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Differing Views On Reconstruction Essay, Research Paper

By 1866, several distinct positions on Reconstruction emerged. These were divided into three opposing camps: Conservatives (democrats), Moderates, and Radicals. The Conservatives believed the South should be readmitted into the Union as soon as possible, but the Radicals and Moderates believed there should be consequences for succeeding.

The question of what those consequences should be separated Radical from Moderate. The answer to this question was as related to how important each side believed it was to enfranchise African Americans into this country (socially, politically, economically, and culturally) as it was in exacting an appropriate punishment for the treasonous South. Although the two Republican factions disagreed on several aspects of Reconstruction policy, they both understood that the Conservative approach to Reconstruction could never be enacted.

The Conservatives lead by President Johnson, believed in a rapid readmission, into the Union, for the defeated Southern states. Johnson?s stipulations were solely that the states ratify the 13th Amendment, and repudiate Confederate war debt (thus making it null and void). A second more controversial measure to the democrat?s plan for rapid reconstruction was the issuing of pardons to former Confederate officials, landowners, and generals. As a direct result of these pardons, former plantation owners? land was returned. The goal of the Conservatives during Reconstruction was obviously to return the South to the social, political, and economic structure of the antebellum period.

The Conservative plans for reconstruction allowed the former Confederate leadership, which led the South to war to regain high ranking political positions. This made the Republicans fearful that the South would eventually move down the path of war with the Union. Furthermore, it also proved to the South that there were no consequences for succession. This was unacceptable to both Moderates and Radicals. In their eyes the South had committed treason and should have to suffer the consequences. However, Johnson never tried any of the Confederate leaders on charges of treason.

The obvious answer to why the Conservatives wanted to enact this policy were because they were the ones guilty of succession. This was their way of protecting their self-interests. Before the war, Conservatives dominated Southern politics. After Southern succession they made up the majority of the Confederate government. However, the less than obvious answer was that they saw preserving the status quo antebellum as the only way to allow the Southern economy to one-day flourish. Considering that many conservatives were former slaveholders they enjoyed some vested interest in preserving the system.

The Conservative plan for reconstruction infuriated the Radicals. If the Radicals were given the right of way then The Civil War would have been fought in vain. Radicals proposed confiscating Confederate land, and distributing it to freed African Americans or poor whites. This, according to the Radicals, was the only way the Southern hierarchical system could be toppled. Confiscation would remove the planter class from the position of power it had held for several hundred years. However, the Radicals also had self-interests in the reconstruction process. They knew that by shifting the power structure from planters to free blacks and white Unionists the Republican Party would remain the dominant one in Southern politics.

The Radicals leader was the fiery Thaddeus Stevens. Stevens pushed for the full equality of African Americans time and time again. He also wanted the South to be reconstructed in the North?s image. Thaddeus Stevens said, in an 1868 speech, we must “hold them like clay in the hands of a potter.” The Radicals wanted to treat the South as if it were a conquered province, not as a part of the Union. The “conquered province” theory called for a military occupation of the South. This, they believed, was the only way to change the social order of the South.

Moderates believed in the “Grasp of War” theory. Richard H. Dana outlined this theory in his 1865 speech when he stated “We have a right to hold the rebels in the grasp of war until we have obtained whatever the public safety and the public faith require.” This called for a military occupation of the South, however Radicals and Moderates disagreed on the idea of land confiscation. Moderates believed that if blacks were given equal rights to whites then they could slowly “pull themselves up by the bootstraps” and gain socioeconomic equality to whites within several generations. Moderates also believed that giving blacks land would make them lazy, this they said would lead to blacks not farming. Moreover, they did not believe blacks deserved the land, because they had not worked for it. Most importantly they believed, that by confiscating Southern lands and giving them to blacks, this would anger former slaveholders and thus make Reconstruction more difficult.

Both Moderates and Radicals shared the philosophy of racial egalitarianism. Moderates and Radicals were staunch supporters of the 13th and 14th Amendments. These factions united when they refused to swear in Southern Congressmen in 1868. This was a defiant measure. At the forefront of the push for Johnson?s impeachment were Radicals and Moderates. The division occurred on the policy of confiscation. Radicals saw it as a way of giving the newly enfranchised African American land to farm while the Moderates saw it as an infringement on Southern property rights. They believed this would only widen the schism between North and South in the aftermath of The Civil War. Lastly, they believed it was against America?s industrious nature to give out land to a people no matter how disenfranchised. Moderates believed that by giving civil rights to African Americans advancement on all grounds (socioeconomic grounds) would one day be possible. Radicals saw the implausibility of Moderate Reconstruction, because it did not consider that African Americans had no way of buying land. Although they had their disagreements both factions of the Republican Party agreed in the wrongs proposed by the Conservative plan for reconstruction.

By 1866, the Radicals, Moderates, and Conservatives disagreed on how to reconstruct the South. Radicals and Moderates believed the South should be reconstructed in the North?s image. However, the Conservatives believed the Southerners should be granted full rights (property, voting, right to hold office etc.). Radicals and Moderates believed there should have been consequences for Southern succession, however, they disagreed on what exactly they should be. The Conservative plan to bring the South back into the Union without having to suffer any consequences for either starting The Civil War or owning slaves was in direct contradiction to the Republican view (Moderate, and Radical alike).

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