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ReconstructionMassachusetts Senator Charles Sumner presented his ideas of "state suicide" in resolutions he presented to Congress in February 1862. According to biographer Moorfield Storey, Sumner said that "Congress must provide for the termination of slavery in fact throughout the whole seceded territory; that as allegiance to the government and protection by it are corresponding obligations, the slaves were entitled to its protection; and that congress must 'assume complete jurisdiction' of the 'vacated territory,' and proceed to establish therein governments republican in form with due regard to the qual rights of all the inhabitants." Storey noted: "Upon Sumner's motion the resolutions were laid upon the table, and were never taken up."1 Sumner's ideas of reconstruction were far more rigid and extreme than those of even his fellow Radical Republicans. What they shared was a belief that Congress, not the President, should control the reconstruction process.
Mr. Lincoln had set out his reconstruction in his Proclamation of Amnesty and Reconstruction issued on December 8, 1863. It stated: "And I do further proclaim, declare, and make known, that whenever, in any of the States of Arkansas, Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Tennessee, Alabama, Georgia, Florida, South Carolina, and North Carolina, a number of persons, not less than one-tenth in number of the votes cast in such State at the Presidential election of the year of our Lord one thousand eight hundred and sixty, each having taken the oath aforesaid and not having since violated it, and being a qualified voter by the election law of the State existing immediately before the so-called act of secession, and excluding all others, shall re-establish a State government which shall be republican, and in no wise contravening said oath, such shall be recognized as the true government of the State, and the State shall receive thereunder the benefits of the constitutional provision which declares that 'The United States shall guaranty to every State in this union a republican form of government, and shall protect each of them against invasion; and, on application of the legislature, or the executive, (when the legislature cannot be convened), against domestic violence."2
Historian Richard N. Current wrote: "This plan, according to the newer view, made emancipation the 'first prerequisite for restoration' of a seceded state. In fact, it did not such thing. It required the prospective state-makers to swear to support all congressional acts and presidential proclamations with regard to slavery. As yet, no act of Congress or action of the president called for complete abolition. The Emancipation Proclamation exempted those parts of the Confederacy that the Union armies had already recovered — the only parts where state-making then could possibly begin. Lincoln heartily approved when, in 1864, the first reconstructed government, in Louisiana, provided for statewide emancipation. But the plan he had announced in 1862 did not require it."3
President Lincoln was adaptable to circumstance and sought to feel his way through the reconstruction process, recruiting loyal and reconstructed Unionists. Historian Don E. Fehrenbacher, wrote: "Lincoln's program of reconstruction can perhaps be understood best as the product of reactive leadership — that is, as a series of calculated responses to changing military and political conditions. In the beginning, it was a wartime program, intended primarily to facilitate military victory and the progress of emancipation. Lincoln wanted to detach Southerners from their Confederate allegiance and to set in motion a process of abolition by state action. And fearing that the fundamental purposes of the war were at risk in the approaching electoral votes that would undoubtedly come to him from any Confederate states fully restored to the Union. During the early stages of the program, it should be noted, Lincoln plainly conceived of reconstruction as a task for white Southerners working in cooperation with army commanders. Such was the import of his ten-percent plan, announced in December 1863, and his subsequent letter to Hahn raising the question of black suffrage in Louisiana was more of an exception than a new departure."4 Mr. Lincoln's policy was dictated by "kindness." Historian Philip S. Paludan wrote: "Kindness meant finding and shaping new directions that fit into existing habits and institutions. Lincoln's instinct was to implement his policies in ways that would enlist support from an many motives as possible and political self-interest was a motive he understood well."5
Not everyone in Washington, however, was motivated by kindness. The congressional counterattack on the President's reconstruction plans took awhile to develop. Moorfield Storey, biographer of Massachusetts Senator Charles Sumner wrote: "Early in February, 1864, Sumner offered a series of resolutions in order to bring his theory of reconstruction to public attention. In substance these declared that slavery was the cause of the rebellion; that to crush the rebellion it was necessary to destroy it; that in order to eradicate every germ of rebellion, any scheme of reconstruction must be rejected which did not provide 'by irreversible guaranties against the continued existence or possible revival of slavery,' and that these guaranties could be had only through the national government; that it was therefore the duty of Congress to let no State resume its functions until within its borders proper safeguards were established, 'so that loyal citizens, including the new-made freedmen, cannot at any time be molested by evil-disposed persons, and especially that no man there may be made a slave;' that slavery must be destroyed in the loyal as well as the seceded States, so that it should 'no longer exist anywhere to menace the general harmony,' and that to this end the Constitution must be amended so as to prohibit slavery everywhere within the jurisdiction of the United States."6
A more concerted effort on reconstruction was launched by Radical Republican Senator Benjamin Wade of Ohio. Wad biographer Hans L. Trefousse wrote: "While Wade disapproved of the President's plan on constitutional grounds, he was even more critical of it for political reasons. Since when did ten per cent of the electorate constitute a majority? The proposition did violence to all his theories of democratic government, and he never missed an opportunity to attack it," wrote Hans L. Trefousse. "Last, but not least, he objected to the President's vagueness on slavery. To be sure, Lincoln's plan exhorted its beneficiaries to abide faithfully by the Emancipation Proclamation and the laws of Congress, but it did not contain specific provisions ending the institution. Ten per cent of the inhabitants might well restore ante-bellum conditions; then, with Northern Democrats reinforced by their old Southern associates, the Republican party might lose its ascendancy. The radicals' achievements might still be annulled in the very hour of victory. While Wade had been willing to postpone the issue, now that it had been raised, he was determined to solve it in his own way."7
While Wade was working on his reconstruction plan in the Senate, Congressman Henry Winter Davis took the lead in managing legislation in the House. Historian Don C. Seitz wrote: "The Davis committee, on February 15, 1864, produced a plan of its own, with the premise, devised by Davis, that the seceding States were outside the Union and were to be dealt with de novo. This was reversing Lincoln's view. The House did not accept it formally, but proceeded as if it were the underlying fact. By resolution, all that Lincoln had authorized in the way of reconstructing the shattered governments was deliberately set aside; it required that a census be taken and that a majority of the whites must take the oath before further procedure, pending which the status of the State would be that of a conquered province."8 While the House acted by the end of March 1864, it took longer for the Senate to handle the legislation and it did not complete its work on the Wade-Davis until the end of the session in early July.
As in the case of emancipation, Mr. Lincoln was determined not to yield his constitutional authority to Radical Republicans in Congress. Historian Benjamin Thomas wrote: "Lincoln had never swerved from the conviction that Congress had no power over slavery in the states, and that he as President could never have interfered with it except as a necessity of war."9 When he pocket-vetoed the Wade-Davis legislation, he acted on that principle and activated his Radical Republican opponents once again.
The issue died during the fall presidential campaign as all Republicans concentrated on beating back the threat of Democrat George B. McClellan, whose views were more of an anathema than those of the President.
"Reconstruction was too prickly a subject to be gripped," wrote historian Allan Nevins. "The President having declared his tentative policy, and Wade, Sumner, and Winter Davis having momentarily retreated from their defiance, most Republicans were content to let that tiger doze."10
But Mr. Lincoln's reelection ended the truce. By early 1865, wrote historian T. Harry Williams wrote: "Jacobinism was rolling at flood tide, and its lashing power seemed about to engulf the last conservative bulwarks. Wade and Chandler seized the opportunity of the moment to move again for a system of retaliation upon Confederate prisoners, for the professed purpose of forcing the Southern government to cease its barbarous treatment of Union inmates of its prisons. Equipped with information concerning Southern prison conditions gathered from General [Benjamin] Butler and other witnesses, Wade offered a resolution authorizing the president to invoke reprisals. His measure would have exacted an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth, with the reprisals being carried out under the direction of men who had suffered in Confederate prisons. In flaming words he accused the Confederacy of inaugurating a policy compounded of 'brutality, inhumanity, exposure, and starvation,' for the base and accursed purpose' of destroying the manhood of Union prisoners and thus rendering them unfit for military service after they were exchanged. He avowed himself willing to accept any measures of retaliation: 'I will make the South a desolation, with every traitor shall lose his life, unless they treat our men with humanity....I will go to an extreme in that direction.'"11
The Radicals were emboldened by rumors about possible concessions. Mr. Lincoln might have offered Confederate peace commissioners at meeting in Hampton Roads at the beginning of February. According to historian T. Harry Williams, "So excited were the Jacobins that Sumner introduced a resolution in the Senate calling upon Lincoln to furnish information about what had taken place at Hampton Roads. This touched off a snarling debate in which the hitherto-banked fires of factional controversy flared up in open warfare. The attenuated bonds holding radicals and conservatives together were revealed, as frayed tempers long held in leash snapped completely. Administration senators, led by [James] Doolittle, rushed forward to contend that the resolution was an attack upon the president. Doolittle singled out Wade as the leader of a Jacobin plot to sabotage the administration's program for peace and reconstruction. In a savage reply, Wade flayed both Lincoln and Doolittle in intemperate language. He was not afraid to attack the president, he proclaimed. Sneeringly he observed that it was not honorable for senators to be Lincoln's 'mere servants, obeying everything that we may ascertain to be his wish and will, because he is not always wiser than the whole of us or a majority of us.'"12
Historian Williams wrote: "The Jacobin bosses were grimly confident that they could whip Lincoln on the reconstruction issue. They believed that public opinion had moved up to their position and that the people would support a program which included the suffrage for the Southern Negroes as one of its cardinal principles. They chose to precipitate the inevitable struggle with the president; their object was to defeat congressional recognition of Lincoln's ten per cent governments."13
Historian Philip S. Paludan wrote: "Congressmen were equally concerned, and their attention spread across several issues connected to Lincoln's tolerance for reconstruction by white Southerners. Initially ready to welcome the December 1863 message as an outline that they could fill in with details, by February 1864 suspicions grew that their options were being closed, not invited. They were worried that state-level definitions of black freedom would not protect the freedmen and that Southern whites of dubious loyalty would too quickly acquire power over black liberty. Congress wanted several things: to impose more national control, to provide for a longer process of reconstruction, to increase the standards of loyalty for leadership and participation in government, and to provide better guarantees for black liberty. Congressmen wanted a more general plan, one subject to national influence and enforcement more directly from Washington, and if necessary, one more enduring in that it would operate under the mechanism of national laws, enforced in national courts by national officials."14
Mr. Lincoln tired to keep things simple. As the Confederacy was collapsing on April 5, Mr. Lincoln wrote John A. Campbell, one of the Confederate peace commissioners at Hampton Roads:
As to peace, I have said before, and now repeat, that three things are indispensable.
Mr. Lincoln addressed the nation's reconstruction succinctly in his final public address on April 11- days after the surrender of the Confederates at Appomattox and days before his own murder.
We meet this evening, not in sorrow, but in gladness of heart. The evacuation of Petersburg and Richmond, and the surrender of the principal insurgent army, give hope of a righteous and speedy peace whose joyous expression can not be restrained. In the midst of this, however, He, from Whom all blessings flow, must not be forgotten. A call for a national thanksgiving is being prepared, and will be duly promulgated. Nor must those whose harder part gives us the cause of rejoicing, be overlooked. Their honors must not be parcelled out with others. I myself, was near the front, and had the high pleasure of transmitting much of the good news to you; but no part of the honor, for plan or execution, is mine. To Gen. Grant, his skilful officers, and brave men, all belongs. The gallant Navy stood ready, but was not in reach to take active part.