Since Lincoln was assassinated in April 1865, it is impossible to know what final form his Reconstruction policies would have followed, although his successor Andrew Johnson always asserted that in carry out a moderate Restoration of the Southern states in 1865 his was simply carrying out Abraham Lincoln’s original plan. Abolitionists and so-called Radical Republicans like Ben Wade, Frederick Douglass and Thaddeus Stevens disagreed with Johnson and finally attempted to remove him from office in 1867-68. They did not intend to restore the former Confederate states unless equal civil and voting rights had been granted to the four million freed slaves. Thus was finally accomplished by the 14th Amendment of 1868 and the 15th in 1870, although after Radical Reconstruction ended in 1877 these promised rights did not prove enduring. Whether Lincoln would have eventually come to agree with equal citizenship for blacks had he survived will never be determined, but this was certainly not his part of hs policy during the Civil War.
In his famous letter to the New York Tribune editor Horace Greeley in 1863, Lincoln stated that he regarded the issue of slavery as one of pragmatism and expediency rather than morality, and that if he could save the Union by freeing, all, some or none of the slaves then he would do so. Only the pressures of wartime and the need to recruit black troops and deprive the South of its most important labor force pushed Lincoln to the more radical position of immediate abolition of slavery, which he had not supported when he was first elected in 1860 (Tsesis 2004). At that time, the Republican platform only called for blocking any further extension of slavery not for abolishing it where it already existed. His Emancipation Proclamation of January 1863 also reflected this pragmatism, freeing all slaves in states that were still in rebellion as a war measure while leaving others alone in the Border States that had remained loyal to the Union. To those states he even offered a plan for compensated emancipation combined with sending the freed slaves back to Africa, but they rejected this out of hand. Lincoln reaffirmed his support for abolition of slavery in the 1864 elections, and made it clear that this would be one condition for their readmission to the Union after the war. On the other hand, he had never seemed particularly enthusiastic about extending full citizenship and voting rights to the freed slaves, although behind the scenes in 1864-65 he worked actively in support of the 13th Amendment that abolished slavery everywhere in the U.S. when it was ratified in 1865 (Woodward 3).
For black leaders like Frederick Douglass and radical members of his own party like Rep. Thaddeus Stevens and Senators Charles Sumner and Ben Wade, Lincoln’s policies on slavery and Reconstruction were too moderate, centrist and slow. They later became the real driving force behind Radical Reconstruction in 1867-77, which required the Southern States to ratify the 14th Amendment in 1868, which guaranteed equal citizenship for blacks, and the 15th in 1870 that enfranchised black males (McPherson 701). They also thought that freed slaves should receive land, educational opportunities and protection of labor rights. For the majority of white Southerners, though, these policies contradicted their view on white supremacy and had only been imposed on them at gunpoint by the victors in the Civil War. In 1864, Lincoln was prepared to readmit Louisiana to the Union with very mild conditions as soon as 10% of the white population swore loyalty to the Union, and vetoed a bill by Wade and Henry Winter Davis that would have made the terms far more strenuous (McPherson 704-05). For Lincoln, winning over white Confederates was a means of shortening the war, while Wade, Davis and their supporters really wanted to “postpone reconstruction until the war was won” (McPherson 712). This Louisiana question had still not been resolved at the time of Lincoln’s assassination in April 1865, although in his last speech he did suggest that at least some blacks should be given the right to vote. In many ways, this prefigured the far more rancorous relations between Congress and Andrew Johnson that took place in 1865-67.
McPherson, James. Battle Cry of Freedom. Oxford University Press, 1988.
Tsesis, A. The Thirteenth Amendment and American Freedom: A Legal History. New York: NYU Press, 2004.
Woodward, C. Vann. Reunion and Reaction: The Compromise of 1877 and the End of Reconstruction. Oxford University Press, 1966/1992.