Lesson 1: The Battle Over Reconstruction: The Aftermath of War

As the Civil War drew to a close, the social, political and economic conditions within the rebellious southern states fueled discussion about how to restore them to the Union. This lesson plan will examine the nature and extent of some of these social, political and economic conditions and how they influenced the early thinking about and attempts at restoring the southern states to the Union. Students will consider the economic and material impact of the Confederacy’s defeat with the assistance of an interactive map that combines statistics and data with the thoughts and ideas of the people living through this difficult period. In coming to understand the physical and political devastation of the war, students will have a basis for better appreciating the challenges facing the nation as it worked toward devising a workable solution for Reconstruction.

Beyond the obvious material destruction, there was more to reconstruct in the South than buildings, farms, manufacturing and railroads—there were social and political relationships to rebuild. With that in mind, this lesson will consider the impact that secession, war, and defeat had on the social and—to some extent—the political status of the southern states. In what sense were southern states connected to the Union after the surrender at Appomattox? Would public opinion in a fractured and wounded nation move the political drama of restoration toward vengeance, mercy, or some combination of these? Would the smoldering resentments in a devastated South lead to deeper and further divisions, or was there room for reconciliation and acceptance of social change. Students will also examine the impact of public opinion upon the rights of former slaves. What would be the status of these newly freed slaves? Upon completing this lesson, students will begin to see the outlines of a constitutional crisis (covered extensively in Lesson 2 of this unit) that ultimately would lead to the impeachment of President Andrew Johnson as Congress struggles to direct and control Reconstruction policy in the face of an executive emboldened by the strength of wartime powers and a legacy of popular support.

Guiding Questions

How did the experience of social and political upheaval of the Civil War influence people to think about the process of Reconstruction?

Learning Objectives

Describe the general character of the social conditions within the nation in the aftermath of war.

Demonstrate their ability to navigate through a statistical map interactive and use information gathered there to inform their understanding of the political, social and economic crisis confronting the nation during Reconstruction.

Distinguish the central and driving ideas at work in original documents surrounding Reconstruction and be able to discuss their impact on events.

Identify specific problems that may have emerged given the attitudes and conditions prevalent in the defeated South.

Discuss how these attitudes and ideas may have helped or hindered Reconstruction.