Military Reconstruction Act
The U.S. Congress, under the control of the Radical Republicans, passed the Military Reconstruction Act of 1867 on March 7, in spite of President Johnson's veto. This act sought to rebuild the governments of the southern states using the governments of the northern states as examples. It was also implemented to ensure that the civil rights of the free blacks in the South by requiring the states in the South to include the rights of free blacks in their constitutions. The Military Reconstruction Act divided the South into five military districts. Virginia became the first district, North Carolina and South Carolina the second district, Georgia, Alabama, and Florida the third district, Mississippi and Arkansas the fourth district, and Louisiana and Texas the fifth district. These territories were placed under the military control of the United States. The first military commanders had virtually unlimited power. The Military Reconstruction Act also required the southern states to elect new government officials. This is because following the Civil War, the representatives from the South that arrived in the capital to represent their states were the leaders of the Confederacy during the Civil War! The people that had been fighting the Union merely months before had shown up in Washington, D.C. to take their seats in the government. This created many problems because there was too much tension in the government between the southern representatives and the northern representatives. The final term of the Military Reconstruction Act was that the new southern state governments needed to pass the 14th Amendment (which defined citizenship and gave every citizen the right to due process).
The Military Reconstruction Act is important to history for many reasons. This act was a way that the Radical Republicans in Congress could punish the southern states that had previously made up the Confederacy. It was also a way that they could ensure rights for the free blacks in the South. The southern Democrats at the end of the Civil War knew that once slavery was abolished, they would need a new way to control wealth and labor in the South so that they could, once again, be the most powerful and influential people in the South. To do this, they had passed "Black Codes", which limited the rights of the free blacks. These codes were different in each state, and they were strongly opposed by the Radical Republicans. The Military Reconstruction Act was a way that the Radical Republicans could ensure the free blacks certain rights, and also punish the southern states for their behavior before and during the Civil War.