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Lincoln and Johnson vs. the Radicals Essay

The Civil War, which lasted up until 1865, was the bloodiest battle that this Nation had ever faced. Making it even sadder was the fact that this Nation was divided, North against South, and brothers were killing brothers, fathers killing sons. It was indeed a tough time for President Lincoln who was sworn into office in 1861. He needed to end the war and figure out a way to bring peace and rebuild the Nation. In order to end the war he devised a plan to free all slaves in the eye’s of the government, and on the first day of the year in 1863 he announced his “Emancipation Proclamation,” declaring all slaves owned under the Confederacy to be now free men. The Confederacy was beginning to crumble; Southern cities were destroyed and the Southern economy was in ruins.

Lincoln now focused his attention on the idea of Reconstruction, and reuniting those Southern States back into the Union. It would not be easy for Lincoln, however, as he faced far different ideas than his, proposed by the Radical Republicans, led by Pennsylvania Representative Thaddeus Stevens and Massachusetts Senator Charles Sumner. Despite being the Republican nomination for President, Lincoln was far more conservative than those Republicans taking the majority of seats in Congress. In December of 1863, before the war had officially come to a close, Lincoln began to devise his Reconstruction plan, which at the time was considered to be very lenient by those of the Union. His plan was very compassionate toward white southerners, except for major leaders of the Confederacy.

He needed those Confederate Army generals and high-ranking officers to take an oath of loyalty to the Union, and verbally accept the Nation’s abolition of slavery. Lincoln’s plan was to institute new state governments in the South, under control of those southerners who had not aided to Confederacy. Lincoln also had the idea of granting voting rights to those freed African Americans who were educated, owned land, or had participated in the fighting for the Union. Under Lincoln’s plan, three southern states (Louisiana, Arkansas, and Tennessee) acknowledged the abolition of slavery, formed new Union-loyal governments, and were ready to be readmitted completely into the Union.

The Radical Republicans were not pleased to the slightest with Lincoln’s plan. They demanded much harsher penalties for seceding the Union, and they refused to seat the representatives from those three states, reconstructed under Lincoln’s plan. Because they were so displeased with Lincoln’s leniency, they pushed what is known as the Wade-Davis bill through Congress in 1864. This bill instituted a temporary governor, from the North, to each of those 11 Confederate states. When the majority of men residing in those states had pledged their allegiance to the Union, the governor was to hold a “constitutional convention,” where only men who had never fought against the Union could elect delegates to represent them in Congress. Once this was accomplished, the new state governments had to acknowledge the total abolition of slavery, disenfranchise Confederate leaders, and pay off all of their war debts, mainly owed to England.

After all of this, and only after all of this, could those southern states be readmitted into the Union. Dissatisfied with the Radicals bill, Lincoln overrode their authority with a “pocket veto.” As you would assume, the Radicals were utterly outraged with Lincoln’s actions, and demanded that Lincoln accept some of their ideas proposed by the Wade-Davis Bill. Unfortunately, we will never know how the President would have negotiated terms with those Radical Republicans. On the night of April 14th, 1865, Lincoln was shot from behind while watching a play with his wife, and died early the next morning. Andrew Johnson, Lincoln’s vice President, became the Nations new President shortly after the assassination. Johnson, who was originally a democrat, was now faced with the issue of Reconstruction, and like Lincoln, took a more moderate approach. While Congress was out of session in the summer following his launch into Presidency, Johnson quickly began to “Restore” (as he like to call it) those southern states back into the Union.

His plan was very much like the Wade-Davis Bill in which he instituted a temporary governor to those southern states and had the governor allow qualified voters to elect delegates to represent them in Congress. When Congress came back into session in December, they began almost immediately to refuse seats to those elected delegates. Even though Johnson’s intentions were very similar to their Wade-Davis Bill, those Radicals were angered by the fact that most southerners still wished for slavery even though they took an oath against it. Many Confederate generals being voted in as Representatives in Congress also angered the Radicals. So they shot Johnson’s plan down, plain and simple. The Radicals began to gain more and more power in Congress due to several factors. First, Black Codes began to arise in southern states which authorized sate officials to apprehend unemployed blacks for vagrancy, and hire them out to mostly plantation owners in order to pay off their vagrancy fines.

This angered many northerners as is basically violated southern states oaths of African American freedom. This caused Congress to pass the first Civil Rights Act, which gave the federal government the right to intervene in state affairs if blacks were not given appropriate rights. Johnson vetoed this bill but was easily overridden by the all-powerful Radical Congress. Next, Congress devised the 14th Amendment to the Constitution. It stated that all people born or naturalized in United States territory are considered citizens, and penalties would arise for states that denied the right to vote to any male citizens. It also stated that former Confederate officials were prohibited from holding any state or federal position unless they were pardoned for their treasonous Civil War crimes by two-thirds of Congress. Any state that ratified this 14th Amendment would be readmitted into the Union. Tennessee was the only state to ratify and be readmitted right away.

Finally, those ten states that were still outstanding from the Union were divided into five different “military districts.” A military commander was assigned to each district and was responsible for registering citizens to vote (black males, and those whites who had not bore arms against the Union). Voters had to elect government bodies who would write their new state constitution, and have it passed by Congress. And finally, after all that, the state had to ratify the 14th Amendment. All but Virginia, Texas and Mississippi had reunited with the Union by 1868 and finally by 1870 those last 3 states were reunited only after ratifying 15th Amendment in addition to the 14th one.

Alas, the Union was rejoined, blacks now had their freedom and right to vote, and peace was beginning to take presence. When we look at the similarities proposed by Lincoln and Johnson, we see that both men were in favor of leniency for those southern states. Lincoln only felt it was necessary for Confederate leaders to take an oath of loyalty as opposed to the Congressional decision that Confederate leaders needed to be pardoned by two-thirds of Congress (Which would likely never happen as Radicals held so much power in Congress) in order to take part in state or federal legislature.

It is clear that Johnson also opposed this idea, and leaned toward Lincoln’s plan, in the way he vetoed Congress vigorously. This similarity in ideas between Lincoln and Johnson is also a major difference between the presidents and Congress’s final decision. Unfortunately for Johnson (and Lincoln), and the rest of the moderate northerners, his veto was no match for Congress. A key similarity between the presidents and Congress though, was the issue of African American rights. The final Congressional plan involved a federal Civil Rights Act and two new Constitutional Amendments, in order to protect the rights of African Americans. Lincoln obviously believed in equality when he delivered his Emancipation Proclamation, and stated that educated, land-owning, or allied blacks should be given the right to vote.

And based on Congresses final decision, I would say the majority of people from the south who were qualified to vote on the new state governors were probably African Americans. In conclusion, when comparing the presidential Reconstruction plans, with those actually put into play by Congress, the main difference falls within the idea of leniency vs. anger. The presidents wanted the whole ordeal over and the states rejoined, whereas the Radicals wanted revenge on the South for seceding. As to which ideas would have worked better? It is very hard to say. All that can be said is that eventually, the Radicals gained too much power in Congress for the presidents to handle, and ultimately an all-powerful republican Congress overruled their ideas.


Brinkley, Alan. “Reconstruction and the New South.” The Unfinished Nation. 6th ed. Vol. 2. New York [u.a.: McGraw-Hill, 2000. 369-83. Print.

35b. Radical Reconstruction.” Radical Reconstruction []. N.p., n.d. Web. 18 Feb. 2013.

“Time Line of The Civil War, 1865.” Time Line of The Civil War. N.p., n.d. Web. 18 Feb. 2013.

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