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 Posted: Tue Jul 6th, 2010 09:10 pm
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Texas Defender
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Barlow-

  We disagee about whether Abraham Lincoln's policies regarding Reconstruction were closer to those of Andrew Johnson or those of the radical republicans. The first statement that must be made is that we will never know how Mr. Lincoln would have executed his policies after 1865. But we know something about the policies that he had in mind.

  On December 8, 1863, Abraham Lincoln issued his Proclamation of Amnesty and Reconstruction.

Proclamation of Amnesty and Reconstruction, December 8, 1863

  Basically, it said first that a general amnesty would be granted to all who would take an oath of loyalty to the US and would obey all federal laws pertaining to slavery. Second, it temporarily excluded prominent CSA government officials and military officers. Third, it said that when 10% of the number of voters who participated in the 1860 election in a given state had taken the loyalty oath, that the state could form a new government and elect representatives to Congress.

  In short, Abraham Lincoln's terms for bringing the Union back together were quite lenient. Even during the war, he had offered appeals to the economic interests of the Confederates to end the war. For example, as late as 1865, he toyed with the idea of compensation for slaveholders. He also considered offering to take over the war debt of the CSA. These measures were opposed by his advisors. In addition, he did not generally favor congressional laws of confiscation. In these and other ways, his views differed from those of many in the Congress.

  The radical republicans were not satisfied with Lincoln's relatively conciliatory views. In 1861, Benjamin Wade wrote that Lincoln's views on slavery:" Could only come from one born of white trash and educated in a slave state." In response to Lincoln's Reconstruction policy, Wade along with Henry Davis wrote the Wade-Davis bill, which would have required 50% of white males in a state to sign the: "Ironclad Oath." It also required black male suffrage and appointment of military governors approved by the Senate.

  When Abraham Lincoln pocket vetoed the bill, the enraged radicals wrote the Wade-Davis Manifesto. It accused Lincoln of thwarting the will of the Congress and exercising: "Dictatorial usurpation." Clearly, the radicals weren't satisfied with Lincoln's ideas about Reconstruction. For his part, Mr. Lincoln did not consider that the Congress had any authority in the matter of slavery in the states.

  Initially, the radical republicans were pleased when Andrew Johnson became president. Johnson had opposed secession and energetically carried out his duties as military governor of Tennessee, promising to: "Punish traitors." But while he would punish individuals, he didn't believe that states ever surrendered their right to govern their own affairs. Johnson believed that Reconstruction meant having the states resume their full rights as soon as possible.

  Johnson did impose conditions, such as the complete abolition of slavery. At the end of the war, the main disagreement with the radicals was over making black suffrage a requirement that bound the states.

  On May 29, 1865, Andrew Johnson issued a proclamation of amnesty and pardon to participants in the war who took a loyalty oath to the Union and its laws, including those relating to emancipation. This amnesty was denied to certain southerners who were required to apply individually for pardons. Thus, Johnson advanced  two provisions of Abraham Lincoln's 1863 plan.

  So what were the Reconstruction plans of the radical republicans? Some saw the end of the war as a golden opportunity to expand the power of the federal government. They saw the government of the future as some kind of a benevolent national authority ensuring equality of civil and political rights to all.  That was a different world view from that of Andrew Johnson, who considered the powers of the states relative to the federal government to be unchanged.


  To some like Thaddeus Stevens, the southern states had given up their previous constitutional standing, and deserved to be ruled as conquered provinces. Charles Sumner came up with the concept of: "State suicide," saying that the southern states had reverted to the status of territories. To the radicals, once less than universally popular positions like opposing the expansion of slavery and emancipation of slaves had in the end prevailed. They were now ready to move forward regardless of white southern opposition and Andrew Johnson's lack of enthusiasm for placing the rights of blacks above the authority of states to decide such matters as black suffrage.

  Thus, the stage was set for conflict. We can argue on and on about how Andrew Johnson conducted himself during Reconstruction. You can say that he was inconsistent in  maintaining that the federal government could impose emancipation on the states, but not black suffrage. We can argue about the EXECUTION as opposed to the POLICY, but we have no way to compare that to what Mr. Lincoln might have done. In his case, we have only the policy.

  You stated that Andrew Johnson wanted to: "Go back to 1859." I can argue that except for the issue of slavery, Abraham Lincoln wanted to go back to 1859 as soon as possible. At the Hampton Roads peace conference in February of 1865, the Confederate representatives asked Lincoln what his terms were to end the bloodshed. His one word response was: "Union !"

Meeting at Hampton Roads (Lincoln/Confederates)

  At the present time in  history, most historians do not have a high regard for Andrew Johnson. I, myself, do not find him to be particularly admirable. He seems to have been a generally irascible fellow who didn't always act in his own best interests. But I do not see him as a dastardly villain as you do.

  Your statement that if Andrew Johnson ran for president, that he might choose the Fire Eater Edmund (NOT: "Edwin") Ruffin as his running mate is particularly absurd. Johnson held the view that no state had the right to secede from the Union. He spent a good deal of time as a military governor opposing the rebellion that Ruffin wished to succeed.

  The radical republicans firmly controlled the Legislative branch of the government. They could not completely control the Executive branch, so they sought to limit its powers by unconstitutional means. In the end, I'm glad that Andrew Johnson, with all his faults, completed Lincoln's term as president, instead of someone like Benjamin Wade.


Last edited on Wed Jul 7th, 2010 11:24 am by Texas Defender

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