Characteristics and Impacts of American Reconstruction
The key goals of Reconstruction were to readmit the South into the Union and to define the status of freedmen in American society. The Reconstruction era was marked by political, not violent, conflict. Some historical myths are that the South was victimized by Reconstruction, and that the various plans of Reconstruction were corrupt and unjust. Actually, the plans were quite lenient, enforcing military rule for only a short period of time, ignoring land reform, and granting pardons easily. The task of Reconstruction was to re-integrate America into a whole nation, securing the rights of each man and establishing order once again. There were three major Reconstruction plans; Lincoln, Johnson, and Congress each offered a strategy to unify the nation.
Lincoln’s plan, in 1864, required ten percent of the voting population of each state who had voted in the 1860 election to take an oath of allegiance to the Union and accept the abolition of slavery. Then that ten percent could create a state government that would be loyal to the Union. Confederate officials, army and naval officers, and civil officers who had resigned from office were all required to apply for presidential pardons (Boyer, 443). Lincoln’s plan did not at all deal with freedmen’s civil rights, which is a definite weakness. Under his ten percent rule, no freedmen could be part of a state government. Also, it did not address land reform, an economic weakness of Lincoln’s strategy. Finally, under Lincoln’s plan, no federal military occupation was required in Southern states. This left the freedmen at the mercy of the states for protection. Congress viewed this plan as far too lenient, and in 1864 passed the Wade-Davis bill. This bill required the majority of voters in each Southern state to take an oath of loyalty; only then could the state hold a convention to repeal secession and abolish slavery. Although Lincoln’s plan may have been too lenient, this bill would have been far too harsh and delayed readmission to the Union for a very long time. Lincoln did not sign the bill into law, or pocket-vetoed the bill, and was soon assassinated. Therefore, he did not have a chance to implement his plan of Reconstruction, and his goal was not met.
After Andrew Johnson assumed the presidency following Lincoln’s assassination in 1865, and he introduced his plan of Reconstruction. Although Johnson claimed that his plan mirrored Lincoln’s, there were great differences. Under Johnson’s plan, fifty percent of the voters in each Southern state who had voted in the 1860 election had to take an oath of loyalty to the Union. Then, each state was required to write new constitutions adopting the 13th amendment (Boyer, 444). Johnson repudiated Confederate war debts, and he also supported Black Codes. Johnson seemed sympathetic to Southern opinion at the expense of freedmen’s rights. He took steps to insure a dependant black work...