The reconstruction period

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Discuss the two constitutional theories that evolved around the question of Reconstruction and give a brief description of political reconstruction.

  1. Concept number one: Discuss the two constitutional theories that evolved around the question of reconstruction.

    1. Reconstruction had been a subject of discussion in the North since the beginning of the war. As usual, the discussion took place on the plane of constitutional theory.

  1. The constitutional controversy centered around two points:

    1. Were the seceded states in or out of the Union when the rebellion was crushed?

      1. From the Northern premise that secession was illegal, strict logic reached the conclusion that former states of the Confederacy had always been and were now states of the Union with all the rights and privileges pertaining thereto.

        1. Both Presidents Lincoln and Johnson supported this view. They saw the states as indestructible and they were never out of the Union for the simple reason that they could not be.

        1. This theory, though vigorously opposed by the Radical leaders, received judicial support in the Supreme Court case of Texas v. White (1869) when Chief Justice Chase, speaking for the majority, stated:

"The Constitution, in all of its provisions, looks to an indestructible Union composed of indestructible States.... Considered, therefore, as transactions under the

Constitution, the ordinance of secession... and all the acts of her legislature intended to give effect to that ordinance,

were absolutely null. They were utterly without operation in law. The obligations of the State, as a member of the Union, remained perfect and unimpaired. It certainly follows that the State did not cease to be a State, nor her citizens to be citizens of the Union. Ifthis were otherwise, the State must have become foreign, and her citizens foreigners. The war must have ceased to be a war for the


suppression of rebellion, and must have become a war for conquest and subjugation .... Our conclusion therefore is, that Texas continued to be a State, and a State of the Union.

      1. If on the contrary secession was valid , the South might consistently be treated as a conquered territory without any legal rights that the Union was required to respect.

      1. The Radical Republicans in Congress managed to prove to their satisfaction that the Southern states had lost or forfeited their rights and therefore could be treated as conquered states.

      1. Upo what theory, then, could Reconstruction proceed? Ifthe states were still in the Union, it was only the citizens who were out of their normal relations with the Federal Government, and these could be restored through the pardoning power of the President. This theory was supported by both Lincoln and Johnson.

      1. While brushing aside embarrassing legal obstacles, Radical Congressional leaders sought refuge in constitutional dialectics to justify their military rule of the South. Their argument was based on the clause in the Constitution that "the United States shall guarantee to every State a Republican Form of Government."

        1. Yet, for three-quarters of a century this clause had been interpreted to mean that Congress would sustain the

pre-existing governments, but now the Radicals wrenched

it away from this traditional meaning and insisted that --for the Southern states at least--a "republican" form of government included Black suffrage.

        1. However, at the beginning of the Reconstruction era only six Northern states permitted the Black to vote, and two new states--Nebraska and Colorado--tried to come into the Union with suffrage limited to whites.

  1. This leads to the second · constitutional question: Who should control the Reconstruction process, the President or Congress ?

II. Concept number two: Discuss the Presidential plan of Reconstruction and show how its weaknesses led to the Congressional plan of Reconstruction.

A.'/I., In a proclamation on December 8, 1863, Lincoln formulated what was to be the Presidential plan of Reconstruction.

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The objective of Lincoln's plan was to get the people from the seceded states back into their normal relations with the federal government as quickly as possible. The tool Lincoln would use was his Presidential power of pardon.
As stated under the discussion on the Proclamation, Lincoln's main objective was to preserve the Union. He felt that trying to get a pound of flesh from Uie S


  1. In using his power of pardon, Lincoln provided for a general amnesty and restoration of property other than slaves to most of those who would take a prescribed oath of loyalty to the Union.


  1. Furthermore,-Wb ¥er ten percent of the electorate of 1860 took this oath,

a state government would be established which Lincoln promised to

nize as the true government of the state.

    1. They could hold constitutional conventions and draw up and ra-tify new constitutions that abolished slavery .

b The people within these states were then prepared to have their state resume its normal place in the federal Union. This would be done after they reconstructed state governments and elected officials to both houses of Congress at the federal level.

New Electorate No Blacks Southern Whites

New Constitution Electitns

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State level Federal level

c. Lincoln's plan w sused in Tennessee and prompt y a op Louisiana and Arkansas .

5. But all was not so easy as Congress, which is the judge of its own membership, refused to admit the representatives of the reconstructed states and, in the presidential election of 1864, their electoral votes were not counted.
6. The Congressional reaction to Lincoln's plan was not positive. The Congressional leaders had a plan of their own which carefully retained control of the entire process of Reconstruction in Congressional hands. However the assassination of Lincoln in April of 1865 ended his program and brought Vice-President Andrew Johnson to the White House with the second phase of the Presidential plan of Reconstruction .

    1. Before Johnson's plan of Reconstruction is discussed, there is a historical parallel which needs to be made.

      1. President Gerald R. Ford felt his motives were the same as Lincoln's when he used the Presidential power of pardon on September 8, 1974 to pardon Richard M. Nixon for all federal crimes he "committed or may have committed" while in office.

      1. Ford felt that a continued fixation on Watergate was bad for the nation. He felt the political problems of the country interfered with his attempts to meet the more important economic and social needs of the country.

During the Watergate years the country experienced internal economic as well as political disaster. The economic problems of the country caused family and social problems for many Americans. Unemployment, inflation and the energy crunch all hit the American people at the same time. In order to get the country back together and into its normal socioeconomic patterns, President Ford felt it was in the interest of the majority of Americans to put the country's political problems (Watergate) behind it m order to deal with the more important economic issues.

        1. For example, the price of an automobile jumped 72 percent between 1973 and 1978, while the cost of new homes went up 67 percent in the same period. During the decade, milk went from

.$28 to $.59 a quart, and the cost of a loaf of bread rose from $.24 to $.89.
        1. Corresponding wage increases failed to do more than keep most Americans even; for the first time since World War II, real wages did not increase in the 1970's.

      1. Ford also referred to Nixon's health as a reason for the pardon. At the same time Ford made a concurrent agreement which recognized Nixon's title to the tape recordings. The agreement also allowed Nixon the right to destroy the tapes but only after they were preserved for a 3-year period for use in the courts.

  1. Before the pardon and agreement on the tapes Ford enjoyed widespread popular support. However, the agreement and particularly the pardon ruined Ford's presidency and greatly hindered his chances for re-election .

    1. Hence, Ford like Lincoln, sacrificed his political career to do what was best for the country and showed courage as well as ladership abilities when he came on national television to explain his decision to the American people .

    1. Ford realized that everyone wanted their piece of Nixon , but they could not understand what the results of that process would do to the nation . Ford tried to explain that over 30 percent of his time was being used on matters related to Watergate and that the nations other needs were far more important to the welfare of the American people. Consequently , Ford paid the price by refusing to give the people what they wanted.

    1. President Ford testified personally in October of 1974, before the House Judiciary Subcommittee on Criminal Justice, "There was no deal, period ."

  1. Andrew Johnson's rise to the presidency drastically altered the political situation, although, like Lincoln, he viewed the restoration of the Southern states as a presidential , not a congressional, function. •


    1. Johnson was a war Democrat from a seceded state. He had been placed on the same ticket with Lincoln in 1864 to emphasize the Unionism of the Republican party . Like John Tyler in 1841, Johnson was the nominal head of a party of which he was not a member.

    1. Few if any Presidents ever faced a more difficult situation.



      1. Johnson had no personal following with the American people either in the South or in the North .

      1. Nor did he have the prestige that came to Lincoln from the successful conduct of the war.

c. Finally, Johnson had no party organization behind him for he had broken with the Democratic party and had not been fully accepted by many Republicans. In the beginning, however, some Radical Republicans did rejoice in the death of Lincoln and the accession of Johnson as a quote from Representative George Julian of Indiana indicates:

"I spent most of the afternoon in a political caucus and while everybody was shocked at his murder, the feeling was nearly universal that the accession of Johnson to the Presidency would prove a godsend to the country. Aside from Mr. Lincoln's known policy of tenderness to the Rebels...his...views of the subject of Reconstruction were as distasteful as possible to radical Republicans."

  1. Immediately upon his accession to the Presidency, Johnson appeared to be willing to co-operate with the Radicals. Johnson stated that "Treason is a crime and must be punished," but once Congress was out of session he started moving in a sharply different direction.

    1. This was partly because Johnson viewed Reconstruction as a presidential, not a congressional, function.

    1. Like Lincoln, Johnson was also self-educated and

self-trained, he had a powerful though not well-disciplined mind. Combined with these intellectual qualities were the virtues of integrity, devotion to duty, courage and a belief in a strict interpretation of the Constitution. But at a time when tact and flexibility were called for, he was stubborn and inflexible. Johnson's own blunders isolated him not only from the Radical Republicans but from the party moderates.

    1. As a result of these blunders the Radicals, who were a minority at the outset of Johnson's administration, continued to ga.i.n in strength until they became a majority .

    1. After Johnson had settled down to the heavy duties of his new task, he attempted to carry out what he understood to be Lincoln's policy, omitting , however, the ten-percent aspect of his predecessor's program.

      1. He had only two objectives: Union and freedom. He, like Lincoln never subscribed to the Radicals' demand for equality .

On May 29, 1865, Johnson announced his policy on the two basic principles of Reconstruction: (1) pardon and amnesty, and (2) reconstruction procedure.

    1. As with Lincoln's proclamation of December 8, 1863, a limited pardon was extended which excluded various classes such as those who had held civil office under the Confederate government and those who had mistreated prisoners. Johnson also excluded those Southerners whose taxable property exceeded $20,000.

      1. To those excepted from general pardon by Johnson there remained the possibility of special pardon by petition; and much of Johnson's time was occupied in the granting of thousands of these special pardons. In fact, throughout his administration Johnson granted pardons to former Confederates in wholesale lots and even

replaced several district military commanders whose Radical sympathies offended him.

      1. During his three years in office, Johnson proclaimed three executive amnesties, each more liberal than the former. As one of his last acts in office on December 25, 1868, Johnson proclaimed was an unconditional pardon for all Southerners (including Jefferson Davis).

    1. In the Reconstruction process beginning with North Carolina, Johnson picked up where Lincoln left off as he proceeded to appoint provisional civil governors in all the Confederate states where Lincoln had not already done so.

      1. The states were reconstructed under Johnson in the same manner that they were under Lincoln.

New Electorate No Blacks Southern Whites

(With some ex-Confederate leaders


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