Reconstruction: America After the Civil War
Hour One

Reconstruction | Part 1, Hour 1

The aftermath of the Civil War was exhilarating and fraught, hopeful and violent. Four million newly freed African Americans faced the future untethered from the old plantation system, with few rights or protections and surrounded by a war-weary and intensely resistent white population. But for all that, the prayers of generations were being answered: before them was the chance to build new lives and reconnect with family members torn away under slavery.

Black people – soldiers in particular - had played acrucial role in saving the Union. Now, as the country grappled with the terms and implications of Reconstruction, they struggled to breathe life into their hard-won freedom. They could expect little from Abraham Lincoln’s successor, a pro-Union Southerner with little sympathy for the formerly enslaved. Within a few months of war’s end, President Andrew Johnson’s lenient treatment of former Confederates had incited a powerful response among Northerners, especially the Republicans in Congress. The result was tantamount to a second American revolution, in which former slaves and their allies forged new meanings of freedom and citizenship. In the first presidential election after the Civil War, African American men voting for the first time in the South help send Republican war hero, Ulysses S. Grant, to the White House.