Tuesday, August 28, 2007
President Lincoln wanted a kind and gentle reunion of the states, problem was, he was dead from an assassin’s bullet. His successor, Andrew Johnson, was a War Democrat who was on the Union ticket as Vice-President until that bulled thrust him into the center of the post-Civil War maelstrom.
Johnson, former Military Governor of Tennessee, had some of his own ideas that would have played better in the South than in the North in some matters. On the subject of the recently free slaves, he would accept that, but was against equal rights for African-Americans. He also wanted to let the states handle their own affairs.
This did not sit well with the most powerful faction in Congress, the Radical Republicans. They wanted harsh measures placed on the South, even demoting those states to Territorial Status. Even so, they did push through a plan to split the former CSA into military districts and to have the US Army maintain control.
District 1: Virginia, Commanded by Major General John Schofield.
District 2: North Carolina and South Carolina, Commanded by Major General Daniel Sickles.
District 3: Alabama, Georgia, and Florida, Commanded by Major General John Pope
District 4: Mississippi and Arkansas, Commanded by Major General Edward Ord
District 5: Louisiana and Texas, Commanded by Major General Philip Sheridan, who also had the job of securing the border with Imperial Mexico.
Tennessee, Johnson’s home state, was not in any district.
Congress and President Johnson were already on a collision course over several issues:
Johnson had issued a proclamation allowing whites-only conventions to elect members of Congress from the South. Congress retaliated by refusing to seat those elected.
Congress also passed laws (over the President’s veto) to strengthen the Freedmen’s Bureau, an organization dedicated to help freed slaves adjust to their new life. Part of that help was to establish small farms, which ended up under the control of landlords (usually their former masters) who saddled the African-Americans with a debt that few could repay. Other services included education and legal help.
There were also plans in the works for readmitting the Southern States; all they had to do was to ratify the 13th, 14th, and 15th Amendments to the Constitution. As soon as that was accomplished, the state was readmitted, but the military government would still be in place.
1865: South Carolina, the cradle of the rebellion, was readmitted.
1866: Tennessee followed suit.
1868: North Carolina, Florida, Alabama, and Arkansas were back in.
1870: Virginia, Georgia, Mississippi, and Texas were finally reunited.
Another sticking point was what to do with former Confederates. Most were receiving pardons in exchange for swearing a loyalty oath to the United States. Many of the Radical Republicans wanted men like former CS President Jefferson Davis and former General Robert E. Lee tried for treason. Davis was already in jail after being captured during his attempt to flee the country. Lee had returned to private life and would accept an offer to become president of Washington College in Lexington, VA. Neither would come to trial, but Davis would suffer two years behind bars before his release.
Eventually, Congress voided the Constitutions of the southern states, instead mandating that new conventions, this time staffed with African-Americans and Whites who did not support the Confederacy, elect new members of Congress. This would be a condition of lifting the military rule. As a result, two Senators and 15 Representatives were African-American.
Things finally came to a head when Congress passed a law limiting President Johnson’s ability to control the action of the military in the South, this being in response to Johnson preventing military commander from protecting African-Americans from assault. Johnson responded by firing Secretary of War Edwin Stanton, a Radical Republican. In February of 1868, Congress responded by drawing up, and then approving, Articles of Impeachment. This is a Constitutionally approved method to remove a President, believed to be guilty of “high crimes and misdemeanors,” from office. When the House of Representatives approved the articles, the Senate moved to hold the formal trial. When the final Senate vote was called, it fell one vote short of the 2/3 needed to find Johnson guilty, and remove him from office. This did have an affect on the Election of 1868, keeping the Republicans in the White House with the election of General of the Armies Ulysses S. Grant.
Grant continued the policies of the Radicals, pushing the Civil Rights Act of 1866, which granted US Citizenship to African-Americans, the 14th Amendment, which prohibited states from limiting the rights of citizens, and the 15th Amendment, which granted all male citizens (including African-Americans) the right to vote.
All of these rules and requirements wore hard on former Confederate citizens; these changes that were overturning their world was enforced by the bayonets of garrison troops, many of then African-Americans, and assisted by Northerners and a few African-Americans acting as agents. They were known by their luggage, which was made of the same material that carpets were made of. These agents were called “Carpetbaggers” as a term of derision.
Some Southerners decided on direct action, starting with assaulting Blacks whenever possible, and then banding into groups to terrorize and intimidate African-Americans from exercising their new rights. The most notorious of these was the Ku Klux Klan, with former Confederate General Nathan Bedford Forrest a reputed founder. These groups launched several attempts to stop African-Americans from voting, which resulted in several states imposing martial law and using their militias to attack the Klan. Congress responded by making it a Federal offense to prevent someone from voting. President Grant used that law in 1871 to enforce voting rights and to target Klan members in south Carolina.
During Grant’s second term, the tide was turning against harsh measures against the South in the hopes that Westward migration would help meld the two regions. Also, the Grant Administration was beset with scandals that lessened its effectiveness. A crisis in South Carolina resulted in Grant sending in Federal troops, but it was seen as unpopular.
Even though the 15th Amendment had been approved, many Northern states had instituted literacy tests on order to keep several minority groups from voting, a measure that would soon take place in the South.
Reconstruction came to an end with the Election of 1877. Rutherford B. Hayes, a former Union general, was declared the winner of a highly contested election by agreeing to remove all Federal troops from the South. The military governments were also being disbanded and the states returned to civilian control:
1869: Tennessee and Virginia
1870: North Carolina.
1874: Alabama and Arkansas.
1876: Mississippi and South Carolina.
1877: Louisiana and Florida.
However, without the influence of Federal troops and other Federal intervention, the Southern States soon voted in Democrat majorities and the few gains that African-Americans had made were quashed, not to be revived for nearly a century.
The Union was once again whole, a set of problems was solved, but a new set of problems was there. These problems would not be addressed until the 20th Century.
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