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The opposing views of reconstruction after the Civil War

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Reconstruction began to take place as the Civil War was coming to an end. The promise of peace after the war ended was not going to happen for quite some time. Now there was a new issue to be hashed out; how does the nation begin reconstruction and who is responsible for overseeing it? Now the battle was on between the residing presidents of the time and congress and each had different opinions on reconstruction policies.

Reconstruction began with Lincoln who believed firmly that the matter was an executive responsibility. His goal for reconstruction was the restoration of national unity through lenient political reconciliation. Lincoln’s ideas were clear when he delivered his second inaugural speech saying “with malice towards none; with charity for all”. In his Proclamation of Amnesty Lincoln promised amnesty to all southerners that renounced secession and agreed to the abolishment of slavery. His offer was not extended Confederates such as high-ranking civilian and military officers. Pardons restored all property, except for slaves, and gave back full political rights to those who agreed to Lincoln’s terms. The plan would call for no mass arrests, no trials for treason, and no executions. Lincoln instead set a plan to allow them to organize a new state government as soon as 10 percent of men who had been qualified voters in 1860 took an oath of allegiance. But Lincoln did not extend a plan for what to do with the freed slaves.

There was no program of federal assistance to help the newly freedmen nor were they guaranteed any social or political rights. Lincoln sought restoration for his broken nation, but there was no plan for much needed reforms. When Johnson took over the presidential office after Lincoln’s assassination, his reconstruction plans were similar to Lincoln’s, but he also added a few of his own. Again, amnesty would not be given to high-ranking officials. Unlike Lincoln though, Johnson excluded men that had property valued at more than 20,000 dollars from the offer of amnesty. Johnson had no sympathy for blacks and wanted to speed up the process of normalizing the southern states. This led him to order the military and government officials to return to pardoned ex-confederates all confiscated and abandoned land, even if it was now in use by freedmen. Again, the executive decisions for reconstruction left the newly freedmen with no opportunities to survive on their own.

Congress had completely different views on how reconstruction should occur. Congress felt that Lincoln’s proposition did not protect the freed slaves enough, and was too lax and too quick with its punishment of the rebels. In 1864 congress passed the Wade-Davis Bill. It stated that a state wishing to rejoin the Union would have to have the majority of its citizens take the pledge of loyalty. It banned ex-confederates from participating in the drafting of a new state constitution. Additionally, the bill guaranteed the equality of freedmen. Lincoln did not sign the bill and let it die. Congress believed that Lincoln was stepping beyond his executive duties and that the political organization should be left to them. When congress pushed the Civil Rights Act which nullified the black codes and allowed blacks full and equal benefit of all laws and proceedings for the security of person and property as is enjoyed by white citizens”. Johnson vetoed the bill. Again, he felt that it was not in the federal government’s authority and that it was not within their power to protect the civil rights of blacks. But congress overrode this veto and for the first time in American history, congress had overridden a presidential veto of major legislation.

In 1866 Congress approved the Fourteenth Amendment to the Constitution. This amendment defined citizenship and included African-Americans. It also dealt with voting rights. It gave white southerners the choice of either allowing their former slaves to vote or not allow them but have their representation in Washington extremely depleted. Johnson did everything he could to sabotage every law that congress enacted, and tried his best to promote white resistance to any of the decisions congress made. Johnson’s unwillingness to fill his constitutional obligations and his abuse of power eventually led to a trial for impeachment. Johnson survived impeachment, but after the trial he called a truce and for the rest of his term, reconstruction was not hindered by presidential influence.

Presidential and congressional opinions on reconstruction differed greatly. Who was responsible for making the decisions of how to reunite the nation? Although the war was over, it was hardly a peaceful time in America and with the Civil War nearing the end, the battle over reconstruction began.

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