Reconstruction was a period of rebuilding after the War, not so much a physical rebuilding of the war-torn communities but a rebuilding or reconstructing of the Union. Reconstruction represents the political and legal process of rejoining the states and tying up all the loose ends after the war. In some ways, Reconstruction continued the war but with political fighting rather than physical fighting. The federal government had several central questions that remained after the war that needed to be resolved:
- What to do with the four million former slaves? Were they citizens? Would they have equal political rights?
- What to do with the former Confederate states? Were they equal? Had they actually ever seceded? Did they need to be readmitted into the Union?
- What to do with the former Confederates? Should all southerners be punished? Should Confederate leaders, politicians and military commanders be punished?
Illustration showing the meaning of emancipation to the 4 million freed former slaves
The Three Main Phases of Reconstruction
There were three main phases of Reconstruction
- Wartime Reconstruction, 1861-1865
- Presidential Reconstruction, 1865-1867
- Congressional or Radical Reconstruction, 1867-1877