After the Civil War, a great question arose. That question was what was to be done with the former Confederate States of Americas (CSA). Although there were a number of ways to address this critical issue, there were three major attempts: Lincoln’s, Johnson’s, and Congress’s. All three of them wanted to politically restore the USA, but did not pay much attention to the economic and social stability of the South. The Lincoln, Johnson, and Congressional plans for Civil War reconstruction all wanted to restore the Union, but they each differed in a few critical aspects.
When the CSA was defeated, two questions arose. Are the formerly seceded states still a part of the Union, and who is responsible for the reconstruction of the country? Each plan answered these questions in its own way.
Lincoln felt that the rebellious states were always a part of the USA; that they had never left. He also felt that it was the President’s sole responsibility to reconstruct the nation. He planned to make his own rules regarding the restoration, and that Congress would not impede upon them. He promised amnesty to all southerners who would make a pledge of loyalty to the United States. He also planned to recognize each state’s government when ten percent of the ante-bellum electorate took the pledge and promised to give up slavery. However, the leaders of the Confederacy were excluded from this process temporarily.
Although Louisiana, Arkansas, and Tennessee began to conform to the President’s terms, Congress found the proposition to be unacceptable. It felt that the proposition didn’t protect freed slaves enough, and was too lax with its punishment. Congress also felt that the Confederate states had left the Union, and were now conquered areas. Congress thought that it was in charge of overseeing the re-absorption of the states.
In July of 1864, the Wade-Davis Bill was passed. It stated that a state wishing to rejoin the union would have to have a majority of its citizens take the pledge of loyalty. In addition, the state must do away with slavery. Confederate officials were also banned from the new government. Lincoln vetoed the bill.
After the assassination of Lincoln, Andrew Johnson began work on his plan for Reconstruction. While Johnson used a number of Lincoln’s ideas, he also added some of his own.. He planned to give amnesty to all who took the oath of loyalty. Again, amnesty would not be given to high Confederate officials, but, unlike Lincoln, Johnson also excluded men who owned property valued at more than $20,000. In addition, a state would need to prohibit slavery for its admittance to the Union, and it would also need to repeal its original secession.
While most of the former Confederate states began to comply with these rules, Congress, which was not in session at the time, reconvened in December, 1865 and refused to seat representatives from the former Confederacy.
On the 18th of December, the 13th Amendment was passed, which banned slavery. Then, in April 1866, Congress passed a Civil Rights Act that gave citizenship to the African-Americans. Johnson, however, vetoed the Act. While Congress passed it over his veto, the Supreme Court deemed it unconstitutional on the basis that it infringed upon the rights of the states that were not represented.
To get around the unconstitutionality of the Bill, the 14th Amendment to the Constitution was created. It defined citizenship, and included African-Americans in it. Tennessee accepted it, but all the other southern states awaited Congressional elections. They were hoping for a more favorable Congress. Unfortunately for them, the Radical Republicans achieved an even greater majority.
On March 2nd, 1867, the first Reconstruction Act was passed. There was to be martial law in the southern states. Now, states wishing to re-enter the Union would need to ratify the 14th Amendment and voting rights for African-Americans. The Omnibus Act was created to allow some states back into the Union. The states that entered at that time were Arkansas, Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, North Carolina, and South Carolina. Georgia reverted back to marshal law however, as they had removed all black representatives from its legislature. Georgia returned to self-government after it ratified the 15th Amendment. The 15th Amendment gave equality to all of the freed slaves. Georgia also had to allow blacks to return to the legislature. By 1870, all states had re-joined the country.
While the Reconstruction Plans were all different, they all had a common goal. They wanted the United States of America to be just that, united. Congress passed numerous laws that restricted the states ability to re-join the Union. However, a number of them were deemed unconstitutional. Lincoln and Johnson called for pledges of loyalty, which were also deemed unconstitutional. The Supreme Court actually ruled that the Union is indivisible an indissoluble so Lincoln was right in that sense. Finally however, the result was achieved and the Union was again whole. If these plans had been more thorough, and paid more attention to Southern economy, the hard feelings that existed for decades between the North and South after the Civil War might not have been so intense. The Civil Rights movement of the 1960’s might not have been necessary either.