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America's History in the Making

Reconstructing a Nation

Theme 1

Reconstruction, the process of integrating the former Confederate states back into the Union, caused political conflicts in both the North and the South.

In a sense, Reconstruction began before the war ended, when Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation of January 1, 1863, freed slaves in the Confederacy, and Union armies controlled more and more Southern territory. Lincoln’s death and the war’s end increased uncertainty about a number of questions: What should be done to protect the rights of the recently freed slaves—and just how far did those rights extend? How, if at all, should former Confederates be punished? Under what conditions would rebel states be allowed to return to the Union? These questions not only divided whites from blacks and South from North—they also proved divisive within groups, such as white Northerners.

Primary Sources