Lesson Plan: Overview

Understanding Reconstruction in South Carolina

Grade Level: 8th


Academic Standards


Standard 8-4: The student will demonstrate an understanding of the impact of Reconstruction on the people and government of South Carolina .
8-4.3 Summarize the events and the process that led to the ratification of South Carolina’s constitution of 1868, including African American representation in the constitutional convention; the major provisions of the constitution; and the political and social changes that allowed African Americans, Northerners, “carpetbaggers, ” and “scalawags” to play a part in South Carolina state government.
Social Studies Literacy Elements

O. Consider multiple perspectives of documents and stories

S. Interpret and synthesize information obtained from a variety of sources—graphs, charts, tables, diagrams, texts, photographs, documents, and interviews

Historical Background Notes

Certainly one of the most controversial eras in American history, the period after the Civil War saw much of the South faced with economic and social turmoil. This was a time of bitterness and loss, but also a time of hope and empowerment. Much of South Carolina was in ruins, and the state lost nearly one fifth of its white male population. Many whites in the state resented Reconstruction and did not consider those governments as legitimate.

On the other hand, this was also a time of empowerment and hope for a new order, particularly for former slaves and their sympathizers. Tensions flared as struggles for local control pitted Republicans (largely consisting of freedmen, some local whites, and others from the North) against Democrats (or “Conservatives” who consisted almost entirely of local whites). Democrats labeled their white Republican opponents as either scalawags or carpetbaggers. “Scalawags” were those southern whites who supported Reconstruction. “Carpetbaggers” were whites who came from the North to aid in the Reconstruction process. Democrats accused Republicans of corruption and graft, claiming their politics revolved around personal financial gain.

Historian Walter Edgar maintains that the corruption and graft that ran rampant throughout the country during the Reconstruction years “knew neither race nor party label.” The Republican efforts toward public education and public equality shocked and embittered whites, not only for their social implications, but also economic. All landowners in the state faced higher taxes and hundreds of thousands of acres of land were seized for non-payment. A large number of whites in the state never accepted the Reconstruction government as legitimate, and they began a ruthless (and effective) campaign to point out wrongdoings and discredit the Republican regime. The largely black state militia, in and of itself an alarming sight to most whites, was ineffective in quelling white insurgency. Tensions rose, and violence erupted throughout the state (Edgar, 388 (quote), 394-404).

Republican victories across the country during the election of 1868 ushered in a dramatic shift in Reconstruction politics. The passage of the Reconstruction Acts, which allowed blacks to hold office for the first time, began what has been termed as Congressional Reconstruction or Radical Reconstruction. Congressional Republicans worked to enfranchise the black population but prohibited whites that had supported the Confederacy from voting, unless they took an oath of allegiance to the United States. The Reconstruction Acts required that the majority of registered voters in the state vote for or against a state constitutional convention and choose delegates. White Carolinians took the strategy of registering in large numbers and then voting no or boycotting the vote altogether. They preferred living under military rule as opposed to a state government composed largely of black leaders (Fraser, 284; Zuczek, 38-39).

Using the Ohio constitution as a model, the delegates of South Carolina’s 1868 Constitution sought to promote public education and public equality with their new document. These delegates enacted a number of social reforms and gave local government more power, reversing the 200-year-old tradition of centralized control in the General Assembly. As districts became counties, local voters elected a three-man county board of commissioners with budgetary and taxing authority. Four new counties—Aiken, Hampton, Berkeley, and Florence—came into being as a result of the 1868 Constitution (Edgar, 385-388).

Some of the social and political reforms made effective by the 1868 Constitution include the following: Creating a more balanced form of government among the three branches in state government; reorganizing and giving more authority to local governments; establishing a welfare program; providing a means for state-wide public education; and establishing political equality such as removing property requirements for voting rights. While much has been written about the shortcomings of Reconstruction, that reconciliation between the sections and the races ultimately failed, most all of the reforms mentioned above (with obvious exceptions to political and voting reforms) lasted through and beyond the Jim Crow era. Rights for women to own property and obtain divorces were also enhanced during this period. While acknowledging the turbulence and failures of the era, historians Francis Butler Simkins and Robert H. Woody’s classic 1932 book, South Carolina During Reconstruction, emphasized the advances made during the Reconstruction years (Simkins and Woody, 562; Edgar, 386-388).

With all the attempts at social reform and reconciliation, heated political struggles between the two parties raged on, leading to violence in many parts of the state. Led by Edgefield native, Matthew C. Butler, a white Democratic faction within the state legislature enacted the Black Code, which put severe limits on the rights of blacks and attempted to return the racial order to that which existed during the antebellum years. The act virtually reestablished the slave patrol system, as white vigilante groups assaulted blacks and whites that they felt were violating the Black Codes.

In the election for governor in 1876, Wade Hampton supporters, known as Red Shirts, used intimidation, fraud, and violence to ensure a Democratic victory. The hotly contested election between Daniel Chamberlain and Hampton was not decided until the US Supreme Court ruled in his favor in April 1877. Chamberlain would resign, allowing Hampton to take control of the state. Hampton’s election, as well as Rutherford B. Hayes’ controversial national presidential election, marked the end of the Reconstruction era for the state, as the last Federal troops left South Carolina (Edgar, 406).

The physical separation of the races was one of the most profound consequences of the Reconstruction period. The breakup of the plantation system of slavery resulted in white and black Carolinians separating and building communities and institutions largely apart from each other. Custom would become law as the 1895 State Constitution laid the groundwork for legalized racial segregation and it effectively disenfranchised blacks. While there was opposition to Jim Crow legislation, most notably by the Charleston News and Courier in 1898, a myriad of segregation laws and customs would become entrenched into the everyday lives of black Carolinians by the early 1900s (Edgar, 448-450; Fraser, 336-338).


  • Overhead projector
  • East Bay Street image
  • Columbia - view from the Statehouse after Sherman
  • Oil lanterns
  • Audio recording of a rainstorm


    Being There integrates ITI theory with the study of Reconstruction. While looking at East Bay Street, Charleston, students write journal entries based on ITI visualization. Teaching Being There takes about two class periods.

    1. Review southerner's attitudes toward Reconstruction.
    2. Set the stage: dim lights, and light oil lamps. Play audio recording of rainstorm.
    3. Using the overhead projector, show students the East Bay Street image. Have students imagine they are seeing East Bay Street from their windows c. 1877.
    4. Have students write about growing up during Reconstruction. Guide students with the following prompts:
      • What feelings does the East Bay Street image evoke?
      • Use sensory details and figurative language when writing about feelings evoked by the East Bay Street image.
      • Compare feelings to what is known about prevailing southern attitudes toward Reconstruction.
    5. Students share excerpts of their ITI journal entries.
    6. Teachers can repeat the exercise with Columbia After Sherman. Have students compare and contrast what they see in the two images. What does each image say about life after the Civil War? What do the images NOT say about life after the Civil War?

    Student Assessments

    Assessment for Being There is performance-based. Teachers can rate journal entries according to the following standards-based rubric. Student performance can be rated as Unacceptable, Needs Work, Good, or Excellent. Teacher comments may include rationale for marks and suggestions for improvement.

    Examples of Students Work

  • Student Journal, Page 1
  • Student Journal, Page 2
    Works Cited

    Edgar, Walter. South Carolina: A History. Columbia: University of South Carolina Press, 1998.

    Fraser, Walter J., Jr. Charleston! Charleston!: The History of a Southern City. Columbia: University of South Carolina Press, 1989.

    Simpkins, Francis Butler and Richard Hilliard Woody. South Carolina During Reconstruction. Chapel Hill, NC: University of North Carolina Press, 1932.

    Zuczek, Richard. State of Rebellion: Reconstruction in South Carolina. Columbia: University of South Carolina Press, 1996.


    Margaret Wehman
    Summerville, South Carolina