During Reconstruction, Republicans worked hard to reconstruct the South in the image of the North. Republicans were deeply divided amongst themselves on the most effective policies and ways to enact legislation in the South. It seems clear that while some Republicans, like those at Harper’s Weekly, may have felt a sense of moral duty to protect human rights and reconstruct the South, the main force driving the party’s policies and debates was the need to secure the Republican Party’s dominance. Republicans saw a unique opportunity to rid the South of the Confederate opposition that existed before the war and establish the Republican Party as the most influential and powerful party in the nation. Harper’s Weekly believed it was necessary to expand the Republican Party in order to spread freedom and equality, ideals represented by the Union, to all men. Other Republicans viewed Reconstruction in the South as a unique opportunity to expand the Republican Party and secure its national dominance. This rift in the party’s policies and unwillingness to compromise greatly affected reconstruction efforts in the South. Legislation attempted to exert one side of the party’s goals or the other, creating a confusing and sometimes counterproductive hodgepodge of ideas, goals, and direction for the Southern states.
The debate of voting rights created a lot of the divisions and tensions within the Republican Party. There were major questions about the effectiveness of enfranchisement and disenfranchisement and how the legislation passed to correct these problems fit with each side’s views on the debate of states’ rights versus national authority. Conservative Republicans believed in courting potential white voters in order to strengthen the party nationally. Part of this courtship meant supporting the beliefs held by white voters, such as emsuring a limited role for African Americans and an increase in the power of citizens to dictate what happened in their own states. Radical Republicans, many North Carolina Unionists, and those at the Harper’s Weekly had vastly different goals from their conservative counterparts. They wanted to protect African Americans and expand their rights, even if that meant alienating Southern whites from the Republican Party. They believed that the best way to achieve their goals was through the extension of federal powers. They wanted the federal government to dictate every aspect of Reconstruction on the Southern states and ensure the Southern opposition could not enact policies that ran counter to their own. Both sides of the party realized the importance of suffrage for their goals and worked hard to craft their policies around it. In the end, North Carolina fell back into the hands of former Confederates, signaling the Republican Party’s failure to successfully reconstruct the state in its own image.