Abraham Lincoln

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Abraham Lincoln : biography

February 12, 1809 – April 15, 1865

Reconstruction

Reconstruction began during the war, as Lincoln and his associates anticipated questions of how to reintegrate the conquered southern states, and how to determine the fates of Confederate leaders and freed slaves. Shortly after Lee’s surrender, a general had asked Lincoln how the defeated Confederates should be treated, and Lincoln replied, "Let ’em up easy."Thomas (2008), pp. 509–512. In keeping with that sentiment, Lincoln led the moderates regarding Reconstruction policy, and was opposed by the Radical Republicans, under Rep. Thaddeus Stevens, Sen. Charles Sumner and Sen. Benjamin Wade, political allies of the president on other issues. Determined to find a course that would reunite the nation and not alienate the South, Lincoln urged that speedy elections under generous terms be held throughout the war. His Amnesty Proclamation of December 8, 1863, offered pardons to those who had not held a Confederate civil office, had not mistreated Union prisoners, and would sign an oath of allegiance.Donald (1996), pp. 471–472.

As Southern states were subdued, critical decisions had to be made as to their leadership while their administrations were re-formed. Of special importance were Tennessee and Arkansas, where Lincoln appointed Generals Andrew Johnson and Frederick Steele as military governors, respectively. In Louisiana, Lincoln ordered General Nathaniel P. Banks to promote a plan that would restore statehood when 10 percent of the voters agreed to it. Lincoln’s Democratic opponents seized on these appointments to accuse him of using the military to ensure his and the Republicans’ political aspirations. On the other hand, the Radicals denounced his policy as too lenient, and passed their own plan, the Wade-Davis Bill, in 1864. When Lincoln vetoed the bill, the Radicals retaliated by refusing to seat representatives elected from Louisiana, Arkansas, and Tennessee.Donald (1996), pp. 485–486.

Lincoln’s appointments were designed to keep both the moderate and Radical factions in harness. To fill Chief Justice Taney’s seat on the Supreme Court, he named the choice of the Radicals, Salmon P. Chase, who Lincoln believed would uphold the emancipation and paper money policies.Nevins (2000), Vol IV., p. 206.

After implementing the Emancipation Proclamation, which did not apply to every state, Lincoln increased pressure on Congress to outlaw slavery throughout the entire nation with a constitutional amendment. Lincoln declared that such an amendment would "clinch the whole matter".Donald (1996), p. 561. By December 1863, a proposed constitutional amendment that would outlaw slavery was brought to Congress for passage. This first attempt at an amendment failed to pass, falling short of the required two-thirds majority on June 15, 1864, in the House of Representatives. Passage of the proposed amendment became part of the Republican/Unionist platform in the election of 1864. After a long debate in the House, a second attempt passed Congress on January 31, 1865, and was sent to the state legislatures for ratification.Donald (1996), pp. 562–563. Upon ratification, it became the Thirteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution on December 6, 1865.

As the war drew to a close, Lincoln’s presidential Reconstruction for the South was in flux; having believed the federal government had limited responsibility to the millions of freedmen. He signed into law Senator Charles Sumner’s Freedman’s Bureau bill that set up a temporary federal agency designed to meet the immediate material needs of former slaves. The law assigned land for a lease of three years with the ability to purchase title for the freedmen. Lincoln stated that his Louisiana plan did not apply to all states under Reconstruction. Shortly before his assassination, Lincoln announced he had a new plan for southern Reconstruction. Discussions with his cabinet revealed Lincoln planned short-term military control over southern states, until readmission under the control of southern Unionists.Carwardine (2003), pp. 242–243.