Contributor: Nathan Murphy. Lesson ID: 13524

The North's plan for reconstructing the Southern states after the Civil War was meant to achieve all they had fought so hard for. Was it a success or a failure? Or something in between?


People and Their Environment, United States

learning style
Auditory, Visual
personality style
Grade Level
High School (9-12)
Lesson Type
Dig Deeper

Lesson Plan - Get It!

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After fighting an entire war that ended slavery in the United States, Americans sought to put the country back together during what was called the era of Reconstruction.

  • Was this Reconstruction a success or failure?

Let's find out.

Assassination of Lincoln


Only days after General Robert E. Lee surrendered to the Union army, John Wilkes Booth assassinated Abraham Lincoln.

While the Civil War may have been over, Lincoln's pragmatic approach to the challenges facing the country was still needed.

Although he had not been set initially on eliminating slavery completely, Abraham Lincoln recognized that it had to be eradicated so that the nation could move on. However, with Lincoln's death, Vice President Andrew Johnson became the leader of the reconstruction of the South.

Johnson may have been a member of the Republican Party, but as a Southerner himself, he sympathized with the problems White Southerners faced.

  • What problems?

Southern Economy

  • What made the North and the South so different in the first place?

southern states

The hot and humid climate of these Southern states made large-scale agricultural business possible. It was too cold in the North for cash crops like tobacco to be grown, so banking and industry became the means of production north of Virginia.

This difference in climate is what led the South to utilize slave labor so heavily.

Cash crops, ones grown for the specific purpose of selling, were not nearly as profitable and could not be harvested on such a large scale without a cheap and efficient workforce.

When Eli Whitney invented the cotton gin at the end of the 1790s, it altered the Southern economy.

cotton gin

Cotton had never been a cash crop because processing it was far too labor-intensive. The cotton gin, however, encouraged the large-scale transition of the American plantation economy from tobacco to cotton because it made a luxury good efficient to produce.

While other modern-day inventions minimized the need for slave labor, the cotton gin made cotton plantations, which required a large workforce, possible.

By 1860, the Southern economy became reliant on the sale of cotton, and the threat of the abolition of slavery jeopardized every plantation owner in the country.

The practice of slavery was easier for the North to reject because their economy was not dependent on extremely cheap and intensive labor.

Andrew Johnson


Once the Civil War was over, the United States had to reintegrate the defeated states back into the Union.

  • If you were the newly appointed President Johnson, how would you go about doing that?

As you watch President Johnson's Reconstruction Plan, from John Fitz, listen for the answers to these questions:

  • Did he punish Confederate troops?
  • Did he like plantation owners?
  • What was Johnson's primary concern for poor White Southerners?
  • Did he want African Americans to have the same rights as other citizens?

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Andrew Johnson attempted to undermine the legacy of the Civil War by quickly acting as if no conflict had ever occurred.

He wanted Southern states to quickly form new governments so that everything could simply return to normal. However, Republicans in the North were not going to let this happen.



For the first time in American history, the House of Representatives, led by Thaddeus Stevens, moved to impeach the President of the United States.

The argument against Johnson was that he was more concerned with defending the states that had seceded rather than acting on behalf of the nation as a whole.

Saved by a single vote in favor of not impeaching him, Andrew Johnson was not removed from office. However, from that moment on, Johnson accepted that he must act on behalf of the Republican party.

  • What were the plans of the Republican party?

Republican Reconstruction


The 13th Amendment, which banned slavery, was passed during the Civil War. The following year, Congress passed the 14th and 15th Amendments, which gave African Americans equal rights and the ability to vote without discrimination of race respectively.

In order to gain representation in Congress, Southern states were forced to ratify all three of these amendments.

While the Southern economy may have been in shambles, every Black man had gained the right to vote.

To get a sense of the tremendous strides African Americans were able to make in this short period of time, watch Reconstruction: The Vote | Black History in Two Minutes (or so):

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In 1867, 80% of African American men in the former Confederate states were registered to vote.

  • How did this change so quickly?
  • And why didn't it stay that way?

Military Reconstruction

In 1867, the United States Army sent 20,000 troops into 10 of the former Confederate states and enforced military control.

Confederate map

The U.S. military occupied the South until the mid-1870s and successfully imposed the Republican reforms.

In 1875 and 1876, a decade after the end of the Civil War, military challenges by regional militias began to challenge the occupation. When Rutherford B. Hayes became president in 1877, he pulled the troops out of the 10 Southern states.

This immediately started the Jim Crow era in Southern America.

Jim Crow Laws

Reconstruction succeeded only while it was being militarily enforced. However, the presence of troops coupled with a weak local economy fostered resentment against African Americans.

Poor Whites saw all the gains made for Black people as a reduction in their rights and privileges. Violence against both the troops and Black populations began just before the military began to withdrawal from the South.


  • So, what happened once the troops left?

Find out in the Got It? section!

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