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. Johnsons 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 democrats 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 Norths 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 .