A project of the Butler Center for Arkansas Studies.
Long before the end of the Civil War, U.S. officials began making plans for how to reintegrate the rebellious southern states into the Union. Especially important were questions regarding the status of African Americans in former slave states and their ability to participate in the political and economic life of the South. Three amendments to the Constitution of the United States and accompanying legislation guaranteed the end of slavery, full citizenship, and voting rights for those formerly enslaved. But many former slave owners and vast numbers of other white people had little intention of treating former slaves as equals. It was clear to many in Washington that something more than constitutional amendments and federal policy initiatives were needed to provide protection or political support for African Americans in the post-Civil War South. Thus, federal troops occupied much of the former Confederacy. Those troops attempted to prevent the return to power of the old slave aristocracy and whites-only voting and office-holding. Federal troops also worked to create some level of order. Many areas of the South had never had much law enforcement before the war and had even less because of the destruction and disruption so much of the region suffered during the war. These situations were particularly troublesome in Arkansas, which had only been a state for twenty-five years when it seceded from the Union and joined the Confederacy. The state lacked much of the infrastructure of law enforcement found in some older states and suffered vast amounts of vigilante violence and general lawlessness during the war and thereafter.
The Reconstruction era in Arkansas featured great amounts of anxiety and conflict. The election of Republicans to public office, having been seen throughout the South as the anti-slavery party before and during the Civil War, angered many people in Arkansas who wanted to reclaim as much of the old order as possible, even if that meant regaining control of public offices through extralegal means. As Arkansas historian Tom DeBlack says in the Encyclopedia of Arkansas History & Culture*, "The war, emancipation, and Reconstruction had been truly revolutionary experiences for the state and the region. But the return to power of the antebellum leaders ensured that Reconstruction was, in the words of Mississippi planter James Alcorn, a 'harnessed revolution.' Economic prosperity remained an elusive goal for most of the state’s citizens, and the black population of Arkansas and throughout the South had to wait for a 'second Reconstruction' in the 1950s and 1960s to attain the full civil, political, and educational rights that the first Reconstruction failed to achieve."
This Reconstruction Timeline is a project of the Central Arkansas Library System’s Butler Center for Arkansas Studies. Principal research and writing were conducted by Margaret Justus. Additional contributions by Guy Lancaster, Mike Polston, Brian Robertson, Scout Snowden, and David Stricklin. Design and layout by Scott Kirkhuff.
For more information, see Thomas A DeBlack, "Civil War through Reconstruction, 1861 through 1874," in the Encyclopedia of Arkansas History & Culture.
John S. Phelps was appointed military governor of Arkansas by President Abraham Lincoln in July 1862.
President Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation, freeing – at least in word – all of the slaves in the Confederate states.
Jacob G. Forman and Samuel Sawyer were appointed supervisors of freedmen's affairs in the Helena area on April 18, 1863. The two were charged with the task of leasing abandoned plantations and hiring freedmen to work them.
The position of military governor of Arkansas was abolished.
Federal troops captured Little Rock
Twelve teachers from Chicago, Illinois, were commissioned by the American Missionary Association to open schools for freedmen in Little Rock, Helena, and Pine Bluff.
President Abraham Lincoln presented his "Proclamation of Amnesty and Reconstruction" to Congress. The plan called for the full pardon and restoration of property for all but the highest political and military leaders of the Confederacy. It also provided for the organization of new state governments whenever ten percent of the eligible voters had taken an oath of allegiance to the U.S. government. Finally, the plan specified that the newly formed state governments must accept the emancipation of their slave populations.
A constitutional convention of Arkansas Unionists convened in Little Rock.
Arkansas's third constitution, drawn up under President Abraham Lincoln's wartime reconstruction plan, was ratified.
A Unionist state legislature convened in Little Rock.
Isaac Murphy was inaugurated as Arkansas's Unionist governor.
By the summer of 1864, more than 3,500 freedmen were working on leased plantations throughout Arkansas.
From 1865 to 1869, seventy-nine local Freedmen's Bureau agents, working from thirty-six locations, aided freedmen and white refugees in Arkansas.
The Bureau of Refugees, Freedmen, and Abandoned Lands was established by Congress.
President Abraham Lincoln was assassinated.
The Ku Klux Klan was organized in Pulaski, Tennessee.
The Thirteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which abolished slavery and involuntary servitude (except as punishment for a crime), was ratified.
The Arkansas Supreme Court overturned the "Iron-Clad" oath, which had been passed by the 1864 Unionist legislature. The measure sought to deny ex-Confederates the right to vote.
"Black codes" were enacted by legislatures across the South to limit the freedoms of African Americans. These laws varied from state to state but generally prevented African Americans from owning land, serving on juries, and suing or testifying against whites. The codes also instituted strict vagrancy laws and often manipulated African Americans into unfair labor contracts.
Arkansas's black codes were not as onerous as those of other southern states, but they did prevent African Americans from voting, holding public office, serving on juries or in the militia, and attending schools with or intermarrying with whites. The code did, however, provide some new rights to freedmen, including forming legal marriages, owning property, and entering into legal contracts.
The Civil Rights Act of 1866 was enacted. The act defined U.S. citizenship and stated that all citizens should receive equal protections under the law.
A race riot engulfed Memphis, Tennessee.
The Southern Homestead Act was signed into law by President Andrew Johnson. The act attempted to improve levels of land ownership among freed slaves and poor whites by opening over 46 million acres of public land for sale at reduced prices. The law was repealed in 1876 after only limited success.
In Arkansas, freedmen and their families were settled on 116 tracts of land during the act's existence.
The New Orleans, Louisiana, Race Riot took place.
In the elections of August 1866, ex-Confederates gained control of much of the state, including the legislature. The new legislature, composed of many of the state's antebellum elite, refused to ratify the proposed Fourteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. They did, however, pass the state's first state law providing for tax-supported public schools. The schools were limited to whites, though.
Congress passed the first of the Reconstruction Acts, initiating the beginning of Congressional or "Radical Reconstruction." The acts divided the South – except for Tennessee, which had already been readmitted into the Union – into five military districts and placed them under control of military officials. The acts also laid out the steps former Confederate states would have to take in order to be re-admitted to the Union. These steps included writing new state constitutions, which guaranteed suffrage for all males, and ratification of the Fourteenth Amendment.
More than 2,000 African Americans attended a Union League rally in Helena. The goal of the league, previously a white middle-class patriotic organization in the North, was to raise the political consciousness of freedmen.
Arkansans, minus those who had been disenfranchised under the First Reconstruction Act, voted to hold a constitutional convention and elect delegates. Eight of the elected delegates were African American.
The U.S. House of Representatives impeached President Andrew Johnson in effect over his lenient Reconstruction policies. Johnson was later acquitted by the U.S. Senate.
The legislature ratified a new state constitution created under the terms outlined in the Reconstruction Acts.
The Ku Klux Klan first appeared in Arkansas.
Arkansas was readmitted to the Union.
Powell Clayton, a former Union army general and leader in the state Republican Party, was inaugurated governor.
The Fourteenth Amendment to the Constitution, which granted citizenship to "all persons born or naturalized in the United States," including former slaves, was ratified. The amendment also guaranteed due process and equal protection under the law for African Americans.
Simpson Mason, a Freedmen's Bureau agent, was killed by members of the Ku Klux Klan in Fulton County. Many other agents suffered threats, intimidation, and even physical violence during their tenures in Arkansas.
James Hinds, a delegate to the 1868 constitutional convention and a Republican congressman from Arkansas, was murdered by a member of the Ku Klux Klan in Monroe County.
Former commander of the Union army, Ulysses S. Grant, was elected president.
Governor Powell Clayton declared martial law in ten counties in response to violence against African Americans and members of the Republican Party. It was later extended to four additional counties.
The first African American U.S. senator, Hiram Revels of Mississippi, was seated.
The Fifteenth Amendment to the Constitution was ratified, extending the vote to all male citizens, regardless of race or previous condition of servitude.
Chicot County was taken over by several hundred African Americans following the murder of an African American lawyer there.
Arkansas Industrial University, now the University of Arkansas, opened.
The Freedmen's Bureau was abolished.
An assassination attempt on Republican-appointed Deputy Sheriff John H. Williams initiated the so-called Pope County Militia War.
A political and racial incident known as the Black Hawk War took place between Republicans and local conservatives in Mississippi County.
P. B. S. Pinchback took the oath of acting governor of Louisiana, becoming the first person of African descent to serve as governor of a U.S. state.
In 1873, there were twenty African American men serving in the state legislature. Many more served as officials at the county and local level. Two others, Joseph C. Corbin and William H. Grey, held cabinet-level state positions.
Democrats regained control of Congress for the first time since before the Civil War.
Joseph Brooks and a group of armed supporters forcibly removed Governor Elisha Baxter from office. Brooks claimed to be the lawful governor following a highly contested 1872 gubernatorial election. The incident ignited what came to be known as the Brooks-Baxter War.
President U. S. Grant officially recognized Elisha Baxter as governor, ending the conflict between the competing sides.
Arkansas's fifth constitutional convention assembled in Little Rock.
Voters ratified a new constitution, elected a Democratic governor, and returned control of the legislature to Democrats by a large margin. These actions essentially ended Reconstruction in Arkansas.
The Civil Rights Act of 1875 was signed by President U. S. Grant. The law guaranteed equal treatment for African Americans in public accommodations and public transportation. It also prohibited the exclusion of African Americans from jury service. The law was declared unconstitutional by the U.S. Supreme Court in 1883.
Branch Normal College, now the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff, opened as an institution of higher learning for the state's African American population.
Rutherford B. Hayes was sworn in as president following the highly contested 1876 election. He removed federal troops from the South, putting an official end to Reconstruction.