How Did White Southerners React to Reconstruction?

In the wake of the Civil War, white southerners reacted in diverse ways to Reconstruction. Supporters of emancipation and of union organized the Republican party in areas where it had not previously operated. Opponents of union and of civil rights for freed slaves faced Reconstruction with varying degrees of resistance, from passive support for the Democratic party to violent terrorism and public lynchings.

Pro-union southerners supported the occupation governments and often stood for office as Republicans. These Reconstruction Republicans were often despised by former Confederates and labeled “scalawags” for their perceived treason. Southerners who had fought for secession and those who refused to return to the Union organized as Southern Democrats and worked to block and frustrate federal efforts at effecting major changes in their states. Some, led by former slave trader and Civil War general Nathan Bedford Forrest, joined the Ku Klux Klan and carried out covert acts of violence that targeted perceived enemies of the South. These “enemies” included scalawags and the so-called carpetbaggers, northerners who came south in the wake of the war. Direct action, including murder, was carried out against former slaves who attended the new schools for freedmen and whose rights were insufficiently protected by the federal authorities.