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Reconstruction After the Civil War Under Lincoln and Johnson

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By — McGraw-Hill Professional
Updated on Feb 4, 2012

Reconstruction Plans Under Lincoln

Never doubting a Union victory, President Abraham Lincoln began planning for the post-Civil War era long before the war ended. Lincoln knew that a Union victory would mean sweeping changes in the South—the old Confederacy would have to give way to a new society in which blacks and whites were equals under the law, and a new economy that was not supported by slave labor. In 1863, he issued the Proclamation of Amnesty and Reconstruction. It offered a full pardon to all southerners who swore a loyalty oath stating that they would henceforth obey the U.S. Constitution and accept new federal laws that would end slavery. It stated that any Confederate state would be entitled to rejoin the Union and form a new state government as soon as ten percent of its population had taken this oath.

Many members of Congress, especially Republicans, did not like this “Ten Percent Plan”; they thought it took too much on trust. In 1864, they passed a rival Reconstruction plan called the Wade-Davis Bill after its two sponsors, Benjamin Franklin Wade and Henry Winter Davis. This bill required fifty per- cent of each state’s population to take a loyalty oath, and forbade any reconstruction of the government until slavery was abolished. Lincoln would not sign the bill, claiming that it was too inflexible.

However, Congress and Lincoln did agree on the creation of the Freedmen’s Bureau, which distributed food and clothing to the many black southerners who had been set adrift by the abrupt end to the plantation system. The Freedmen’s Bureau also set up schools and hospitals and helped people find jobs.

President Lincoln was assassinated in April 1865, just days after the Confederacy surrendered at Appomattox. John Wilkes Booth killed Lincoln in a misguided attempt to avenge the South—misguided because Lincoln was widely known for compassion and had shown every indication that he would treat the southerners with mercy and justice.

Reconstruction under Andrew Johnson

Vice President Andrew Johnson was as different from Lincoln as could be. Although a self-made man who had never identified himself with the slave- owning class, Johnson was a southerner and a profound racist. He supported the Union, but had no sympathy with or liking for African Americans. Johnson believed that whites should control any Reconstruction government in the South.

A few weeks after taking office, President Johnson pardoned all former Con- federate rebels. He also issued a plan for the southern states’ readmission to the union, with only three requirements:

  • Abolition of slavery
  • Nullification of the 1861 Acts of Secession
  • Forgiveness of any Confederate government debts to individuals

Former Confederate leaders retained a great deal of power under Johnson’s plan. They took over the new state legislatures, where they could pass any laws they liked. Not surprisingly, they passed a variety of laws that constituted a blatant attempt to reestablish slavery in fact if not in name.

Black Codes, as these new laws were called, varied by state, but they all had the same goal: to deprive freedmen of their civil rights. Black Codes banned African Americans from voting, serving on juries, owning guns, or traveling without permits. They segregated the school systems. They passed local laws limiting freedmen’s eligibility for jobs other than field labor. Mississippi even refused to ratify the Thirteenth Amendment, which abolished slavery through- out the nation when it was ratified in 1866.

Practice questions for these concepts can be found at:

Reconstruction and the Civil War Practice Test

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