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After the Civil War ended, President Lincoln was faced with the task of rejoining a Union which was thriving less than fifty years earlier. In 1863 to achieve this goal, Lincoln introduced his restoration plan to the country. During this time of Reconstruction many compromises were made in order to bring the south into American society once more, while incorporating the needs of the newly emancipated slaves. Although Lincoln was very helpful in trying to join the north and south, he was assassinated before and his successor, Andrew Johnson disliked by the majority of the nation, could not follow through with its ideals. During this time, ex-slaves were trying to integrate into the new American economy and society. Throughout the course of the twelve year period of Reconstruction, black Americans made significant gains in their struggle for equal rights.
Because of the lack of attention and the unfair manner Johnson treated the North, all who opposed him aided black Americans in their goal for economic and social equality of opportunity. President Lincolns announcement of restoration plans for the country began with what he called his 10% plan. He proposed an exculpation for Confederate citizens, not including high-ranking officials, who agreed to take an oath pledging their loyalty to the Union and accept all the Unions wartime acts and proclamations concerning to slavery. Once 10% of any confederate state took that oath, those specific individuals would be then allowed to organize a new state government. During this time congress was made up of the radical republicans, the moderate republicans, and the democrats. The radical republicans wanted none of the leaders of the Confederacy to come to power in the South, and wanted the establishment of the republican party as the national party. They also demanded that the federal government should ensure civil rights for the ex-slaves. The moderate Republicans agreed with the radicals mostly, but were not confident about full equality for black Americans.
The last group, the democrats who wanted the South to be integrated into the new American society with as little restrictions as possible. As a result of these very intense differences across party lines republicans and democrats did not get along well at all. But because of Lincolns 10% plan, Northerners and Southerners alike were able to compromise on a suitable way to unite the country, even though no party was fully satisfied with Lincolns plan. As negotiations progressed, the South was integrated into the North quicker and the political parties were willing to compromise for that time, but on April 4, 1865, President Lincoln was shot in the head at Fords Theater in Washington, by a unstable actor named John Wilkes Booth. Immediately after Lincolns death, his Vice President Andrew Johnson, a democrat, was sworn into office. Andrew Johnson introduced Presidential Reconstruction to the nation.
He provided pardons and returns of all property except slaves to almost all southerners if they took an oath to of allegiance to the Union. Rich southerners and high-ranking confederates who personally apologized to him were also given amnesty. Eventually all confederates met Johnsons demands and by 1865 all the Southern states had active governments. Johnsons lenient behavior caused him to lose the support of the radical republicans and eventually the moderate republicans began to the side of the radicals. Johnson alienated more members of congress as he vetoed acts passed. One act, for example, the Reconstruction Act of 1867, which started that all men, including blacks, can vote for state constitutional conventions to improve the fourteenth amendment. Since congress would allow southern states to come into the Union only if they ratified the fourteenth amendment, congress had seen enough.
At this point, both the moderate and radical republicans took control of congress and announced the Tenure of Office Act. This act prohibited Johnson from firing any cabinet officials. Johnson did not take this new act seriously and challenged congress by firing an radical republican, Stanton. Once congress heard of this, they immediately impeached President Johnson. Chief Justice Chase presided over the trial and he came to the conclusion that the Tenure of Office Act was unconstitutional. Only because of some very important Supreme Court decisions Johnson was not removed from office.
In the midst of these bazaar occurrences, the black Americans felt that they had to fight for their rights for economic and social equality. With little representation from only the radical republicans, their only supporters, the black community felt that they had to create a company that would assist ex-slaves. The company was known as the Freedmens Bureau. It fed and clothed war refugees of both races, rented confiscated land to loyal refugees and freedmen, and drafted and enforced labor contracts between freedmen and farmers. It also helped to educate and train ex-slaves so as to help them integrate into white dominated society. Even though black Americans were being helped by a stable bureau, white supremacy rained in the the racist south.
The Ku Klux Klan, created by Nathan Bedford Forrest, traveled around the south killing blacks as well as destroying mass amounts of their property. Also beginning in 1865, new southern laws, known as Black Codes became popular in most southern states. These laws were designed to keep the free blacks in a state as close to slavery as possible. Localities set curfews, required black agricultural workers to obtain passes from their employers, insisted that blacks who wanted to live in town obtain white sponsors, and, in an effort to prevent political gatherings, sharply regulated meetings of blacks, including those held in churches. Fines and forced labor were the penalties for violators.1 These ozbstacles only made the ex-slaves more determined to gain equality. In 1868, in reaction to a Civil Rights bill, vetoed by President Johnson, the congress, influenced by the radical republicans, transported the principals of the Civil Rights bill to the fourteenth Amendment. The fourteenth Amendment conferred civil rights and citizenship for all former slaves, and was incorporated into the requirements for a southern state to regain its statehood.
After the fourteenth Amendment was passed, however, the radical faction of congress was disappointed that it did not grant blacks the right to vote. When this fear that southern states might amend their constitutions so as to withdraw blacks from the ballot was recognized by moderate republicans, Congress formally placed the ballot in the hands of blacks with the fifteenth Amendment, passed in 1869. What was started by Abraham Lincoln as a time for healing and unification of the Nation, a time known as Reconstruction was soon diminished by the decisions and actions of Andrew Johnson. Johnson acted in what he saw was his best interest and not the best interest of the nation and the black Americans. The irony is that all the opposition in the country towards Johnson caused a unity in the republican party that demanded change. The party used this power to pass very important legislation to aid the struggle for social and economic equality for the former slaves.
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