Presidential Reconstruction

In 1864, Republican Abraham Lincoln chose Andrew Johnson, a Democratic Senator as his Vice-Presidential candidate, looking for the support of the South.

Following Lincoln’s assassination, Johnson had to step up. His views mattered. Johnson believed the Southern states should decide on what’s best for them. He also felt that the African Americans were unable to manage their own lives, or even deserved to vote.

Johnson gave amnesty and pardon and returned all property except for the slaves to former Confederates loyal to the Union, who agreed to support the 13th Amendment. Many former Confederate leaders were returned to power and some even sought to regain their Congressional seniority.

Johnson’s vision of reconstruction was very lenient. Very few Confederate leaders were persecuted and by 1866, 7000 presidential pardons had been granted.

Brutal beatings of African-Americans were still common and harsh laws known as Black Codes suppressed freed slaves. Some states required written evidence of employment for the coming year or else the freed slaves would be required to work on plantations.

In South Carolina, African-Americans had to pay a special tax if they were not farmers or servants. They were not allowed to hunt or fish in some areas. Blacks were not allowed to own guns, were barred from orphanages, parks, schools and other public facilities.

The Freedmen’s Bureau, a federal agency created to help the transition from slavery to emancipation was impeded in its attempts to provide for the welfare of the newly emancipated. A majority of freed slaves remained dependent on plantation for work.

Andrew Johnson’s policies were initially supported by most Northerners and even Republicans. However, there was no consensus as to what rights African-Americans received along with Emancipation. A group of Radical Republicans wanted the rights promised in the Declaration of Independence extended to include those who were formerly slaves. A political power struggle was about to begin.

Source: Presidential Reconstruction
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