The civil war left indelible scars on the history of Arkansas, which deranged the recovery process. Prelude to war, (late 1850s) Arkansas’ economy had blossomed due to the prevalence of the slavery regime that enabled subsistence agriculture. The state produced cotton on a large scale, which was boosted by the escalating prices of the crop. This upward trend was expected to hold steady throughout the next decade but the dream was dispelled by the horrendous war. The issue of slavery was hotly contested as many of political leaders endorsed the “southern rights” while most of Arkansans did not. The subject of slavery increasingly spurred tension in the state, which was exacerbated by the election of Abraham Lincoln, who was committed to eliminating slavery expansion. War broke after attempts to secede from the United States, which disrupted the state’s civil society. Most officeholders were unable to perform their duties and therefore, most cases went unheard and taxes were not collected. By the end of the war in 1865, over 10,000 lives had been lost. Reconstruction was the most intense and controversial phase in the history of Arkansans.
Reconstruction in Arkansas began in 1863 with President Lincoln’s Proclamation of Amnesty and Reconstruction. However, the efforts to unite the nation were subdued by the death of the President in 1865 (Deblack). Governor Murphy focused on promoting reconciliation and returning the state to the union. Since slavery had been eliminated, the planter elites were forced to negotiate for the labor of their previous slaves. Sharecropping labor system was also established to guide contracts between laborers and land owners to ensure laborers were not exploited again (Deblack). Bureau of Refugees, Freedman, and Abandoned Lands, a federal organization, supervised tasks between planters and laborers, as well as overseeing the delivery of basic needs to former slaves. This arrangement enabled the state to return to cotton farming although poor harvests were experienced during the first years. On the other hand, the formation of Congressional Reconstruction in 1867 thwarted the fortunes of the prewar political elites (Staples 167). Five military districts were formed from the seceded stated, whereby each district was governed by a military officer. These districts were required to develop new constitutions and most of prewar confederates were barred from participating in the process or hold office. In the beginning of 1868, seventy delegates met in Little Rock to establish a new constitution that primarily addressed civil and political rights of black Arkansans (Staples 167). The Fourteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution was implemented, which officially marked Arkansas’ return to the union in June, 1868.
Powell Clayton was elected under the new constitution and he embarked on building the Republican Party. Clayton had been a Democrat before but was drawn away by the growing hostility against Blacks and Unionists. Paying scant attention to Reconstruction, Clayton used his mandate to appoint and establish a loyal base of followers across the state (Staples 170). Weakened by the Republicans, Arkansas Democrats formed the Ku Klux Klan to help restore the control of the state government they once enjoyed. The Klan later engaged in terrorism, intimidating and killing Blacks, Republicans, and the Unionists in the South. The violence prompted Clayton to organize state militia and implemented martial law across fourteen counties. The martial law was only abolished after Clayton was satisfied that law and order had been regained in the counties. The militia war finally ended in 1869 when civilian control was restored (Staples 171).
The restored order set a platform for the Republicans to implement measures to foster and diversify the state’s economy. The plan made tremendous achievements including the establishment of free public schools, the launch of a public university at Fayetteville, and expansion of railroad track (Moneyhon). Railroad companies promoted economic diversification in the sector of agriculture by encouraging people from the Midwest to plant other crops like hay and forage crops. Additionally, cotton farming was also enhanced through market accessibility. Coal fields, upon the expansion of railroad, were opened and by 1900. Arkansas generated two million tons of hard coal (Moneyhon). The growth of commercial agriculture, the mining and timber industries, as well as the expansion of railroad boosted the manufacturing sector of Arkansas. Politics, protest movements, and state finances also enhanced the social and economic trends of the state. While reconciliation had been achieved, the broader social changes altered race relations whereby Whites and Blacks remained segregated (Moneyhon). Nonetheless, Reconstruction in Arkansas worked despite the experienced hiccups.
Reconstruction in Arkansas instigated social, political, and economic changes across the state. The phase was characterized by the establishment of mass market and the economic development. The major players included President Lincoln, Governors Murphy and Clayton, and other Republican leaders who committed to restoring law order in the state despite intimidations from the Democrats. A system of free public schools was established while railroad track was expanded. The economy of the state was diversified, through planting of different crops, paving way to commercial agriculture. Commercialization of these crops was also enhanced by the improved transportation systems. While Reconstruction in Arkansas faced major setbacks politically, the process worked.
Deblack, Thomas, A. “Civil War through Reconstruction, 1861 though 1874.” The Encyclopedia of Arkansas History & Culture. 5 Sep. 2018. http://www.encyclopediaofarkansas.net/encyclopedia/entry-detail.aspx?search=1&entryID=388. 8 Oct. 2018
Moneyhon, Carl. H. “Post-Reconstruction through the Gilded Age, 1875 through 1900.” The Encyclopedia of Arkansas History & Culture. 18 Sep. 2018. http://www.encyclopediaofarkansas.net/encyclopedia/entry-detail.aspx?search=1&entryID=402. 8 Oct. 2018.
Staples, Thomas, S. Reconstruction in Arkansas, 1862-1874. Columbia University, vol, 109, pp. 160-172. 1923. https://archive.org/stream/reconstructionin01stap/reconstructionin01stap_djvu.txt. 8 Oct. 2018.