By Gary W. Gallagher, University of Virginia
The end of the Civil War did not end the bitterness that had racked the country for four long years; indeed, in many ways the decade and more of Reconstruction spawned even more bitter memories among former Confederates. There was a great deal at stake when it came to how drastically would the South be told to change, in order to get back into the United States.
There was a lot of uncertainty: Would the recently freed African Americans gain social and political equality? And, most importantly, who would control the process of Reconstruction in the North? Answers to these would be influenced mightily by the answer to another one, and that was: Who would control the process of Reconstruction in the North? Who was going to be in charge?
Concerns also grew regarding what price the Confederate South would have to pay for its experiment in rebellion. Speculations were ripe about whether the president was going to be in charge, or was it going to be an executive process.
Also, within the Republican Party, who was going to be in charge? The moderate wing of the party—Abraham Lincoln’s old wing of the party—or would the radical wing of the party be most dominant in this process? There were also questions vis-à-vis the role of the Democrats in how Reconstruction would be shaped.
Ease for Confederate States
Debates about Reconstruction began during the war, and Abraham Lincoln had, by December 1863, come up with a plan that he thought would bring the wayward states back into the fold as easily as possible. That was his goal. He didn’t want a wrenching process; he wanted to ease these states back into the Union.
Lincoln said that he would grant a presidential pardon to any rebel who would swear allegiance to the United States, and who would swear also to abide by all the presidential proclamations and pieces of congressional legislation that related to slavery and African Americans. He would thus grant pardons if they would swear an oath and say that they would abide by this legislation and these proclamations.
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Lincoln’s 10 Percent Plan
Lincoln did exempt certain civil, military, and diplomatic leaders of the Confederacy, so it was not a blanket offer, but it covered almost everyone. He then said that when 10 percent of the 1860 voting population in any rebel state took the oath, they could establish a new state government.
That new government, then, would have to recognize emancipation, but if it did so, he would agree that they were a loyal government and should be allowed to speak for that state. Lincoln said as well that he hoped that these new state governments would not leave black people as a landless, laboring class, but he didn’t insist that that be the case.
A Simple Plan?
Abraham Lincoln’s plan was deceptively simple and was called Lincoln’s ‘Ten Percent Plan’. It involved no harsh punishments, no property confiscated, except for slave property. That was a big exception, but most white southerners, of course, didn’t own any slaves. Three-quarters of them owned no slaves. The states would have full membership in the Union under Lincoln’s plan, not some kind of quasi-full membership.
What Lincoln’s plan would leave pretty much intact was the social system in the South. He wasn’t calling for a radical reorientation of labor relations. He wanted to enable blacks and whites in the South to “gradually live themselves out of their old relation to each other”.
A Better Deal for African Americans
Radical Republicans immediately voiced strong opposition to Lincoln’s plan. They wanted guarantees for the freed people. They especially wanted land for them. The radicals said something that most of the freed slaves asked for as well: If you don’t give freed slaves land, how are they going to support themselves?
Radicals also thought that 10 percent of the 1860 voting population was far too low a number. Basically, what they wanted was a harsher treatment for former rebels than Lincoln wanted, and a better deal for African Americans than Lincoln wanted. Many of the radical Republicans, in fact, wanted to remake the South completely.
Thaddeus Stevens was a representative from Pennsylvania and one of the most powerful of the radicals, one of the most colorful members of Congress, too. He was an incredibly able debater with a vitriolic pen and a very sharp tongue.
His was the kind of approach on Stevens’s part that alienated his opponents, and alienated, especially, Democrats and people from the South. Stevens hated the South and the plantation aristocracy in the South. He wanted a revolution in the southern society. He put it this way,
Reconstruction must revolutionize southern institutions, habits, and manners. The foundations of their institutions must be broken up and re-laid, or all our blood and treasure will have been spent in vain.
He was talking about huge property seizures. That’s something that scared even a lot of Republicans.
Common Questions about Lincoln’s Ten Percent Plan
Debates about Reconstruction began during the war, and Abraham Lincoln had, by December 1863, come up with a plan that he thought would bring the wayward states back into the fold as easily as possible. That was his goal.
Abraham Lincoln’s plan was deceptively simple and was called Lincoln’s ‘Ten Percent Plan’. It involved no harsh punishments, no property confiscated, except for slave property.
Radical Republicans voiced strong opposition to Lincoln’s plan. They wanted guarantees for the freed people.