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Andrew Dahl

Professor Metzger
AMH 2020
17 September 2012
The Many Tides of Reconstruction
The American Civil War was a very rough time for America as a whole. Between the
assassination of President Lincoln whose plans for the future would have been monumental,
some questionable policies from the succeeding president, and disagreements and inequality
amongst involuntary servitude, this was debatably the most troublesome era for America. What
followed the war was a period known as reconstruction which was highly controversial because
every governmental body wanted something different. There were disagreements on every end,
with no compromise in sight and eventually led to minor advances overall. (Norton, Sheriff,
Katzman, Blight, Chudacoff, Longevall, and et al 449-65).
Had Lincoln not been assassinated by John Wilkes Booth in mid-April, 1865, I feel as if
his policies would have been quite successful. Even though he was alive for the beginning of
reconstruction, had he been alive through all of it, things would have been on a whole new level.
With a swift reconstruction in mind, Lincoln wanted to create equality amongst the heavily racist
south. Amongst that, many ex-Confederate troops were to be pardoned as long as the people
pledged their allegiance to the north; while the highest ranking officers were thought of as
traitors and had their citizenship revoked. If 10% of the state agreed to be loyal to Lincoln, he
would readmit the state to the Union. As a result of Congress being left in the dark for this, they
came up with their own plan of a timid but harsh reconstruction. Congress made it clear that they
thought that Confederate states were conquered enemies and would not be forgiven or allowed
readmittance so easily by a simple statement of so-called loyalty to the place they once had
their backs towards. With both Lincoln and Congress trying to pass their own plan for
Reconstruction, Lincoln pocket-vetoed Congresss bill while stating that he refused to stick to
just one plan alone. Many ideas thrown together that everybody agreed upon would be in the best
interest of both the government and the people. (Norton, Sheriff, Katzman, Blight, Chudacoff,
Longevall, and et al 449-55).
One of the most successful additions of President Lincoln and Congress was the
introduction of the Freedmens Bureau in 1865. The main role of the Bureau was supplying food,
providing health care, building schools and colleges, and giving work opportunities to those
freedmen and their old masters. As a result, many southern whites hated it which caused
massive upheaval and mistrust in the government later on. Also, the passing of the thirteenth
amendment created an animosity between newly freed men and women and those who made a
living off involuntary servitude. (Norton, Sheriff, Katzman, Blight, Chudacoff, Longevall, and et
al 452-53).
President Andrew Johnson was the president who followed the unfortunately successful
assassination of Lincoln. Ironically, Johnson used to be a slave owner, which created a very
unsettling feeling for those recently freed. He did however, follow up on Lincolns 10% plan and
added a new part to it: any and all ex-Confederates with a home that was taxed at a price above
$20,000 would have to individually apply for a pardon to regain any form of political right back
in their life. This could be viewed as a harsh way to treat the rich slave owner but, if willing to
pay, it also put the old people in charge again. Sadly, Johnsons old past of slave ownership and
racism would still keep hold of him because when it came time to give the right to vote to
everybody, he wanted to pursue only allowing whites to votes; excluding the rich farmer elites
that had not received pardons. Late 1865 was proof of his old intentions coming to life because
many clerks were hired to ready documentation for a plethora of pardons to be signed by both
leading rebels and planters alike. These pardons were special because it would let those who
used to be in charge locally, regain power. It is thought that the reason behind the massive
amount of pardons signed off on was for the reelection coming up in 1866 and how Johnson
needed votes. (Norton, Sheriff, Katzman, Blight, Chudacoff, Longevall, and et al 457-61).
Needless to say, Johnsons move of that sort procreated a feeling of unrest and Congress
would not allow this to continue, especially with Reconstruction falling apart. Overall, Congress
wanted to do the greatest good for America by trying to give every person equal rights, or as
similar as possible. What Congress wanted was to allow blacks to vote and let both black males
and loyal whites hold a position in office. Any Confederate leaders, whether loyal or not, were
not allowed to take office. Congress also passed the Tenure of Office Act which gave Congress
the power to overrule any change in the presidents cabinet if Congress felt the change was for
the worse. (Norton, Sheriff, Katzman, Blight, Chudacoff, Longevall, and et al 458-60)
All in all, Reconstruction was a big part of the American Civil War: a time in which
freedom may have been one of the hardest things to come by. Under the rule of President
Lincoln, blacks would have been freed all in good time. He gave aid to them as best as he could
within the limit of staying on the good side of Congress and the people. Unfortunately for
Lincoln and the rest of America, he was shot and killed; forcing Andrew Johnson to become
president and take the reins on Reconstruction and America. Johnson used to be an advocate for
slavery and during his time as president he showed that side by letting Lincolns 10% plan turn
into planter elites and rebel leaders to be pardoned in order to get a vote for the upcoming
election. Congress tried stopping Johnson by limiting his power over the army by requiring the
General to be the commanding officer. Also, Congress limited his cabinet power through the
Tenure of Office Act, restricting more of his power overall. The disagreements between
President Johnson, Congress, and the people led to the overall downfall of Reconstruction.
(Norton, Sheriff, Katzman, Blight, Chudacoff, Longevall, and et al 450-65).
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Work Cited
Norton, Mary Beth, Carol Sheriff, David M. Katzman, David Blight, Howard Chudacoff, Fredrik
Longevall, et al. A People and A Nation History of the United States Volume II: Since 1865. 8th
ed. Boston, Massachusetts: Wadsworth, Cengage Learning, 2009. 449-80. Print.