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Robert Kennedy's United States History Class

Learning Objective Two:


Discuss the Presidential plan of Reconstruction and show how its weaknesses led to the Congressional plan of Reconstruction.

In a proclamation on December 8, 1863, Lincoln formulated what was to be the Presidential plan of Reconstruction. The objective of Lincoln's plan was to get the people from the seceded states back into their normal relations with the federal government as quickly as possible.The tool Lincoln would use was his Presidential power of pardon. As stated under the discussion on the Proclamation, Lincoln's main objective was to preserve the Union. He felt that trying to get a pound of flesh from the South in the aftermath of the Civil War would only keep the nation divided longer and would not provide any common good for the majority of Americans. The South would only resist Black equality and thereby delay the healing process of the nation's wounds.   

In using his power of pardon, Lincoln provided for a general amnesty and restoration of property other than slaves to most of those who would take a prescribed oath of loyalty to the Union. Furthermore, when ten percent of the electorate of 1860 took this oath, a state government would be established which Lincoln promised to restore the southern states to the union. They could hold constitutional conventions and draw up and ratify new constitutions that abolished slavery . The people within these states were then prepared to have their state resume its normal place in the federal Union. This would be done after they reconstructed state governments and elected officials to both houses of Congress at the federal level. Lincoln's plan was applied in Tennessee, Louisiana, and Arkansas .

The Congressional reaction to Lincoln's plan was not positive. Congress, which is the judge of its own membership, refused to admit the representatives of the reconstructed states and, in the presidential election of 1864, their electoral votes were not counted.

The Congressional leaders had a plan of their own called the Wade-Davis Bill of July 1864 (will go over in greater detail with the next LO). which carefully retained control of the entire process of Reconstruction in Congressional hands. However the assassination of Lincoln in April of 1865 ended his program and brought Vice-President Andrew Johnson to the White House with the second phase of the Presidential plan of Reconstruction .

Andrew Johnson's rise to the presidency drastically altered the political situation, although, like Lincoln, he viewed the restoration of the Southern states as a presidential , not a congressional, function. •


Johnson was a war Democrat from a seceded state. He had been placed on the same ticket with Lincoln in 1864 to emphasize the Unionism of the Republican party . Like John Tyler in 1841, Johnson was the nominal head of a party of which he was not a member.


Few if any Presidents ever faced a more difficult situation.


Johnson had no personal following with the American people either in the South or in the North .


Nor did he have the prestige that came to Lincoln from the successful conduct of the war. Finally, Johnson had no party organization behind him for he had broken with the Democratic party and had not been fully accepted by many Republicans.


In the beginning, however, some Radical Republicans did rejoice in the death of Lincoln and the accession of Johnson as a quote from Representative George Julian of Indiana indicates: "I spent most of the afternoon in a political caucus and while everybody was shocked at his murder, the feeling was nearly universal that the accession of Johnson to the Presidency would prove a godsend to the country. Aside from Mr. Lincoln's known policy of tenderness to the Rebels...his...views of the subject of Reconstruction were as distasteful as possible to radical Republicans."


Immediately upon his accession to the Presidency, Johnson appeared to be willing to co-operate with the Radicals. Johnson stated that "Treason is a crime and must be punished," but once Congress was out of session he started moving in a sharply different direction.


This was partly because Johnson viewed Reconstruction as a presidential, not a congressional, function. Like Lincoln, Johnson was also self-educated and self-trained, he had a powerful though not well-disciplined mind. Combined with these intellectual qualities were the virtues of integrity, devotion to duty, courage and a belief in a strict interpretation of the Constitution. But at a time when tact and flexibility were called for, he was stubborn and inflexible. Johnson's own blunders isolated him not only from the Radical Republicans but from the party moderates.


As a result of these blunders the Radicals, who were a minority at the outset of Johnson's administration, continued to gain in strength until they became a majority .

After Johnson had settled down to the heavy duties of his new task, he attempted to carry out what he understood to be Lincoln's policy, omitting , however, the ten-percent aspect of his predecessor's program.


He had only two objectives: Union and freedom. He, like Lincoln never subscribed to the Radicals' demand for equality .


On May 29, 1865, Johnson announced his policy on the two basic principles of Reconstruction: (1) pardon and amnesty, and (2) reconstruction procedure.

As with Lincoln's proclamation of December 8, 1863, a limited pardon was extended which excluded various classes such as those who had held civil office under the Confederate government and those who had mistreated prisoners. Johnson also excluded those Southerners whose taxable property exceeded $20,000.


To those excepted from general pardon by Johnson there remained the possibility of special pardon by petition; and much of Johnson's time was occupied in the granting of thousands of these special pardons. In fact, throughout his administration Johnson granted pardons to former Confederates in wholesale lots and even replaced several district military commanders whose Radical sympathies offended him.


During his three years in office, Johnson proclaimed three executive amnesties, each more liberal than the former. As one of his last acts in office on December 25, 1868, Johnson proclaimed was an unconditional pardon for all Southerners (including Jefferson Davis).


In the Reconstruction process beginning with North Carolina, Johnson picked up where Lincoln left off as he proceeded to appoint provisional civil governors in all the Confederate states where Lincoln had not already done so. By December , 1865, regular civil administrations were functioning in all the former Confederate states except Texas. Johnson's purpose was to return the American system to normal. The process involved direct personal cooperation between Johnson and the leaders of state reorganization in the South. Southern delegations conferred with Johnson in person, acquainting him with local conditions , presenting unforeseen problems , and receiving his direct pledges of reconciliation .

In conclusion, the ease and speed with which reconstruction was taking place excited distrust in the North in THREE main areas: Every one of the Southern state conventions rejected Lincoln's and Johnson's suggestion that the vote be extended to a few well educated Blacks; Lincoln and Johnson did nothing to force the issue.


The second problem occurred only during the Johnson administration when many ex-Confederate leaders were elected as officers to the restored state governments. Southern whites chose to office the natural leaders of their section, men who had been prominent in the military or civil service of the Confederacy. For example, the legislature of Georgia elected as their United States· Senator Alexander Stephens, the late Vice-President of the Confederacy.


Congress' final concern was the allowance by Johnson of a series of laws called Black Codes. These were passed throughout the South and restricted Black people to second class citizenship.


Continue on to LO III

What Were the Black Codes?

Q: What was Lincoln's goal for reconstruction?


Q. What were the Radical Republican's goal for reconstruction?