Abraham Lincoln and Reconstruction

Abraham Lincoln and Reconstruction


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(Cornell University Press, 1969)


Construction and Reconstruction in the Border States

Differences with Radical Republicans

Reconstruction in 1862

Emancipation and Reconstruction

Reconstruction in 1863

Reconstruction Proposal of December 1863

Reconstruction in 1864 and the Wade-Davis Bill

Reaction, Reconciliation and the Reelection in 1864

Reconstruction at the End of the War


Presidential aide William O. Stoddard remembered President Abraham Lincoln in September 1864 calling Stoddard to Lincoln’s bedroom to say goodbye before Stoddard left to become U.S. marshal for Arkansas: “The President lay on a sofa, apparently very weary, but received me in a most fatherly way. He expressed his strong good wishes for my success in my new career, for the restoration of my health, and so forth. Then he talked about the future of Arkansas, the Rebel States, and of the colored people.” According to Stoddard, President Lincoln concluded the conversation by saying: “The war is nearly over. Just when it will end, I can’t say. But it won’t be a great while. Then the Government forces must all be withdrawn from all the Southern states. Sooner or later, we must take them all away. Now, what I want you to do is this: do all you can, in any and every way you can, to get the ballot into the hands of the freedmen. We must make voters of them before we take away the troops. The ballot will be their only protection after the bayonet is gone, and they will be sure to need all they can get.”1

Arkansas, a somewhat reluctant member of the Confederacy, had fallen under shaky Union Army control in 1863. “Lincoln found his Arkansas reconstruction efforts premature, but he kept at it doggedly,” wrote historian Reinhard H. Luthin. “In July, 1863, he learned that one of the former United States Senators from Arkansas, William K. Sebastian, then living in Memphis, nurtured ideas (right after the fall of Vicksburg) about going to Washington and reclaiming his Senate seat.” Sebastian did not have “nerve enough” according to the Union commander. Luthin wrote that the Arkansas reconstruction “was by no means spontaneous…but pushed along by Lincoln’s political and military office holders.”2

In January 1864, a new Union civilian government and constitution had been established under the President Lincoln’s Proclamation of Amnesty and Reconstruction – although the conditions under which it was constituted were less than representative.3 On January 27, the president wrote General Frederick Steele, the military commander in Arkansas: “They seem to be doing so well, that possibly the best you can do would be to help them on their own plan; but of this, you must confer with them and be the judge. Of all things, avoid if possible, a dividing into cliques among the friends of the common object. Be firm and resolute against such as you can perceive would make confusion and division.”4 As Lincoln wished, the new constitution outlawed slavery in Arkansas. Nevertheless, Confederates forces threatened the state through much of 1864 and were vanquished only at the end of the year. Stoddard departed for Arkansas just as the 1864 presidential campaign was gaining force but while the reconstruction process the president had been pushing remained in limbo in many states. Historian William C. Harris wrote: “During the campaign opposition Democrats and ultraconservatives insisted that a liberal reconstruction policy, including a general amnesty for Confederates, was central to the return of peace and the restoration of the South to the Union. They faulted Lincoln for a reconstruction plan that violated constitutional principles in its insistence on exacting terms, especially emancipation, on states legally had never been out of the Union. These critics claimed that the Union could not be restored as long as the Emancipation Proclamation stood.”5 Historian Vernon Burton wrote of one Democratic newspaper: “The New York World criticized Lincoln for not having a plan for Reconstruction, comparing him to ‘a traveler in an unknown country without a map.’ Not true. Lincoln knew where he was headed and had already taken several important steps in the right direction.”6 The path was not easy given that Radical Republicans were exerting strong pressure for Lincoln to be even tougher toward the South, but as historian Paul Johnson wrote, President Lincoln was “clear about two things. First political justice had to be done to the blacks. Second, the South must be got back to normal government as quickly as possible once the spirit of rebellion was exorcized.”7

Reconstruction was a difficult problem to handle – especially given that the former master-slave relationships in the South needed to be drastically redefined. On August 15, 1863, General Stephen A. Hurlbut, who commanded Union forces in Arkansas, had sent President Lincoln a copy of a letter he had sent to S.B. Walker. In that letter Hurlbut said that “the relation of master and slave does not exist in Mississippi….and soon the banks of the Greater River will bristle with the bayonets of colored Regiments taken from the former slaves of the soil.”8 About the same time, Lincoln drafted a letter to General Hurlbut, an old Illinois acquaintance, which the president apparently never sent: “The within discusses a difficult subject – the most difficult with which we have to deal. The able bodied male contrabands are already employed by the Army. But the rest are in confusion and destitution. They better be set to digging their subsistence out of the ground. If there are plantations near you, on either side of the river, which are abandoned by their owners, first put as many contrabands on such, as they will hold – that is, as can draw subsistence from them. If some still remain, get loyal men, of character in the vicinity, to take them temporarily on wages, to be paid to the contraband themselves – such men obliging themselves to not let the contrabands be kidnapped, or forcibly carried away. Of course, if any [contrabands] voluntarily make arrangements to work for their living, you will not hinder them. It is thought best to leave details to your discretion subject to the provisions of the acts of Congress & the orders of the War Department.”9 Such details were of an abiding concern to the president, but of less concern to his congressional critics.

Arkansas was one of those states where Lincoln was testing his reconstruction policy – since much of the state was under Union control and effectively separated from most contact with the rest of the Confederacy. Even in Arkansas, getting subordinates in the field to adopt Lincoln’s approach and priorities regarding reconstruction was not easy. Historian William C. Harris wrote: “The most dramatic case of returning loyalty among Arkansans occurred a few months before the fall of Little Rock, when Brig. Gen. Edward W. Gantt, who had commanded Confederate forces at New Madrid, announced his abandonment of the rebellion. Gantt had been elected to the U.S. Congress in 1860 but did not take his seat. After becoming a prisoner of war in June 1863, Gantt proclaimed his support for the Union. He visited Lincoln in mid-July and told the president that the Southern masses, particularly Arkansans, were sick of the war and the reign of terror by [Jefferson] Davis and his ‘minions.'”10 This was, of course, what the president wanted to hear. He wanted the process of reconstruction and healing to begin even as the Civil War was still ending.

It was critical to Lincoln that genuine southerners become involved in their own reconstruction. Louisiana was another test case for the President in 1863 and 1864 – particularly important because the Union Army had controlled New Orleans since the spring of 1862. In November 1862, the president had written the military governor of Louisiana that former New Orleans Mayor Hugh “Kennedy, bearer of this, has some apprehension that Federal officers, not citizens of Louisiana, may be set up as candidates for Congress in that State. In my view, there could be no possible object in such an election – We do not particularly need members of Congress from there to enable us to get along with legislation here. What we do want is the conclusive evidence that respectable citizens of Louisiana, are willing to be members of Congress & to swear support to the Constitution; and that other respectable citizens there are willing to vote for them and sent them. To send a parcel of Northern men here, as representatives, elected as would be understood, (and perhaps really so,) at the point of the bayonet, would be disgusting and outrageous; and were I a member of Congress here I would vote against admitting any such man to a seat.”11 Getting enough loyal men to show up to hold an election was a challenge in itself – especially if Union control of a state was incomplete and if eligible voters in the area under Union control were not necessarily ready to pledge their allegiance to that Union.

Reconstruction was inextricably connected to the replacement of slavery with a new economic system and the replacement of secessionist governments with new political systems. Race was central – and unsettling – to both of these reconstruction efforts. What made white southerners happy often made black southerners and northern white Radicals unhappy. Historian Allan Nevins wrote: “The main root of the conflict (and there were minor roots) was the problem of slavery with its complementary problem of race-adjustment; the main source of the tragedy was the refusal of either section to face these conjoined problems squarely and pay the heavy costs of a peaceful settlement.” According to historian Allan Nevins, “It was a war over slavery and the future position of the Negro race in North America. Was the Negro to be allowed as a result of the shift of power signalized by Lincoln’s election, to take the first step toward an ultimate position of general economic, political and social equality with the white man? Or was he to be held immobile in a degraded, servile position, unchanging for the next hundred years as it had remained essentially unchanged for the hundred years past? These questions were implicit in Lincoln’s demand that slavery be placed in a position where the public mind could rest assured of its ultimate extinction.”12 And the ultimate extinction of slavery had been at the top of Lincoln’s political agenda since 1854 when Lincoln fought the extension of slavery through the Kansas-Nebraska Act.

President Lincoln had to mobilize one set of southerners whom he needed to get Reconstruction underway and to retain the support of northern Republicans in Congress with a far harsher vision of how reconstruction should proceed. Historian Allan G. Bogue wrote that the “agenda of the Republicans focused on a number of major subjects relating to the South, matters of great long-run social and political importance. These were emancipation, punishment of southerners, and the formulas of reunification. They were interrelated, and each subsumed a considerable number of legislative initiatives – bills, resolutions, and ultimately law. Both Lincoln and the congressmen correctly sensed that these areas of policy were fatefully important. In developing such legislation Lincoln and Congress were in constant interaction, often fruitful in historical retrospect, but sometimes frustrating, even infuriating, to those on both east and west Pennsylvania Avenue. Neither Lincoln nor any particular group in Congress ever achieved their objectives in full, and Lincoln died with the issue of restoration unresolved.”13

Facing the vagaries of shifting military and political realities in the South, President Lincoln was adaptable to circumstance. His approach to reconstruction typified that adaptability. “Early in the war,” wrote historian George T. McKinsey, “Lincoln wished for a reunion that would be speedy, that would avoid radical change in the South, and that would employ southern unionists. Lincoln’s plan probably represented both his personal preferences for restoring the Union and his sense of practicality. If most Northerners wanted a speedy reunion, the job would have to be accomplished with the most readily available personnel, that is, southern unionists.” The necessity to work with these southerners in reconstruction was fundamental to Lincoln’s approach. McKinsey wrote:

“Although soundly conceived, Lincoln’s plan was vulnerable on two counts. First, and most important, unless the war ended quickly, the Radicals would be able to argue that their plan would be better than the President’s and northern voters, paying a higher price for a longer war, would be more likely to agree. Second, if the southern unionists did not come forward, Lincoln’s conservative strategy would be discredited.”14

President Lincoln needed to confront the reality of racism in both the North and the South. His language therefore was oriented to that voting constituency. Lincoln himself told black leaders visiting the White House in August 1861: “You and we are different races. We have between us a broader difference than exists between almost any other two races. Whether it is right or wrong I need not discuss, but this physical difference is a great disadvantage to us both, as I think your race suffer very greatly, many of them by living among us, while ours suffer from your presence. In a word we suffer on each side. If this is admitted, it affords a reason at least why we should be separated.”15 Lincoln’s words were designed for publication and circulation among his white northern constituents whose racism he recognized and whose enthusiasm for preservation of the Union he could not afford to alienate.

At the beginning of the Civil War, the president concentrated on the Border States still in the Union. Writing of Maryland, historian Jean H. Baker observed: “Slavery could not simply go out, like a candle, in a border state where hatred of a large free Negro population still raged.”16 Reconstruction was closely tied to questions regarding emancipation of slaves and the future of former slaves. President Lincoln told Texas Judge Thomas H. Duval “that while the destruction of slavery was a necessary incident of war, he was well aware that its sudden extinction would be attended with great ruin; that for his own part, he saw nothing inconsistent with the gradual emancipation of slavery and his proclamation; that while he would be glad to see a majority of the people of Texas act as I hoped they would in reference to this proposition, yet if we could only succeed in inaugurating a…state government in Texas, inside of the Union, he would recognize and protect [it] with all the power of the government of the United States.” 17

Lincoln tried to use the Border States as test cases for the elimination of slavery and the development of new political models. Tempestuous Missouri often tried his patience as military and civilian leaders came into repeatedly conflict. Lincoln recruited former slaveholders there to lead the state’s transformation toward an economic and political system without slavery. Historian Michael Burlingame noted: “On December 10, 1862, Missouri Senator John B. Henderson introduced a bill (which Lincoln may have drafted) earmarking funds to compensate Missouri slaveholders. In the House, Congressman John W. Noell of Missouri offered a slightly different proposal.” Burlingame noted: “If Missouri, Maryland, and Kentucky did free their slaves with financial help from Congress, backlash against emancipation would be minimized. If they did not, Lincoln at least wanted to appear magnanimous by demonstrating his willingness to go to great lengths in helping them avoid the shock of sudden, uncompensated emancipation.”18

President Lincoln knew that he could not impose a one-size-fits-all set of reconstruction criteria on either the Border States or on post-secession state governments. Historian William C. Harris wrote: “Lincoln viewed the pace of civil restoration and its substance as a matter for Southern white Unionists to determine based on the particular circumstances in their states..” Harris wrote: “To preserve self-government and avoid the appearance of federal dictation, the president was frequently vague and unhelpful in his instruction to military governors and others whom he entrusted with reconstruction, which often created confusion in the execution of his policies.” Harris noted: “Lincoln’s commitment to Southern Unionists and to the principle of self-reconstruction thus significantly restricted his vaunted flexibility as president.” Harris wrote: “Lincoln held tightly to the idea that the restoration of civil government in the hands of Southern Unionists should occur simultaneously with the armed suppression of the rebellion. Self-reconstruction, he believed, should be employed as an important weapon to end rebel resistance, provide for future loyal governments, and guarantee the permanency of ‘the noblest political system the world ever saw.'”19 Although local cooperation was necessary, Lincoln increasingly came to understand that Union authorities needed Washington’s leadership to get the Reconstruction process moving. Herman Belz wrote: “The possibility that southern Unionists might organize state governments on their own initiative had long since disappeared, which meant that whether under the supervision of Congress or the President, reconstruction would involve a great assertion of federal power.” 20 Harris wrote: “These governments would be formed by a ‘tangled nucleus’ of Southern Unionists and would meet the president’s important test for self-government in the South.”21

As the war progressed, Lincoln’s ideas about reconstruction took firmer shape. Historian Richard J. Carwardine wrote of Lincoln’s Second Annual Message to Congress in December 1862 that President Lincoln’s “proposals sought to energize emancipationists in the loyal border states and destroy slavery in places well beyond the proclamation’s remit. And – in a lengthy passage which confronted economic racism even more powerfully than it advocated voluntary deportation, and made a start in educating whites to tolerate a free black population in their midst – Lincoln challenged, as he had never before, the ‘largely imaginary, if not sometimes malicious’ argument that emancipation would depress the wages of white labor, and that freedmen would ‘swarm forth, and cover the whole land.'”22

Still, flexibility was key to reconstruction – as Lincoln wrote a famous April 1864 letter to Kentucky editor Albert Hodges: “I claim not to have controlled events, but confess plainly that events have controlled me. Now, at the end of three years struggle the nation’s condition is not what either party, or any man devised, or expected. God alone can claim it. Whither it is tending seems plain. If God now wills the removal of a great wrong, and wills also that we of the North as well as you of the South, shall pay fairly for our complicity in that wrong, impartial history will find therein no new cause to question applaud attest and revere the justice and goodness of God.”23 Lincoln overstated the case deliberately to stress that what others did in the Border States and the South limited his own freedom of action. Former Treasury Secretary Salmon P. Chase argued in the summer of 1864 that Lincoln “thought [the] best policy was to have no policy. I thought definite ideas and decisive action upon them important. He was slow and reluctant in coming to the conclusion that all loyal men in rebel states ought to be free men and should be organized for armed defense of themselves & the Union – & even yet though willing to put arms into their hands he is not wiling to put ballots. Within the last few days he has pocketed the great act of Congress for reorganization of loyal government in rebel states on the basis of universal freedom. In all others matters my views & his are opposite.”24

In addition to differences with Lincoln’s own administration, the president faced strong differences with Congress over how to handle reconstruction. Historian John Hope Franklin wrote: “The harder Lincoln worked, the more adamant Congress became, persistently refusing to seat representatives from the ‘Lincoln states.'”25 In a March 10, 1862 dispatch to British Foreign Minister Lord Russell, the British Minister to Washington, Lord Lyons, laid out the differences between the positions by the President and more radical members of Congress:

“Mr. [Charles] Sumner’s view is that the Seceding States have, by the act of secession, committed political suicide, that their state laws and institutions are consequently extinct, and therefore that the Negro population comes under the common law and is consequently already de jure free. The Seceding States themselves when subjugated must, according to Mr. Sumner, be considered as conquered territory subject in all respect to the will of the central Federal Government, and not entitled to be represented in Congress until they shall be re-admitted as states on such conditions as that body may prescribe.”

“In a similar spirit, other members of the extreme Abolition Party have introduced into Congress a bill for the immediate confiscation of all slaves belonging to disloyal owners. The extreme Abolition Party may therefore be said to reject all idea of a compromise with the South, or of a restoration of the old Union. They are willing to drive the South to fight with desperation. They desired to pursue the war until their former citizens are reduced to the condition of a conquered people.”
“Mr. Montgomery Blair, although one of the strongest opponents of slavery, dissents altogether from this view. He regards Secession as the work of the politicians rather than of the slave owners in the South. He considers the strong excitement in the South to be produced not by fears for the safety of property, but by a dread of losing the superiority of caste. He believes the excitement to be strongest with the Whites who are not slave owners. He himself appears to share in this ‘antagonism of race.’ He thinks, if provision were made for completely separating the two races, in other words for the removal of the blacks to another country, the objection of the South to emancipation might be removed. He believes it possible, by taking practical measures of this kind, ‘to extinguish hostility in the hearts of the masses of the South towards the people of the North, and secure their cooperation in putting an end to slavery.'”
“The message of the President leans towards the opinions of Mr. Blair rather than towards those of the extreme Party. It recommends that Congress shall at once pass a Resolution that the Central Government will give pecuniary aid to any state which may determine on gradually abolishing slavery. He proposes that the question of abolishing slavery should be left entirely to the free choice of the several states. It hints, however, that if the war be protracted, compulsory emancipation may be an incident: ‘which may seem indispensable, or may obviously promise great efficiency towards ending the struggle’ and which consequently ‘must and will come’.”
“The President does not appear to anticipate any immediate practical results from the adoption by Congress of the resolution which he recommends. The importance of the message seems to consist chiefly in its being a positive declaration that the Government is now on the side of emancipation; that it regards emancipation as the ultimate object of its policy. This is held to be a return to the tenets of the founders of the Republic. It is certainly a wide step in advance from the position which was occupied by the men in power in modern days; for they, under the influence of the South, maintained that slavery was to be upheld or even extended by all the influence of the Government.”
In dealing with those States, or parts of States, in which the Federal authority has been already re-established by force of arms, the Government has not applied Mr. Sumner’s principles. In the State of Tennessee, for instance, it has established a temporary military government; but has not given its power to interfere with the ordinary civil laws and constitution of the state, except so far as may be necessary for the maintenance of the Federal authority and the advancement of military operations. It is intended to restore the regular state government, if it can be done with safety. In fact, however, the State of Tennessee is only in part subdued; each belligerent has an army in that State.”26

Andrew Johnson was named military governor of Tennessee, but at the British ambassador prophesied, Tennessee would remain subject to Confederate military incursions through late 1864. In the meantime, President Lincoln felt constrained by the U.S. Constitution in what he could and could not do regarding emancipation and reconstruction. Not all fellow Republicans felt or recognized similar limitations. Lincoln’s oath of office, constrained him, but aggravated others. Historian Allen C. Guelzo noted that all Lincoln’s emancipation “plans had something in them to irritate the abolitionists: they did not immediately free the slaves, which looked to the abolitionists like a violation of justice in deference to the dictates of produce; they gave money to slaveholders, which reminded the abolitionists of nothing so much as a reward for having robbed others; and they were content to wait until slaveholders (or at least their legislatures) were ready. ‘You will not inspire Old Abe,’ grumbled one abolitionist, Senator Zachariah Chandler, ‘with courage, decision, or enterprise, with a galvanic battery.'”27

Construction and Reconstruction in the Border States

Although they did not technically constitute reconstruction since most Border States remained in the Union, the Lincoln Administration’s policies toward Border States presaged Lincoln’s attitudes towards states that seceded and needed to be reintegrated into the Union. It was vital to keep the Border States in the Union so that their resources would not be available to the Confederacy and so that these states would not needed to be “reconstructed” later. At a White House conference with Kentucky leaders in the spring of 1861, President Lincoln said: “Kentucky must not be precipitated into secession. She is the key to the situation. With her faithful to the Union, the discord in the other states will come to and end. She is now in the hands of those who do not represent the people. The sentiment of her State officials must be counteracted. We must arouse the young men of the State to action for the Union. We must know what men in Kentucky have the confidence of the people and who can be relied on for good judgment, that may be brought to the support of the Government at once.”28

As the Civil War wore on, one thing was key in the Border States – encouraging emancipation – whether unsuccessfully pushing compensated emancipation in Delaware in 1861, pushing constitutional emancipation in West Virginia in 1862, or pushing a constitutional amendment in Maryland in 1864. It was a delicate balance that Lincoln sought to maintain in this area. Historian Allen C. Guelzo noted: “One sharp jolt, one careless word, one idiot in newly made shoulder straps practicing ‘a little of the abolition system,’ and the whole Border might fall over into Confederate hands, and that would be the end of it all, for Lincoln, the North, and the slaves. The Border states held the wheat, corn, meat and manufacturing that the cotton-bloated South lacked; they accounted for more than a third of the white population of the South; and they controlled the great inland rivers – the Ohio, the Mississippi, the Potomac – that were the highways of the American economy.”29

Virginia was an early test case as Lincoln sought to encourage the development of a Union alternative government to the secession government in Richmond and then the partition of the state to create a new government in West Virginia – which was admitted to the Union in 1863 only after it had outlawed future slavery in its constitution. Historian Eric Foner noted: “The first Southern state to abolish slavery at least partially of its own volition was West Virginia, where blacks comprised only 5 percent of the population. Reconstruction, in a sense, began in 1861 when a convention of Unionists meeting in Wheeling repudiated Virginia’s secession and chose Francis H. Pierpont, a railroad attorney and coal mine operator, as the state’s legitimate governor. In 1863 West Virginia was admitted to the Union as a separate state, with the proviso that it abolish slavery. A popular referendum then approved a plan whereby all blacks born after July 4, 1863, would enjoy freedom. By the end of the war, complete emancipation had been enacted.”30

In Virginia, noted Allen C. Guelzo, “The Restorers did not abolish slavery and rejected even a proposal for gradual emancipation in December 1861. But they did forbid further importation of slaves, and when the Restored government petitioned for recognition as an entirely new state in May 1862, the Senate Committee on Territories made gradual emancipation a requirement.” 31 Of 1864, historian William C. Harris wrote: “The state convention proceeded with alacrity to adopt a new constitution for Virginia. On March 10 the convention approved a provision abolishing slavery, making Virginia the first Confederate state to provide for emancipation in its fundamental law. Freed blacks, however, received no rights in the new constitution.” 32 By such trial and error, President Lincoln devised reconstruction. He pushed and cajoled more than he ordered – understanding that his orders might not always be constitutional or practical. Moreover, he could not order anything where the Union Army was not firmly in control. As historian Brooks Simpson noted: “Nowhere in the Confederacy did Lincoln’s new program produce the results he sought. Virginia’s already recognized, if woefully unrepresentative, ‘Restored Government of Virginia’ had purposely been excluded from its terms. At Lincoln’s urging, [Governor Francis H.] Pierpont called a constitutional convention consisting of only seventeen men from thirteen counties, and in March 1864 it issued a new state constitution for Virginia that abolished slavery and dis[en]franchised all Virginians who voluntarily supported the Confederacy after January 1, 1864.”33

Through cajolery, Lincoln kept the Union loyalty of recalcitrant slaveholders in the Border States. Historian Hans L. Trefousse wrote that in January 1862: “Conservative as he was, and not willing to cast doubt on his Unionism, Senator Garrett Davis of Kentucky assured the president that, ‘I am your true and unwavering supporter in waging this war, and in the reconstruction of the Union…upon the principles which you have proclaimed to the people of the United States and will vote to strengthen your hands with every constitutional power to bring the war to a speedy and successful close.'”34 Historian Richard J. Carwardine wrote that “the conservatism that suited the men and women of the border would provide inadequate inspiration in the longer term for the Union as a whole. Over the course of the conflict Lincoln would have to reshape and rearticulate the war’s stated purposes, and thereby seek to inspire the devotion of the mass of instinctive Unionists in the face of setbacks, suffering and loss. He came to see that his power ultimately depended on harnessing the freely offered energies of loyal citizens who were driven more by ‘Yankee’ religious imperatives than by the pragmatic conservatism of the lower North.”35 Lincoln’s stirring biblical themes of the Second Inaugural of March 1864 seemed custom-made for those religious imperatives.

Differences with Radical Republicans

President Lincoln could not, of course, ignore the imperatives of his governing coalition in Congress as he dealt with emancipation and reconstruction. Lincoln biographer Stephen B. Oates wrote: “First, from the summer of 1861 on, several Republican senators – chief among them Charles Sumner of Massachusetts, Benjamin F. Wade of Ohio, and Zachariah Chandler of Michigan – met frequently with Lincoln and implored him to alter his slavery policy. Perhaps no other group prodded and pushed the President so much as they.” Oates noted that Wade was particularly implacable; he “was short and thick-chested, with iron-gray hair, sunken black eyes, and a square and beardless face. He was blunt and irascible, know as ‘Bluff Ben’ for his readiness to duel with slaveowners, and he told more ribald jokes than any other man in the Senate.”36 Republicans radicals like Wade had a tendency to rub the president the wrong way. Lincoln once complained to Ward Hill Lamon, “I would rather be dead than, as president, thus abused in the house of my friends.”37 The radicals were vocal but they were not as numerous as they pretended. Historian Leonard Curry identified just 12 Republican Senators and 25 House Republicans as radicals.38

Balance between competing ideological and political viewpoints was critical for the president to succeed with reconstruction. Lincoln, according to historian Phillip Shaw Paludan, “took care to see that the intraparty conflict remained civil and that he kept ties to his more radical colleagues.” 39 Historian Michael Les Benedict distinguished between political and legislative radicals in Congress. Politics was often as much a matter of convenience as conviction. “The two facets of radicalism were often closely related,” wrote Benedict. However, “radicalism must be understood as a potent political weapon in the hands of bitter personal and political enemies within the Republican party.”40 Minnesota Senator Morton S. Wilkinson recalled that “it was not always fair sailing even in our Republican caucus. The Senators met in this way one morning when some grave and important measure (which I do not now remember) was about to come up for action. I recollect that on that occasion we were regaled by a long statement and speech from Mr. [Jacob] Collamer to the effect that he had about made up his mind that the country would no longer endure the reverses, and the expenses and losses which had occurred. Mr. Fessenden followed in a similar strain. After him came [Ira] Harris and then several others.” Wade, Chandler, and Wilkinson walked out. Later, however, the Senate caucus moved to their position.41 Still, it is possible to overdraw the distinctions among Republicans on reconstruction – as fractious as they might be at times. Historian David H. Donald argued: “It has even become hard to identify a distinctively Radical position on such questions as slavery, confiscation of Confederate property, Negro voting, and the readmission of Southern states.”42

The clash between branches of government over reconstruction policy was natural – especially given many Republicans’ Whig ancestry – an ancestry that respected legislative initiative. Historian Herman Belz wrote: “Lincoln and Congress frequently clashed because of the inherent disposition to conflict in the separation of powers. The institutional structure, that is, rather than differences over principle or policy led to controversy. Despite agreement on policy, lawmakers often felt compelled to protect legislative prerogatives, as in the Habeas Corpus Act of 1863 or the Wade-Davis reconstruction bill of 1864.”43 Because of their different perspectives, there were natural frictions between the executive and legislative branches. Even Lincoln supporters like Massachusetts Senator Henry Wilson wavered and wangled when the President’s pace seemed too slow. Historian Ernest A. McKay wrote: “Wilson had shown that he could gladly support moderate measures, such as gradual or compensated emancipation, but he grew impatient when they did not produce results. He had wanted to cooperate with the President, but as time passed he believed that there should be a general emancipation proclamation. Lincoln’s cautious attitude until mid-1862 did not please Wilson and he commenced to press him for greater action. The President complained to Senator John B. Henderson of Missouri that, ‘Stevens, Sumner and Wilson haunt me with their importunities for a Proclamation of Emancipation. Where I go and whatever way I turn, they are on my trail, and still in my heart, I have a deep conviction the hour has not yet come.”44 For Lincoln, his constitutional responsibility to preserve the Union came before his personal preferences about the extinction of slavery.

Politics and reconstruction were an ongoing balancing act for President Lincoln. Presidential aide John Hay wrote in a newspaper column in March 1862 that President Lincoln “planted himself with his back to the rock of the Constitution, and for the last year has fought bravely and successfully against the whole crowd of radicals. But through Congress and the abolition press, they are becoming masters of the position, by climbing and stealing behind him, and sooner or later he must succumb. When that time comes, God help us; for without such aid, the country will be ruined for a generation to come.”45 Lincoln, according to historian Phillip Shaw Paludan, “took care to see that the intraparty conflict remained civil and that he kept ties to his more radical colleagues.”46 At least at the beginning of the war, Lincoln also had to appease Union Democrats. Kansas Republican editor Daniel W. Wilder, himself a Lincoln political appointee, wrote: “When Lincoln wrote to the Copperheads he used to tell them that he was following, not leading, the people. There must have been a twinkle in his eye when he wrote those things, for, though the Radicals led him, he was, by those very words, converting and leading Copperheads. It was ‘strategy, my boy.'”47

“Although the radicals never constituted a majority of Republicans, they were the most aggressive faction in the party,” noted historian Allan G. Bogue. “A vigorous, determined minority with a clear vision of what it wants and how to get it always has an advantage, especially in time of crisis. The radicals controlled key committee chairmanships in the Congress. In the Senate, Charles Sumner and Henry Wilson of Massachusetts were chairmen respectively of the Committee on Foreign Affairs and the Committee on Military Affairs. John P. Hale of New Hampshire chaired the Naval Affairs Committee. Zachariah Chandler of Michigan headed the Committee on Commerce, and Benjamin Wade of Ohio served as chairman of both the Committee on Territories and the Joint Committee on the Conduct on the Conduct of the War. In the House, the radical Pennsylvanians Galusha Grow and Thaddeus Stevens held the two most important positions – Speaker and chairman of the Ways and Means Committee.”48 The Radicals simply too well positioned to be ignored by President Lincoln. Some like Wade and Hale were simply too obnoxious to be ignored.

Pro-emancipation firebrands like Massachusetts Senator Sumner often grew impatient with the President’s policies on slavery and reconstruction. While managing reconstruction, Lincoln had to manipulate Sumner. Historian Fawn M. Brodie wrote: “Mr. Lincoln was the only man living who ever managed Charles Sumner, or could use him for his purpose.”49 Biographer Frederick J. Blue wrote that at the beginning of the Civil War, “Sumner, like most Northerners, believed the Confederacy would give in after a brief struggle. In his eyes, the president’s resolve had prevailed over the insincerity and duplicity’ of many in Washington: ‘As I see more of him I like him better.'”50 But Sumner never stopped pushing. His advocacy of black civil rights spanned many years. McPherson wrote: “Senator Sumner introduced in February 1863, a bill to grant 10 acres of land to every Negro soldier.”51 By 1864, he had helped create a Senate Select Committee on Slavery and Freedmen, with himself as chairman.

Pro-emancipation Republican Carl Schurz, who served in both military and diplomatic posts during the Civil War, wrote in his memoirs: “I felt with [Charles] Sumner, but at the same time I learned to understand Mr. Lincoln. He was perfectly sincere in saying that, as the head of the government, he regarded the saving of the Union, with or without the destruction of slavery, as the paramount objet to be accomplished. He was equally sincere in believing that the destruction of slavery would turn out to be a necessary means for the salvation of the Union, aside from the desirability of that destruction on its own merits. Seeing the necessity of emancipation by the act of the government rapidly approaching, he wished, in the interest of the blacks as well as of the whites, that emancipation to be gradual, if it possibly could be made gradual under existing circumstances. Nor would he shrink from sudden emancipation if the circumstances so shaped themselves as to leave no choice. But he would delay the decisive step until he could be reasonably sure that it could be taken without danger of producing a fatal disintegration of the forces co-operating in the struggle for the Union. He reasoned that, if we failed in that struggle, a decree of emancipation would be like the Pope’s bull against the comet. This reasoning was doubtless correct, but it caused hesitations and delays which were sorely trying to the composure of the more ardent among the anti-slavery men. I have to confess that I belonged to that class myself, and that I did not fully appreciate the wisdom of his cautious policy until it had borne its fruit.”52 Congressional Radicals were generally hard to please.

Republican Radicals needed a “hero” to compete on the national stage with President Lincoln. General John C. Frémont’s emancipation proclamation in Missouri in August 1861 gave him that stature for many Radicals. President Lincoln, however, was determined to maintain control of both emancipation and reconstruction and forced Frémont to rescind his declaration. Frémont biographer Andrew Rolle noted: “Fremont’s emancipation proclamation had been intended to quell guerrilla warfare and to penalize disloyal slaveowners in the North, but its wider significance was to drive a deeper wedge between radical and conservative Northerners. If not countermanded, it would have sought to convert a war fought to preserve the Union into an effort to free slaves.”53 Frémont certainly had Radical supporters for his actions. Historian James M. McPherson wrote: “Lincoln’s revocation of Frémont’s proclamation ended the five-months armistice between abolitionists and the administration. Gone were the fond hopes that the president would quickly perceive the need to strike at slavery in order to win the war. Sharp criticism of Lincoln began to appear more frequently in abolitionist writings; it was not a time for pulling punches or abolitionist writings; it was not a time for pulling punches or speaking softly. There was a moral and political conflict in the North between conservatives and radicals over the question of human freedom. Abolitionists enlisted wholeheartedly for the duration of this struggle, determined that it should end in nothing less than universal emancipation.”54 Lincoln, however, understood that he could not cede control of either emancipation or reconstruction to either impetuous generals or irritable congressmen.

In late March 1862, presidential aide John Hay wrote a newspaper column in which he maligned the congressional radicals – whom he and fellow aide John G. Nicolay privately called “Jacobins” – without precisely naming them: “‘We elected this man,’ said they, ‘and now he ignores our existence. We put him where he is now, expecting to find in him a pliant tool for our own purposes, and now he takes the reins into his own hands and cooly orders us out of the way. And now we begin to find out that we are not to rule the nation after all, and that the loaves and fishes are not to flow into our hands. We are tired of this man,’ said they, ‘and we want another in his place. We put him up, and we will pull him down.’ Thenceforth the President and his Cabinet were black-balled with the foulest charges, the vilest insinuations, the most malicious aspersions – attacked in open field, or from some sly ambuscade by this disappointed clique. Then came Fremont’s famous Missouri splurge, in the shape of a proclamation. Eureka! The malcontents had found a man after their own hearts. The proclamation came just in the nick of time. To be sure it was not very judicious as a war measure just at that particular time. But what matter? It was a grand political hit, and showed in what particular province its originator was most likely to win laurels; and the clique of malcontents, hitherto nameless, organized themselves as Fremont men.”55 Hay charged that the Radicals wanted to put pressure on Lincoln to replace General George B. McClellan with Frémont. Hay proclaimed: “The President has said very plainly and unequivocally that he is not of them, and that he will ‘none of them.’ But they do not yet despair of so working upon the people by false representation as to bring to bear upon the Administration so strong a pressure as shall induce it to oust McClellan and put a man of their choosing in his place.”56

Lincoln occasionally used differences between Conservatives and Radicals as useful counterweights in pursuing his own policy. John Hay wrote in April 1862 regarding slavery: “The President has clearly enough defined his position, and there is not enough of reckless radicalism in Congress to override his wishes or nullify his acts.”57 Historian Russell F. Weigley wrote that “Lincoln steered his way carefully to avoid either imprisonment by the Radicals, as he feared would result if he sacrificed [Secretary of State William H.] Seward in favor of [Secretary of the Treasury Salmon P.] Chase, or outright collision with them. If he became their prisoner, he would be left with inadequate partisan support, because the number of categorical Radicals in the Republican Party across the nation and even in Congress, notwithstanding the actions of the caucus, was too small to sustain Lincoln’s government through the multiple pressures of war and forthcoming elections.”58

When Secretary of War Simon Cameron had proposed emancipation and recruitment of black soldiers in a report in late November 1861, radicals cheered and Lincoln demurred. Cameron wrote in his draft report: “If it shall be found that the men who have been held by the rebels as slaves are capable of bearing arms and performing efficient military service, it is the right and may become the duty of the government to arm and equip them, and employ their services against the rebels…”59 Cameron asked attorney Edwin M. Stanton for his advice and the future secretary of war added: “Those who make war against the Government justly forfeit all rights of property, privilege, and security derived from the constitution and the laws against which they are in armed rebellion; and, as the labor and service of their slaves constitute the chief property of the rebels, such property should share the common fate of war to which they have devoted the property of local citizens.”60

Reconstruction in 1862

As the Union Army began to take over more Confederate territory in 1862, questions arose regarding how to implement reconstruction. “Lincoln had been working at reconstruction from the very first invasion of the Confederacy,” wrote historian Roy F. Nichols. “When Grant had penetrated Tennessee, when Farragut had run past the forts at New Orleans, and Union forces had seized power on the North Carolina coast, Lincoln had be begun action. He appointed provisional governors for Tennessee, Louisiana, North Carolina, Texas and Arkansas. In the spring of 1862, Senator Andrew Johnson became the executive of Tennessee and General [George F.] Shepley, of Louisiana. These were most effective in their endeavors and by December 1862 new steps toward reconstruction had been taken. Lincoln authorized General Shepley to hold elections for Congress in two districts, and two antisecessionists were duly chosen and admitted to Congress.”61 (When Louisiana held elections two years later, Congress would refuse to seat the state’s representatives.)

Congress sought to take the initiative in 1862 regarding reconstruction policies. One such effort was the Second Confiscation Act. Under the Second Confiscation Act, “The President is hereby authorized at any time hereafter, by proclamation to extend to any persons who may have participated in the existing rebellion in any state or part thereof, pardon and amnesty, with such exceptions and at such time and on such conditions as he may deem expedient for the public welfare.” Historian Herman Belz wrote: “The purpose of confiscation at first seemed to be to weaken the enemy and strength the Union by raising money from the sale of confiscated property. It was a means of maintaining the Union. Thus Lyman Trumbull, impatient with uncertainty over the method by which confiscation should proceed, argued that the government must simply take the rebel property and well it whether individual southerners came to trial or not. Senator Lot M. Morrill of Maine urged immediate seizure and sale of rebel property to aid the Union effort, while Thomas D. Eliot of Massachusetts described the taking of enemies’ property as a legitimate instrument of war.”62 President Lincoln had doubts about the legislation’s constitutionality. Historian William E. Gienapp wrote that “time and again, he effectively outmaneuvered the Radicals and defeated their efforts to dictate policy. As agitation to make emancipation a Union war aim intensified in the party, Lincoln undercut the Radicals by signing the First and then the Second Confiscation Acts. After signing the second act, which provided for the emancipation of any slave owned by a disloyal master, Lincoln ignored the law and continued to pursue his policy of compensated emancipation under state auspices.”63

“The cumulative pressure of the assault on slavery undermined the resistance of moderate Republicans, and in the spring [of 1862], the legislative mill began to grind,” observed historian Bruce Tap. “An amendment to the Articles of War prohibited officers from returning, even to loyal masters, fugitives who came within army lines. Lincoln refused to communicate the amended article to Union commanders, but his defiant attitude only played into the hands of the radicals. In quick succession they rammed through Congress bills for compensated emancipation in the District of Columbia, for the prohibition of slavery in the territories, and for the repeal of the Fugitive Slave Law,” wrote historian George H. Mayer. “Lincoln signed all three measures, because they did not directly raise constitutional issues regarding the status of slave property. The second Confiscation bill was in a different category. It produced a host of legal questions and reached Lincoln’s desk in early July, just as rumors of the collapse of the Peninsular campaign and [General George B.] McClellan’s retreat began to circulate. Even earlier, critics of the Confiscation bill had been cowed by cries of treason, and with the country in an ugly mood the President had every incentive to sign the bill. Yet he seriously considered a veto, because it had been formulated on the theory that the Confederate states were out of the Union and that their constitutional doctrine but to two provisions of the bill: one that ignored the constitutional prohibition against the forfeiture of property in perpetuity, and one that denied a court hearing to those threatened with confiscation.” 64 Lincoln’s attorney general, who had little staff or authority, was given responsibility for enforcing the acts.65 “Lincoln showed little energy in enforcing the bill,” wrote Allen C. Guelzo. “He gave no directions on enforcement to Attorney General Edward Bates, and Bates…declined to issue a circular of instructions to federal attorneys.”66 One reason, according to historian Frederick J. Blue, was that President Lincoln had already decided on issuing the Emancipation Proclamation.67 The Confiscation Acts prepared the way for that act.

Lincoln understood that emancipation and reconstruction were inescapably linked. Lincoln scholar Lucas Morel wrote: “Throughout his public career, Lincoln had viewed the emancipation of American slaves not as a near-term possibility but as the eventual product of an ever-progressing, ever-liberating American union devoted to restricting the spread of slavery and placing it ‘where the public mind shall rest in the belief that it is in course of ultimate extinction.”68 The Civil War provided the president with the tools to speed that extinction – but he also had to prepare for the political, legal, economic, and social results of emancipation.

President Lincoln issued the Draft Emancipation Proclamation on September 22, 1862. Historian Brian R. Dirck wrote that by then, “all Lincoln knew was that, first, the Emancipation Proclamation was fundamentally a legal document, second, that the nation’s highest legal tribunal stood a good chance of knocking it down, and third, that such a ruling would be a severe setback for his presidency, his party, and the hopes of millions of Africa-Americans.”69 Presidential aide John Hay wrote: “There has probably never been a ruler who in times of such deep public excitement, has so long and successfully maintained an attitude of dignified reticence as has Abraham Lincoln, in the two years that have elapsed since his election. Especially for the last six months, he has been alternately the target of extremists from the North and the border, each charging him with faithlessness to principles and a weak subservience to the influence of the other. He has been equally unmoved by the eloquent fury of the inspired maniac, Wendell Phillips, and the impotent malignity that oozed from the withered lips of Gov. [Charles] Wickliffe. Thaddeus Stevens might speak bitterness and disappointment, in his place in the House of Representatives, and the President would never allude to it. The Progressive Friends might attack him in force, blazing upon him in the gorgeous costume of the shadbellied dandies, but he only told them that he had thought of that subject more than they, and they must wait his time and the Lord’s.” The youthful Hay added that the President “knew that any declaration of opinion which he might publicly make would be rendered obsolete by the progress of events before it had reached the newer States. Secondly, his utterances would instantly form an issue upon which would divide and fiercely fight those were now most strongly united in the defense of the Union. While the contest could be better carried on without an executive pronunciamento, the President thought best to keep silent.”70 Historian William C. Harris observed: “For Lincoln, bringing the Emancipation Proclamation to bear upon the reconstruction process would be an immediate and practical demonstration of his constitutional justification that he acted out of ‘military necessity’ for the purpose of restoring the Southern states to the Union. Though the secretive Lincoln did not always reveal his purposes, particularly those of a political nature, he might have believed that his promise to exempt loyal districts from the provisions of his proclamation would reduce conservative opposition to his emancipation decision in the North and the border states, as well as among Southern Unionists.”71

Lincoln firmly attached the proclamation of emancipation to the preservation of the Union. He understood there needed to be strong public support for such efforts. Historian James A. Rawley wrote the “proclamation clearly was a weapon of war and not a torch of freedom.”72 Pro-abolition Congressman George Julian later testified “how wisely he employed a grant popular delusion in the salvation of his country. His proclamation had no present legal effect within territory not under the control of our arms; but as an expression of the spirit of the people and the policy of the Administration, it had become both amoral and a military necessity.”73 The reaction to the draft Emancipation Proclamation had reenforced Lincoln’s caution. Historian Michael Burlingame wrote that Lincoln worried that the Emancipation Proclamation would split his supporters, especially in Border States “Lincoln’s fear was justified. In late October, a Kentucky Unionist reported that the ‘proclamation damaged us very much.’ The president told Congressman George W. Julian that the ‘proclamation was to stir the country; but it has done about as much harm as good.’ On November 6, Theodore Tilton reported that the president ‘has spoken to at least six persons, lamenting the issue of his Proclamation, and calling it the great mistake of his life.’ One of those person was Wendell Phillips. When asked about this alleged remark to Philips, Lincoln did not deny that he had made it and implied that ‘he had put himself into a minority with the people, and he well knew that it was impossible for him to carry on a great war against the feelings of the majority of the people.'”74

The president recognized that the Emancipation Proclamation was a military measure whose impact might not outlast the war. A more permanent legal foundation for abolishing servitude was necessary. Historian James A. Dueholm wrote: “The Proclamation, coupled with the friction of war, developments in the border states, and the make-up of Congress and the Supreme Court, would have destroyed the institution of slavery without the aid of the Thirteenth Amendment. The Proclamation’s legal vulnerabilities created a dynamic that made the Thirteenth Amendment possible as well as necessary.”75 The volume of self-emancipations that occurred made any return to the old system of slavery unthinkable. Historian Allen C. Guelzo wrote that the Proclamation “clearly contributed to the increased disintegration of slavery around its shrinking edges, as the presidential mandate for freedom triggered a fresh cascade of running away that began sweeping off the underpinnings of slavery.’ The hopes of freedom, kindled by the emancipation proclamation, paralyzed the industrial power of the rebellion,’ wrote Secretary of War Stanton in evaluating the causes of Southern defeat, ‘Slaves seized their chances to escape; discontent and distrust were engendered; the hopes of the slave and the fears of the master…shook each day more and more the fabric built on human slavery.’ Rebel prisoners at Fortress Monroe told the contraband superintendent that the proclamation ‘had played hell with them.’ In the Mississippi River valley, as many as twenty thousand slaves took French leave of their masters after the proclamation was issued, clogging contraband camps in baton Rouge, New Orleans, Natchez, and Union-occupied Vicksburg.'”76 Historian Edna Greene Medford wrote: “More than any other single measure of the war, the proclamation seized the attention of black people. It may have lacked the depth of feeling, the degree of moral force, that some thought the occasion demanded; yet, the recipients of its declarations recognized the power of its author to honor its promise.”77

Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation gave slaves the legal and operational cover to emancipate themselves. Historian Eric Foner wrote: “Slaves understood that the presence of Union forces fundamentally altered the balance of power between white and black, master and slave, in the South. In 1861 and 1862, as the federal army occupied territory on the periphery of the Confederacy, first in Virginia, then Tennessee, South Carolina, Louisiana, and elsewhere, slaves by the thousands headed for Union lines. Unlike fugitives before the war, these runaways included large numbers of women, children, and elderly men, as entire families abandoned the plantations, willing, as General Daniel E. Sickles commented, to ‘incur any danger’ in their quest for freedom.” Foner noted: “When Union forces arrived in a neighborhood, slave discipline collapsed altogether.” Foner wrote: “The drain of white men into the Confederate army left many plantations under the supervision of planters’ wives or elderly and infirm men, whose authority slaves increasingly felt able to challenge. On some of those plantations, slaves refused to work in the fields, devoting their time to tending their own garden plots.”78

The flow of former slaves away from plantations created economic, political and legal problems for reconstruction. Historian Allen Guelzo noted that “it was no easy matter to distinguish between runaways who really were contraband – in other words, slaves who had been conscripted by the Confederates as military laborers – and runaways who were simply runaways.” 79 General Ulysses S. Grant recalled in his memoirs, “There was no special authority for feeding them unless they were employed as teamsters, cooks,,, and pioneers with the army; but only able-bodied young men were suitable for such work. This labor would support but a very limited percentage of them. The plantations were all deserted; the cotton anc corn were ripe: men, women, and children above ten years of age could be employed in saving these crops. To do this work with contraband, or to have it done, organization under a competent chief was necessary. On inquiring for such a man Chaplain Eaton, now and for many years the very able United States Commissioner of Education, was suggested. He proved as efficient in that field as he has since done in his present one. I gave him all the assistants and guards he called for. We together fixed the prices to be paid for the negro labor, whether rendered to the government or to individuals. The cotton was to be picked from abandoned plantations, the laborers to receive the stipulated price (my recollection is twelve and a half cents per pound for picking and ginning) from the quartermaster, shipping the cotton north to be sold for the benefit of the government. Citizens remaining on their plantations were allowed the privilege of having their crops saved by freedmen on the same terms.”80

The Union government struggled to handle these problems. Tension between the War Department and the Treasury Department developed during 1863 and 1864 over which agency has responsibility for freed blacks. Even when generals did not take the initiative for securing their freedom, self-emancipated black slaves streamed into their camps and followed their maneuvers. Military and civilian officials struggled with how to handle the influx and establish arrangements to sustain the former slaves. The authors of The Civil War and Reconstruction observed: “When the Union army appeared in the interior of the South, as it increasingly did in 1864 and 1865, more slaves left plantations and farms. As Bell Wiley writes, blacks ‘generally engaged in the seizure and distribution of property and a general celebration of the advent of freedom.’ Freed women sometimes adopted symbolic badges of their liberation, carrying parasols and wearing the veils previously denied them. Yet many blacks in the interior of the Confederacy remained in bondage – some hurriedly removed to Texas, where as many as 150,000 were sent during the war.”81

Still, opposition to the impact of emancipation lingered – even in the Union Army as it freed large sections of the South from the Confederacy and slavery. Slaves flocked to the army, bogging down its operations. General William T. Sherman complained to his brother, Senator John Sherman in October 1862: “The President declares negroes free, but makes no machinery by which such freedom is assured. I still see no solution of this Great problem except in theory, and am still resolved to keep my subordinate place.” According to the irritated General Sherman, “The Presidents proclamation can do no good & but little harm. The South has an united People, and as many as she can arm, and though our armies pass across & through the land, the war closes in behind and leaves the Same enmity behind.”82 Nevertheless, admitted Sherman in a letter home on December 25, 1864, the freed slaves “flock to me, old and young. [They] pray and shout and mix up my name with Moses, and Simon.”83

Off the plantation, former slaves became the responsibility of the Union army and Union government. Louisiana became a controversial model for how to employ these freed men and women as contract workers. Historian Herman Belz wrote: “Wartime policies based on free contractual labor had the purpose of steering emancipated slaves along the path of laissez faire legal equality. Although army officials exercised much control over freedmen’s affairs, causing critics like Wendell Phillips to complain that government policy lacked any genuine element of consideration, the contract labor system was intended to help freedmen become self-supporting. To a considerable extent it succeeded.” Belz noted: “By the time treatment of freed slaves in the occupied South became an issue in 1863, blacks, by virtue of army service, were acting and being considered as part of the people of the United States, and as persons, if not yet clearly citizens, under the Constitution.”84

Northerners feared that freed slaves would stream north and disrupt white social and economic systems in their states, where racism was scarcely less prevalent than in the South. Wood Gray, author of The Hidden Civil War, wrote: “The aspect of the question most disturbing to the Midwesterners was the constantly reiterated fear that the bars would be lowered for a horde of Negroes to sweep into the section. It was among the foreign-born proletariat of the cities and small farmers of Southern origin that the specter was most disturbing. The Negroes were expected to compete with the whites for unskilled urban employment and thus force wages down to disastrous levels.” Gray wrote: “The apprehension had been sharpened during the preceding months by actions of the War Department which were given wide publicity by the Democratic press. In spite of the fact that the laws of Illinois forbade the entrance of free Negroes into the state, and in the face of the overwhelming vote of the people in July in favor of a constitutional enactment to this effect, Secretary [of War Edwin M.] Stanton had ordered the general commanding at Cairo to colonize and to find employment for confiscated Negroes sent north by Federal armies. Industrial employers in search of cheap labor also attempted on their own initiative to introduce Negro laborers into the section, and in July this led to a serious riot among the employees of grain and produce firms in Toledo.”85

Reconstruction required military victories in the field and Republican victories at the polls. Neither was forthcoming in the fall of 1862 and the Lincoln Administration suffered as a result. Historian Stephen B. Oates wrote: “As it turned out, the preliminary Proclamation ignited racial discontent in much of the lower North, especially the Midwest, and led to a Republican disaster in the fall by-elections of 1862. Already Northern Democrats were upset with Lincoln’s harsh war measures, especially his use of martial law and military arrests. But Negro emancipation was more than they could stand, and they stumped the Northern states that fall, beating the drums of Negrophobia, warning of massive influxes of Southern blacks in to the North once emancipation came. Sullen, war weary, and racially aroused, Northern voters dealt the Republicans a smashing blow, as the North’s most populous states – all of which had gone for Lincoln in 1860 – now returned Democratic majorities to Congress.”86 It wasn’t just the Emancipation Proclamation which was blamed for Republican defeats – but also the failure of Union victories in the field after the Battle of Antietam in September 1862. President Lincoln’s friend, Illinois Senator Orville H. Browning, was so dispirited that he had declined to campaign and was replaced by a Democrat. President Lincoln was so disenchanted with General George B. McClellan that he relieved him from command of the Army of the Potomac shortly after the election results came in.

Life in the North could be difficult for those newly freed southern blacks who made their way there. This diaspora was a new experience for both blacks and whites; conflict often resulted. Historian Darrel E. Bigham wrote of the experience of blacks moving from Kentucky to Ohio: “…the war itself shaped white-black relations. On the one hand, it produced racial tension and violence by increasing the numbers of blacks on the north shore and diminishing antebellum racial disabilities. On the other, it steeled ‘efforts of Negrophobes to resist the consequences of the war and to maintain the status quo.'”87

Emancipation and Reconstruction

Reconstruction required a reorientation of the country – which the Emancipation Proclamation helped create. Abolitionists, long critical of Lincoln, found new hope. Historian George M. Frederickson wrote “For a large number of northerners, the sufferings of war took on new meaning after the announcement of the government’s emancipation policy. This was evident on New Year’s Day, 1863, when most of the New England men of letters gather in the Boston Music Hall to celebrate the signing of the Emancipation Proclamation. Among those who joined in the festivities were Emerson, Parkman, Norton, Whittier, Longfellow, Edward Everett Hale, and Harriet Beecher Stowe. The formal part of the program featured Emerson’s reading of his ‘Boston Hymn,’ written for the occasion, and a stirring choral rendition of Holmes’ ‘Army Hymn.’ The great moment of the afternoon came, however, when official word was received that the proclamation had been signed as scheduled. The audience burst into tremendous applause, sending up three cheers for President Lincoln, followed by three cheers for William Lloyd Garrison, who was present in the house. Everyone, it appeared, had become an abolitionist.”

An important part of the war effort was to find soldiers for the war front. An important part of the reconstruction effort was to find work that freed blacks could be paid to do. Historian Ralph Korngold wrote that Pennsylvania Congressman Thaddeus Stevens “concluded that if slaves in the border states were offered the boon of freedom, they would be anxious to enlist and it would not be necessary to draft them. So, on January 12, 1863, less than two weeks after the appearance of the final Emancipation Proclamation, he introduced a bill consisting of two sections. The first section provided that the President was ‘authorized and required…to proceed immediately to raise, equip and organize one hundred and fifty thousand soldiers, persons of color or free African descent…into infantry, artillery and cavalry.’ The second section provided that ‘slaves as well as freemen may be enlisted and mustered into service, and such persons shall never again be slaves, but the United States shall pay for each of them as belong to persons who have not been disloyal during this rebellion.'”89 Historian David W. Blight noted that “the participation of the black soldier was perhaps the most revolutionary feature of the Civil War. Thousands of ex-slaves strutting down southern roads to do battle with their former masters was a sight that at the outset of the war few Americans expected to see, nor did many expect to witness a crack black regiment, recruited in northern communities by abolitionists, march through Boston Common to the cheers of twenty thousand on-lookers. By 1863 the war to save the Union had irrevocably become as well the war to free the slaves, and black soldiers came to symbolize their people’s struggle for freedom, a recognition of their humanity, the rights of citizenship, and a sense of belonging in a new nation.” 90 Adjutant General Lorenzo Thomas was picked to go to the Mississippi Valley to organize the recruitment of black soldiers – because President Lincoln liked him and because War Secretary Edwin M. Stanton did not. The President wanted him to get the job done; Stanton didn’t care what the job was so long as Thomas wasn’t near him or Washington.

Treasury Secretary Salmon P. Chase took the lead in pushing for land reform for free slaves, but he had dubious legal authority to do so. “Claiming that the Treasury Department was already charged with handling abandoned lands in the South under the 1863 Abandoned Property Act, the secretary proposed higher wages for freedmen’s work and a plan for leasing land to freedmen. He also tried to induce landlords to sell land to former slaves and to have freedmen paid wages on a weekly or monthly basis,” wrote historian Phillip S. Paludan.91 Historian Louis S. Gerteis wrote: “The defeat of land reforms sponsored by Chase left congressional Radicals without the means, and perhaps without the will, to carry out a program of land redistribution.”92 The slavery system was not broken up all at once. It was broken up in pieces. And in dealing with those pieces, the Lincoln Administration had the opportunity to experiment – for example, with a paid labor contract system in Louisiana in 1863.

The impact of emancipation behind Confederate lines of Union policy was evident. Historian Armstead L. Robinson wrote: “With Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation scheduled to apply to states remaining in rebellion on January 1, 1863, Confederate officials pressed their superiors in Richmond to enact some measure to cope with the growing threat to the institution of slavery. Brigadier General Daniel Ruggles, in the District of Mississippi, brought the matter to the attention of the secretary of war:

“Voluntary enlistment and the conscription have taken into the military service of the country such a large proportion of the active freemen of this district, including the owners of slaves and other persons engaged in their management, that many plantations with numerous slaves are being left without the ordinary and necessary control of the white man, and daily applications are made to me to detail or to authorize the retention of proper persons to superintend them. Pernicious influences have already been manifested upon many of these plantations, and it is perhaps not without reason that fears are entertained of some serious disturbance in the sections most densely populated by the servile race, which are in most cases approachable by navigable streams.”93

“Confederate military defeats and Union civilian reconstruction helped reorient southern loyalties. Historian Armstead L. Robinson wrote: “An increasing number of slaveholders felt justified in separating themselves from the general war effort. Why should they support a government that seemed unable to defend the interests that formed the cornerstone of the Southern republic? Was it not the planters’ business to ensure that slavery survived the struggle? With the advance of the disastrous 1862 growing season, the Southern revolution began to reap the whirlwind of its commitment to local autonomy as many slaveholders took the preservation of slavery into their own hands. But slaves themselves were increasingly emboldened by the promise of emancipation. A Texas slave, Ida Henry, told of an overseer known for his ‘meaness [sic] over the slaves.’ ‘One day,’ she recalled later, ‘de slaves caught him and one held him whilst another knocked him in de head and killed him.” 94 Historian Edna Greene Medford noted: “By August 1863 in some areas of Union-occupied Louisiana, for instance, unsupervised blacks gained possession of horses and mules and purportedly terrorized surrounding plantations.”95

The need for a new economic structure was pressing, even in the nation’s capital, where the district’s slaves had been emancipated and their owners compensated in the spring of 1862. “Beyond food and shelter, the greatest need for the newly freed slaves was employment. However, numerous problems resulted from attempts to employ them. One was that the jobs typically offered were so repugnant (‘cleansing cesspools, scrubbing privies and policing the grounds’) that no one with any choice would do them. A second problem was that military pay was delayed as long as three months, forcing the freed Blacks to rely on credit. Further, unscrupulous civilian employers charged the ex-slaves exorbitant prices for supplies, board, board, and room, or bilked the workers out of their pay. [General James] Wadsworth ordered an investigation by Provost Marshal Doster, but the lack of supervision over these former slaves and their lack of sophistication made it virtually impossible to monitor or remedy the situation. Still, Wadsworth persisted, ordering the superintendent of contrabands to report to him instances ‘in which persons under his protection have been defrauded of their wages, or otherwise maltreated.’ Wadsworth then promised to take ‘further action.'”96 President Lincoln was not unaware of the troubles in the district; his wife’s black seamstress, Elizabeth Keckley, was a leader in the contraband assistance movement.

The Union Army remained an important employment agency for unemployed blacks. Presidential aide William O. Stoddard wrote in July 1863: “This arming the negroes is a great thing in many ways. It is my deliberate opinion, that it will yet solve, in the right way, too, the oft-repeated question – ‘What shall we do with the South, and with the negroes, after the war is over?’ We are educating a new race of freemen, who will take care of the South and of themselves too. Even if they labor under white employers, which is most probable, they will not, and they cannot return to their servile condition, for ‘the sword enables…'”97

Reconstruction in 1863

For Radical Republicans, emancipation was an indispensable condition for reconstruction. Historian Herman Belz wrote that “most Republicans concluded that, while the proclamation might in some sense be a ‘law of freedom,’ by itself it was inadequate as an abolition and reconstruction instrument. Significantly, however, they did not propose to implement and buttress it by the radical expedients of state suicide territorialization, as reconstruction bills of 1862 had provided.” 98 After emancipation was proclaimed in January 1863, the congressional focus shifted to reconstruction. “After the Union victories at Gettysburg and Vicksburg in July 1863, there was a great increase in public discussion of reconstruction,” wrote historian James M. McPherson. “The North believed that these victories heralded the collapse of the Confederacy, and the upsurge in reconstruction debate resulted from the assumption that peace was just around the corner. Northern opinion on the issue of reconstruction ranged from the Democratic demand that emancipation not be made a condition of peace to the call of radical abolitionists for Negro suffrage. The whole country looked to Lincoln for a statement on reconstruction.”99

President Lincoln understood that Union military victory was a precondition for both emancipation and for reconstruction. He avoided applying the Emancipation Proclamation to areas such as eastern Tennessee where it might undermine Union sentiment. He needed to cultivate residual Union sentiment along with renewed cooperation in the South. Historian Herman Belz wrote: “Lincoln was reluctant to assume direct control over reconstruction but was committed to upholding the Emancipation Proclamation. Hence, throughout 1863 he urged southern Unionists to form loyal governments and abolish slavery. The focus of reconstruction attention was Louisiana, where Lincoln instructed military authorities to hold a constitutional convention to inaugurate a loyal antislavery government.”100 However, throughout the latter half of 1863, Lincoln became increasingly more frustrated by the failure of military and civilian authorities in Louisiana to act cooperatively on reconstruction. By the end of 1863, his patience at an end, he gave more explicit instructions to General Nathaniel Banks.

Historian Don E. Fehrenbacher wrote: “Historians have offered various explanations of Lincoln’s attitude toward Reconstruction. For one thing, vindictiveness was simply alien to his nature, and in any case he believed that generous treatment of the South would be sound policy, promoting the spirit of reconciliation necessary for true reunion. Perhaps he also intended that his strategy should lay the foundation for an effective Republican party in the South. Furthermore, he feared eruptions of anarchy and violence when the Confederacy was overthrown and thought that an early restoration of normal civil government would be the best preventive. According to some critics, the lack of sufficient concern for the freedman in his program reflected the common assumption that America was a white man’s country. It has also been suggested that an uneasy sense of personal responsibility for starting the war made him especially anxious for a speedy restoration of the Union on lenient terms. In addition, Lincoln’s Reconstruction policy of treating the Southern states as though they had never left the Union followed consistently the official Lincolnian theory on the nature of the war, which held that secession was illegal, the Confederacy a fiction, and the federal Union according still intact.” Fehrenbacher noted, however, that it is important to recognize “Lincoln’s essentially traditional conception of the Republic he was trying to save. Civil War may have had revolutionary effects, but was begun and prosecuted for conservatives purposes – to preserve the Union on one side, to protect slavery on the other.”101

Reconstruction set the stage for a conflict between the legislative and executive branches on grounds of principle – who had the right and authority – and ground of practice – who had the right ideas on how to proceed. “Almost all Republicans agreed on two fundamental points: former rebels ought to be kept out of political office; and Congress had power to legislate concerning reconstruction, as well as exclusive power to decide on the readmission of rebel states,” wrote historian Herman Belz. He wrote: “Cooperation between President and Congress was a characteristic of progressive restoration. Yet perhaps more significant was congressional determination to control reconstruction. As the reorganization of state governments became a more pressing problem, this attitude grew stronger and formed a basis for the conflict with Lincoln, who was equally determined to control the process of state reorganization.”102

“It is clear that Lincoln…saw reconstruction as an executive responsibility and wanted, in order to prevent radical change as well as weaken the rebellion, to reorganize loyal state governments as soon as possible,” wrote Herman Belz. “This did not mean that he thought no other plan feasible, but that he did not wish to be restricted in his approach to the problem.” 103 The executive-legislative conflict was exacerbated by differences over constitutional prerogatives. Belz noted: “From the time it had first become an issue, many, if not most, members of Congress regarded reconstruction as an issue for the legislature rather than the executive to resolve.”104 Historian Michael Les Benedict wrote: “Congress grappled diligently with the sinewy problem Reconstruction presented for the American constitutional system. Most radical Republicans as early as 1861 argued that the rebellious states should be held as territories after the war, with territorial governments operating under the direct authority and supervision of Congress. By 1862 the majority of Republicans in Congress appeared to endorse this proposition, but the minority joined Democrats to prevent the enactment of any legislation. Radicals could not have suspected that their program of territorialization had won more Republican support in 1862 than it ever would receive again.”105

“At the adjournment of the Thirty-seventh Congress, Lincoln occupied a relatively strong position with respect to reconstruction,” wrote historian Herman Belz. “Congress had supported executive reconstruction by seating representatives from Louisiana who had been elected under military authority and by admitting West Virginia to the Union. Congress had also rejected territorialization and had accepted military government under the executive as a necessary stage preparatory to the actual reconstruction of a loyal government. At the same time Lincoln recognized a degree of congressional responsibility for reconstruction. Having accepted negative decisions by Congress in election cases in which he had a keen interest, he began to refer to the power of Congress to decide on the final readmission of the rebel states.”106

A key question was the legal status of the seceded states. “William Whiting, the legal advisor of the War Department offered a different view of the status of the seceded states. Whiting was a Boston lawyer with strong antislavery convictions who attracted much attention in 1863 with his ideas on reconstruction,” wrote historian Herman Belz. “Whitings central thesis concerning reconstruction…was that the Civil War was a public territorial war between belligerents which caused all citizens in the seceded states – not simply those engaged in rebellion to lose ‘all their rights or claims against the United States, under the constitution or laws.'”107 Whiting’s views were controversial, but valued by Radicals. Michael Les Benedict wrote: “Republicans in Congress were reassured that the executive intended noninfringement on congressional powers by the opinions of William Whiting,…Lincoln’s chief ‘constitutionalist in residence.’ From Whiting’s prolific pen came what were considered the official constitutional justification for Lincoln’s broad use of the war power. When radical James M. Ashley prepared a Reconstruction bill in December 1863 – after the appearance of the president’s Amnesty Proclamation – he asked Stanton for his suggestions, or those of Whiting. In answer Whiting published a treatise on military government.” 108 Belz wrote: “In providing interim government for the seceded states, Ashley followed the lines laid out in Lincoln’s policy of using military governors – another measure of the change in the radicals’ position on reconstruction as territorialization was given up.”109

To unite the country through reconstruction, Lincoln realized, he first had to unite the Republican Party behind his reconstruction policy. That was not always easy – especially in fractious Missouri. Speaking to a delegation Missouri Radicals on September 30, 1863, Lincoln replied to the “assertion that ‘We are your friends and the Conservatives are not.” He said: “These so called Conservatives will avoid, as a general thing, votes, or any action, which will in any way interfere with or imperil, the success of their party. For instance they will vote for supplies, and such other measures as are absolutely necessary to sustain the Government. They will do this selfishly. They do not wish that the Government should fall, for they expect to obtain possession of it. At the same time their support will not be hearty: their votes are not equal to those of the real friends of the Administration. They do not give so much strength. They are not worth so much. My Radical friends will therefore see that I understand and appreciate their position. Still you appear to come before me as my friends if I agree with you, but not otherwise. I do not here speak here of mere personal friendship, as between man and man, – when I speak of my friends I mean those who are friendly to my measures, to the policy of the government.” Lincoln said: “I do not intend to be a tyrant. At all events I shall take care that in my own eyes I do become one. I shall always try and preserve one friend within me, whoever else fails me, to tell me that I have not been a tyrant, and that I have acted right.” 110 About the time that Missouri Radicals visited the White House, journalist Noah Brooks, who was close to President Lincoln, wrote of “the widening breach between the Conservatives and the Radicals of the Union or Republican party. Radicalism and Conservatism are now the opposing forces which besiege the President, which are entering into an adjustment of all the great issues from the settlement of the rebellion, and which will divide the combatants in the contest for the next nomination, now narrowed down, as far as the Unionists are concerned, to two candidates, Lincoln, as standard bearer for the Conservatives, and Chase, as the champion of the Radicals. It is evident that Lincoln will have to fall back upon his own conservative policy, as laid down by his own Administration, and become the candidate of a People’s Union party.”111

Reconstruction Proposal of December 1863

Although he was an experimenter with reconstruction, a frustrated President Lincoln came to understand in 1863 that reconstruction required a standard structure that enjoyed popular support and understanding and could guide both his own administrators and southerners involved in potential reconstruction. Historian Harold M. Hyman wrote: “With respect to setting reconstruction policy, Lincoln had on his side the advantage of his office. He could move first, and he courageously and imaginatively did so.”112 On December 8, 1863, President Lincoln issued a Proclamation of Amnesty and Reconstruction” in which he both proposed a reconstruction plan and offered amnesty to qualified southerners. Historian Michael Burlingame wrote: “By December 1863, Lincoln realized that his ad hoc arrangement of military governors promoting Reconstruction in cooperation with Southern Unionists needed an overhaul. ‘However it may have been in the past, I think the country now is ready for radical measures,’ he told a caller.” 113 Lincoln addressed reconstruction issues in his Third Annual Message to Congress:

“The suggestion in the proclamation as to maintaining the political framework of the States on what is called reconstruction, is made in the hope that it may do good without danger of harm. It will save labor and avoid great confusion.”
“But why any proclamation now upon this subject? This question is beset with the conflicting views that the step might be delayed too long or be taken too soon. In some States the elements for resumption seem ready for action, but remain inactive, apparently for want of a rallying point – a plan of action. Why shall A adopt the plan of B, rather than B that of A? And if A and B should agree, how can they know but that the general government here will reject their plan? By the proclamation a plan is presented which may be accepted by them as a rallying point, and which they are assured in advance will not be rejected here. This may bring them to act sooner than they otherwise would.”
“The objections to a premature presentation of a plan by the national Executive consists in the danger of committals on points which could be more safely left to further developments. Care has been taken to so shape the document as to avoid embarrassments from this source. Saying that, on certain terms, certain classes will be pardoned, with rights restored, it is not said that other classes, or other terms, will never be included. Saying that reconstruction will be accepted if presented in a specified way, it is not said it will never be accepted in any other way?”
“The movements, by State action, for emancipation in several of the States, not included in the emancipation proclamation, are matters of profound gratulation. And while I do not repeat in detail what I have heretofore so earnestly urged upon this subject, my general views and feelings remain unchanged; and I trust that Congress will omit no fair opportunity of aiding these important steps to a great consummation.”
“In the midst of other cares, however important, we must not lose sight of the fact that the war power is still our main reliance. To that power alone can we look, yet for a time, to give confidence to the people in the contested regions, that the insurgent power will not again overrun them. Until that confidence shall be established, little can be done anywhere for what is called reconstruction. Hence our chiefest care must still be directed to the army and navy, who have thus far borne their harder part so nobly and well. And it may be esteemed fortunate that in giving the greatest efficiency to these indispensable arms, we do also honorably recognize the gallant men, from commander to sentinel, who compose them, and to whom, more than to others, the world must stand indebted for the home of freedom disenthralled, regenerated, enlarged, and perpetuated.”114

In preparing his policy on reconstruction, Mr. Lincoln balanced the concerns of both Conservative and Radical Republicans. Historian Herman Belz wrote: “The conservative Republican Senator James Dixon of Connecticut advised Lincoln, ‘Whatever may be said by the radical abolitionists, who demand the adoption of their revolutionary schemes, I beg leave to assure you that the great body of calm, thinking, judicious men who uphold and support your administration, are conservative in their views.’ Such men would resort to all necessary means to crush the rebellion, said Dixon, ‘but they will never consent to the annihilation of the States governments, and the wild revolutionary doctrines of Mr. Sumner and his school.'” Belz wrote that “the publication of Lincoln’s Proclamation of Amnesty and Reconstruction in December 1863 found the great majority of Republicans and Unions supporting the President.'”115 Historian Eric Foner wrote: “It would be a mistake to see the 10 Percent Plan as a hard and fast policy from which Lincoln was determined never to deviate. Rather than as a design for a reconstructed South, it might better be viewed as a device to shorten the war and solidify white support for emancipation. As functioning governments, those established under the terms of Lincoln’s proclamation would partake of the absurd.” 116 Historian Michael Burlingame wrote that “Lincoln offered a plan that he hoped would appeal to Radical and Moderate Republicans, to War Democrats, and to Southern Unionists. Like his earlier effort, it was rooted in his sensible belief that Southern white backlash against emancipation would be diluted if voters in the Confederate states themselves organized loyal governments, applied for restoration, and abolished slavery.”117 The success of emancipation, therefore, was tied to the success of reconstruction. The success of reconstruction depended on engaging southerners in the process. John Hope Franklin wrote of Lincoln: “Regarding the task as essentially a presidential one, he hoped to encourage loyal groups in the several states to resume normal relations with the federal government through the establishment of provision governments under executive control.”118

Lincoln was smarter and cleverer than his northern and southern opponents. Historian Richard Striner said: “The Radicals apparently failed to perceive the way in which Lincoln used his 10 percent plan to push fast abolition by tiny minorities in each rebel state. By allowing only 10 percent of the 1860 electorate to start Reconstruction, Lincoln made it easy for his agents like [General Nathaniel] Banks to foist emancipation on the racist (and rebel) majority. This was a clever trick. Under Lincoln’s scheme, a mere 10 percent of each rebel state’s electorate could change the state’s constitution and make it a free state.”119Historian William B. Hesseltine wrote that “In its first impression Lincoln’s Proclamation of Amnesty and Reconstruction seemed to differ from his previous programs only in permitting Confederates to repent of their sins and pledge themselves from that time forward to lead a loyal life. Lincoln himself used the evangelical metaphor: he would, he said, hold out to sinner the opportunity for repentance.”120 Historian Richard J. Carwardine wrote of Lincoln’s Third Annual Message to Congress: “In deeming it a conservative message, the president’s critics had a case. Lincoln’s instinctive moderation and respect for constitutional process permeated proposals through which, however unlikely it was that they would be fully embraced, he wanted to be seen to be doing his presidential duty. A nation in revolutionary flux was on the brink of a war of subjugation, but until that moment arrived he had a responsibility to strive for the peaceful, graduated, compensated, conservative plan of emancipation that he had always favored – hence his emphasis on leaving the initiative with the states, on avoiding ‘vagrant destitution’ and ‘the evils of sudden derangement’, on the justice of the whole nation paying the costs and on the benefits of the voluntary deportation of blacks.” 121 Democratic critics like New York Governor Horatio Seymour were much more suspicious of the President’s plan which they thought involved too much presidential power and too few actual voters in the South. Republican Radicals soon also found reason to criticize the plan for requiring the active support of too few southern Unionists.

The response of Radicals was initially positive but turned sour. Historian Richard J. Carwardine wrote of Lincoln’s Third Annual Message: “An initiative that won the approval not only of Chase, Chandler and Sumner, but also Blair and Reverdy Johnson was no mean feat. Both Noah Brooks and John Hay reeled in wonderment at the arrival of ‘the political millennium’.” Carwardine wrote: “In deeming it a conservative message, the president’s critics had a case. Lincoln’s instinctive moderation and respect for constitutional process permeated proposals through which, however unlikely it was that they would be fully embraced, he wanted to be seen to be doing his presidential duty. A nation in revolutionary flux was on the brink of a war of subjugation, but until that moment arrived he had a responsibility to strive for the peaceful, graduated, compensated, conservative plan of emancipation that he had always favored – hence his emphasis on leaving the initiative with the states, on avoiding ‘vagrant destitution’ and ‘the evils of sudden derangement’, on the justice of the whole nation paying the costs and on the benefits of the voluntary deportation of blacks.”122 Lincoln knew that there was be chaos and violence if there was not a recognized government in place – and that the Union Army could have long-term responsibility for governing a conquered populace.

In response to the Presidential Amnesty Proclamation in December 1863, Pennsylvania Radical Thaddeus Stevens “asserted that it endorsed what he had been proposed in the House of Representatives since 1861. ‘In details we may not quite agree,’ Stevens told his colleagues, but Lincoln ‘proposes to treat the rebel territory as a conqueror alone would treat it.’ The Pennsylvania Radical’s claim that Lincoln’s plan called for the subjugation of the South must have fallen on skeptical ears in the House,” wrote historian William C. Harris. “Stevens, however, admitted that ‘the President may not strike as direct a blow with a battering-ram against this babel as some impetuous gentlemen would desire; but with his usual shrewdness and caution he is picking out the mortar from the joints until eventually the whole tower will fall.”123 Although Radical Republicans initially supported the plan, their support turned to opposition over the “10 percent” provision of the reconstruction plan. Historian Louis S. Gerteis wrote: “Lincoln’s mild amnesty proclamation of December 8, 1863, which raised the specter of a swift restoration of the rights of the seceded states, provided Radicals with a focus for their hostility.”124

Historians David Herbert Donald, Jean Harvey Baker, and Michael F. Holt wrote: “Though congressional Republicans cheered Lincoln’s requirement of abolition for new state governments to receive recognition, other provisions of his policy challenged their expectations about Reconstruction. They had reached a consensus during the summer of 1863 that new state constitutions abolishing slavery must be adopted before elections of new state governments.” 125 Military and civilian officials of the Confederacy were not included in the amnesty. Emancipation was an important but largely implied part of the plan. Historian Richard N. Current wrote that Lincoln’s “plan, according to the newer view, made emancipation the ‘first prerequisite for restoration’ of a seceded state. In fact, it did no such thing. It required the prospective state-makers to swear to support all congressional acts and presidential proclamations with regard to slavery. As yet, no act of Congress or action of the president called for complete abolition. The Emancipation Proclamation exempted those parts of the Confederacy that the Union armies had already recovered – the only parts where state-making then could possibly begin. Lincoln heartily approved when, in 1864, the first reconstructed government, in Louisiana, provided for statewide emancipation. But the plan he had announced in 1862 did not require it.” 126 As was often the case, Mr. Lincoln dealt with more than one problem at a time. Historian George T. McKinsey wrote: “The significance of Lincoln’s Ten Per Cent Plan, however, lay not so much in its promises as in its conditions. Most importantly, Lincoln required that those taking the oath agree to emancipation. The ‘full pardon’ he offered would restore to the oath taker ‘all rights of property, except as to slaves’ [italics added] and would require him to ‘abide by and faithfully support all proclamations of the President made during the existing rebellion having reference to slaves, so long as not modified or declared void by decision of the Supreme Court.’ By December of 1863, considerable emancipation had taken place and more was in prospect. Thus, in order to receive his pardon an ex-Confederate would have to accept the end of slavery.”127 Lincoln differentiated between what he could require as a military commander-in-chief and what he could cajole but not demand as a civilian chief executive.

Lincoln’s plan was based on both the carrot and the stick. According to historian Herman Belz, Mr. Lincoln’s amnesty proposal rested on two pillars. One was the president’s pardoning power. “A second authority that Lincoln relied on was the Confiscation Act of July 1862, according to which the President was ‘authorized at any time thereafter, by proclamation, to extend to persons who may have participated in the existing rebellion, in any State or part thereof, pardon and amnesty, with such exceptions and at such times and on such conditions as he may deem expedient for the public welfare.'”128 According to William C. Harris, “Lincoln, after the issuance of his Proclamation of Amnesty and Reconstruction, saw no compelling reason to protect the property of leading rebels who refused to take his loyalty oath. He hoped that the mere threat of confiscation would cause rebels to renew their allegiance to the Union and prevent the loss of their real property.”129 Historian James M. McPherson wrote: “Recognizing that the president’s plan was designed more as a measure to weaken the rebellion than as a permanent policy of reconstruction, the New York Tribune and several abolitionists approved the message. Even Theodore Tilton, who disliked parts of Lincoln’s program, wrote that ‘the Message is only a suggestion, not a final plan – only a hint for the hour. It will create a good deal of wholesome discussion; and while this discussion goes on, the public sentiment marches steadily forward, and makes the politicians ready for a better plan.”130

Where reconstruction was concerned, President Lincoln valued speed and collaboration. Lord Charnwood wrote that “Lincoln’s main wish was that, with the greatest speed and the least heat spent on avoidable controversy, State government of spontaneous local growth should spring up in the reconquered South. ‘In all available ways,’ he had written to one of his military governors, ‘give the people a chance to express their wishes at these elections. Follow the forms of law as far as convenient, but at all events get the expression of the largest number of people.'”131 Lincoln knew the reconstruction did not rest on presidential orders alone. As historian John Hope Franklin noted: “Lincoln worked hard to gain acceptance of his plan of restoration. He wrote letters to military leaders and civil authorities, making suggestions but no demands. He received representatives from Confederate areas and sent investigators into various parts of the South. He discussed the problem with members of the cabinet and with sympathetic members of Congress.” Such work was tiring and sometimes unrewarding. Franklin wrote: “The harder Lincoln worked, the more adamant Congress became, persistently refusing to seat representatives from the ‘Lincoln states.'”132 Furthermore, Lincoln understood that reconstruction must speedily insure the demise of slavery. Historian Richard Striner wrote: “Lincoln’s lenient plan for reconstruction must be understood as a facilitating scheme for his plans to protect emancipation – a facilitating scheme to speed the work of redrafting some rebel state constitutions. It was also, of course, an experiment to see whether offers of federal pardon might weaken the grip of Confederate leaders and induce more rebel defections, thus shortening the war.”133

The Radicals wanted a tougher reconstruction program. Historian Philip Shaw Paludan wrote: “Congress wanted stricter guarantees of loyalty. Delegates to a proposed constitutional convention, and the men who voted for them, would take oaths of past and future loyalty.”134 Congressmen were determined to change the politics of the South as well as its economics. “Many Republicans doubted that Lincoln’s policy provided a sound foundation for southern Republicanism, fearing it would facilitate the return of southern conservatives to power,” wrote historian Brooks Simpson. “In order to assure a lasting peace, they claimed, federal policy must remake the South by infusing it with the virtues of free labor. ‘The whole fabric of southern society must be changed, and it can never be done if this opportunity is lost,’ proclaimed Thaddeus Stevens….”135 But Lincoln was not just worried about the approval of Radical Republicans. He was worried about freed blacks, Border State slaveholders not covered by reconstruction, Southern Unionists, and the impact on Union Army morale. According to historian Philip S. Paludan, “Lincoln’s policy was thus many-faceted. At times it appeared contradictory because the president did not believe in equal rights at the same time for all blacks, yet he knew the importance of persuading whites that freedmen desired equal liberty. He wanted blacks to vote, but only those who had demonstrated the type of self-discipline that proved them ready for independent citizenship. The educated blacks of New Orleans clearly qualified and so did soldiers, the latter having earned the ballot by fighting to preserve the Union.”136

Reconstruction in 1864 and the Wade-Davis Bill

President Lincoln was careful to avoid alienating key elements of the Unionist coalition. Historian Richard Striner said: “In preparing himself for a Democratic backlash, the president was careful to maintain his position as a patriotic Unionist above all else – as a president who put the preservation of the Union first in every one of his actions.”137 Historian Richard Striner wrote: “Lincoln’s lenient plan for reconstruction must be understood as a facilitating scheme for his plans to protect emancipation – a facilitating scheme to speed the work of redrafting some rebel state constitutions. It was also, of course, an experiment to see whether offers of federal pardon might weaken the grip of Confederate leaders and induce more rebel defections, thus shortening the war.” Mr. Lincoln wanted reconstruction to move swiftly in 1864 and therefore encouraged the destruction of slavery in the South as something reconstructed governments themselves initiated. Striner wrote: “Lincoln hoped to catalyze the drafting of anti-slavery constitutions in some of the occupied rebel states. He had particular hopes for Tennessee and Louisiana; he was heartened as well by some recent events in Arkansas. He was quietly encouraging the free-state movement in Maryland as well as a brand-new movement in the state of Missouri to eliminate slavery through gradual phaseout. It was vital to his plans to get the work done quickly, before the next national election.”138

Part of the differences between Lincoln and Congress were over policy; some were over power. Historian James A. Rawley wrote that “the differences between Congress and president were not as deep as they sounded. Both rejected the notion, cultivated by some Radicals, that rebels having seceded lost claims to state rights and held only the fights of inhabitants of territories. Both parties insisted on emancipation before restoration. Neither embraced blacks in forming the new governments, nor conferred suffrage on them. They differed importantly over whether the executive or the legislative body exercised the constitutional guarantee of a republican form of government for states, over the proportion of Southerners who were to be involved in reconstruction, in timing of restoration – now or after the war – and in repudiation by states of war-incurred debt.”139 The year 1864 indeed began hopefully. Even Radical gadfly Adam Gurowski wrote: “The stern and earnest patriots in both Houses, men such as Wade, Fessenden, etc., wish to keep this whole question in suspense, rather than see it pressed and thus bring it to an issue between Congress and Mr. Lincoln.”140

President Lincoln concentrated on Louisiana – pushing military and civil authorities to elect a new civilian government and a new constitution; Louisiana authorities had been split on which needed to come first. The statewide elections came in late February and a new governor, Michael Hahn, was installed in March. Then, he pushed for a constitutional convention that would abolish slavery in Louisiana. The constitutional convention, which abolished slavery, concluded on July 23; the constitution was ratified on September 5 by Louisianans who had taken the required loyalty oath. The issue of black suffrage was left unsettled by the new constitution. Historian Peyton McCrary wrote: “In the first nine months of 1864 the provisional government desired by President Lincoln had come into being. Here was the first embodiment of the moderate approach to reconstruction, and in the next six months it would be scrutinized by Congress as the leading ‘test case’ for Lincoln’s postwar policy.” 141 Many Radicals did not approve of the test.

Responsibility for reconstruction was split even in the executive branch – among military commander, military governors, Treasury Department agents, and other civilian officials such as U.S. marshals. That had been part of the problem in delaying reconstruction in Louisiana. As reconstruction proceeded, Lincoln learned that he needed not only to appease Southern white Unionists, he needed to appease newly empowered free blacks. Historian James M. McPherson wrote: “In February 1864, a committee of prominent abolitionists and antislavery Republicans representing the secular freedmen’s aid societies petitioned Congress ‘to give to the slaves made free by the power of the government, a legal and quiet possession of adequate land for their residence and support.’ On the South Carolina sea islands, plans were being carried out for precisely that purpose. In September 1863, Lincoln had ordered the tax commissioners to put up for public sale at auction most of the lands reserved by the government at the previous auction of March 1863. The president specified that certain tracts of this land were to be sold to freedmen in 20-acre lots at the special price of $1.25 per acre.”142

The Lincoln administration was pushing forward with plans in Louisiana while in Washington plans were being formulated to replace Lincoln as the Republican presidential nominee with Secretary of the Treasury Salmon P. Chase. When that effort failed in February, congressional critics of the Lincoln Administration focused their efforts on reconstruction legislation that would be tougher on the secessionists, more stringent in the criteria by which states were restored to full participation in the Union, more liberal in its treatment of free slaves, and preserve northern and Republican political control of the national government. Historian Herman Belz wrote: “The election of 1864 loomed on the horizon, leading antislavery critics of Lincoln’s leadership to seek issues on which to contest his control of the party. State reorganization, slavery abolition, and protection of the freedmen all lent themselves to this purpose.”143 Radical Republicans like Ohio Senator Benjamin Wade and Maryland Congressman Henry Winter Davis longed to put in place a tougher Reconstruction policy that would have a strong punitive aspect and make it more difficult for seceded states to regain their place in the Union. Lincoln’s 10 Percent Plan was too easy to implement. Lincoln biographer Carl Sandburg wrote that Davis and Wade “nursed suspicions into what they believed were facts. The President was too slow, too hesitant, too loose with expedient, they believed, and Congress would be more firm. New state governments could be referred ‘to no authority except the judgment and will of the majority of Congress,’ said Davis in behalf of his bill on February 14, 1864.”144 Historian Hans L. Trefousse wrote: “To Wade, the entire scheme [that President Lincoln had proposed in December] was anathema. In the first place, he was so jealous of what he called executive ‘usurpation’ that he hated the very thought of presidential reconstruction. That Congress alone possessed the power to deal with the problem was axiomatic to him; did not the Constitution clearly state, ‘the United States shall guarantee to every State in this Union a Republican Form of Government’? Moreover, was not the legislative branch of the government charged with originating policy?”

While Wade disapproved of the President’s plan on constitutional grounds, he was even more critical of it for political reasons. Since when did ten per cent of the electorate constitute a majority? The proposition did violence to all his theories of democratic government, and he never missed an opportunity to attack it.
Last, but not least, he objected to the President’s vagueness on slavery. To be sure, Lincoln’s plan exhorted its beneficiaries to abide faithfully by the Emancipation Proclamation and the laws of Congress, but it did not contain specific provisions ending the institution. Ten per cent of the inhabitants might well restore ante-bellum conditions; then, with Northern Democrats reinforced by their old Southern associates, the Republican party might lose its ascendancy. The radicals’ achievements might still be annulled in the very hour of victory. While Wade had been willing to postpone the issue, now that it had been raised, he was determined to solve it in his own way.”145

During the spring of 1864, Congress hotly debated new reconstruction legislation sponsored by Ohio Senator Wade and Maryland Congressman Davis. Historian Herman Belz wrote: “On May 4, 1864, the House passed the reconstruction bill by a 73 to 59 vote. Dissatisfaction with presidential policy in Louisiana and a desire to slow down the course of state reorganization and to systematize it under national law led all but a few conservative Republicans to vote for the congressional plan.”146 “By implication the Wade-Davis bill endorsed the ‘state suicide’ theory of reconstruction,” wrote historian James M. McPherson.147 That was unacceptable to President Lincoln. Historian Richard J. Carwardine wrote: “What Lincoln did not say, but understood well enough, was that the Wade-Davis plan had set an impossibly high threshold in order to prevent restoration before the war’s end; his own approach, instead, was to offer generous terms as a bait to waverers to give up the rebellion.”148

Lincoln meanwhile, had focused on assuring that the 1864 Republican National Platform included a plank calling for a constitutional amendment to abolish slavery; that amendment had passed the Senate but failed to pass the House by the required two-thirds majority. “Returning from the Republican convention [in Baltimore in early June], congressional leaders had put the finishing touches on the Wade-Davis bill, and it passed by large margins,” wrote historian Phillip S. Paludan. 149 He noted that “only one Republican congressman from a Northern state voted against the bill. Congress strongly endorsed demands that 50 percent of the past voters in each state, not Lincoln’s preferred number of 10 percent, were needed to begin reconstructing the South, that blacks received protection for newly found rights, and that only those Southerners who could take an oath of past and future loyalty would govern the conquered South.” As historian Brooks D. Simpson summarized Wade-Davis: “Once a state in rebellion ceased resistance to United States authority, a provisional governor, appointed by the president, would open the voting registers to all adult white males. When a majority of those enrolled took the oath of allegiance, the governor would hold an election to reorganize that state government, in which only those southern whites who had been continuously loyal to the United States could vote. The members of the reorganization convention had to amend the state constitution to abolish slavery, bar prominent Confederates from voting or running for the state legislature or governor, and repudiate the Confederate debt. Efforts to go beyond these limits were defeated by the House of Representatives.” 150 Historian Michael Les Benedict wrote that “the unanimity with which Republicans sustained this legislation dealing with so controversial a subject, is remarkable. Only six Republican representatives and five senators opposed the Wade-Davis bill when it finally passed July 2, 1864.” Congress thought it was well within its constitutional rights. Benedict wrote that “the nearly universal conviction that some congressional enactment on Reconstruction, almost any enactment, was a legal and practical necessity far overshadowed any controversy over its actual provisions.”151

The Wade-Davis Act began: “Be it enacted by the Senate and House of Representatives of the United States of America in Congress assembled, That in the States declared in rebellion against the United States the president shall, by and with the advice and consent of the Senate, appoint for each a provisional governor, whose pay and emoluments shall not exceed that of a brigadier-general of volunteers, who shall be charged with the civil administration of such State until a State government therein shall be recognized as hereinafter provided.”152 Historian Michael Les Benedict wrote: “After seven months of discussion and confusion, Congress finally passed a Reconstruction bill, which historians have described …the radical response to Lincoln’s conservative policy of Reconstruction as manifested in Louisiana.” Benedict argued: “Several facts militate against such an interpretation, however. The situation in Louisiana was not all that clear in the spring of 1864, as Congress considered the bill. All that most congressmen knew at this time was that Nathaniel Banks, Lincoln’s commanding general in Louisiana, had organized elections for civil officers in the state and also for delegates to a constitutional convention.”153

There was tension, however. Some Republican Radicals were already annoyed with Lincoln because of the resignation of Treasury Secretary Salmon P. Chase at the end of June and other more parochial issues. Historian Reinhard H. Luthin wrote: ‘Underneath the radicals’ fight against Lincoln’s Postmaster General Montgomery Blair, could be seen Blair’s continuing controversy with Congressman Henry Winter Davis for Maryland political control. Blairites and Davisites went at each other over the problems of federal patronage, the speed of Negro emancipation, and a reconstruction policy toward the South.”154 Historian Jean H. Baker noted: “If largely due to Blair’s urging, emancipation did not separate Maryland’s two factions, Reconstruction and what the postmaster called ‘the relations of freed Negroes to whites’ did. For many years the Blair family had supported the principle of colonization, and as early as the 1850s, Blair had recognized the political importance of the free Negro question in his adopted state of Maryland. Throughout the war, Blair, who denied that the two races could live together peacefully, argued for federally subsidized colonization of blacks in Chiriqui and Haiti, or, alternatively, emancipation with some form of Negro apprenticeship. ‘It is negro equality, not slavery they [the South] are fighting about.'”155

The House passed the legislation first. “In the Senate Ben Wade took charge of the bill,” wrote historian James G. Randall. He did not bring it up for debate as quickly as Congressman Davis would have liked. “Wade tried, without success, to strike the word ‘white’ from the clause directly provisional governors to enroll ‘all white male citizens’ for taking the loyalty oath. Sumner tried, without success, to add an amendment by which the Emancipation proclamation would have been ‘adopted and enacted as a statue of the United States.’ Other Senators succeeded in attaching amendments.”156 The House rejected a last-minute Senate amendment proposed by Missouri Senator Gratz Brown that would have postponed all action on reconstruction and denied any votes from the South to be cast in the Electoral College in the meantime. As Senator John Sherman recalled, the Gratz “substitute provided a mode by which the eleven Confederate states might, when the Rebellion was suppressed within their limits, be restored to their old place in the Union. The bill was sent back to the House with the proposed substitute. A committee of conference was appointed, and the House preferring the original bill, the Senate receded from its amendment, and what was known as the Wade Davis bill passed.”157 In a surprising reverse, Wade had maneuvered the Senate to rescind the Gratz Brown amendment of the previous day.

Congress and the president had different objectives as they dealt with reconstruction. Herman Belz contended that there was a “fundamental difference between the two plans: Lincoln’s was intended to be used during the war, while the Wade-Davis Bill was intended to be used after the war. Lincoln desired the speedy reconstruction of loyal state governments in order to press the rebel borders still farther back and resume national authority, as he said in his proclamation of December 1863, and also because the sooner reorganization was effected, the less would be the chance of radical social dislocation and change.”158 President Lincoln commented on the Wade-Davis bill: “It rejects the Christian principle of forgiveness on terms of repentance. I think it is enough if the man does no wrong hereafter.” 159 Herman Belz wrote that “although usually considered a thoroughly radical measure, the Wade-Davis Bill was considerably less radical than the reconstruction proposals of Ashley and other Republicans in the Thirty-seventh Congress. It did not provide for confiscation and Negro suffrage, and it eschewed territorialization as a basis of reconstruction but was in favor of the clause guaranteeing republican government. By terms of the bill the rebel states were in a sense still in the Union, though they lacked constitutional governments which te United States could recognize. The bill was thus a compromise that those who considered the states still in the Union could support, as well as those who held that the rebellion had changed the condition of the states.”160

President Lincoln kept Congress in suspense on July 2, 1864 – when it was expected that he would sign the legislation as Congress was adjourned. Historian Brooks D. Simpson wrote: “Lincoln’s plan encouraged repentance by offering a way to return; the Wade-Davis Bill required broad-based repentance as a prerequisite and excluded the repentant from matters of voting and governing, cutting down the incentive for former Confederates to repledge their loyalty.”161 Rather than veto the legislation and risk Congress overriding his veto, Lincoln simply did not sign the legislation – using the so-called “pocket veto.” The effect was the same. The legislation did not take effect. Before he pocket-vetoed the Wade-Davis Reconstruction bill, President Lincoln told John Hay: “At all events, I must keep some consciousness of being somewhere near right: I must keep some standard of principle fixed within myself.” 162 Belz wrote: “Elihu Washburne, Thaddeus Stevens, and John Dawson called on Lincoln, at work in his room in the Capitol, to inform him that the House was ready to adjourn if he had no further communications for it. Lincoln rose to greet them, gave them ‘a pump handle shake,’ then sat down and went on writing. Stevens gave his message, but Lincoln continued at work without saying a word. The committee waited for a reply; getting none after a few moments, it left. Returning to the House chamber, Dawson, a Democrat, complained to Stevens that the President showed little grace and not much courtesy, and added that he ‘looked…as if he was ashamed of himself – out of place- like a tom boy at a feast.’ ‘Damned like – I think,’ Stevens replied.”163

Because of the virtual unanimity of the Republican members of Congress, Lincoln was in effect taking on the Republican Party which had just renominated him for president. “The English biographer of Abraham Lincoln, Lord Charnwood, wrote: “The Bill would have repressed loyal efforts already made to establish State Governments in the South. It contained also a provision imposing the abolition of slavery on every such reconstructed State. This was an attempt to remedy any flaw in the constitutional effect of the Proclamation of Emancipation. But it was certainly in itself flagrantly unconstitutional; and the only conclusive way of abolishing slavery was the Constitutional Amendment, for which Lincoln was now anxious.”164 “Lincoln vetoed the Wade-Davis Bill in part because it seemed to be unconstitutional, but mainly because it contradicted his reconstruction policy in Louisiana and Arkansas. The anti-slavery sections of the bill he questioned on constitutional grounds.”165 Not only would the bill effectively stop reconstruction, it required actions that might result in reconstruction’s eventual unraveling. “It is clear that Lincoln,” wrote historian Herman Belz “saw reconstruction as an executive responsibility and wanted, in order to prevent radical change as well as weaken the rebellion, to reorganize loyal state governments as soon as possible This did not mean that he thought no other plan feasible, but that he did not wish to be restricted in his approach to the problem, as he said in his proclamation on reconstruction in July.” Belz wrote: “Lincoln pocket-vetoed the Wade-Davis plan, primarily because it would have forced him to start the reorganization of loyal government in Louisiana all over again.”166 Lincoln was not about to set back the reconstruction clock – especially when he understood how hard it was to start that clock.

Although there had previously been repeated skirmishes with Republican Radicals, full scale revolt broke out when Lincoln vetoed the Wade-Davis bill. Michigan Senator Zachariah Chandler confronted Lincoln over his decision to veto the bill, telling Lincoln that his veto “will damage us fearfully in the Northwest.” Lincoln responded that he believed that Congress had exceeded its authority whereas he as President could take actions as commander in chief that they could not.167 Historian Eric Foner argued that “Lincoln understood that the war had created a fluid situation that placed a premium upon flexibility and made far-reaching change possible.”168 But President Lincoln needed to balance policy and politics. Historian William C. Harris wrote: “Approval of the Wade-Davis bill would also have cost Lincoln important conservative support in the North and the border states, because it would have put the party at odds with growing sentiment during the summer that peace and reunion could only be achieve if Southerners were assured that they would not be subjugated by a victorious Union.”169

Reaction, Reconciliation and the Reelection in 1864

Although he did not need to say anything, Lincoln issued a statement of his reasons that further infuriated Republican Radicals. In his Proclamation released on July 8, Lincoln declared:

“Whereas, at the late Session, Congress passed a Bill, ‘Too guarantee to certain States, whose governments have been usurped or overthrown, a republican form of Government,’ a copy of which is hereunto annexed:
“And whereas, the said Bill was presented to the President of the Untied States, for his approval, less than one hour before the sine die adjournment of said Session, and was not signed by him:”
“And whereas, the said Bill contains, among other things, a plan for restoring the States in rebellion to their proper practical relation to the Union, which plan expresses the sense of Congress upon that subject, and which plan it is now thought fit to lay before the people for their consideration.”
“Now, therefore, I, Abraham Lincoln, President of the United States, do proclaim, declare, and make known that, while I am, (as I was in December last, when by proclamation I propounded a plan for restoration) unprepared, by a formal approval of this Bill, to be inflexibly committed to any single plan of restoration; and, while I am also unprepared to declare, that the free-state constitutions and governments, already adopted and installed in Arkansas and Louisiana, shall be set aside and held for nought, thereby repelling and discouraging the loyal citizens who have set up the same, as to further effort; or to declare a constitutional competency in Congress to abolish slavery in States, but am at the same time sincerely hoping and expecting that a constitutional amendment, abolishing slavery through the nation, may be adopted, nevertheless, I am fully satisfied with the system for restoration contained in the Bill, as one very proper plan for the loyal people of any State choosing to adopt it; and that I am, and at all times shall be, prepared to give the Executive aid and assistance to any such people, so soon as the military resistence to the United States shall have been suppressed in any such State, and the people thereof shall have sufficiently returned to their obedience to the Constitution and the law of the United States,–in which cases, military Governors will be appointed, with directions to proceed according to the Bill.” 170

“As a logical exercise, Lincoln’s explanation made legislators angry; as a practical guideline it made them furious,” wrote historian Phillip S. Paludan.171 Congressman Thaddeus Stevens complained of Lincoln’s “infamous proclamation”: “How little of the rights of war and the law of nations our President knows.”172 Wade and Davis produced their own infamous proclamation denouncing Lincoln’s pocket veto. Historian Herman Belz wrote: “The intemperate nature of the Wade-Davis attack redounded to Lincoln’s benefit by drawing attention away from the real differences that existed between president and Congress on reconstruction.”173 Wade and Davis had overplayed their hand – and the president disdained to respond to them. Indeed, he disdained even to read the Wade-Davis Manifesto. The unsettled state of the Union war effort further combined with Wade’s sense of the uncertain future of the Republican presidential ticket. Hans Trefousse wrote: “Lincoln’s prospects looked so bad that summer that many Republicans were despairing of success. Wade, who had never been able to appreciate the Emancipator’s greatness felt that Lincoln and Lincoln alone was responsible for all the country’s difficulties, and he decided to make common cause with those radicals who were making an all-out effort to supplant the party’s nominee.”174 Historian Reinhard H. Luthin wrote: “An incendiary-like essay of invective, this Wade-Davis manifesto assailed Lincoln for embarking on his own presidential reconstruction plan for the Federal-occupied Confederate states, in disregard of the aims of Congress.”175 Historian Eric Foner noted: “Despite the harsh language of the Wade-Davis Manifesto, these events did not signal an irreparable breach between Lincoln and the Radical Republicans. The points of unity among Republicans, especially their commitment to winning the war and rendering emancipation unassailable, were far greater than their differences(even though many Radicals in 1864 preferred a different Presidential candidate).”176

The fact remained that in August the prospects for President Lincoln’s reelection driven by a fractured and angry Republican Party seemed dubious. Republican unity in the fall of 1864 that emerged in September was the product of political necessity. Radicals needed Lincoln and Lincoln needed the Radicals. That didn’t mean everyone was happy. They weren’t, but the prospect of presidential victory by Democrat George B. McClellan would have made them more unhappy. Critics remained. Historian William C. Harris wrote: “While Lincoln’s conservative critics faulted him for emancipation, abolitionists like Wendell Phillips attacked the president during the campaign for the failure of his reconstruction plan to insure black rights and require rebel disfranchisement.” 177 Phillip S. Paludan wrote: “The election of 1864 brought the parties together in the unifying spectacle of the presidential contest. Within each party, factions struggled for influence and control, but those intraparty rivalries themselves brought a balancing of views, forming a consensus that reached out to the larger number of potential voters for each party. No faction had dominated, no group of voters had been alienated from the process. The quarrels within the Republican party tended to fade in the aftermath of the 1864 squabbles.178

Differing views on reconstruction initially undermined Lincoln’s reelection efforts. But the president understood that the future of both reconstruction and emancipation depended on his reelection. Lincoln, according to historian Phillip Shaw Paludan, “took care to see that the intraparty conflict remained civil and that he kept ties to his more radical colleagues.” Historian Stephen B. Oates noted that “despite their differences, Lincoln and the advanced and moderate Republicans on Capitol Hill stood together on most crucial reconstruction issues. They agreed that the South must be remade. They meant to abolish slavery there forever, and they worked closely… in guiding the present Thirteenth Amendment through Congress. They were concerned about the welfare of the freemen. And they intended for southern Unionists to rule in postwar Dixie. Above all, they wanted to prevent ex-Confederate leaders from taking over the postwar South and forming a coalition with northern Democrats that might imperil the gains of the war.”179

Some Radicals had put up inactive General John C. Frémont, who had been the Republicans’ first presidential candidate in 1856, as the candidate of alienated Republicans for 1864. A month before Fremont’s nomination at a sparsely-attended convention in Ohio in May, Lincoln aide John G. Nicolay reported: “A few discontented Radicals in New York are agitating in Fremont’s behalf, but they are a skeleton organization and have no public sentiment at their back. In this city, a few original Chase men, chagrined that their favorite gave out so early in the Presidential race, still live in hope that something may turn up to their advantage in the Baltimore Convention, and to this end also echo and magnify the mutterings of the Fremonters.”180

Frémont’s campaign never really materialized. Civil War chronicler Shelby Foote wrote: “Frémont was something of a joke as an opponent, though not as a siphon for drawing off the Radical votes that would be needed not as a siphon for drawing off the Radical votes that would be needed if Lincoln was to prevail against the Democrats.” 181 After Montgomery Blair submitted his resignation at Lincoln’s request, Blair told Gideon Welles “he had no doubt he was a peace-offering to Fremont and his friends. They wanted an offering, and he was the victim whose sacrifice would propitiate them.”182

Lincoln’s prospects for victory were strengthened by General Sherman’s capture of Atlanta, by a strong anti-war platform approved at the Democratic National Convention in Chicago, by the lack of any strong election opponent (McClellan did not campaign), and by fears raised of collusion between Confederates and Copperhead Democrats in states like Indiana and Illinois. Republican unity in the fall of 1864 was the product of political necessity. Radicals needed Lincoln and Lincoln needed the Radicals. Phillip S. Paludan wrote: “The election of 1864 brought the parties together in the unifying spectacle of the presidential contest. Within each party, factions struggled for influence and control, but those intraparty rivalries themselves brought a balancing of views, forming a consensus that reached out to the larger number of potential voters for each party. No faction had dominated, no group of voters had been alienated from the process. The quarrels within the Republican party tended to fade in the aftermath of the 1864 squabbles. 183 Attorney General Edward Bates was highly critical of the Radicals’ influence over Administration policy. In September, he wrote in his diary that the Fremont dropping out of the race was “the result of a compromise with the leaders of the extreme Radicals ..it is announced that Ben F. Wade and H[enr]y Winter Davis (notwithstanding their fierce manifesto) are to take the Stump for Lincoln. The result will, probably be to ensure Mr. L’s election over McClellan; and the Radicals, no doubt, hope that they will constitute the controlling element in the new party thus formed, and as such will continue to govern the nation.” Bates added: “I think Mr. Lincoln could have governed, free from their malign influences, and more nearly in conformity to the constitution.”184

Lincoln was painfully aware that if Peace Democrats, who chose General McClellan as their candidate for president, won the 1864 election, the Civil War might end far short of victory and without leaving emancipation in place. Lincoln’s hand was considerably strengthened by his reelection. Historian Michael Vorenberg wrote: “In the first few weeks after his election, Lincoln made two bold strokes to secure black freedom. First he replaced Chief Justice Roger Taney, who had died in October, with Salmon P. Chase, a renowned champion of African American freedom and equality. Second, he urged Congress to adopt the abolition amendment immediately.”185 Historian Stephen B. Oates wrote: “By the war’s end, Lincoln seemed on the verge of a new phase of reconstruction, a tougher phase that would call for some form of Negro suffrage, more stringent voting qualifications for ex-Confederates (as hinted at in his 1864 Message to Congress), and probably an army of occupation for the postwar South.”186 Republicans had nominated former Tennessee War Governor Andrew Johnson for vice president – in place of Maine’s Hannibal Hamlin – in order to present the image of a “National Union” ticket. Historian LaWanda Cox wrote that the president “was prepared to implement, so far as he would find practicable, ‘the principle that all men are created equal.’ the nature of presidential leadership helped shape events, and the leadership of Andrew Johnson and of Lincoln diverged markedly. Johnson lacked Lincoln’s political skill, finesse, and flexibility; more importantly, he did not face in the same direction. Lincoln would expand freedom for blacks; Johnson was content to have their freedom contained. Both men held, to use Lincoln’s words, that ‘important principles may, and must, be inflexible’; the operative principles of Lincoln and Johnson simply did not coincide. During his presidency, though not during his period as war governor, Johnson clung to a narrow concept of the power of the national government as ‘right’ principle. Lincoln’s constitutional scruples, on the other hand, did not preclude the expansion of federal authority. He had exercised broadly the war powers of commander in chief, and his readiness to continue to do so in reconstructing the states was indicate both by his sending General Banks back to Louisiana and by his initiating cabinet consultations in preparation for making ‘some new announcement to the people of the South,’ after Congress had adjourned without agreeing upon a southern policy. Lincoln took to heart the warning of William Whiting, solicitor of the War Department, to which Phillip Paludan has called attention. He saw the danger in recognizing a doctrine of state existence that would enable ‘secessionists…to get back by fraud what they failed to get by fighting.’ In his last public address, he carefully refrained from taking a stand on ‘whether the seceded States, so called, are in the Union or out of it.’ Also unlike Johnson and the Democrats, Lincoln indicated no aversion to the use of constitutional amendment to change the historic division of powers between state and federal government. Nor had he objected, as would they, that Congress had no authority to impose a provision in respect to suffrage upon the unreconstructed states. With enfranchisement, as with slavery, it is reasonable to view Lincoln’s pressure for state action not as devotion to the narrow concept of states rights federalism but as a practical first step toward an ultimate solution. Given the differences in principle and prejudice between Lincoln and Johnson, Reconstruction history would have followed a different path both at the nation’s capital and in the secession states of the South had Lincoln lived out his second term of office. Of that there can be no doubt.”187

With Congress out of session from July to November, conflict over reconstruction abated. Both Lincoln and the Radicals wanted to move forward. Historian George T. McKinsey wrote: “Despite their differences over the Wade-Davis Bill both Lincoln and Congress were disposed to cooperate on reconstruction. In his annual message Lincoln made the first move by speculating that the time might have come to abandon his generous offer of presidential pardon to Confederates and to replace it with ‘more rigorous measures.’ The words opened negotiations on reconstruction. Soon a bill appeared in the House, offering to recognize the 10 percent governments in Louisiana, Arkansas, and Tennessee if, in return, Lincoln would apply a Wade-Davis formula elsewhere in the South. The bill also provided that voters would be registered without regard to color, thus raising for the first time the issue Negro suffrage.”188 Historian William C. Harris noted that the president kept General Nathaniel Banks, the Louisiana commander, in Washington because he believed that the former House speaker could help smooth relations with Congress. Harris wrote: “Practical-minded Radicals understood that complete emancipation and the establishment of loyal Southern governments were the only reconstruction guarantees that most Northerners and border-state men wanted at this time, a settlement coinciding with Lincoln’s position and requiring little in the way of federal intervention in the affairs of the states. Though most Radicals favored some form of black suffrage, they refrained from any outright demand for full black political and civil rights.”189

Despite their disagreements, Lincoln worked closely with House Radicals after his reelection although northern Radicals were not necessarily in a hurry to end the war if a compromise peace might leave slavery in place. Lincoln’s main problems came with his friend Charles Sumner and the Senate. President Lincoln discussed Congressman Ashley’s reconstruction bill with former Postmaster General Montgomery Blair (who had been sacrificed to appease the Radicals in September) and Nathaniel Banks on December 18, 1864. “The President had reading it carefully & said that he liked it with the exception of one or two things which he thought rather calculated to conceal a feature which might be objectionable to some. The first was that under the provisions of that bill negroes would be made jurors & voters under the temporary governments. ‘Yes,[“] said Banks, that is to be stricken out and the qualification [of] white male citizens of the U.S. is to be restored. What you refer to would be a fatal objection to the Bill. It would simply throw the Government into the hands of the blacks, as the white people under that arrangement would refuse to vote.” The President said that the second problem “is the declaration that all persons heretofore held in slavery are declared free. This is explained by some to be not a prohibition of slavery by Congress but a mere assurance of freedom to persons actually then [free] in accordance with the proclamation of Emancipation. In that point of view it is not objectionable though I think it would have been preferable to so express it.” Aide John Hay wrote in his diary about the meeting:

The President and General Banks spoke very favorably, with these qualifications of Ashley’s bill. Banks is especially anxious that the Bill may pass and receive the approval of the President. He regards it as merely concurring in the Presidents own action in the one important case of Louisiana and recommending an observance of the same policy in other cases. He does not regard it, nor does the President, as laying down any cast iron policy in the matter. Louisiana being admitted and this bill passed, the President is not stopped by it from recognizing and urging Congress toe recognize another state of the South coming in with constitution and conditions entirely.190

Reconstruction at the End of the War

President Lincoln’s sense of responsibility for a post-war country grew as the prospect for the country’s division diminished. Interior Secretary John Palmer Usher later wrote: “It was apparent to all who bore intimate relations with Mr. Lincoln, that, foreseeing the termination of the war by the submission of the insurgents, his mind was seriously affected in contemplation of the new responsibilities which would devolve upon him. His speech grew more grave, and his aspect more serious. His second inaugural address was a faithful mirror of his mind. He seemed to be oppressed with a great care, conscious that changes were about to occur which would impose upon him new duties in which he might possibly find himself in conflict with many of the public men who had supported the government in the war. There seemed to be as many minds as there were men, and in a majority of cases inclined to adhere to their own opinions, without regard to the opinions of Mr. Lincoln or any one else; yet he felt that the responsibility all rested upon him.”191

Louisiana remained at the top of Lincoln’s reconstruction agenda – as a model that might be implemented elsewhere. “Overshadowing all other discussions across February were those on bills for recognizing as ‘legitimate’ the government set up in Louisiana a year earlier under the guidance of Lincoln and the military commander of the department,” wrote Lincoln biographer Carl Sandburg. “The new state governments the President had guided were ‘shadows’ and not ‘realities,’ according to the opposition. For himself he wished to regard them as ‘important,’ as ‘earnestly struggling,’ as admittedly ‘short of complete success.”192 But these state governments were Lincoln’s children and he was determined to nurture them.

Lincoln continued to be bedeviled by Massachusetts Senators Charles Sumner, one Radical Republican whose friendship Lincoln had assiduously courted but whose personality sometimes grated on him. Historian David H. Donald noted: “Long before the end of the war Sumner was moving to revolutionize the South by guaranteeing education, homesteads, civil rights, and the franchise to the Negroes, pledging that ‘for a while the freedman will take the place of the master, verifying the saying that the last shall be first and the first shall be last.'”193 Historian William C. Harris wrote: “Though Lincoln and Sumner’s personal relationship continued to be cordial, their differences over reconstruction in early 1865 widened. Sumner refused an invitation by Mrs. Lincoln to attend a reconstruction address by Lincoln on April 11 at the White House because, as he wrote Salmon P. Chase, his presence would give symbolic approval to the president’s conservative course toward the South. At the same time, Sumner informed Francis Lieber that Lincoln’s policy augured ominous ‘confusion and uncertainty in the future, with hot controversy.” 194 Lincoln declined to widen the breach, however; Sumner was Mrs. Lincoln’s escort to the Second Inaugural celebration.

As the war’s end came in sight, noted historian George T. McKinsey, President “Lincoln’s reconstruction policies became more coercive. The President began by encouraging southern unionists to repudiate the Confederacy, turned to politically neutral military governments, and at last called upon those governments to undertake political reconstruction. Second, Lincoln became increasingly radical on the race issue. At first opposing any interference with slavery, he concluded by favoring total emancipation. At the same time he was suggesting that some of the former slaves be allowed to vote and that young blacks be educated so the races could learn to live together in freedom. Third, Lincoln cooperated with Congress. Although he preferred his own initiatives, he always acknowledged the power of Congress to participate in reconstruction and tried to work out a compromise during its last session. Fourth, Lincoln wanted to keep Radicals in the Republican Party.195 It was a balancing act. Historian William C. Harris wrote: “The question of race control in the restored states was not an issue with Lincoln, though Northern Copperheads and others repeatedly charged that he schemed to establish ‘social equality’ between the races. Like many Northerners, Lincoln assumed that Southern whites, albeit Unionists, would continue after the war to control their states and communities and provide protection for the fruits of Union victory, including black freedom.”196

A particular concern was the legal and civil right of emancipated blacks. Historian Edna Greene Medford wrote: “Black men pressed the cause of enfranchisement even more forcefully at a national convention held at Syracuse, New York in October 1864. The delegation of 144 men from 18 states demanded an end to slavery drew up a damning list of black people’s grievances….The men at Syracuse appealed especially for the elective franchise, believing that ‘in the matter of government, the object of which is the protection and security of human rights, prejudice should be allowed no voice whatever.'”197 In his final public speech on April 11, 1865, President Lincoln raised the possibility of extending black suffrage. Historians James O. Horton and Lois E. Horton wrote: “A decade earlier Lincoln had publicly dismissed African American rights to vote, hold public office or serve on juries; now he seemed willing to support those rights for at least a select number of blacks. Speaking specifically about the conditions for the readmission of Louisiana to the United States, Lincoln acknowledged approvingly that the new constitution had opened public schools to blacks and had empowered the legislature to give them the right to vote.”198 After Lincoln gave his final public address from a White House window on April 11, journalist Noah Brooks wrote: “Those who are ready to fight the President on reconstruction and thereby carry out in 1868 the radical programme for the Presidency, which failed in 1864, are only waiting for the occasion to pounce upon the President’s expected clemency toward the offending rebel leaders. As yet, we have none of them to experiment upon, but the extremists are thirsting for a general hanging, and if the President fails to gratify their desires in this direction, they will be glad, for it will afford them more pretexts for the formation of a party which shall be pledged to ‘a more vigorous policy.'”199

Speeding reconstruction was never far from President Lincoln’s mind. When he was near Richmond in April, shortly before he returned to Washington, President Lincoln met with some Virginia Confederate leaders about reconstituting that state’s government. The propriety of his actions were questioned by military and civilian authorities and he backed off. But after Lincoln was back in Washington, the president met with the Unionist governor of Virginia, Francis Pierpont. Lincoln lamented his own lack of information about what was happening in the South. “All the intercourse for four years had been cut off. No information had been received, except distorted accounts given by army raiders or persons who had occasionally come through the lines. Soldiers who had come through knew nothing about the feeling of the people.” President Lincoln’s comments suggested that the experiences of the last four years regarding reconstruction had raised more questions than answers.

“In addition to other misfortunes to the southern people, in their own estimation, four million slaves had been made freemen. Most of these were in their old quarters on their late masters’ farm. The very sight of these was a source of irritation. What was to be the future status of the white man who had been in rebellion as to voting, holding office, making state and national laws. If allowed to make state laws, what would be the fate of the freedmen? Were they to be allowed to make their own laws or should the military rule? Were there any friends left in the southern states of the old Union? Was there any Union sentiment among the southern people that had sufficient force to develop itself, now that the war was over? If so, what were to be the measures adopted in order to give that sentiment an opportunity to develop?”200

Writing an Ohio friend on April 14, 1865, Chief Justice Salmon P. Chase observed: “Now comes the question of reconstruction. I was anxious that it should be provided for in advance eighteen months ago; and my plan was a very simple one. I proposed that the loyal citizens should be enrolled, either by voluntary action under a State Committee selected by an open public meeting or by proper persons designated by the military authority; and that the citizens there enrolled should elect delegates to a convention, which should conform the constitution to the principles necessary to preserve future loyalty and peace and so prepare for a full restoration of all the privileges of a loyal state. Of course I contemplated no distinctions between colored and white loyalists. I was not able to get this plan adopted. And reconstruction has been made almost wholly a military job; with no good results so far. Louisiana is the only result as yet; and there the old secession element is rapidly gaining the ascendency in consequence of the disfranchisement of the colored loyalists.”201 Two days before Lincoln was assassinated, Chase wrote the president:

“The American of this morning contains your speech of last evening. Seeing that you say something on the subject of my letter to you yesterday – reconstruction -, & refer, though without naming me, to the suggestions I made in relation to the Amnesty Proclamation when you brought it before the Heads of Departments, I will ask your permission to add some observations to what I have already written.”
“I recollect the suggestions you mention; my impression is that they were in writing. There was another which you do not mention and which, I think, was not in writing. It is distinct in my memory; though doubtless forgotten by you. It was an objection to the restriction of participation in reorganization to persons having the qualifications of voters under the laws of their several states just before rebellion.”
“Ever since questions of reconstruction have been talked about, it has been my opinion that the colored loyalists ought to be allowed to participate in it: and it was because of this opinion that I was anxious to have this question left open. I did not however say much about the restriction. I was the only one who expressed a wish for its omission; & I did not desire to seem pertinacious.”
“You will remember, doubtless, that the first order ever issued for enrollment with a view to reconstruction went to General Shepley & directed the enrollment of all loyal citizens; and I suppose that, since the opinion of Attorney General Bates, no one, connected with your administration, has questioned the citizenship of free colored men more than that of free white men. The restriction in the amnesty proclamation operated as a revocation of the order to General Shepley: – but, as I understood you not to be wedded to any particular plan of reconstruction, I hoped & believed that reflection & observation would probably satisfy you that the restriction should not be adhered to.”
“I fully sympathized with your desire for the restoration of the Union by the change of rebel slave States into Union free States; and was willing, if I could not get exactly the plan I thought best, to take the plan you thought best, & to trust the future for modifications. I welcomed, therefore, with joy the prospects of good results from the cooperation of General Banks with the Free State men of Louisiana. I think General Banks’ error, & I have said so to him, was in not acting through instead of over the Free State Committee. This Committee had already shown itself disposed to a degree of liberality towards the colored people quite remarkable at that time. They had admitted delegates from the Creole colored population into their Free State Convention, & had evinced a readiness to admit intelligent colored citizens of that class to the rights of suffrage. I have no doubt that great & satisfactory progress would have been made in the same direction had not the work been taken out of their hands. This created the impression that the advocates of general suffrage were to be treated with disfavor by the representatives of the Government. Discouragement & discontent were the natural consequences.”
“For one I was glad of all the good that was done; and, naturally, wanted more. So when I came to Washington last winter I saw Gen[.] Banks; and, being now more deeply than ever persuaded of the necessity of universal suffrage, I begged him to write himself & to induce the Senators & Representatives elect from Louisiana to write to members of the Legislature and urge them to exercise their power under the constitution by passing an act extending suffrage to colored citizens. I knew that many of our best men in and out of Congress had become thoroughly convinced of the impolicy and injustice of allowing representation in Congress to States which had been in rebellion and were not yet prepared to concede equal political rights to all loyal citizens. They felt that if such representation should be allowed & such states reinstated in all their former rights as loyal members of the Union, the colored population, would be practically abandoned to the disposition of the white population, with every probability against them; and this, they believed would be equally unjust and dangerous.”
“I shared these sentiments & was therefore extremely desirous that General Banks should take the action I urged upon him. I thought indeed that he concurred, mainly, in my views, & would to some extent at least act upon them. I must have been mistaken, for I never heard that he did anything in that direction.”
“I know you attach much importance to the admission of Louisiana; or rather to the recognition of her right to representation in Congress as a loyal state in the Union. If I am not misinformed there is nothing in the way except the indisposition of her Legislature to give satisfactory proof of loyalty by a sufficient guaranty of safety & justice to colored citizens through the extension to loyal colored men of the right of suffrage. Why not then, as almost every loyal man concurs with you as to the desirableness of that recognition, take the shortest road to it by causing every proper representation to be made to the Louisiana Legislature of the importance of such extension.”
“I most earnestly wish you could have read the New Orleans papers for the last few months. Your duties have not allowed it. I have read them a great deal – quite enough to be satisfied that, if you had read what I have, your feelings of humanity & justice would not let you rest till all loyalists are made equal in the right of self protection by suffrage.”202

Much of the three-hour Cabinet meeting on Friday, April 14, was devoted to the subject of reconstruction and Secretary of War’s proposals about how to proceed in North Carolina. “General Grant was present at the meeting of the Cabinet to-day, and remained during the session,” wrote Secretary of the Navy Gideon Welles in his diary. “The subject was the relations of the Rebels, the communications, the trade, etc. Stanton proposed that intercourse should be opened by his issuing an order, that the Treasury would give permits to all who wished them to trade, excluding contraband, and he, Stanton, would order the vessels to be received into any port. I suggested that it would be better that the President should issue a proclamation stating and enjoying the course to be pursued by the several Departments.

[Treasury Secretary Hugh] McCulloch expressed a willingness to be relieved of the Treasury agents. General Grant expressed himself very decidedly against them; thought them demoralizing, etc. The President said we, i.e. the Secretaries of Treasury, War, and Navy, had given the subject more attention than he had and would be satisfied with any conclusion we would united upon. I proposed to pen the whole coast to any one who wished to trade, and who had a regular clearance and manifest, and was entitled to a coast license. Stanton thought it should not extend beyond the military lines. General Grant thought they might embrace all this side of the Mississippi.
Secretary Stanton requested the Cabinet to hear some remarks which he desired to make, and to listen to a proposition or ordinance which he had prepared with much care and after a great deal of reflection, for reconstruction in the Rebel States. The plan or ordinance embraced two distinct heads, one for asserting the Federal authority in Virginia, the other for reestablishing a State government. The first struck me favorably, with some slight emendations; the second seemed to me objectionable in several essentials, and especially as in conflict with the principles of self-government which I deem essential. There was little said on the subject, for the understanding was that we should each be furnished with a copy for criticism and suggestion, and in the mean time we were requested by the President to deliberate and carefully consider the proposition. He remarked that this was the great question now before us, and we must soon begin to act. Was glad Congress was not in session.
I objected that Virginia occupied a different position from that of any other State in rebellion; that while regular State governments were to be established in other States, whose Secession governments were nullities and would not be recognized, Virginia had a skeleton organization which she had maintained through the war, which government we had recognized and still recognized; that we to-day acknowledge Peirpoint as the legitimate Governor of Virginia. He had been elected by only a few border counties, it was true; had never been able to enforce his authority over but a small portion of the territory or population; nevertheless we had recognized and sustained him.
The President said the point was well taken. Governor [William] Dennison said he though we should experience little difficulty from Peirpont. Stanton said none whatever.
I remarked the fact was not to be controverted that we had treated with the existing government and could not ignore our own acts. The President and a portion of West Virginia, recognized the validity of the government of Virginia and of Peirpont’s administration, which had given its assent to that division. Without that consent no division could legally have taken place. I had differed with others in that matter, but consistency and the validity of our own act required us to continue to acknowledge the existing government. It was proper we should enforce the Federal authority, and it was proper we should aid Governor Peirpoint, whose government was recognized and established. In North Carolina a legal government was now to be organized and the State reestablished in her proper relations to the Union.”203

Apparently on April 14, President Lincoln wrote out a short memo that shed light on the state of reconstruction: “No pass is necessary now to authorize any one to go to & return from Petersburg & Richmond. People go & return just as they did before the war.” 204 The question of how reconstruction would have proceeded if President Lincoln had not been assassinated has preoccupied historians. William C. Harris wrote that “if Lincoln had succeeded after the war in his self-reconstruction plan, would sufficient national support have existed to secure congressional legislation and constitutional amendments for the federal protection of black rights? Probably not. As did occur after the war and as Professor Kenneth M. Stampp has written, the Fourteenth and Fifteenth amendments, providing blacks with the ultimate promise of equal rights, ‘could have been adopted only under the conditions of radical reconstitution.’ These conditions were produced largely by the blunders of President Johnson and his Confederate-style governments in the South. It is unlikely that Lincoln would have so blundered in his conduct of postwar affairs.” 205 Historian Richard J. Carwardine wrote: “Lincoln’s gradualism served a progressive purpose. His approach to social improvement was that of a political realist who knew that for every radical action there was the real threat of a conservative counter-reaction and that thoroughgoing changes could prove self-defeating. Lincoln formulated both his emancipation and his reconstruction policies convinced not only that they were true to the Founders’ values, but that they offered the best means of making progress and maintaining the momentum of change.” 206 Lincoln’s approach was embodied in his Second Inaugural Address:

“With malice toward none; with charity for all; with firmness in the right, as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in; to bind up the nation’s wounds; to care for him who shall have borne the battle, and for his widow and his orphan…to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace among ourselves and with all nations.”

Lincoln’s reconstruction policies were not designed to punish the South, but to usher in a “new birth of freedom.” Lincoln said on the last full day of his life: “No one must expect me to take any part in hanging or killing these men, even the worst of them. Frighten them out of the country, open the gates, let down the bars, scare the off. Enough lives have been sacrificed; we must extinguish our resentments if we expect harmony and union. There is too much disposition, in certain quarters, to hector and dictate to the people of the South, to refuse to recognise them as fellow-citizens. Such persons have too little respect for Southerners’ rights. I do not share feelings of that kind.”207 President Lincoln’s assassination left reconstruction in limbo – and in the hands of his ill-fated successor, Andrew Johnson.


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  2. Reinhard H. Luthin, The Real Abraham Lincoln, p. 479.
  3. David H. Donald, Lincoln, p. 484.
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  8. CWAL, Volume VI, p. 387 (Letter of Stephen A. Hurlbut to S.B. Walker, August 10, 1863).
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  10. William C. Harris, With Charity for All: Lincoln and the Restoration of the Union, p. 127.
  11. Abraham Lincoln Papers at the Library of Congress. Transcribed and Annotated by the Lincoln Studies Center, Knox College. Galesburg, Illinois (Letter from Abraham Lincoln to George F. Shepley, Friday, November 21, 1862).
  12. Allan Nevins, The Emergence of Lincoln, Volume IV, p. 471.
  13. Allan G. Bogue, The Congressman’s Civil War, p. 47.
  14. George T. McJimsey, The Dividing and Reuniting of America: 1848-1877, pp. 122-123.
  15. CWAL, Volume VI , p. 371 (Address on Colonization to a Deputation of Negroes, August 14, 1862).
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  124. Richard N. Current, Speaking of Abraham Lincoln, p. 164.
  125. George T. McKinsey, The Dividing and Reuniting of America: 1848-1877, p. 124.
  126. Herman Belz, Reconstructing the Union: Theory and Policy During the Civil War, p. 159.
  127. William C. Harris, With Charity for All, Lincoln and the Restoration of the Union, p. 148.
  128. James M. McPherson, The Struggle for Equality: Abolitionists and the Negro in the Civil war and Reconstruction, p. 241.
  129. Lord Charnwood, Abraham Lincoln, pp. 400-401.
  130. John Hope Franklin, Reconstruction After the Civil War, pp. 25-26.
  131. Richard Striner, Father Abraham: Lincoln’s Relentless Struggle to End Slavery, pp. 212-213.
  132. Philip Shaw Paludan, The Presidency of Abraham Lincoln, p. 265.
  133. Brooks D. Simpson, The Reconstruction Presidents, p. 45.
  134. Philip S. Paludan, The Presidency of Abraham Lincoln, pp. 263-264.
  135. Richard Striner, Father Abraham: Lincoln’s Relentless Struggle to End Slavery, p. 223.
  136. Richard Striner, Father Abraham: Lincoln’s Relentless Struggle to End Slavery, pp. 212-213.
  137. James A. Rawley, Abraham Lincoln and a Nation Worth Fighting For, p. 172.
  138. Adam Gurowski, Diary, Volume II, pp. 68-69 (January 10, 1864).
  139. Peyton McCrary, Abraham Lincoln and Reconstruction: The Louisiana Experiment, p. 270.
  140. James M. McPherson, The Struggle for Equality: Abolitionists and the Negro in the Civil War and Reconstruction, p. 253.
  141. Herman Belz, A New Birth of Freedom: The Republican Party and Freedmen’s Rights, 1861 to 1866, p. 47.
  142. Carl Sandburg, Abraham Lincoln: The Prairie Years and The War Years, p. 525.
  143. Hans L. Trefousse, Benjamin Franklin Wade, p. 220.
  144. Herman Belz, A New Birth of Freedom: The Republican Party and Freedmen’s Rights, 1861 to 1866, p. 61.
  145. James M. McPherson, The Struggle for Equality: Abolitionists and the Negro in the Civil War and Reconstruction, p. 245.
  146. Richard J. Carwardine, Lincoln: Profiles in Power, p. 236.
  147. Phillip S. Paludan, The Presidency of Abraham Lincoln, p. 280.
  148. Brooks Simpson. The Reconstruction Presidents, p. 48.
  149. Michael Les Benedict, A Compromise of Principle: Congressional Republicans and Reconstruction 1863-1869, pp. 72, 77.
  150. Harold M. Hyman, editor, The Radical Republicans and Reconstruction, 1861-1870, p. 128.
  151. Michael Les Benedict, A Compromise of Principle: Congressional Republicans and Reconstruction 1863-1869, p. 71.
  152. Reinhard H. Luthin, The Real Lincoln, p. 520.
  153. Jean H. Baker, The Politics of Continuity: Maryland Political Parties from 1858 to 1870, p. 95.
  154. James G. Randall, Lincoln the President, Volume IV, p. 190.
  155. John Sherman, John Sherman’s Recollections of Forty Years in the House, Senate, p. 360.
  156. Herman Belz, Reconstructing the Union: Theory and Policy During the Civil War, p. 241.
  157. CWAL, Volume VII, pp. 169-170 (Letter from Abraham Lincoln to Edwin M. Stanton, February 5, 1864).
  158. Herman Belz, Reconstructing the Union: Theory and Policy During the Civil War, p. 237.
  159. Brooks D. Simpson, The Reconstruction Presidents, p. 51.
  160. Michael Burlingame and John R. Turner Ettlinger, Inside Lincoln’s White House: The Complete Civil War Diary of John Hay, p. 219 (July 4, 1864).
  161. Herman Belz, Reconstructing the Union: Theory and Policy During the Civil War, p. 226.
  162. Lord Charnwood, Abraham Lincoln, p. 401.
  163. Herman Belz, Reconstructing the Union: Theory and Policy During the Civil War, pp. 226-227.
  164. Herman Belz, A New Birth of Freedom: The Republican Party and Freedmen’s Rights, 1861 to 1866, p. 62.
  165. Stephen B. Oates, With Malice Toward None: A Life of Lincoln, p. 392.
  166. Eric Foner, Reconstruction, 1863-1877: America’s Unfinished Revolution, p. 60.
  167. William C. Harris, With Charity for All, Lincoln and the Restoration of the Union, p. 187.
  168. CWAL, Volume VII, pp. 433-34 ( Proclamation Concerning Reconstruction, July 8, 1864).
  169. Phillip S. Paludan, The Presidency of Abraham Lincoln, p. 281.
  170. John Hope Franklin, Reconstruction After the Civil War, p. 19.
  171. Herman Belz, A New Birth of Freedom: The Republican Party and Freedmen’s Rights, 1861 to 1866, p. 63.
  172. Hans L. Trefousse, Benjamin Franklin Wade, p. 225.
  173. Reinhard H. Luthin, The Real Lincoln, p. 429.
  174. Eric Foner, Reconstruction: America’s Unfinished Revolution, p. 61.
  175. William C. Harris, With Charity for All, Lincoln and the Restoration of the Union, p. 230.
  176. Phillip Shaw Paludan, “A People’s Contest,” the Union and Civil War, 1861-1865, pp. 256-257.
  177. Stephen B. Oates, Abraham Lincoln: The Man Behind The Myths, p. 141.
  178. Michael Burlingame, editor, With Lincoln in the White House: Letters, Memoranda, and Other Writings of John G. Nicolay, p. 137 (Letter from John G. Nicolay to Jackson Grimshaw, April 22, 1864).
  179. Shelby Foote, Civil War, Volume III, p. 470.
  180. Gideon Welles, Diary of Gideon Welles, Volume II, p. 156 (September 23, 1864).
  181. Phillip Shaw Paludan, The People’s Contest, p. 257.
  182. Howard K. Beale, editor, The Diary of Edward Bates, pp. 412-413 (September 23, 1864).
  183. Michael Vorenberg, Final Freedom: The Civil War, the Abolition of Slavery, and the Thirteenth Amendment, p. 176.
  184. Stephen B. Oates, Abraham Lincoln: The Man Behind The Myths, p. 145.
  185. LaWanda Cox, Lincoln and Black Freedom, pp. 150-151.
  186. George T. McJimsey, The Dividing and Reuniting of America: 1848-1877, p. 128.
  187. William C. Harris, With Charity for All, Lincoln and the Restoration of the Union, p. 234.
  188. Michael Burlingame and John R. Turner Ettlinger, editors, Inside Lincoln’s White House: The Complete Civil War Diary of John Hay, pp. 253-254 (December 18, 1864).
  189. John C. Rodrigue, Lincoln and Reconstruction, p. 121.
  190. Allen Thorndike Rice, editor, Reminiscences of Abraham Lincoln, p. 96.
  191. Carl Sandburg, The Prairie Years and the War Years, p. 657.
  192. David H. Donald, The Politics of Reconstruction, p. 5.
  193. William C. Harris, With Charity for All, Lincoln and the Restoration of the Union, p. 243.
  194. George T. McKinsey, The Dividing and Reuniting of America: 1848-1877, p. 132.
  195. William C. Harris, With Charity for All: Lincoln and the Restoration of the Union, p. 10.
  196. Harold Holzer, Edna Greene Medford, and Frank J. Williams, The Emancipation Proclamation, p. 38.
  197. James Oliver Horton and Lois E. Horton, “The Man and the Martyr: Abraham Lincoln in African American History and Memory”, 4th Annual Robert Fortenbaugh Memorial Lecture, Gettysburg College, 2006, pp. 27-28.
  198. John C. Rodrigue, Lincoln and Reconstruction, p. 138.
  199. Michael Burlingame, editor, Lincoln Observed: Civil War Dispatches of Noah Brooks, pp. 184-185 (April 12, 1865).
  200. Don E. and Virginia Fehrenbacher, editors, The Collected Words of Abraham Lincoln, p. 359.
  201. John Niven, editor, Salmon P. Chase, Correspondence: 1865 – 1873, Volume 4, p. 21 (Letter from Salmon P. Chase to Stanley Matthews, April 14, 1865).
  202. Abraham Lincoln Papers at the Library of Congress. Transcribed and Annotated by the Lincoln Studies Center, Knox College, Galesburg, Illinois. (Letter from Salmon P. Chase to Abraham Lincoln, Wednesday, April 12, 1865).
  203. Gideon Welles, Diary of Gideon Welles, Volume II, pp. 280-283 (April 14, 1865).
  204. CWAL, Volume VIII, p. 410.
  205. William C. Harris, With Charity for All, Lincoln and the Restoration of the Union, p. 275.
  206. Richard J. Carwardine, Lincoln: Profiles in Power, p. 238.
  207. Samuel Giles Buckingham, The Life of William A. Buckingham: The War Governor of Connecticut, p. 406.