AP American History
The President versus Congress
The President and congress both had different reconstruction plans for the south. These different arguments were based on different beliefs and different self interests. The President firmly believed on a soft-on-south reconstruction plan while congress believed that the south should be economically, socially, and politically reconstructed.
Both President Lincoln and President Johnson both believed that the war was fought over the succession of the south and because the north won, the south never actually succeeded. This resulted in their reconstruction plan to be very kind to the south.
They required for each southern state to have 10 percent of their voters pledge allegiance to the union. This plan allowed for the southern Black Codes. These were instituted to keep the blacks as a cotton labor force as well as an inferior race. If the south followed this plan then they would be rejoined into the union.
Congress’s reconstruction plan for the south was much more rigorous. The congress didn’t believe that 10 percent allegiance was enough, so they urged for that number to become 50 percent.
Also, the republican dominant congress believed that the south’s reconstruction should give greater manhood suffrage towards blacks. Also, congress feared that now that the south had rejoined, republicans no longer would be the dominant political power in congress. Under the Presidents plan the southerners would have been allowed to rejoin congress, taking power away from northern congressman. So, to solve all of these problems congress instituted the 14th Amendment. In this Amendment ex-slaves were made citizens, states could no longer deny eligible citizens the right to vote, those who rebelled no longer could hold office, and debts incurred in aid of rebellion are void. Congress used this Amendment to deprive many southerners of political power as well as to try and reform the south socially.
Also, congress planned their harsh reconstruction with the Reconstruction Act. This act split the south into 5 military districts headed by a Union general. Also, 10s of thousands of Union solders were disfranchised. Finally full manhood suffrage was part of this act. Fearing that one day the congress would be democratically controlled congress also created the 15th Amendment to give suffrage for blacks. This Amendment as well as all of the acts congress committed above were all ways in which congress attempted to socially reform the south.
The reconstruction plan for the President and the reconstruction plan for Congress resulted in the two of them becoming involved in a conflict with each other. This conflict first occurred when the President vetoed the Freedman’s Bureau and the Civil Rights Bill. Although, his veto failed this still angered many congress members. President Johnson continued to battle congress by vetoing nearly every act they made (The 14th Amendment, the Reconstruction Act, etc.). In fact he became known as Sir Veto by many Congress members.
Although, President Johnson believed that he was in the right because congress was committing acts that went against the constitution. For instance, the Supreme Court had ruled in the Ex Parte Milligan case that military tribunals could not try civilians making the Reconstruction Act. The rivalry that existed between Congress and the President grew greater and greater as time passed.
Congress’s policy for reconstruction had many effects on the nation. It left the economy and society scarred for many years but their policies also developed many improvements for the southern blacks. Whether President Johnson or Congress had the better policy for the reconstruction of the south is an issue that is still argued today .