Reconstruction

The Civil War had exacted a terrible price. Over 620,000 people had been killed, and the South was destroyed. Its economy and landscape were devastated. Attitudes, however, had not changed. One newspaper editor said "Cannon conquer; but they do not necessarily convert. It was now necessary to "reconstruct" the South, which remained resentful.

Thirteenth Amendment ended slavery, but several questions needed attention:

Should Confederate leaders be tried for treason?

Who would foot the bill for rebuilding the South?

What was to be done with freed slaves?

Note: The Civil War constituted something of a social revolution; because it reduced the power of the planter elite of the South; and elevated the northern "captains of Industry." Government very subtly did become more friendly to businessmen; and unfriendly to those who wanted to probe.

While the South was absent from Congress, northern Congressmen took the opportunity to centralize national power and stimulate the Northís economy. Among these,

The Morrill Tariff, which doubled the average level of import duties.

National Banking Act Ė created uniform banking system and bank note currency.

Legislation for the first transcontinental railroad; which would take a northerly route.

The South, meantime, was in shambles. Its economy had been destroyed. Property values had collapsed; cotton that had not been burned had been seized for Federal taxes; emancipation of slaves created a tremendous financial loss, and left the labor market in a mess.

In the border states, Kansas and Missouri, former Confederates began bushwhacking and bank robbing; most notorious of whom were the James brothers, including Jesse.

The former power elite of the South was utterly destroyed. Many people had been accustomed to slaves performing menial chores; suddenly there was no slave labor to do it. If they were to have former slaves to work for them, they had to pay for it. Entire plantations went bankrupt, and never recovered. Aside from financial loss, many were unprepared to perform the duties that slaves had once performed.

Southerners did not take defeat lightly. Many were intensely bitter, and hated people from the North even more. Often they cursed and spat upon Union troops. Northern attitudes did nothing to assuage this, as people from the North were not gracious in victory. Northern historians, determined to punish the South, practically wrote the South out of history books, even downplaying the role of the Jamestown settlement. They were determined to make the Southís role in American history purely incidental and inconsequential. The former slaves suffered more than anyone. They were free, but had nowhere to go; and no means of support. Even the most ardent abolitionists were not interested in transferring land wholesale to blacks; instead of land and help, they got advice and platitudes. Some lands were confiscated for nonpayment of taxes; some of which was sold to free blacks; other parts of which were sold to Yankee speculators. A plan to give each freed slave 40 acres led to the claim that the North planned to give each of them "forty acres and a mule." This was not true, and did not happen.

Among the other properties confiscated by the Government were the estate of Robert E. Lee and the property of the Custis family. (Lee was related to Washingtonís wife.) The property became Arlington national cemetery; the Lee mansion is still visible at the cemetery near the Kennedy gravesite.

March 3, 1865, Congress set up the Freedmanís Bureau to assist former slaves. It was to set up schools, provide medical care, and help with labor disputes. The government never realized the intensity of racial prejudice in the South, and the determination of southerners not to cooperate; and for that reason, the Bureau did not do much. No program of reconstruction ever incorporated much more than constitutional and legal right for freedmen. This was important, but events, rather than a commitment to equality, determined the final outcome.

Late 1863, Lincoln issued a Proclamation of Amnesty and Reconstruction:

When 10% of those who voted in 1860 took an oath of allegiance to the Constitution and received a Presidential pardon, the state could form a new government.

Confederate officers and senior military officials were excluded, particularly those who had left federal posts to aid the rebellion.

This was Lincolnís "ten per cent plan."

Problem was: Who had authority to reconstruct the South?

Lincoln: President had pardon power, and guarantee to each state a republican form of government. Since he was charged with enforcing the law, he had the authority.

Congress: the guarantee of a Republican form of government gave Congress the implied power to reconstruct.

Radical Republicans: Small group in Congress determined to reconstruct the South so that it was similar to North, with small-scale capitalism; no more planter class to keep blacks subservient. They also maintained that Congress should supervise reconstruction.

Wade-Davis Bill: Majority of white males must declare allegiance; only those who took ironclad oath of past loyalty could vote or serve in state constitutional conventions. Also, constitutions must abolish slavery; preclude Confederate officials from holding office, and repudiate Confederate debt. The Bill passed on the closing day of the Congressional session, and Lincoln pocket-vetoed it.

April 11, 1865: Lincolnís last words on reconstruction: He said that the states were "out of their proper relation with the Union," and the object was to get them into their "proper practical relation." He stated in a cabinet meeting that the Radicals possessed feeling of hate and vindictiveness with which he could not sympathize. He said that "the price of the lash has been paid in blood." Sadly, he was assassinated that evening by John Wilkes Booth at Fordís Theatre. (Good Friday, April 11, 1865)

Lincoln did not want to go to the theater, but his wife had insisted. The newspapers had already reported that he would be in attendance. The play was Our American Cousin. Gen. Grant and his wife were to go with them, but Mrs. Lincoln had upset Mrs. Grant severely recently, and the latter refused to be seen with her; so Grant begged off. He said that he and the Mrs. were catching a train to visit their children. Instead, a young lady and a Major attended with the Lincolns.

The plot had been in the making for some time. Booth was the Brad Pitt of his day; strikingly handsome, a famous actor, whom everyone knew. He and several others had met for days at a boarding house and planned to kill Lincoln, Vice Pres. Johnson, and Sec. of State William Seward on the same night. Because he was an actor in Fordís theater, Booth had easy access. He went to the theatre early in the day, arranged to block the door so no one could escape, and also drilled a small hole through the wall, so it would appear that the bullet had come from outside the wall.

On the evening, Seward was in bed after suffering an injury in a carriage accident. The assassin claimed to have medicine from the doctor, but would only deliver it to Seward. He tried to cut Sewardís throat, but only succeeding in cutting his jaw open. On his way out, he was accosted by Sewardís son, who was also critically wounded, but survived. Johnsonís would-be assassin had left a calling card at Johnsonís hotel earlier, so that Johnson would expect him. He stopped to have a few drinks in the hotel bar to get up his nerve; but only got drunk, and never went to the door.

Booth slipped into the theater through a back entrance, and shot Lincoln in the back of the head. Lincoln slumped forward, so much so that his wife thought he was asleep. He did not cry out. No one in the audience paid much attention, but then Booth, who had blocked his way out, jumped from the Presidential box and shouted sic semper tyrannis (so always with tyrants), the motto of Virginia. He broke his leg in the jump, and was instantly recognized. The bullet entered Lincolnís brain, and caused his right eye to bulge. Doctors who examined him knew immediately that he stood no chance. He died in a house across the street six hours later.

Booth was later cornered in Virginia hiding in a barn, and shot before he could surrender. On the way, he had stopped by Dr. Richard Muddís home to have his leg set. There is some evidence that Mudd did not know Booth, or what had happened; however, he went to jail for it; and from the incident comes the phrase, "Your name is Mudd." The other conspirators were arrested and hanged; along with a Mrs. Mary Surratt, who owned the boarding house where they met. There is little evidence that Mrs. Surratt knew the score; but in the emotions of the moment, she was guilty by association.

There has been speculation; and some evidence, that Secretary of War Edwin Stanton was one of the conspirators; although this has never been proven. Booth took the only bridge out of Washington that had not been closed; and the soldier who shot him had some connection to Stanton. The truth will probably never be known.

With Lincolnís death, Andrew Johnson became President. He was a self-made man from Tennessee who had remained loyal to the Union. He was a tailor by trade, and sewed his own suit for his swearing in as Vice President. His wife had taught him to read and write. He had been sick before inauguration, and had a belt of brandy for the illness, and was inebriated at the time he was sworn in. This lent itself to his reputation as a drunkard.

Johnsonís plan was very close to Lincolns. He said in 1865 "there is no such thing as reconstruction; Those states have not gone out of the Union. Therefore, reconstruction is not necessary." He issued his own Proclamation of Amnesty in May, 1865, very similar to Lincolns. He also authorized provisional governors to call conventions which must ratify the 13th Amendment and abolish slavery; as well as repudiate all confederate debts.

The South was not so willing to compromise. When Congress reconvened, a number of representatives were former Confederate officials. The Vice President of the Confederacy, Alexander Stephens, had been elected to the Senate. As a result, Congress denied seats to all eleven former Confederate states. South also passed "Black Codes" to keep blacks in a condition as near slavery as possible. They set up a separate legal system for blacks, apart from that for whites. See Copy.  The result was that moderate Republicans began drifting towards Radical views. Southern members were still excluded from Congress; but Congress then set up a Joint Committee on Reconstruction. The initiative was seized by the more determined radicals, primarily Thaddeus Stevens of Pennsylvania; and Charles Sumner of Massachusetts.

The end result was, the Radicals completely reversed the Northern position about whether the South had indeed left the Union; for no other reason than it was politically expedient for them to do so. It gave them the chance to sit in the drivers seat. Stevens said that the Confederate states were now "conquered provinces." Sumner said that they had committed suicide and reverted back to the status of unorganized territories. Either way, they were subject to the absolute will of Congress. The Committee of Reconstruction finally took the position that the states never left the union, but had forfeited "all civil and political rights under the Constitution." As such, Congress had the authority to determine the condition under which those rights could be restored.

June 1866: Congress passed the Fourteenth Amendment to the Constitution. Read. The due process clause and equal protection clause have had far reaching effects; such that the 14th Amendment has become one of the most important elements of the Constitution. The Supreme Court has construed its provisions as applying the prohibitions of the Bill of Rights to the States, not just the Federal Government.

Later, 1870, Congress passed the 15th Amendment, guaranteeing the right to vote regardless of race. States not previously admitted were required to ratify it also.

Johnson managed to make a fool of himself with intemperate speeches. He called the Radicals "factious, domineering, tyrannical men." He took the bait when a heckler challenged him, and got into a shouting match. Once while making a speech from the observation car of a train, the engineer mistakenly pulled the train out of the station while Johnson was still speaking. It made him look like a fool. Johnson was anything but a conciliator; he fought with Congress more often than negotiated. He alienated a number of people, and as a result, in the Congressional elections of 1866, the Republicans had a veto-proof majority.

Congress passed a number of bills which Johnson vetoed; but the vetoes were overridden.

Tenure of Office Act which said the President could not without consent of the Senate, remove from office any official for whom the consent of the Senate was necessary for appointment.

Military Reconstruction Act: Divided South into military districts. Before a state could adopt a new constitution, it had to ratify the 14th Amendment. The military commander would determine membership in the convention to ratify the constitution; to ensure its fairness, and to ensure that former Confederates were excluded.

Power of Supreme Court to review decisions was removed.

Johnsonís Impeachment: Johnson believed the Tenure in Office Act to be unconstitutional, and tested it by firing Sec. of War Edwin Stanton, whom he wanted to get rid of anyway. Congress in turn voted Articles of Impeachment against Johnson. There were eleven Articles of Impeachment. Eight dealt with the removal of Stanton; one said he had criticized Congress with "inflammatory and scandalous harangues." The trial was presided over by the Chief Justice, Salmon P. Chase. Among the House managers prosecuting it were Thaddeus Stevens. The vote was 35 Ė 19 for conviction; one short of the number needed. The impeachment set the precedent that removal of the President must be for acts which would constitute a criminal offense.

For many years, American History teachers have pointed out that Andrew Johnson was the only President of the United States to be impeached. He now shares that dubious distinction with William Jefferson Clinton, who deserved to be impeached, and should have been removed.

A number of republicans visited the South, and enrolled black voters. It was immensely successful. Gradually, states were readmitted, and delegates seated in Congress, when they had met the conditions set by Congress.

Former slaves formed African-American churches; primarily Baptist. The churches soon became the center of community life for blacks. Marriages and family relationships were also reaffirmed. They had no land, and thus had to work as tenant farmers, but many chose work as sharecroppers, as it enabled wives and mothers to spend time with their families. Black schools were also set up, and education provided which had been denied to many during slavery. Several hundred black delegates served in state constitutional conventions. South Carolinaís convention had a black majority. Six hundred blacks served in state legislatures. Two black Senators and 14 Black Representatives were sent to Congress.

Most positions in Southern government went to white Republicans, denominated either as:

Carpetbaggers, if they came from the North; as they presumably brought all they had in a carpetbag. Many of them were opportunists who came South to claim the political spoils. Some were teachers and preachers, and social workers whose motives were pure.

Scalawags, if they were native Southerners. Many had opposed secession, and some were former Whigs.

Resentment of Whites appeared to have come more from the inclusion of blacks than from corruption, which was indeed present. So many Southerners were so conditioned by slavery that they could not conceive of blacks as free. In Pulaski, Tennessee, a group of young men organized a fraternal organization, presumably as a social club with secret passwords, rituals, and etc. that one might find in a fraternity. They wanted to call themselves a Circle of Friends, which in Greek was Ku Klose. Hence was born the Ku Klux Klan, which terrorized blacks, often committing murder, burning homes, etc. while hiding under white robes and masks. There were other groups. Louisiana had a group called the Knights of the White Camellia. South Carolina had the Red Shirt Campaign.

The Red Shirts did not wear masks, instead, they all wore Red Shirts. Gateís great-grandfather was a member of the Red Shirt Campaign. Initiation to join was to kill a black. He paid his dues twice.

The result of Klan activity was the loss of nerve by Republicans, and the resurgence of the Democratic party in the South, a virtual reversal of political power. Part of this was because the North also had grown tired of the whole mess, and was more concerned with Western expansion, Indian problems, etc. Republican governments gradually collapsed, and conservative Democrats, all white, took over.

Election of 1868: Ulysses S. Grant elected President. He was elected merely because of his popularity as a war hero; but he had little political experience, which would soon tell on him. He made Cabinet appointments almost by whim; and lost experienced men to men of influence, who were there to line their own pockets, even if it embarrassed him.

Andrew Johnson never considered re-nomination. He returned to Tennessee, and was re-elected to the Senate from there; but died shortly after he was re-elected.

Government Debt: The Treasury had assumed that Greenbacks issued during the war would be redeemed with gold. ($432 million worth.) This would cause the money supply to contract (deflation) and would lower farm prices, so many farmers opposed this. Also, many Radicals opposed it; they thought a bit of inflation would help the economy grow. Grant sided with those who thought that hard money was morally preferable.

The hard money vs. paper money issue would rear itís ugly head many times in the future; particularly with farmers.

Scandals: Grants inexperience told on him, and proved to be quite an embarrassment:

Jay Gould and Jim Fisk tried to corner the gold market (buy up all the gold for sale on the market). To this end, they argued against the government going back on a gold standard, which would lower its price. The price of gold skyrocketed. Grantís brother in law was in on the deal. Grant smelled a rat, and ordered the treasury to sell a large quantity of gold, which burst the bubble. Fisk would have lost his shirt; but he simply repudiated his debts, and hired thugs to intimidate his creditors. At the time his comment was "nothing is lost, save honor."

Credit Mobilier Scandal: This was the Enron deal of the day. Credit Mobilier was set up to finance the construction of a portion of the transcontinental railroad. (The Union Pacific Railroad). It then contracted with its own shareholders to build the railroad at exorbitant prices because the government would fund it. A nice way to bilk the government and get rich. Several members of congress received shares at par (well below market price). Grantís Vice President, Schuyler Colfax, was among those who got shares. Later, when the share prices collapsed, individual shareholders were left holding the bag.

William Belknap, the Secretary of War, had been selling franchises for Indian trading posts (where people could rip off Indians). He was impeached, but resigned before being removed from office. Another government official sold the right to collect government overdue taxes.

Whiskey Ring, bribed officials to bilk the government of whiskey tax. Government officials, including Grantís secretary, were involved.

Grant himself had no involvement; but he had exercised incredibly poor judgment in the people he had trusted. As a result, he has been considered by historians to be one of only two men who were failures as President. The other was Warren G. Harding, who had the same problems.

Election of 1872: Horace Greeley, editor of the New York Tribune, and a former abolitionist was nominated by the Democrats. They nominated him because he was considered to be their only hope of beating Grant. Cartoon. The result was a forgone conclusion. Although Grant had his problems, he was still popular as a war hero, and stomped Greeley.

Panic: The Panic of 1873 caused a six year depression, the longest the Country had known to date. Several things caused it, including the withdrawal of greenbacks from circulation which caused a contraction in the money supply. Also, 25 railroads defaulted on interest payments on railroad bonds, killing the bond market. `The leading bond company went bankrupt, and the stock market closed for ten days.

The panic hurt Republicans. Democrats won control of the House and Senate in elections. The Greenback vs. hard money issue came up again, and Grantís insistence on redemption of greenbacks infuriated those who wanted an inflationary policy. Grant wanted to run again in 1876, but the scandals of his administration slowed him down. Two terms had become something of a tradition, and he was not strong enough to overcome it.

Republicans: nominated Rutherford B. Hayes.

Democrats: nominated Samuel Tilden.

The race was nasty. Democrats waved the Republicans dirty linen; and in turn Republicans began a campaign called "Waving the Bloody Shirt." "Waving the Bloody Shirt" was linking the Democrats with secession. The term began during Johnsonís impeachment when a prosecutor produced a bloody shirt belonging to a carpetbagger who had been beaten by Klansmen.

One Republican speaker put it well: "Every man that tried to destroy this nation was a Democrat. . . . The man that assassinated Abraham Lincoln was a Democrat. . . . Soldiers, every scar you have on your heroic bodies was given you by a Democrat!"

There was fraud and intimidation on both sides; electoral votes from several states were challenged, particularly from the South. South Carolina and Louisiana had rival state governments; and the issue turned on which one was the proper government and could properly choose electors. Both sides were guilty of misconduct. One congressman said "the Democrats stole the election, then the Republicans stole it back." January 29, 1877, Congress set up a special Electoral Commission to clean up the mess. There were 15 members, five from each house and five from the Supreme Court. The panel turned out to be stacked 8 to 7 Republican, and all votes went that way.

A compromise was reached, known as the Compromise of 1877. Democrats would not object to Hayes, if Hayes would withdraw Federal troops from Louisiana and South Carolina. (this would allow the Republican governments in those states, which had rival governments, to collapse). The result was the return of white supremacy to the South. Hayes was finally certified the winner on March 2.

In 1877, Hayes withdrew troops from Louisiana and South Carolina. Reconstruction was over, and the South quickly unraveled the reforms imposed by reconstruction. Equality was nothing but a promise that was not met. The legacy of reconstruction was the Thirteenth, Fourteenth, and Fifteenth Amendments to the Constitution. Even they lay dormant for many years, reduced by Supreme Court decisions.