*Radical Republicans in Congress initially liked Johnson’s plan, because it did take the right to vote and participate in politics away from many wealthy Southerners and seemed to give power to the small farmers and was likely to restructure Southern society. However, Johnson began pardoning wealthy Southerners who came to him on bended knee, and soon almost all the Southern States had ratified the XIII Amendment, repudiated their debts, and re-established civil government, as Johnson required.
*The problem is, most Southerners do not act much differently. Blacks may be free, but they are still kept down. Each Southern state created ‘black codes,’ laws that restricted the rights of freedmen, as former slaves were called. These black codes contained oppressive provisions that included curfews (to keep blacks from gathering together after sunset), vagrancy laws (which let vagrants—blacks who did not work—be whipped, fined, or sentenced to a year’s labour and sold to a white man under a contract), labour contracts (obliging blacks to sign year-long contracts for which they were often paid at the end of the year so they could not quit), and land restrictions (allowing blacks to own or rent property only in rural areas, which essentially forced them to live on plantations). Of course blacks can not vote, marry white people, own firearms, or exercise many other rights white people enjoy.
*About as bad, from the Radical Republican point of view, Southern states immediately re-elect old Confederates to Congress. In 1865 Congress refuses to let these rebels take their seats. Johnson in return gets angry, and begins to veto Congressional actions.
*Congress declared that Reconstruction was a job for the legislative branch rather than the executive. As race riots, in which whites attacked blacks in major Southern cities (and New York), spread throughout the nation, a Congressional committee declared the Southern states to be in a state of disorder and that their elections had been invalid for that reason.
*To combat the black codes, Congress
created the XIV Amendment, which did a number of things, but the main point
was to ensure civil rights and equal protection under the law regardless
of race. Johnson condemned the amendment, but Congress overrode his
veto Southern states were required to ratify it, or Congress would take
control of the states.
*Tennessee had a radical governor named Parson William Brownlow, a Methodist minister, newspaper editor, and staunch Unionist (but not an abolitionist until after the War). Run out of the Confederacy during the war, he was elected governor during the brief period when most Confederates were disenfranchised. He immediately brought Tennessee back into the Union (making us the last the leave and the first to return) and he got the XIV Amendment ratified. Therefore, Tennessee was spared the harsher reconstruction measures of Congress, although Brownlow was as strict or stricter, and, though personally an honest man, his regime was characterised by corruption, by the use of force to prevent white attacks on blacks, and by growing unpopularity for Brownlow.
*All other Southern states refused
to ratify the XIV Amendment, and were denied statehood by Congress, which
passed the Reconstruction Act in 1867.
1. The South was divided into five military districts, each governed by a Union General.
2. Southern states were required to form new constitutions.
3. States had to allow all qualified male voters, including blacks, to vote.
4. Confederates were temporarily prevented from voting.
5. Southern states had to give equal rights to all citizens.
6. Southern states had to ratify the XIV Amendment.
These policies were enforced by military might.
*Congress considered giving free land to freed slaves (and in a few places did so; Sherman set up a system to re-distribute land in South Carolina in 1865). Supposedly the government was going to give every freedman ‘forty acres and a mule.’ Johnson stopped this and returned most of the land to its original owners.
*Congress also created more benign institutions, such as the Freedmen’s Bureau. Established in March, 1865, this government organisation gave food, clothing, medical aid, education, and legal advice to freed slaves. However, this was largely dismantled in 1869, as Northerners began to get bored with the problems of governing the South.
*In Washington, Congress and Johnson continued to butt heads. Johnson also had a spy in his cabinet—Edwin Stanton, a Radical, had passed information about Lincoln’s plan to Radicals in Congress like Thaddeus Stevens and Charles Sumner. When Johnson was president, Stanton did so much more, and undermined Johnson’s administration. Stanton also had power over the South through the military governors he controlled through the War Department.
*Johnson wanted to get rid of Stanton, but Congress did not want him to. Congress passed the Tenure of Office Act in 1867. It said that the President could not remove a member of his own cabinet without Congressional approval. This was declared unconstitutional much later.
*Finally Johnson got so annoyed by Stanton that he fired him. Technically this was a crime, and the House of Representatives impeached Johnson. This did not remove him from office, it simply sent him to the Senate for trial presided over by former Secretary of the Treasury, Chief Justice of the Supreme Court Salmon P. Chase. There it was determined that Johnson had not committed a high crime or a misdemeanour, and he was not convicted. In many ways it was a show trial, with a pre-arranged outcome (Johnson was acquitted by one vote). This was largely done to humiliate Johnson and weaken his already tenuous position.
*At the same time, in the South, the Reconstruction Act and the XV Amendment gave blacks the right to vote, and they all voted Republican, and the army made sure they could do so safely.
*Shortly afterwards US Grant was put forward as the Republican candidate. Johnson did not even run as a Democrat or a Republican. Horatio Seymour, former governor of New York ran and was defeated, in large part because in the South only a few whites could vote, but the army made sure blacks could vote safely, and they did so in record numbers for the party of Lincoln. They also sent many black representatives and senators to Congress and their state legislatures. The first black senator was elected in 1870: Hiram Revels of Mississippi, taking Jefferson Davis’s old seat.
*In 1869, the Supreme Court in Texas v White ruled that secession was illegal and also upheld that Congress had the right to restructure the state governments.
*In the South, the Republican Party took control, and, for enforcing the laws of the Radical Congress, were hated by other southerners. Some of the Republicans were Northerners who came south. These were called ‘carpetbaggers,’ named after cheap suitcases made of carpet scraps, implying that these were poor or low-class people coming down south to make a profit from the turmoil in the South. In truth, many were upstanding people with good intentions who meant to help the south and especially the blacks. Among the best of these were those who helped out the blacks through the Freedmen’s Bureau.
*Hated even worse than the carpetbaggers were the scalawags. These were Southerners who became Republicans in order to profit from the war and Reconstruction, when a lot of money got skimmed out of the government. A lot of Southerners hated these men for their corruption and ineptitude and for turning against the South.
*Reconstruction, especially after Grant’s
election, was a hard time for the South, held down under military rule.
Southerners also had to recover from economic displacement and a wildly
changed culture. Some Southerners, of course, fought back, while
others suffered in silence until Reconstruction was finally ended.
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This page last updated 15 October, 2003.