Analysis of the Three Plans for Reconstruction
The American Civil War, lasting from 1861-1865, was the most severe military conflict the country had seen; it involved the United States of America (the Union), and eleven secessionist Southern states (the Confederate States of America). The war was the upshot of decades worth of political, social, and economic conflict between the agricultural South, which produced mainly cash crops such as cotton, tobacco, and sugarcane, and the industrial North. The South depended on its four million slaves for its social and economic livelihood, whereas the North despised slavery as immoral and illegal. Even before General Lee’s surrender in 1865, the federal government was confronted with an acute dilemma, how to reunite the country. First Lincoln, then Johnson, and lastly Congress, imposed their ideas of how best to restore the Union, that is to say properly execute the task of Reconstruction.
Reconstruction was initiated by incumbant President Abraham Lincoln before the war ended. On December 8, 1963, Lincoln revealed his rather extremely lenient Reconstruction plan. He proposed to grant a pardon to any confederate (excluding high-ranking officials), who would swear their allegence to the Union and accept the end of slavery. If ten percent of the 1860 voting population had taken the oath, that state would hold a constitutional convention. If the delegates had written a state constitution endorsing the 13th Amendment, that state could be re-admitted to the Union.
Andrew Johnson, President Lincoln’s Vice President, and successor after his assasination in April of 1865, unveiled his own Reconstruction plan on May 29 of the same year. Johnson’s plan, which closely resembled Lincoln’s, said the President would appoint a governor to each state (after ten percent of the 1860 population took the oath Lincoln had prescribed in 1863), who would convene a constitutional convention. At this convention, the state had to write a new constitution, void secession, abolish slavery, ratify the 13th Amendment, and stop the payment of war debts. If given a pardon by the President, former Confederate officers and persons owning land worth over $20,000, could vote. Johnson felt that under his plan, Reconstruction would take a few months; in fact, the belief that his plan was too lenient towards the South –he granted 13,000 pardo...
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...to restore Southern society to antebellum status (as demonstrated by his vetos of the Freedmen’s Bureau, and of the Civil Rights Bill); and as a result, replenish the ruined Southern economy.
Congressional Reconstruction, brought on a complete social revolution in the south. The South had a military occupation on their hands, and due to their continual resistance to Reconstruction allowed for the passing of seven separate legislations, aimed at changing their way of life. Politically, blacks had significant potential with the right to vote, especially in Mississippi, South Carolina, and Louisiana, where they were the majority of the population. Blacks managed to gain seventeen seats in Congress (two were in the Senate), and an equivalent number of state offices. Had the South agreed to Lincoln’s terms, or even Johnson’s, they would have been able to continue politically, socially and economically just as they had before the war. Unfortunately for the South, their pride and ignorance, caused them to unknowingly choose the greater of three evils. Although Reconstruction ultimately failed, it would have attained optimal results had the South accepted Lincoln’s Reconstruction Plan.
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