The Reconstruction Era: President Johnson Versus the Radical Republicans

Abraham Lincoln issued the Proclamation of Amnesty and Reconstruction as the Reconstruction plan In 1863, two years before the end of civil war. Lincoln proposed the Ten-percent Plan with a provision requiring the ex-confederate states to rewrite their constitution stating their allegiance to the United States. Those states can be admitted back if ten percent of its eligible voters pledged their loyalty to the Union. Included in Lincoln’s program was the Freedmen’s Bureau. This program was a ederal government agency organized to help the freed slaves and should operate for at least a year.

The Bureau encouraged former plantation owners to rebuild their plantations. To the freed blacks, the agency helped them get Jobs, and they were given food supplies and land. Included also in this program was the supervision in equality In labor and management so that blacks may be treated fairly. Soon after President Lincoln was assassinated, Vice President Andrew Johnson took over as president. The Radical leaders believed that Lincoln’s plan was too lenient (because they wanted 50 percent Instead of ten). Nevertheless, the Moderate Republicans initially supported President Johnson and gave him a chance.

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President Johnson was a pro-slavery Democrat therefore he received much support from the Southern whites. The favor he enjoyed In the beginning from both sides could have probably created conceit in him not thinking that the Northerners wanted the South to be in submission, and that they wanted a better situation for the African-Americans. Contrary to the Radical leaders’ conviction, President Johnson Insisted that the Southern states should be left to rebuild themselves in the way they had been always used to.

He readmitted the southern states using Lincoln’s Ten-percent Plan and granted southerners full pardon. Furthermore. he favored the aristocrats by returning all their properties (except their slaves). In fact by 1866, 7,000 Presidential pardons had been granted. In the end, under President Johnson’s approval, many former Confederate leaders (those who participated In the civil war) were eventually allowed to hold government office. To make matters worse, Johnson never confronted issues such as the brutal beatings of African-Americans.

And by being quiet, he favored harsh laws such as the Black Codes, so the whites can assert their upremacy. These Black Codes were laws passed by Southern states in 1 865 and 1866 to inhibit the Black people’s freedom and then force them to work for the plantation owners at very low wages. In these Black Codes law. local authorities where allowed to arrest the Black people and force them to involuntary labor as their penalty. It was like bringing them back to slavery. In South Carolina specifically, discrimination among African-Americans was evident.

They were burdened to pay a special tax if they were not farmers or servants. Public service opportunities were withheld from them such as orphanages, parks, and schools. In response to these, February 18, 1866, Johnson vetoed the bill. That same year the Congress introduced the Civil Rights Act bill and again President Johnson vetoed it. But this time the Radical leaders overturned it. Now the political power struggle between President Johnson and the Congress was clear. But when Radical Republican leaders increased their power in Congress by 1866, President Johnson began to lose his influence.

In 1867 Congress (the Moderate and Radical Republicans combined) amended the Constitution, approved the Fourteenth Amendment and it was ratified July 9, 1868. The amendment was designed to put the principles in the Civil Rights Act into the Constitution. The first part of the amendment entitles citizenship to every person born in the United States (except Indians on reservations). The second part of the Amendment says that if a state denies that equality stated above, that state will be penalized by a reduction of its representatives.

Finally, the third part prohibits former Confederates to be elected to government positions (state or national). Hence, after that, the Southern Unionists (Southerners who supported the Union during the War) ruled over the ex-confederates. In 1867 the South aristocrats were enraged and supported a terrorist counterattack against racial equality and African American political advancement through Ku Klux Klan. They called politicians from the North as “carpetbaggers” who they said had come south to take advantage of their demise.

The Federal government had to intervene through the Military Reconstruction Act. It divided the South into five military districts. This is like putting “teeth” to the Amendment with the help of military force to protect black property and citizens. Finally, blacks, including those who had recently been freed, began to ote without fear and they got elected to government offices. The Congress seemed fully in control towards one goal for the Reconstruction; all- except President Johnson. Congress passed the Tenure of Office Act, restricting Johnson in firing Cabinet officials.

When Johnson persisted in trying to fire Secretary of War Edwin Stanton, the Radical leaders acted to impeach him. The House of Representatives voted to impeach President Andrew Johnson, but the Senate failed to convict him by a single vote. That impeachment was a failure but the process weakened him and from that time on he stopped opposing the Congress. The Reconstruction program as handled by the Radical Republicans was effective in achieving equality and fairness to the newly freed African-Americans.

However, as the years went by, those who led the Radical Republicans–Thaddeus Stevens, Charles Sumner, Wendell Phillips–either have died or have lost their political power. Because of that, the northerners lost their motivation about participating in the reconstruction program. They thought that the emancipation of the slaves was a mistake, and that the right to vote would be enough to protect the rights of the blacks. Moreover, the economic depression of 873 created a shortage in the government’s budget in maintaining federal military occupation of the South.

By 1875, although still part of the government’s agenda, the reconstruction was in essence over. Congress and the radicals grew tired of federal involvement in the South. Soon, military activity was withdrawn in 1877 and this resulted to the rise of white supremacy while the African-Americans where back to being terrorized and downgraded. Most African Americans had no choice but to become agricultural laborers or sharecroppers. The Reconstruction program may in the coming years paved the way towards the realization of the freedom and quality the modern African-Americans enjoy today.

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