By Gary W. Gallagher, University of Virginia
From 1863 onward, the different wings of the Republican Party debated the best course to follow regarding Reconstruction. Much of the debate centered on the question of whether the president—through executive orders and proclamations—or Congress—through legislation—should control the process: presidential versus congressional reconstruction.
Voting Rights For African Americans
Abraham Lincoln argued that the Union had never really been broken. On the other hand, radical Republicans believed, that, these states had given up their right to be states. They had been rebels. Thus, they have forfeited all of the rights they had before they seceded.
Radicals wanted African American men to be given the vote. Understandably, that’s what most of the black men would ask for as well. Women could not vote yet at this stage in United States history. A question of whether black men will be given the franchise was raised, whereby the black veterans asked how they cannot be given the right to vote considering that they risked their lives in blue uniforms just as the white soldiers did.
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Meanwhile, Louisiana and Arkansas met Lincoln’s Ten Percent Plan provisions. They accepted emancipation during the war, though they didn’t grant voting rights or property rights to black people. Lincoln accepted the governments though the Congress disagreed.
When Arkansas and Louisiana elected representatives to Congress, it wouldn’t seat them. They tried to cast electoral votes in the election of 1864 but the Congress wouldn’t accept them labeling them as ‘sham governments’.
The Wade-Davis Bill
Congress eventually came up with its own plan for Reconstruction during the war. It was called the Wade-Davis Bill, offered on July 2, 1864, named after Benjamin Franklin Wade, a senator from Ohio, and Henry Winter Davis, a congressman from Maryland.
The Wade-Davis Bill said that 50 percent, rather than ten percent, of the voters of 1860 would have to take the ‘oath of allegiance’; it said these voters could call a state constitutional convention, but the only voters who could vote for delegates to that convention were those who would take an iron-clad ‘oath’, as it was called, stating that they had never supported the Confederacy.
Lincoln’s Pocket Veto
It wasn’t enough just to take an oath of allegiance to the United States now; one had to take an oath saying they had always supported the United States. Lincoln killed the the Wade-Davis bill with a little-used ‘pocket veto’, which meant that something passed at the end of a session does not become law if the president just ignores it.
He just didn’t sign it. This infuriated the radicals. They issued what was called the Wade-Davis ‘Manifesto’ on August 5, 1864. It said, “…the president’s job is to obey and execute the laws that we enact. His business is not to make laws. It’s not to try to do Congress’s job.”
It was a very harshly worded attack on Abraham Lincoln. Nonetheless, Lincoln went ahead. He recognised the Arkansas and Louisiana governments. However, by April 1865, he hinted at moving closer to the radical position on Reconstruction. He announced, just before he was assassinated, that, he would soon be making a new statement about Reconstruction. Although he never got to make that statement, it’s clear that he had something in mind.
With Lincoln’s death, Andrew Johnson assumed power. At first, he seemed to be on the side of the radicals. He was a southerner of modest background. He’d spent most of his life in east Tennessee, taught himself to read and write very late in life, and made his living as a tailor. He absolutely hated the plantation aristocracy of the South. There was an enormous class antagonism on Andrew Johnson’s part toward that part of southern society.
Johnson had been a Democrat all his life. He was put on the ticket in 1864 with Lincoln, to help draw strength from the Democratic voters in the North. He announced after becoming president that, “Treason is a crime and must be made odious”. Well, the radicals thought that sounded great. It sounded like Andrew Johnson was going to really lay a heavy hand on those rebels.
Johnson talked about large-scale confiscations and about hanging some of the ex-rebels, but he quickly lost his case for vengeance against the South, as did many others in the North.
Guaranteeing the Emancipated African Americans’ Civil Rights
Many moderate and conservative Republicans demanded only a few things. They said that the South should repudiate cessation, of course, officially. They should guarantee the freedom and civil rights of emancipated African Americans. Don’t give them the vote, but give them basic protection under the law.
They also said that there should be a guarantee of the political rights of Unionists who actually had been loyal to the United States through the war, and they wanted some political disqualification for a number of ex-rebels.
The radicals, on the other hand, wanted more. They wanted to take land and wealth from the planter class, as well as their vote and raise up the freed people and the white Unionists. Between 1865 and 1867, Andrew Johnson grew more and more conservative. He didn’t support any move to help African Americans.
Common Questions about Reconstruction Plans
Louisiana and Arkansas met Lincoln’s Ten Percent Plan provisions. They accepted emancipation during the war though they didn’t grant voting rights or property rights to black people.
The Wade-Davis Bill said that 50 percent rather than ten percent of the voters of 1860 would have to take the ‘oath of allegiance’.
Abraham Lincoln killed the the Wade-Davis bill with a little-used ‘pocket veto’, which meant that something passed at the end of a session does not become law if the president just ignores it. He just didn’t sign it.