Reconstruction Means Rebuilding
Laws and amendments by themselves were not enough to guarantee freedom to the former slaves. So, in 1867, Congress temporarily divided the South into military districts to restore order, and as prelude to creating new governments there. It became a time called Congressional Reconstruction. Many Northerners went to the South during this periodto teach, to help with aid programs, to help the state governments get going again, and sometimes to make money for themselves. Those Yankees were known as "carpetbaggers" , because the traveling bags of the time were made of carpet material. Most white Southerners hated the carpetbaggers. And some of the Northerners did take advantage of the South. But most went to help. White Southerners didn't want help from their former enemies. Then Congress passed a Reconstruction Act. Senator Timothy Howe of Wisconsin was overjoyed. He exclaimed, "We have cut loose from the whole dead past, and have cast our anchor out a hundred years."
Once again President Johnson vetoed the act. And, once again, enough votes were gathered in Congress to pass it over his veto. The act said that to become part of the Union again, each southern state must write a new state constitution that was true to the U.S. Constitution. The act also said that all males over twenty-one could vote, except for former convicted criminals and those who had been leaders of the Confederacy. That meant that many Confederate officers could not vote, but black men could. And the Northern soldiers made sure that black men were able to vote. It was amazing. Men who had been slaves a few years earlier were lining up at the polls . Many were illiterate (about one-fifth of the South's white population was illiterate, too; being illiterate doesn't mean being stupid). John Parrish was a white plantation owner. He wrote: "You never saw a people more excited on the subject of politics as the Negroes of the South. They are perfectly wild."