vice president, Andrew Johnson. Johnson’s job would prove to be very difficult for he faced stringent opposition from his own party.  Most students might think that Reconstruction focused only on the ex-slaves, however, party politics and differing goals for the nation's future expressed by northerners complicated this period of reform.   Ultimately, however, the old aristocratic society of the south would be restored.  As a result, newly freed slaves received but a small sense of freedom before they were forced into a new form of economic slavery. Sharecropping and the black codes ended the hope of black equality in this time of societal change. To make the conditions of blacks worse, the era saw the rise of a terrorist group known as the Ku Klux Kan. Within years, the old power structure of the south was back in power and limited the amount of change that would occur in the nation. Despite efforts of Radical Republicans and many moderates to build an interracial democracy in the South, growing concerns with the impact of industrialization--exacerbated by a servere depression--caused the nation’s focus to be shifted and much of the momentum for change ended.

The period of Reconstruction was a significant transition period in American history.  The period witnessed the demise of slavery and much of old south at the same time as the nation's economy rapidly transformed introducing new products and new problems.  Yet, the plight of African Americans continued to deteriorate over the next century, marked by segregation, disfranchisement, and poverty.  It would take a Second Reconstruction in the 1950s and 60s to finally achieve many of the goals of the First Reconstruction.

This lesson plan partially fulfills the following CA History Standard:

1.1 Nation's efforts to realize the philosophy of gov't described in the Constitution.

Issues and Questions Regarding Reconstruction

      Reconstruction issues

   how was S. to brought back into union?

   what kind of society would postwar S. be?

   what was the status of freed people?

   Sig: Students should understand that Reconstruction dealt with several important questions.

Vision of the former slaves

      Freedom from white control

      Reunited families


      Control over their labor

      Sig: That slaves had their own definition of freedom and struggle to achieve it

      Primary Source: “The Late Convention of Colored Men”

    Ex-slaves view of south and their desires

Vision of Planters or Masters

      Need ex-slaves to work on their land

      Written contracts and Black Codes

    Sig.: Indicates how planter were able to enforced these new rules

      Former slaves resisted by changing rules of work and political organizing

    Sig.: Need to understand that planters while powerful did not completely control freed people and that they fought back.

      Primary Source: Mississippi Black Codes

    Shows how these laws operated to control freed people and their labor

  Republican Party and Politics

      Andrew Johnson’s Lenient plan

    Sig.: Students should see that his plan permitted planters to regain power and control in 1865

    Primary Source: Nast’s Cartoons

    Unique insight into how critics view AJ

      Party Politics and Power

    Sig:. Students will see that Reconstruction not simply about the freed people

      Radical Republicans

    Sig.: This group understood that true change in the south meant empowering freed people politically and economically

      Congress and Civil Rights Act (1866)

    expand rights to ex-slaves/ vetoed

    Sig.: Effort of moderate Republicans to force Johnson’s hand

Congressional Reconstruction

      Reconstruction Act of 1867

    New terms for re-admittance and empowered African Americans

    Sig.: Effort of Republicans to forge a interracial democracy in South

      14th Amendment provides constitutional protection

    defines citizenship; equal protection

    Sig.: Permitted federal intervention in states to protect freed people’s rights

      Primary Source: Reconstruction Amendments

    Constitutional effort by Repub. party to safeguard African-American rights

      Black Politics

    Sig.: Indicates efforts of freed people to participate in politics and improve their lives

 End of Reconstruction


    goal to reduce black pol. power by terror

    Sig.: Effort of southern whites, especially planters to reclaim power illegitimately

      Industrialization and North

    1870s labor/capital conflict

    southern Repub pro-labor; northern Repub pro-business

      Compromise of 1877

    Sig.: Officially ended North’s efforts to reconstruct the south and thus betrayed blacks

      Primary Source: Principles of the KKK

    Outlines ideas and attitudes of KKK and political nature of it