Benjamin Wade

Benjamin Wade

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Benjamin Wade
     Benjamin Wade was born in Springfield, Massachusetts, on October 27th 1800. He was from an extremely poor family and worked as a laborer on the Erie Canal. He taught school before studying medicine in Albany (1823-1825) and law in Ohio (1825-1828). In 1828, Wade began work as a lawyer in Jefferson, Ohio.
     As a member of the Whig Party, Wade served in the Ohio Senate in 1837. Between 1847 and 1851 Wade was the judge of the third judicial court of Ohio. Wade then joined the Republican Party in 1851 and was elected to the U.S. Senate where he met other anti-slavery figures such as Thaddeus Stevens and Charles Sumner. During the next few years he played an active role in the campaign against the Fugitive Slave Act and the Kansas-Nebraska Act.
     Wade was one of the most radical politicians in the United States, supporting votes for women, trade union rights, and equal civil rights for African Americans. He highly criticized capitalism and argued that an economic system “which degrades the poor man and elevates the rich, which makes the rich richer and the poor poorer, which drags the very soul out of a poor man for a pitiful existence is wrong.”
     In July of 1861, Wade, along with Lyman Trumbull, James Grimes, and Zachariah Chandler, witnessed the Battle of Bull Run, which was a disaster for Union forces and Wade actually came close to being captured by the Confederate Army.
     During the Civil War, Wade became one of the leaders of a group known as the Radical Republicans. He was highly critical of Abraham Lincoln during the Civil War. In 1861, Wade wrote to Zachariah Chandler that Lincoln’s views on slavery “could only come of one, born of poor white trash and educated in a slave state.” Wade was further angered by the fact that Lincoln was slow to support the recruitment of black soldiers into the Union Army.
     Wade was also opposed to Lincoln’s Reconstruction Plan. In 1864, he and Henry Winter Davis sponsored a bill that provided for the administration of the affairs of southern states by provisional governors until the end of the war. They argued that civil government should only be re-established when half of the male white citizens took an oath of loyalty to the Union.
     In 1864, the Wade-Davis bill, named after Benjamin Wade and Henry W. Davis, came from congress with three

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specific conditions for southern readmission: one, it demanded a majority of white male citizens participating in the creation of a new government; two, to vote or be a delegate to constitutional conventions, men had to take an iron-clad oath (declaring they had never aided the Confederate war effort); and three, all officers above the rank of lieutenant, and all civil officials in the Confederacy, would be disfranchised and deemed “not a citizen of the United States.” Also, the conquered states were to be defined as “conquered enemies,” said Davis, and the process of readmission was to be harsh and slow. However, Lincoln refused to sign it. He defended his decision by telling Zachariah Chandler that it was a question of time: “This bill was placed before me a few minutes before Congress adjourns. It is a matter of too much importance to be swallowed in that way.” Later, Lincoln issued a proclamation explaining his views on the bill. He said he rejected it because he did not wish “to be inflexibly committed to any single plan of restoration.”
     The Radical Republicans were furious with Lincoln’s decision. On August 5th, Wade and Davis published an attack on Lincoln in the New York Tribune, known as the Wade-Davis Manifesto. They stated, “He must realize that our support is of a cause and not of a man.”
     At the beginning of the 40th Congress, Wade became the new presiding officer of the Senate. Johnson did not have a vice-president; therefore, Wade was the legal successor to the president. Then, in November 1867, the Judiciary Committee voted 5-4 that Johnson be impeached for high crimes and misdemeanors. Although a large number of senators believed that Johnson was guilty of the charges, they disliked the idea of Wade becoming the next president. Many Republicans were willing to vote against impeachment to keep Wade from becoming President. When the votes were taken, 35 were for impeachment, and 19 were against, only one vote short of two-thirds majority for conviction. An editor for The Post wrote, “Andrew Johnson is innocent because Ben Wade is guilty of being his successor.”
     After being defeated in the 1869 elections, Benjamin Wade returned to Jefferson, Ohio and died on March 2nd, 1878.
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