The Politics of Reconstruction: Presidential Reconstruction

In 1865, President Andrew Johnson implemented a plan of Reconstruction that gave the white South a free hand in regulating the transition from slavery to freedom and offered no roles to blacks in the politics of the South. This turned many Northerners against the president’s policies.

The end of the civil war came before a settled Reconstruction Policy. In May 1865, President Andrew offered a pardon to all white Southerners except Confederate leaders and wealthy planters and authorized them to create new governments.

Blacks were denied any role. Johnson also ordered nearly all the land in the hands of the government returned to its pre-war owners—dashing black hope for economic autonomy.

The North eventually turned against the presidential reconstruction and his policy. Members of the old Southern elite, including many who had served in the Confederate government and army, returned to power.

The new legislatures passed the Black Codes, severely limiting the former slaves’ legal rights and economic options so as to force them to return to the plantations as dependent laborers. Some states even limited the occupations open to blacks. Blacks were not allowed to vote, or even provided with public funds for their education.

The South’s white leaders’ inability to accept the reality of emancipation undermined Northern support for Johnson’s policies.

Source: The Politics of Reconstruction: Presidential Reconstruction
Digitalhistory.uh.edu Copyright 2003

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