Analysis of the Three Plans For Reconstruction Essay
The American Civil War, lasting from 1861-1865, was the most severe military conflict the country had seen; it involved the United States of America (the Union), and eleven secessionist Southern states (the Confederate States of America). The war was the upshot of decades worth of political, social, and economic conflict between the agricultural South, which produced mainly cash crops such as cotton, tobacco, and sugarcane, and the industrial North. The South depended on its four million slaves for its social and economic livelihood, whereas the North despised slavery as immoral and illegal. Even before General Lee’s surrender in 1865, the federal government was confronted with an acute dilemma, how to reunite the country. First Lincoln, then Johnson, and lastly Congress, imposed their ideas of how best to restore the Union, that is to say properly execute the task of Reconstruction.
Reconstruction was initiated by incumbant President Abraham Lincoln before the war ended. On December 8, 1963, Lincoln revealed his rather extremely lenient Reconstruction plan. He proposed to grant a pardon to any confederate (excluding high-ranking officials), who would swear their allegence to the Union and accept the end of slavery. If ten percent of the 1860 voting population had taken the oath, that state would hold a constitutional convention. If the delegates had written a state constitution endorsing the 13th Amendment, that state could be re-admitted to the Union.
Andrew Johnson, President Lincoln’s Vice President, and successor after his assasination in April of 1865, unveiled his own Reconstruction plan on May 29 of the same year.
Johnson’s plan, which closely resembled Lincoln’s, said the President would appoint a governor to each state (after ten percent of the 1860 population took the oath Lincoln had prescribed in 1863), who would convene a constitutional convention. At this convention, the state had to write a new constitution, void secession, abolish slavery, ratify the 13th Amendment, and stop the payment of war debts. If given a pardon by the President, former Confederate officers and persons owning land worth over $20,000, could vote. Johnson felt that under his plan, Reconstruction would take a few months; in fact, the belief that his plan was too lenient towards the South -he granted 13,000 pardons in 1865 to former Confederates- seemed to make the idea of a swift Reconstruction at best, improbable. However, the Black Codes imposed by the Southern State governments, as well as the stiff resistance to Reconstruction, infuriated the North. The Black Codes aimed to stifle former slaves’ freedom by hindering their economic options through debt peonage, sharecropping, tenant farming, vagrancy laws, and curfews; in a phrase, “slavery by another name.
Congress decided to punish the South for their continuous resistance to Reconstruction by scrapping Johnson’s failing plan, and establishing Congressional Reconstruction. Congressional Reconstruction was by far the most vindictive, and therefore most loathsome to the South. Over the course of ten years, Congress passed the 13th Amendment (abolishing slavery), and established the Freedmen’s Bureau in March of 1865 (providing food, medical aid, and education to freed people). It passed the Civil Rights Act of 1866 (granting citizenship to blacks, and authorizing the federal government to protect their rights), the 14th Amendment ratified in 1868 (solidifying the Civil Rights Act by defining citizenship and guaranteeing equal protection under the law), and the Reconstruction Acts in 1867. The Reconstruction Acts established Radical Reconstruction, namely by dividing the South (excluding Tennessee) into five military districts, headed by northern generals. Once fifty-one percent of the voting population had taken an oath to the constitution, all qualified voters (including blacks) could elect delegates to the constitutional convention.
Congress continued to use its momentum to further punish the South by ratifying the 15th Amendment in 1870 (determining that voting rights would no longer be denied due to race), passing the Klu Klux Klan Acts of 1871 (outlawing organizations that deny blacks their rights), and lastly, passing the Civil Rights Act of 1875 (protecting blacks rights in public places).
The political, economic, and social effects of the three Reconstruction plans differed exponentially. Lincoln’s plan was the most lenient, and therefore feasable of the three (to the South), despite the Republican pressure for more severe terms. .