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Reconstruction Era Essay, Research Paper

The period, in which the United States began to rebuild and unify the Union from 1865 to 1877, was known as Reconstruction. Much of the early work of it dealt with the legal questions of bringing the defeated states back into the Union. Presidents Abraham Lincoln and Andrew Johnson, and also the members of Congress, each had different plans of how Reconstruction should be handled. Each plan was similar and different to each other. But most of all, there were many concerns for how each would be carried out.

Abraham Lincoln favored a lenient Reconstruction policy. By the end of 1863, Union armies controlled large parts of the Confederacy and a Union victory seemed almost certain. Because President Lincoln desired a rapid reconciliation of the warring sections, he issued a general policy of reconstruction on December 8, 1863. Lincoln based his right to make such a policy on presidential pardoning powers granted by the Constitution. Lincoln proposed that all Southerners, except for a few high ranking officials, could reinstate themselves as United States citizens by taking a loyalty oath. Once ten percent of the voters from a rebel state’s 1860 national election took such an oath, a new state government could be formed. Lincoln proclaimed that these new governments had to be “republican” in form, recognize the “permanent freedom” of blacks, and provide blacks with an education. This proclamation did not give blacks the vote. Not only did Lincoln’s “ten percent plan” show his moderation and lack of vindictiveness, but also his political wisdom. Lincoln reasoned that eventually Southern representatives would again sit in Congress, so he wanted to lay the groundwork for a smooth transition by not alienating Southern sensibilities.

Many problems arose from Lincoln s quick acting plan. Congress argued that the plan was too lenient because ten percent of a state s population was not sufficient enough to guarantee the South s loyalty. If only ten percent took oath, what about the rest of the state? Also, many congressmen were concerned by the broad expansion of presidential powers during the war. . Lincoln had assumed more presidential power than any president since Andrew Jackson. Congress believed it had supreme authority over the situation. The strength of Lincoln s plan was that it was a smooth transition and many Southerners accepted it.

After the assassination of Lincoln, Johnson implemented his own reconstruction plan. His plan was much similar to Lincoln s with a few slight differences. The major difference was that Johnson s plan excluded high-ranking Confederates from taking oath, which would have broke the planters power. Also, he had little sympathy for traditional Republican policies such as a protective tariff, the Homestead Act, and a central route for the transcontinental railroad, which was under construction at the time. Most Southerners were relieved of Johnson s polices as more than 13,000 Confederates were pardoned and allowed to manage the South . This infuriated Radicals and most of Congress did not support him or any of his ideas. Without support from Congress, Johnson s plan could never reach its full height.

Congress decided to shift power of the Reconstruction process to the legislative branch. Radical Republicans in Congress took the initiative on reconstruction issues and introduced the Wade-Davis bill in July, 1864. This bill was far more stringent than Lincoln’s plan for reconstruction. According to this bill, only after fifty percent of the citizens of a rebellious state had sworn an oath of allegiance to the Union could reconstruction begin. Congress, not the president, would decide when reconstruction was complete. The Wade-Davis bill also called for the rebel states to repudiate any Confederate war debt incurred. Most radical Republicans realized that if their party were going to remain in power, they would need to guarantee black civil rights in the South. If blacks were given the vote, they would likely vote for the party that had enfranchised them. After President Johnson vetoed the Freedman s Bureau bill, Congress overrode it and drafted the Fourteenth Amendment. Even though most states rejected it, it was still passed in 1868.

Next, Congress passed the Reconstruction Act of 1867. The problem with this was that it did not recognize state governments formed under the Lincoln and Johnson plans. The act divided the ten Confederate states into five military districts. Johnson vetoed this plan was but was overrode by Congress. Congress s strength was that it was under total control of moderate and radical republicans. They could now override any president s veto. They could now accomplish what they wanted to do. Lincoln and Johnson s plans never had enough supporters to actually carry out all of their policies. Both presidential plans both wanted to acknowledge the Confederate states as part of the union under certain circumstances, but Congress wanted it to be carried out more strictly and equally to the citizens of the states.

In conclusion, Congress had the upper hand in the Reconstruction process. Confederate states were readmitted into the Union, but many problems still arose. Many question the success of the Congressional Reconstruction plan. All in all, the country was gradually brought back together in heading toward the twentieth century.

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