US HISTORY THROUGH FILM

Lincoln


*As the Civil War was clearly nearing its completion, the question arose about what to do with a defeated South.  Indeed, Lincoln and some other leaders had been thinking about this for some time.

 

*As early as 1863 Lincoln created a plan for bringing the Southern states back into the Union.  According to his theory that they had never seceded in the first place, this was a fairly simple affair.  Lincoln’s plan required 10% of the voters registered in each Southern state in 1860 to swear allegiance to the Union, so it was called the Ten Per Cent Plan.  The state would then elect a new government and, once accepted by Lincoln, function as a state of the Union again.  Finally, Lincoln would pardon any Confederate who would swear an oath of allegiance to the Union and accept the federal policy on slavery, but it denied pardons to all Confederate military and government officials and anyone who had killed black prisoners of war.

 

*The Radical Republicans in Congress thought this was too soft on the South, and refused to seat elected representatives from Louisiana, Arkansas, or Tennessee after those states sent them to Congress under Lincoln’s Ten Per Cent Plan in 1864.

 

*The Radical Republicans instead created the Wade-Davis Bill, and passed it in 1864.  Many Radicals felt that the Southern states, by leaving the Union, no longer had equal rights and deserved to be treated as conquered provinces that might one day begin the process of admission all over again.  Radical Republicans believed the South needed a complete Reconstruction of its society.  Among many tougher restrictions, the Wade-Davis Bill required fifty percent of ex-Confederate men to take an oath of allegiance and swear that they had never borne arms against the United States.  After all, they could be called traitors if they did—the Constitution defines treason as making war against the United States.  It also had stronger protections for emancipation than did Lincoln’s Ten Per Cent Plan.  Lincoln refused to sign this bill at a time when Congress was not in session, thus using the pocket veto to prevent it going into effect.

 

*Therefore, as 1865 began, nothing was resolved.  Lincoln was known to still favour a mild plan for reunification, welcoming the Southerners back into the Union as brothers who had gone astray, while many Radicals wanted to punish White Southerners and protect the newly freed slaves.


*Among other things, the issue of slavery remained.  Although the Emancipation Proclamation had ended slavery in all areas still in Rebellion as of January 1, 1863, slavery was still legal in areas the U.S. Army occupied by that point (although realistically many slaves in those areas had already escaped or been confiscated by the Army).  Furthermore, slavery was still legal in the Border States that had remained loyal, although a couple were in the process of banning it.  Finally, the Emancipation Proclamation itself was basically an executive order based on a wartime emergency, and theoretically might be reversed by some later President or by Congress.

 

*Therefore, many opponents of slavery wanted to amend the Constitution itself to ban slavery forever throughout the United States.  If this amendment passed, it would become the XIII Amendment to the US Constitution.  A bill to create such an amendment was first introduced in Congress in December, 1863, and the Senate finally wrote what became the final version in February, 1864 and then passed it 38 to 6 in April, 1864. 

 

*However, it also had to be passed by the House of Representatives, and in both houses of Congress it had to be passed by a 2/3 majority.  That had been easy in the Senate, but would be harder in the House.  And once it passed through Congress, it would have to be ratified by ¾ of the states (27 of 36 at that time).

 

*By January, 1865, the Republicans were ready to have the House of Representatives vote on the Amendment, but it was not clear if there would be enough votes.  Many Democrats opposed the Amendment, and even some Republicans were unhappy with some elements of it.

 

*Complicating matters, some Confederate leaders, including Vice-President Alexander Stephens, were interested in peace talks, but passage of an Amendment completely banning slavery would make those peace talks much more difficult.

 

--Introduce Lincoln

 

     -Lincoln was released in 2012 and was based on a number of books on Lincoln, particularly the Pulitzer prize-winning Team of Rivals published in 2005 by Doris Kearns Goodwin.

 

-The movie focuses on January, 1865 when Lincoln and other supporters of the Amendment were trying to win enough support in the House of Representatives to pass the Amendment.  There are also a couple of scenes in March and April of that year, too.  Overall, it is very accurate, although some things are exaggerated or simplified and some things are compressed into one month of film time that really took place over several months.

 

     -Most of the filming took place in Richmond, although a few scenes were shot elsewhere in Northern Virginia, including Petersburg.  The Virginia State Capital was modified to serve as both the interior and exterior of the US Capitol building (which creates some inaccuracies—the House of Representatives are shown meeting in a room with many large windows, but the real House had recently moved into their current chamber, which has no windows).  Overall, though the scenery is very good.

 

     -Likewise, the costuming is very good, and even the makeup is outstanding.  Most of the historical characters (and most of the characters who appear are historical, although the names of some opponents of the Thirteen Amendment were changed so as not to embarrass their living descendants) very closely resemble the people they are supposed to represent, even down to the distinctive haircuts and facial hair that several had, although one or two look pretty different from their actual historical counterparts, notably Francis Preston Blair.

 

     -Abraham Lincoln is the 16th President of the United States.  He loves to tell stories, to such an extent that it sometimes annoys people who want to get down to serious business, but most people love it.  Daniel Day-Lewis who portrays him went to great lengths to re-create the voice and accent that contemporaries described Lincoln as having.  On the other hand, in a couple of instances in the movie, Lincoln loses his temper very vocally and publicly, which many historians feel is inaccurate, as he was famous for his patience and for almost never using bad language (unless it was part of a funny story, such as the story he tells about Ethan Allen in the movie, which was supposedly one of his favourite stories ever).  On the other hand, he was known to argue with his wife, and that is depicted in the film too.

 

     -Mary Todd Lincoln is Abraham’s wife.  They have a difficult marriage with frequent arguments, including about her spending habits.  Mary may have also been mentally disturbed.  If so, it may have been partly because of the loss of two of her sons—Eddie, who had died in 1850 a month before his 4th birthday, and Willie, who had recently died in 1862 of typhoid fever, just one year into Lincoln’s presidency.  Besides Eddie and Willie, the Lincolns had two living sons.

 

     -Tad Lincoln is almost twelve, and very wild, but never disciplined by his parents, who love him very much.  He enjoys disrupting Cabinet meetings and playing pranks in the White House, including locking doors, charging admission to visitors, and setting up a food stand in the lobby.  He drove his private tutors crazy, and at this point is essentially illiterate.  He is fascinated by the war, and has been made a 2nd Lieutenant of artillery by the Secretary of War.

 

     -Robert Lincoln is the Lincolns’ oldest son, 21 years old at this point, and currently is studying at Harvard Law School, where he recently finished his bachelor’s degree.  He has a distant relationship with his parents, partly because when he was young, his father was often away arguing cases in court or working in politics.

 

     -William Henry Seward was once Lincoln’s rival for the Republican nomination for the presidency, and was named Secretary of State to win his support.  Early on, he thought he would run things from behind the scenes.  Over time, however, he came to deeply respect Lincoln, and served him faithfully during the War. 

 

     -Edwin M. Stanton is Lincoln’s Secretary of War.  He had met Lincoln once before the war, and thought he was an ignorant country bumpkin, and was openly rude to him during a trial in which they were supposed to be working on the same side.  Furthermore, he was a Democrat, but one who supported the War, and eventually joined Lincoln’s cabinet, and after he got to know him better, became very close to him and respected him deeply, too.

 

     -Thaddeus Stevens is a Representative from Pennsylvania and an outspoken opponent of slavery and even an outright advocate of complete racial equality, which even among the anti-slavery movement was seen as fairly extreme at the time.  He had helped with the Underground Railroad, and one house in which he lived even had a secret chamber where runaways could be hidden.  Stevens is a leader of the Radical Republicans who want a complete end to slavery and to punish the South for slavery and rebellion.  He walks with a cane because he has a club foot.

 

     -Show Lincoln

 

     -#1 the Battle of Poison Spring was fought on 18 April, 1864 in Arkansas.  Black Union soldiers were slaughtered, as usually happened to Black Union troops captured by the Confederates—the most infamous case was the Fort Pillow Massacre, committed by soldiers under the command of Nathan Bedford Forrest.  At Poison Spring, some of the Union soldiers were scalped or otherwise mutilated by Choctaw Indians in the Confederate Army, many of whose homes had been raided by the US Army.

 

     -#6 is basically true.  Lincoln did have dreams before many major battles, and the dream shown in the movie is very closely based on a description of his dreams Lincoln once gave the Secretary of the Navy. 

 

     -#18 is true.  Lincoln interfered with many civil rights:  he arrested people without a writ of habeus corpus (similar to a warrant), including the governors and legislatures of Maryland and Kentucky to make sure they did not vote for secession, and when the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, Roger B. Taney told him this was illegal, Lincoln threatened to imprison him, too.  Lincoln sometimes shut down newspapers, and had some civilians tried by military courts (later declared to be unconstitutional).

 

     -#21 introduces Fernando Wood of New York City, a strongly anti-war Democrat, who had previously been mayor of New York and was briefly arrested by the New York State Militia and charged with inciting a riot in 1857, when he refused to allow the newly-created Metropolitan Police to replace the Municipal Police who had been used as a tool of the Democratic Party machine.  During a later term as mayor at the start of the Civil War, he had proposed that New York City secede from the Union.  As shown in the movie, he was one of the leaders of the opposition to ratifying the XIII Amendment.

 

     -#26 may not really be where Seward and Merrick spoke, but there really is an amputated leg in the Army Medical Museum donated to it by General Daniel Sickles after it was shot off on the second day of the Battle of Gettysburg.  Sickles visited it every year on July 2nd.  Furthermore, the men working for Seward, known as the Seward Lobby, were real people, although in reality they spent a lot of their time in New York City trying to influence newspaper editors so that they would publish articles and editorials that would support the Amendment.  They were also more respectable and respected people than they are portrayed as in the movie—indeed, at least one refused any payment for his services, saying he had done if just for the cause of ending slavery.

 

     -#32 is true.  Mrs. Lincoln one point she spent so much on re-decorating the White House that she was investigated by Congress, embarrassing Lincoln so much that he paid at least part of the bills out of his own pocket, worried about what the country would think about spending on flubdubs while the nation was at war.

 

     -#33 is true, and would guide his approach to the Reconstruction of the South after the War.

 

     -#35 is basically true.  In the 1850s, there were attempts by private armies of Southerners to take over parts of Mexico as well as Nicaragua, Honduras, and Cuba.  William Walker of Tennessee actually did take over Nicaragua briefly before being driven out of power by an alliance of neighbouring countries, and he was captured and executed during his attempt to take over Honduras.

    

-#36 does sound scary!  Later, though, many white Southerners would support giving women the vote, partly to balance out the votes of Black men.

 

     -#39 may be an underestimate—some historians estimate the number of deaths to be at least 650,000, perhaps as high as 700,000—more than 2% of the entire American population at the time.

 

     -#40 is true.  Lincoln issued many pardons (including those described in this scene), to the annoyance of Stanton.

 

     -#41 and most of the events relating to the Peace Commission are basically true, although a few things are compressed to make things quicker for the movie.

 

     -#45 is correct—there were massive piles and burial pits for all the arms and legs amputated in military hospitals.

 

     -#47 is true, and Robert was given the rank of Captain, although it was Mary Lincoln who kept Robert out of the Army for so long.  Lincoln himself was a little embarrassed that Robert got this special treatment, because he said every mother would like to be able to keep her son out of the Army.

 

     -#48 is probably true.  Furthermore, following the death of her son Tad in 1871, she became increasingly erratic and had difficulty managing her own finances.  Robert Lincoln was put in charge of her finances and even had her committed to a mental institution in 1875, although she managed to smuggle letters out to friends who found a lawyer who could get her released after three months and eventually put back in charge of her own money.

 

     -#49 is not true.  Lincoln would not appear on anything worth 50¢ until 1869, and that was a 50¢ paper bill.  He would not appear on a coin until the Lincoln Cent was issued in 1909 (for his hundredth birthday).

 

     -#52 indirectly refers to one aspect of the Free Soil Movement.  One reason some people did not want slavery to expand into the West was because they feared it would crowd out small farmers who would not be able to compete with large plantations, so it wasn’t just about disapproval of slavery, but also out of a desire to avoid being undercut by unpaid labour.

 

-#56 is only true if the person making a false statement is under oath.

 

     -#57 is inaccurate on a couple of counts.  First, members of the House of Representatives do not vote by state, but rather alphabetically by last name (at least until 1973, when most votes began to be cast on electronic voting machines stationed throughout the House chamber).  Furthermore, all of the Representatives from Connecticut supported the Amendment, and shortly after the movie was released, a modern Congressman from Connecticut wrote a letter of complaint to Steven Spielberg about that.

 

     -#60 is probably true.  Although not definitively proven, it was widely rumoured at the time that Thaddeus Stevens had a long-standing romantic relationship with his mixed-race housekeeper, Lydia Hamilton Smith, and many historians also believe it to be true.  He left her a large sum of money in his will as well as permission to take any furniture in his house.  She used the money to purchase the house for herself.  Although Stevens was buried in an integrated cemetery in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, Lydia was buried in a Catholic cemetery elsewhere in Lancaster.

 

     -#62 is true.  Lincoln wanted the Southern states brought back into the Union as quickly and painlessly as possible, although he also believed that there was no way to maintain slavery.  According to Alexander Stephens, who was the only person to write in detail about the meeting, Lincoln even suggested he would get Congress to spend $400 million to help reimburse Southerners for their slaves, although that would have worked out to only a little over $100 per slave, quite a bit less than their full value.

 

     -#63 was also a reasonable fear, and in the end, Radical Republicans did all they could to punish the South, although eventually the Northern public got tired of the effort involved and backed off by early 1877.

 

     -#64 turned out to be true.  By the time of Lincon’s death, Louisiana, Tennessee, and Arkansas had all ratified the XIII Amendment, although in all of those states, many White Southerners were prevented from voting because of their support for the Confederacy.  Some other Southern states (occupied by the US Army) would ratify the Amendment over the course of the year, and it would officially become part of the Constitution on December 18, 1865, although some states would not ratify it until later, most recently Mississippi, which voted to ratify it in 1995, although the paperwork was not filed correctly, so that Mississippi did not officially ratify the Amendment abolishing slavery until 2013 (and 14 states in the West still have not ratified it).

 

     -#70 is significant, in that one part of the Republican Party’s platform in the 1860s was to build a Transcontinental Railroad, and with massive loans and massive gifts of land to two railroad companies, they did so between 1863 and 1869.

 

     -#73 is true, and as shown in the movie, Tad Lincoln was at another theatre watching a play called Aladdin at the time, although he was quietly taken home and told in private about his father’s death, and the theatre manager did not announce it to the audience as a whole until Tad was out of the building.

 

     -#74 is also true, although the President was shown curled up in his deathbed, whereas he was actually laid out flat, but had to be laid out diagonally across the bed because he was too tall to stretch out normally.

 

     -#75 is what Secretary of War Edwin Stanton said when Lincoln died.  He then organized a merciless hunt for Lincoln’s assassins and the subsequent trial of all those captured (although John Wilkes Booth himself was killed while on the run).

 

     -#76 is a slight flashback to Lincoln’s second Inaugural Address on March 4, 1865.

 

-Robert Lincoln was not present at his father's assassination in 1865.  He was at the White House, and rushed to be with his parents, where Robert attended his father's deathbed.  Later, in 1881, Robert Lincoln was named Secretary of War for President James A. Garfield's and was with him when he was shot on 2 July, 1881.  In 1901, President William McKinley invited Robert Lincoln to the Pan-American Exposition in Buffalo, New York, where the president was shot on 6 September 6, 1901.  Although Robert Lincoln was not an eyewitness to the event, he was just outside the building where the shooting occurred.  He was very careful never to meet a president again.

 

*The surrender of Lee and Johnston in April 1865, although a great victory for the North, was overshadowed by the great national tragedy of Lincoln’s death, a tragedy for both North and, it turned out, for the South.

 

*John Wilkes Booth was a famous actor from a family of famous actors (although his father and especially his brother were considered better than he).  The Booths were originally from England, but John Wilkes Booth was born and raised in Maryland and lived in Richmond and Washington immediately before and during the War.  Although he hated Blacks and hated the North for the destruction and humiliation faced by the South, he never joined the Confederate Army.  Instead, he devised a scheme to kidnap Lincoln, whom he blamed above all others, and exchange him for Confederate prisoners held in the North.  This plan did not amount to anything, but later, he and a number of conspirators hatched a plot to kill Lincoln, Johnson, Seward, and Grant.

 

*On the evening of 14 April, 1865, Lincoln went to Ford’s Theatre to see a popular play called ‘Our American Cousin.’  Booth, who got mail at the theatre, knew Lincoln would be there.  Grant was also supposed to be there, but Mrs Grant disliked Mrs Lincoln, and they made up a flimsy excuse about a trip out of town to avoid it, and another officer took his place.

 

*During Act III, scene 2, the funniest line in the play was guaranteed to get a laugh.  Hoping to use this to cover the sound of his gunshot, Booth sneaked into the Presidential box and fired his derringer into the back of Lincoln’s head.  The president collapsed immediately.  Booth leapt to the stage, catching his spur in the bunting and breaking his leg.  He cried ‘sic semper tyranis’ and limped from the theatre.  Doctors tried to help Lincoln (but probably made things worse).  He lived through the night, comatose, and died the next morning at 7:22.  Secretary Stanton said ‘now he belongs to the ages.’

 

*The man assigned to kill Seward tried and failed.  Seward had suffered a fall not long before and was wearing a neck brace when he was attacked.  His attacker tried to cut his throat, but was foiled by the metal brace.  Seward’s face and hands were badly cut up and he was expected to die, but he survived, although thenceforth he only had his photograph made in profile.

 

*The man assigned to kill Andrew Johnson changed his mind at the last minute and never attacked him.

 

*It is likely that no-one ever rose from humbler beginnings to become president than did Andrew Johnson.  His parents were poor farmers in North Carolina, and he was an illiterate tailor who never went to school.  He taught himself to read and his wife taught him to cipher.  He had been a successful Tennessee politician, serving as mayor of Greeneville before being elected governor, Congressman, Senator, and then appointed military governor during much of the War before Lincoln chose him, the most prominent loyal Southern Democrat, as running mate for the Union Party in 1864.  He was famous for supporting the interests of poor whites against big slave-owners.

 

*One of the first major actions of his presidency, of course, was the capture and execution of Booth’s accomplices, although this was largely directed by Edwin Stanton.  Booth himself was killed during the attempt to capture him.  Four of Booth’s accomplices, three men and one woman (Mary Suratt, the first woman executed by the US Government), were executed, and four others were imprisoned.


*The War left the South devastated, and the North relatively untouched, although still deeply bitter about the loss of lives and the murder of Lincoln.

 

*Half the Southern capitals had been captured or destroyed, along with many other cities, most of the South’s few factories, her cotton gins, her banking systems, and large sections of her railroads.  Before the War, five railroads converged on Columbia, SC, but after the War she was 20 miles from the nearest functioning rail line.

 

*$2 billion worth of slaves had been lost to the South, a vast investment vanished along with the investment in other improvements to the plantations over the years and in worthless Confederate paper money and bonds.  Livestock and crops had been stolen or destroyed.  Many Southerners also felt the Lost Cause had been a just one.  They would belong to the US again, but they did not have to like it.

 

*The freedmen did not just represent a huge financial loss for the South or the disruption of a social system dating to the foundation of most Southern states.  It also meant a loss of labour for planters who suddenly had no-one to plant or harvest their crops.  Furthermore, there was now an immense number of Blacks without any clear idea what to do next.

 

*Even before the war drew to a close, both Lincoln and Congress began to formulate plans to deal with the South and with Southerners, both black and white.  One of their first creations was the Freedmen’s Bureau, formed on 3 March 1865 and intended to help free blacks on their way to becoming productive citizens.

 

*The Freedmen’s Bureau was a sort of welfare agency.  It was meant to offer food, medical care, legal advice, and education to both freedmen and white refugees.  Later it would help blacks vote when they got that right.

 

*The Bureau did offer education, and it was gladly accepted by freedmen of all ages.  Sherman had given tracts of up to 40 acres and occasionally the loan of Army mules to slaves freed during his march.  ‘Forty acres and a mule’ came to symbolise Federal willingness to help former slaves and even redistribute private property.  Some radical members of Congress wanted to offer this to more freedmen, and passed a forty acres and a mule law, but it was rarely implemented and later defeated by Johnson, who rescinded all its grants.

 

*On 29 May 1865, Johnson issued his own plan for Reconstruction, known as Presidential Reconstruction.  It was based on Lincoln’s Ten Per Cent Plan, although it was not identical to it.  It disenfranchised rich Confederates worth over $20,000, and a few other prominent (but less wealthy) Confederate leaders, although they could appeal for individual pardons personally, mostly so that backwoods Johnson could gloat over their humiliation and defeat.  Southern states would have to call special state conventions to repeal the ordinances of secession and repudiate all Confederate debts.  This had the good effect of not leaving the South in debt, but, according to some interpretations, taken by Radical Republicans, meant that the South could not pay pensions to Confederate veterans, either.  Finally, the Southern states had to ratify the XIII Amendment.  States that did all this could return to the Union without other trouble, because Johnson saw them as being fellow states of the Union.  The Radical Republicans did not approve, but Congress was not in session and could not do much.  By the end of 1865, four Southern states (Tennessee, Arkansas, Louisiana, and Virginia) had re-joined the Union under Johnson’s terms.  Several states refused to ratify the XIII Amendment, but enough states did so that it became part of the Constitution in December 1865.

 

*As the Southern states returned to the Union, they found their own ways to deal with the freedmen.  All the Southern states created laws to limit the rights and opportunities of the freemen.  These were called Black Codes.  These varied in severity from state to state, but had more or less the same goals.  They meant to provide a stable workforce for the South and to control the Black population.

 

*In order to work, Blacks had to sign labour contracts, obliging them to work for a set period of time, typically a year, for one master.  Usually they were only paid at the end so they would not dare leave early, and they could have their pay docked for any number of reasons, some real and some not.  Contracted labourers who ran away could be hauled back forcibly, generally forfeited back pay, and sometimes were fined and then put to work to pay off the fines.

 

*The rights of freedmen were also limited.  Although they were legally free and could now marry and enjoy some other rights, they could not vote, serve on juries, or, in some places, own land or even rent or lease it.  Blacks could be punished for idleness and vagrancy by being forced into labour contracts.  Despite all the assumptions behind the Black Codes, most Blacks wanted to do honest work—few if any wanted to be vagrants.  The problem was finding work that treated them better than slaves.

 

*Without capital, and with nothing to offer but their labour, Freedmen many became share-croppers, working for a share of the crops that they grew.  Others became tenant farmers, technically renting the land and paying the rent out of the proceeds from the sale of crops, but always in debt and unable to leave or control their lives because they had to buy new seed, clothes, and other supplies each year, which the subsequent harvest barely paid off.  The same things happened to many poor whites, as the poor of both races were reduced to something very like slavery.

 

*Northerners asked if these Black Codes were what they had fought for since Sharpsburg.  Congressional Republicans certainly felt it was not.

 

*When Congress re-convened on 4 December, 1865 after a nine-month recess, the Republicans were shocked to see Southern Democrats back in town, many of them prominent former Confederates, including generals, cabinet officials, and even the former Vice-President, still under indictment for treason.

 

*Not wanting to lose power to a bunch of traitorous rebel Democrats, the Republicans refused to let their new colleagues take their seats in the House and Senate.  Congress’ refusal to seat the new congressmen angered President Johnson, however.  He had thought he was restoring the Union more or less as Lincoln wanted it done—with malice towards none, with charity for all.

 

*The Republicans, now that they saw their power, created what would become the XIV Amendment.  It conferred civil rights (including citizenship but not the vote) on freedmen, reduced representation of states in Congress and the Electoral College if they denied Blacks the right to vote, disqualified any former Confederates who had earlier held federal office from ever holding a federal or state office again, and guaranteed the national debt while repudiating the Confederate debt. 

 

*Under Congressional Reconstruction in 1866 and 1867, the old Ten Per Cent Plan applied with the additional requirement that all states ratify the XIV Amendment before returning to the Union.  Tennessee did so, but Johnson encouraged the rest of the South not to, and they happily obliged.

 

*On 2 March, 1867, Congress passed the Reconstruction Act.  Along with later acts, it abolished all Southern states (except Tennessee) saying they had forfeited their right to be states by their secession.  The states were divided into five military districts comprising between one and three old states, with each district having a military governor and about 20,000 occupying troops. 

 

*The Southern states under military reconstruction were required to ratify the XIV Amendment and to give Black males the right to vote.  Many whites also lost the right to vote temporarily.  The Reconstruction Act did not do what some Radicals and African-Americans had hoped though, neither offering free education nor forty acres and a mule.  The plan was to create friendly state governments and new state constitutions that would eventually let Congress and the Army pull out.

 

*The Radicals were afraid that once they left the South, the old Black Codes would return.  So, one year after the ratification of the XIV Amendment in 1868, Congress wrote the XV Amendment which made it illegal to deny the franchise on the basis of race or former condition of servitude.  This was ratified in 1870 by Republicans freely elected in the North and elected under military rule in the South.

 

*The Radicals were increasingly frustrated by that drunken tailor Johnson.  The Radicals had an ally in the executive branch, though.  Secretary of War Stanton was on their side and often told them what Johnson was up to, essentially serving as a spy against the president on behalf of Congress.  This angered Johnson almost as much as Johnson angered Congress.  Furthermore, it gave Congress an idea for a pretext for impeachment.

 

*In 1867 Congress declared that since the Senate had to confirm all Cabinet appointments, that also meant that the Senate had to confirm any removal from office of any Cabinet member during a president’s term.  This was called the Tenure of Office Act.  Congress knew Johnson, who badly wanted to fire Stanton, was likely to break this, and they turned out to be right.

 

*On 5 August, 1867 Johnson requested Stanton’s resignation.  Stanton refused and the Senate backed him up.  Stanton barricaded himself in his office, even after Johnson named General Grant as his replacement.  Grant eventually turned the job down to show support for Stanton.

 

*This gave Congress what they needed.  For violating the Tenure of Office Act Johnson was impeached by the House of Representatives.  During the Senate trial, however, Johnson behaved himself, was quiet, sober, and conciliatory, when he even appeared in the Senate chamber at all.  His defence suggested that the law was unconstitutional (and the Supreme Court would officially say so in 1926).  The prosecutors had a fairly flimsy case, and Johnson was acquitted, although only by one vote. 

 

*Congress would remain the most important part of the government for the rest of the century. The late 1800s would be characterised by relatively weak presidents (almost all of them Republicans elected by Union veterans) facing a more powerful Congress (often controlled by a slim majority of Democrats, at least in the House, and with the support of the entire South behind them, as no Southerner would ever vote for the Party of Lincoln).  Although voter turnout was very high, the differences between the two parties were fairly trivial and few great policies were enacted.

 

*With the army to protect them, black men in the South voted in great numbers.  Black Southerners were elected to the conventions that created new state Constitutions and they were elected to local, state, and even federal offices.  Between 1868 and 1876, 14 black Congressmen and 2 Senators (Hiram Revels and Blanche K. Bruce of Mississippi) were sent to Washington from the South.

 

*Southerners cursed the Yankees who came South to take part in Reconstruction and the new governments, calling these people carpetbaggers, suggesting that they were poor, no-account people at home who carried everything around in a cheap suitcase made of carpet scraps.  The only thing worse than a carpetbagger was a scalawag, a Southerner who became a Republican after the Civil War.  Most of these men had been Whigs and Unionists before and during the war, but some were former Democrats who changed parties when it became obvious who was running the show.

 

*The stereotype of these scalawags and carpetbaggers was that they were corrupt, opportunistic profit-seekers out to take advantage of the defeated South under a corrupt government.  In some cases that was true—the 19th Century after the Civil War was characterized by government corruption at almost all levels.  However, many were simply businessmen and even reformers who wanted to modernise the South, although many were, of course, not averse to making some money on the deal.  One carpetbagger governor with an $8,000 annual salary managed to make $100,000 in one year through graft.  

 

*Some, of course, did treat Reconstruction as a period of imperial rule, which is why no West Virginian owns the mineral rights on his own lands.  Indeed, some historians have described the South as an ‘internal colony’ in which it could be exploited for raw materials in the same way that Europeans of the 19th Century exploited their colonies overseas. 

 

*Former slave-owners are incensed to see their former slaves running their states, especially when they could not vote or hold office themselves.  They resented being a conquered people prevented from even voting by an occupying army that seized property and bullied former rebels into obedience.

 

*To fight back, Southerners formed resistance organizations.  On Christmas Eve, 1865 the Ku Klux Klan was formed in Pulaski County, Tennessee.  The name came from the Greek 'kyklos,' meaning 'circle.’  The Ku Klux Klan attacked freedmen, carpetbaggers, and scalawags in order to scare them away from things the Klan did not want them doing, especially voting or holding public office, but even to keep Black from buying their own property, especially in towns near White people.  Enemies of the Klan were harassed, kidnapped, and often murdered.  1,000 Louisianans alone were supposedly killed by the Klan in 1868, and 300 Republicans were killed across the South, including a Congressman.

 

*Congress was outraged by the Klan’s activities.  In 1870 and 1871 Congress passed the Force Acts, which gave the US Army tremendous power to use force against anyone suspected of participating in violence through the Klan or any similar group.  Under the president at that time, Ulysses S. Grant, the Army was very active in suppressing the Klan under these laws. 

 

*One irony of the creation of new state constitutions by Black legislators and Yankee carpetbaggers is that once the Southern states were back in the Union and the white population could vote again, those Black men and carpetbaggers lost most of their powers under the new ‘redeemed governments’ elected once Reconstruction ended one state at a time. 

 

*These Redeemer governments had to be careful not to re-create de facto segregation too quickly, as they could be re-occupied, and some were.  Southern governments remained volatile, but they began to run themselves as soon as they could, and by 1870 most Southern states were back in the Union.

 

*In 1876, Rutherford B. Hayes, Republican Governor of Ohio ran against Samuel Tilden, Democratic Governor of New York, for the presidency.  Hayes was a Civil War veteran, a fact his supporters mentioned often, thus ‘waving the bloody shirt.’  Tilden was more popular, however, and won a slight majority of the popular vote.

 

*In the Electoral College, however, things were closer.  Several states--Florida, South Carolina, Louisiana, and Oregon--had one or more of their electoral votes questioned, so that twenty votes were unallocated at the end of 1876.  The election was close—if Tilden got even one of the disputed votes, or if Hayes got them all, that man would win.

 

*Tilden probably should have won, but the Democrats were afraid to complain too loudly, because they feared (unjustifiably) that Grant would set himself up as military dictator if pushed too far.  Republicans were upset, but some were willing to let Tilden in.  Some Blacks were supposedly afraid that if Tilden did win, slavery would be re-established.  It was a very tense situation.

 

*Congress had to decide what to do, so they set up a special committee.  The committee had 7 Democrats, 7 Republicans, and one honest man.  However, at the last minute, the neutral man, David Davis of the Supreme Court, was appointed to the Senate and resigned his judgeship and his spot on the committee.  He was replaced by a Republican.  Not surprisingly, the commission voted 8 to 7 in favour of Hayes.

 

*The Democrats were furious.  However, rather than have a constitutional crisis, a bargain was reached:  the Compromise of 1877.  Tilden would let Hayes take office without complaint, but in return Reconstruction would end in the South, and some money would be spent to improve the Southern states in ways they wanted.

 

*By this point almost every Southern state was part of the Union again, but as government scrutiny declined the South returned to its old ways.  The Black Codes were replaced by Jim Crow Laws, civil rights were ignored, and Black suffrage was limited.  Furthermore, the North and especially the South would remain bitter about the war for generations to come.



This page last updated 25 September, 2019.
Powered by Hot Air