After the end of the Civil War, the country had to find a way to reunite and repair the damage done by the bitter war. The years from 1865 to 1877 are normally referred to as Reconstruction because during this time, government leaders devised plans and implemented policies in an attempt to bring the Southern states back into the government and decide a strategy for how to treat freed African Americans. Reconstruction occurred in three phases and the different plans for Reconstruction varied depending on how harshly they treated the South (“Reconstruction”).
The first plan for Reconstruction was conceived by Abraham Lincoln in 1863. This plan is known as the Ten-Percent Plan which essentially offered full rights and restoration of property to any southerner who swore an oath of loyalty to the Union. Once 10% of the voters in a state had taken that oath, they could elect a new state government and be readmitted into the Union (Foner, 2014, p. 435). The plan was intentionally lenient on the southern states who had seceded because Lincoln wanted to bring those states and their citizens back into their “proper and practical relation” with the Union quickly in order to diminish the hatred felt by the South towards the North and the United States government (Lincoln, 1865). However before Lincoln could enact this plan, he was assassinated on April 14th, 1865, less than a week after General Lee had surrendered to General Grant at Appomattox (Foner, 2014, p. 436).
The next phase of Reconstruction was Presidential Reconstruction. This lasted from 1865 to 1867 and was led by Lincoln’s successor, President Andrew Johnson. Johnson’s plan for Reconstruction was similar to Lincoln’s plan in that he wanted to be very lenient on southerners. He offered a pardon to all southerners who swore and oath of loyalty to the Union and restored their property (except for slaves). Johnson also appointed special state governors to each southern state and instructed them to call special state conventions to establish loyal governments in the South (“Reconstruction”). However these conventions and elections were all-white and freed African Americans were still excluded from voting and government decisions. The governments that results were mostly led by ex-Confederates and under these governments, African Americans still had to endure racism and violence. Presidential Reconstruction and Johnson’s leniency with the South angered many Northerners, especially those in Congress, and they soon devised another plan which dealt more harshly with the South (Foner, 2014, p.454).
The third phase of Reconstruction is Radical Reconstruction. Radical Reconstruction, led by Congress, lasted from 1867-1877. Enacted through the Reconstruction Act, passed in 1867, Radical Reconstruction divided the South into five military districts and called for the creation of new governments in each state. After the passage of the Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendments, every person born in the United States was considered a citizen and could vote which meant that for the first time, African Americans could now vote for these new state governments; this led to about 2,000 African Americans getting elected to a public office during this time (Foner, 2014, 464). Radical Reconstruction treated the southern states and ex-Confederates more harshly than Lincoln’s Ten-Percent Plan and Johnson’s Presidential Reconstruction.
The Compromise of 1877 ended Reconstruction. The 1877 presidential campaign between the Republican nominee, Rutherford B. Hayes, and the Democratic nominee, Samuel J. Tilden, was so close that the Republican and Democrat leaders had to form a compromise to decide who would become President. Democrats (who mostly came from the South) offered to concede that Hayes had won the election if Hayes would agree to remove the military troops still occupying parts of the South. This compromise was made and as a result, Hayes became the 19th President of the United States and Reconstruction formally ended in the South (Foner, 2014, p. 472).
Foner, Eric. (2014). Give Me Liberty: An American History. p. 435-474.
Lincoln, Abraham. (1865). “Last Speech.”
“Reconstruction.” U.S. History: Pre-Columbian to the New Millennium. UShistory.org. http://www.ushistory.org/us/35.asp. Accessed 3 November 2014.