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American Reconstruction Historical Period Essay

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Updated: May 6th, 2020

After a period of war, the most affected countries embark on a reconstruction process and the United States did the same following the end of the Civil War. After the war, the leaders had to come up with ways for the Confederate States to rejoin the Union. Other challenges that the country encountered included determining whether the Confederate leaders had betrayed the North.

Nevertheless, the majority of the political leaders were questioned the President and the Congress’ ability to rejoin the Confederate States to the Union. With the prevalence of such challenges, the reconstruction era in the United States was more challenging than the military conflict that had just ended (Foner 409). The main aim of this paper is to evaluate the various plans that enhanced the reconstruction process in the United States.

Lincoln’s Ten-Percent Plan: 1863-1865

Following the end of the wars that occurred at Gettysburg and Vicksburg by the beginning of the 1860s in which the major Union won, President Abraham Lincoln initiated his reconstruction plan (Egerton 52). The plan was set to unite the South and the North and reconstitute the South into the Union.

The process of reconstruction started with the proclamation of amnesty and reconstruction in which the President announced officially his intention to unite the two regions (North and South) (Langguth 91). However, Lincoln’s initial intention was to garner the support of the northern states in a bid to persuade the Confederate soldiers to admit defeat.

In the course of the reconstruction, Lincoln came up with the 10% Plan as the blueprint through which the southern states would be accepted back into the Union. The southern states were required to have 10% of their voters swear to the oath of allegiance to the Union and adhere to the Emancipation Declaration (Foner 409).

However, the vote count was based on the number of registered voters in the 1860 vote count, after which the voters would elect delegates to enhance the revision of the Constitution and establish new states. Lincoln further pledged to protect the southerners and their properties coupled with granting amnesty to the majority of them. However, the declaration did not guarantee protection to the slaves bound to masters from the South (Egerton 59).

Nevertheless, Lincoln’s plan was a form of peace strategy aimed at shortening the war and extending his emancipation policy. However, Lincoln failed to guarantee the protection to the slaves whose masters were from the South (Martin et al. 352). The plan garnered support of the Republicans in the Congress, as they wanted immediate peace. However, they were worried that the plan would restore aristocracy that would revive the spirit of slavery (Foner 411).

From the analysis, it is evident that the President was quite lenient with the South. However, the leniency could be attributed to his move to popularize the emancipation spirit across the states in the North and South. However, some Republicans were against this leniency, and thus they wanted stringent terms through the Wade-Davis Bill in the mid-1864 (Langguth 86).

According to the radical Republicans who supported the Wade Davis Bill, the South started the war; therefore, it did not deserve leniency, but punishment. Further, the Radical Republicans hoped to “transform the southern society, dismantle aristocracy, guarantee liberty to the slaves, and redistribute land as a way of marking their control of the reconstruction process” (Egerton 82).

Although they were the minority in the Congress, they managed to pass the Wade Davis Bill that countered the 10% Plan. From the analysis, it is evident that Lincoln’s 10% Plan failed because ultimately, radical Republicans passed the Wade Davis Bill, which required stringent terms.

Presidential Reconstruction: 1865-1867

Following the assassination of President Lincoln in 1865, his vice president, Andrew Johnson, assumed the presidency. The anger that followed the assassination of Lincoln evoked harsh and vengeful demands. However, after assuming the presidency, Johnson embarked on pardoning most of the Confederate rebels and their leaders (Langguth 62). Johnson’s reconstruction further undermined Lincoln’s vision, thus compounding its failure. Such an argument is characterized by Johnson’s failure to charge the Confederate leaders with treason.

On the contrary, he settled for the execution of Captain Henry Wirz for war crimes (Langguth 93). However, by failing to clash with the radical Republicans, it was clear that Johnson was a conservative president just like Lincoln. Lincoln advocated the spread of the Emancipation Declaration that aimed at abolishing slavery. However, he gave the land back to the Southerners. This move underscored the violation of the Emancipation Declaration as the freed men were forced to surrender their land.

In 1866, the Congress renewed the Freedmen’s Bureau and approved the Civil Rights Act of 1866 that sanctioned more rights to the newly freed Blacks. Apart from increasing legal rights of the freed blacks, radical Republicans passed the 13th and 14th Amendment that abolished slavery and guaranteed citizenship to the freed slaves respectively (Foner 411).

Johnson’s administration was marked by further failure as characterized by the rise of the Ku Klux Klan in opposition to the previous amendments. In addition, Johnson failed to condemn the killings of the blacks that happened in the South, but he fueled the act by blaming the Congress for their amendments. Furthermore, his speech had racist elements, which encourage heinous activities against the blacks in the South (Egerton 95). However, the North responded by ushering the radical reconstruction that marked the end of Johnson’s leniency toward the South.

Radical Reconstruction: 1867-1877

In 1867, the Congress implemented a plan aimed at shaping the South. In the first phase, “the South was divided into five districts and each was placed under military administration” (Egerton 98). From this development, the involvement of the military was an indication that the Congress preferred a radical policy, as opposed to the conservative approach that was advocated by Johnson and Lincoln. In the second phase of the reconstruction, the military took charge of voter registration and passed the 5th Amendment that granted the American male citizens the right to vote, regardless of their racial affiliation or social status.

As a way of eliminating Johnson from office, the Congress assented to the Tenure of Office Act that called for the president to consult with the house and senate prior to removing cabinet members appointed by the Congress. However, the act was in favor of the radical Republicans and it contributed to Johnson’s impeachment in 1867. Further, in 1871, the Congress succeeded in passing an act that authorized the military to monitor the activities of the South to ensure the protection to the blacks in those states (Langguth 147).

Of the three reconstruction phases, the radical reconstruction was the best and most successful. First, the plan succeeded in ending political and economic injustices against the blacks in the South. Although Lincoln had proclaimed emancipation, he had not realized his policy as he promoted some of the practices that promoted injustices against the blacks (Egerton 87). For example, although he guaranteed the protection of the southerners in his 10% Plan, he did not assure the same to the slaves. Such a move entailed some discrimination aspects against the blacks.

During Johnson’s reconstruction, he fueled racism in the South, as opposed to enhancing emancipation (Langguth 152). Furthermore, in both cases, the two leaders preferred a conservative policy that further energized the South to continue with its racist activities. From the analysis of the three plans, it is evident that success of the congressional reconstruction revolved around the involvement of the military in ending Johnson’s conservative administration and injustices against the minorities in the South.

With reference to the three reconstruction plans, it is evident that the American reconstruction was a failure. Although the North worked hard to rebuild the South, it was at odds and most activities were distracted for lack of harmony among the Republicans. With the military administration in the South, it appeared that the freed slaves had acquired equal rights as the whites. However, racism was allowed to pervade the society, hence marking the ineffectiveness of the North in reconstituting the South to the Union (Egerton 104).


American leaders embarked on reconstructing the society following the end of the Civil War. However, the first two reconstruction plans, viz. Lincoln’s 10% and Johnson’s plans, failed for lack of unity among the Republicans. However, the leader’s conservative policy contributed significantly to the failure of the two plans. However, the radical plan succeeded due to the use of military administration in the South. However, the entire reconstruction did not succeed, as it did not achieve its vision, viz. uniting the South back to the Union and integrating freed slaves into society.

Works Cited

Egerton, Douglas. The wars of Reconstruction: the brief, violent history of America’s most progressive era, New York: Bloomsbury Press, 2014. Print

Foner, Eric. “Black Reconstruction: An Introduction.” Southern Atlantic Quarterly 112.3 (2013): 409-418. Print.

Langguth, Arthur. After Lincoln: How the North Won the Civil War and Lost the Peace, New York: Simon & Schuster, 2014. Print.

Martin, James, Randy Roberts, Steven Mintz, Linda McMurry, and James Jones. America and Its Peoples: A Mosaic in the Making, Volume 2. 5th ed. 2006. Upper Saddle River: Pearson. Print.

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