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Content Reading Guide: Reconstruction Begins
Reconstruction is the period in which the United States began to rebuild the South after the Civil War and readmit the former Confederate states from 1865-1877. During this time, government programs, like the Freedmen’s Bureau, were created. It was a social program used to help former slaves receive food, clothing, medical care, legal protection, and education.
In Lincoln’s plan for Reconstruction, he wanted it to be easy for the South to return to make reunification a smooth process. He issued the Proclamation of Amnesty, which stated that all Confederates were pardoned for fighting the North; however, some high officials were not pardoned. Lincoln also made the 10% Plan, which stated that, when 10% of any state pledged loyalty to the Union, that area could be a state again.
Lincoln was killed by John Wilkes Booth and Andrew Johnson became President during this era. According to Johnson’s plan, he wanted wealthy plantation owners excluded from taking the oath to regain the right to vote because Johnson felt they helped to cause the Civil War. Also, Johnson was a racist. He felt only whites should govern in the South.
Radical Republicans, led by Senator Charles Sumner of Massachusetts, were severely angered after Civil War was over. According to Congress’ plan, they wanted to make it very difficult for the South to return to the Union and they had an attitude of retribution in their approach. They also demanded that the South must embrace legislation to incorporate the former slaves as citizens to come back into the Union.
Going against Johnson, Congress passed the Freedmen’s Bureau and the Civil Rights Act of 1866 to use legislation to protect the former slaves. Johnson vetoed both measures; yet, Congress over turned the vetoes. Congress and President Johnson had massive conflict in determining how Reconstruction should move forward. After overriding the vetoes against African American social programs, Congress drafted the 14th Amendment. This amendment prohibited discrimination against the former slaves in terms of the law. Congress was attempting to use legislation to secure the citizenship rights of the former slaves against the bitter racism of the South.
In the Reconstruction Act of 1867, Congress let Tennessee back in the Union because they accepted the 14th Amendment. The other states had to embrace the 14th Amendment to get back in to the Union. This also divided the South into 5 Military Districts to ensure the option of military force could be used to implement their plan.