In 1865, the Civil war was finally brought to an end. The five years of war was the nation's most devastating and wrenching experience. Although the Union was saved and slavery had ended, the South being defeated and occupied by union forces was ruined and in a state of disaster. Public structures, private homes, and farm buildings had been burnt, rail road tracks uprooted, cotton gins wrecked, and the earth scorched in many sections of the defeated land. The nation's next task was to rebuild the ruined South and the government's plan to do this is known as Reconstruction. In the South Reconstruction meant rebuilding the economy, establishing new state and local governments and establishing a new social structure between whites and blacks.

During the war Lincoln had expanded his presidency. With his power he hoped to set up loyal governments in the Southern states that were under Union control. Lincoln appointed new temporary governors and instructed each to call a convention to create a new state government as soon as a group of the state's citizen totaling 10 percent of the voters in the 1860 presidential election had signed oaths of loyalty to the Union. Under this plan new governments were formed in Louisiana, Tennessee and Arkansas but the Congress refused to recognize them.

Republicans in Congress did not want a quick restoration, for the reason that it would bring Democratic representatives and senators to Washington and in 1864 Congress passed the Wade-Davis Reconstruction Bill. This bill would have delayed the process of rejoining the Union until 50 percent of the people took an oath of loyalty but Lincoln pocket vetoed the bill. Abraham Lincoln was assassinated just as the South surrendered in April 1865, and then Andrew Johnson inherited the problem of Reconstruction. Johnson supported Lincoln's plan after taking office. Enough Confederates signed these oaths to enable the immediate creation of new governments. Johnson required that the new states ratify the 13th Amendment freeing the slaves, abolish slavery in their own constitutions, discard debts incurred while in rebellion, and declare secession null and void.

The Radical Republicans reconstruction plan included the passage of the 13th Amendment and established the Freedman's Bureau. The Freedman's Bureau is an agency of the Federal government set up in 1865 to help former slaves and other persons suffering from the effects of the Civil War. This reconstruction plan also included passage of a Civil Rights bill and the 14th Amendment (all of these were opposed by Johnson). Andrew Johnson had opposed Radical Reconstruction and had many vetoes overridden. Congress tried to reduce his power through the Command of Army and Tenure of Office Acts.

The Command of Army act took away some of the president's power as Commander and Chief of the Army and the Tenure of Office Acts said the president could not remove a federal official without the Senate's agreement. In 1868 Johnson was accused of violating the Tenure of Office Act and was impeached by the House. At the Senate trial he was acquitted by one vote. At the end of the Reconstruction period Southern Democrats (including many ex-Confederates) were gradually winning home rule. Whites regained total control by 1877 when troops were removed. Restrictions were put on blacks political rights and eventually laws were passed that discriminated against blacks, these were called 'Jim Crow Laws'.

The Ku Klux Klan founded in 1866 to keep blacks from voting, had been controlled by the army, but now was free of that control (though it actually reached its peak of power in the 1920's)..