Reconstruction Essay, Research Paper
Reconstruction, the period that followed the Civil War, is perhaps the most controversial era in American history. Reconstruction witnessed major changes in America’s political life. At the national level, new laws and constitutional amendments permanently altered the federal system and the nature of American citizenship. In the South, a politically mobilized black community joined with white allies to bring the Republican Party to power and with it an interpretation of the purposes and responsibilities of government.
Lincoln, Johnson, and Congress’s plans for Reconstruction were all good solutions, but the problems were not in their plans, but in the voters and citizens of the United States. There was a major controversy over whether the President or Congress should establish terms for Reconstruction. President Lincoln was the first to offer a solution for Reconstruction, the Ten Percent Plan. This offered a pardon to all Southerners, except Confederate leaders, who took an oath declaring loyalty to the Union and support for emancipation. When 10 percent of a state’s voters had taken such an oath, they could establish a new state government. Many Republicans deemed Lincoln’s plan too lenient. In 1864, Congress enacted (and Lincoln vetoed) the Wade-Davis bill, which proposed to delay the formation of new southern governments until a majority of voters had taken a loyalty oath. In his last speech before his assassination, Lincoln himself expressed the view that some southern blacks ought to enjoy the right to vote. With Congress out of session, it fell to Lincoln’s successor, Andrew Johnson, to outline plans for the South’s readmission. In May, he issued a series of proclamations that inaugurated the period of Presidential Reconstruction (1865-1867). Johnson offered a pardon to all southern whites except Confederate leaders and wealthy planters, appointed provisional governors, and outlined steps whereby new state governments would be created. Johnson offered blacks no role whatsoever in the politics of Reconstruction. But when southern elections restored members of the old elite to power, he did not modify his Reconstruction plans. When Congress assembled in December 1865, Radical Republicans like Thaddeus Stevens and Charles Sumner called for the annulment of the Johnson governments and the establishment of new ones based on equality before the law and manhood suffrage.
Although these three plans seem totally different, they do have their similarities. Many American citizens thought Lincoln and Johnson’s plans were not strict enough, and surprisingly many of their followers turned against them in order to side with Congress’s theories, which is unlike today’s era of thinking. Many Northern Democrats applauded Johnson’s plan, stating that there would be a quick restoration of states into the Union. This in turn would increase their political power. However, White Southerners were not so impressed with Johnson’s plan, and many rejected more than one of his provisions. The Radical Republicans’ views were different than others because of their favored protection of black civil rights and their liking of land distribution. Most of the time though, all the plans for Reconstruction were different in their own minute way.
I believe that Congress’s Wade-Davis Bill was of extreme importance in the nation’s equality to blacks. By making the majority of voters to pledge loyalty to the Union, black equality was easier to guarantee. I believe Lincoln’s veto of this bill was uncalled for, because it was fairly similar to his own law, the Ten Percent Plan, which would readmit a seceding state if ten percent or its voters took an oath to be loyal to the union. The only difference in these two documents is that Lincoln’s Ten Percent Plan clearly prohibited slavery in each state’s new constitution. I believe that if this was put into effect, that many states would not want to be readmitted to the Union simply because of the slavery clause. Johnson’s plan was more logical, adding new proposals as he went. Some people also think that Congress’s plans were of importance too. I do believe that by revising the Black Codes that Congress tore down all that abolitionists have worked so hard to accomplish- equality of blacks and whites.
Long into the twentieth century, the South would remain the nation’s foremost economic
problem – a legacy not only of slavery, but also of the social and economic changes that began during Reconstruction, and of Reconstruction’s political failure.