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The failure of reconstruction in the era after the US Civil War of the late 19th century can be attributed to four primary factors. The resistance and subsequent violent acts of Confederate loyalists placed many African-Americans and supporters of racial equality in danger. Hundreds of thousands of white plantation owners and freedmen suffered increasing poverty due to war expenses and destruction, disputes over labor contracts, and the increasing dependence on credit. Finally, lack of effective law enforcement and waning national interest did little to prevent the failure of reconstruction.
After the Civil War ended, much controversy and debate surrounded the issues of reunification and reconstruction of the South. Politicians and leaders of the time each had an opinion on how and under what conditions Confederate states should be allowed to rejoin the Union. Dissension, combined with the resistance and violent acts of Confederate loyalists, caused the eventual failure of post-slavery efforts to reunify and rebuild. Repeated violence and strong resistance were both financially and morally draining on the entire country.
As the United States tried to recovery financially during the Reconstruction Era, Southern plantation owners and small farmers were faced with mounting financial struggles. The system of labor required for successful operation of large plantations was in ruins. Disputes over labor contracts, the loss of investments in Confederate bonds, and the move toward cotton as a cash crop all contributed to economic ruin in the Southern states. More farmers, desperate for income from cotton crops and goods supplied by Northern merchants, were forced to purchase on credit or use crops as collateral. High interest rates and several region-wide crop failures plunged many white and African-American farmers into extreme poverty.
Furthermore, while federal regulations provided the legal frame work to give all men equal rights and protection under the law, few mechanisms existed to enforce such laws. Groups of Confederate loyalists were able to freely threaten and harm African-Americans attempting to exercise the rights provided through Constitutional amendments, further contributing to the failure of reconstruction. Costs for reconstruction efforts grew and the more violence that erupted, the less support Northerners expressed. The entire country was ready to shelve the difficult questions raised by the Civil War and return to normalcy, further detracting support for reconstruction efforts.
In short, the failure of reconstruction efforts can be attributed to resistance by Old South supporters, economical conditions, lack of proper law enforcement, and waning interest on the part of Northern supporters of reconstruction. Each factor served to erode the country's confidence in reconstruction efforts and the idealistic support of resources exhausted during this time. By 1877, the failure of reconstruction was fully realized and the entire Reconstruction Era came to a close, leaving issues of racial inequality for future generations to resolve.
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