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Presidential Reconstruction

Presidential Reconstruction

Presidential Reconstruction is the term used to define the phase of Reconstruction led by the President using executive powers. Reconstruction, the process of restoring the states that rebelled against the United States in the American Civil War (1861-5) back into the union, created a Constitutional crisis between the Legislative and Executive Branches of the American government, especially over the separation of powers.

Did the southern states legally leave the Union? If so, their reentry should require legal and legislative action by Congress. If not, and even in defeat, the states kept their constitutional status, then their terms for restoration would be an administrative issue left to the President. The Reconstruction battle between the President and Congress began before the war concluded, and it started with Abraham Lincoln.

Presidential Reconstruction Summary

Presidential Reconstruction began with the presidential veto of the Wade-Davis Bill in 1864. To understand the significance of this veto by Abraham Lincoln, it is essential to understand the context of the Bill and Lincoln’s plan for Reconstruction.

Presidential Reconstruction Meaning

So, what does Presidential Reconstruction actually mean?

Presidential Reconstruction

The efforts of Reconstruction - restoring the Confederate states into the United States after the American Civil War - were led by the Executive Branch (specifically Abraham Lincoln and Andrew Johnson), using administrative powers to establish the process of bringing the rebellious states back into the Union. Presidential Reconstruction ended with the impeachment of Andrew Johnson in 1868.

Presidential Reconstruction Plan

Let's look at Abraham Lincoln's and and Andrew Johnson's plans for Reconstruction.

Lincoln’s Vision

As a wartime president, Lincoln had the freedom and executive power to lead Reconstruction efforts. In December 1863, Lincoln proposed a plan that allowed for general amnesty to all but high-ranking Confederates; a state would be readmitted when ten percent of a seceded state's voters had to take an oath of loyalty, and the state’s legislature approved the 13th Amendment abolishing slavery.

Amnesty

When an individual or group is officially pardoned for political offenses.

Presidential Reconstruction A Portrait of Abraham Lincoln StudySmarterFig. 1 - Abraham Lincoln began presidential reconstruction before the Civil War ended

The Confederate states rejected Lincoln’s plan, and congressional Republicans responded with a harsher plan. The Wade-Davis Bill passed Congress in July 1864. The provisions of the bill for Confederate Reinstatement were:

  • An Oath of Loyalty by a majority of the state's white adult men.

  • New governments in each state comprised only those men who had not taken up arms against the Union.

  • The permanent disenfranchisement of Confederate leaders.

Disenfranchisement

The revoking of an individual's certain rights, usually the ability to vote.

Did you know? The Wade-Davis Bill was the first signal to the Executive Branch that Reconstruction was going to be a point of conflict and that Congress wanted to have a voice, a strong voice, on the process and punishment of bringing Confederate states back into the Union.

Lincoln responded by pocket-vetoing the bill, leaving it unsigned when Congress adjourned in March 1865. During this time, Lincoln began to seek compromises with Congress over the plan. Lincoln never completed his plan as he was assassinated in April 1865. By accident of timing, his successor, Andrew Johnson, was open to acting on his beliefs on Reconstruction. He believed that Reconstruction was the prerogative of the President, not Congress.

Pocket-veto

A presidential action whereby the President deliberately does not sign a bill after Congress has adjourned. This effectively stops Congress from overriding the veto.

Who was Andrew Johnson?

Johnson was from the hills of Tennessee. Born in 1808, he apprenticed as a tailor as a boy. With no formal education - his wife was his teacher - Johnson excelled. His tailor shop became an impromptu political meeting place, and as a natural leader, he soon entered politics with the support of local small farmers and laborers. In 1857, he was elected to the U.S. Senate.

Loyal to the Union, Johnson did not leave the Senate when Tennessee seceded. In this, he was the only southerner to remain in office. When the Union Army captured Nashville in 1862, Lincoln appointed Johnson as Tennessee's military governor. Tennessee was a very divided state - pro-Union in the east and Rebel in the west. Johnson’s duty as military governor was to hold the state together. And he did, successfully and with force. With his success, he was rewarded by being Lincoln’s running mate for Vice-President in 1864.

Johnson’s Vision

In May 1865, Johnson began to advance his version of Reconstruction.

  • Johnson offered amnesty to all Southerners who took an oath of allegiance, excluding high-ranking Confederate officials.

  • Provisional governors would be appointed to oversee the southern states.

  • Southern states could be restored to the Union by revoking their ordinances of secession, repudiating Confederate debts, and ratifying the 13th Amendment.

Ordinances of Secession

The resolutions ratified by the Confederate states at the start of the American Civil War that declared their withdrawal from the Union.

Within a short period, all the former Confederate states met Johnson’s terms and had functioning republican governments.

Presidential Reconstruction President Andrew Johnson StudySmarterFig. 2 - President Andrew Johnson continued Presidential Reconstruction after the death of Abraham Lincoln

Presidential and Congressional Reconstruction

At first, Republicans in Congress responded favorably to Johnson’s plan. The moderates in Congress approved of Johnson’s argument that it was up to the states, not the federal government, to define the rights of the newly freed enslaved people. Even the Radicals - Republicans seeking a hard line towards the South - held back their reservations. The harsh treatment of the Confederate leaders appealed to them, and they waited for signs of good faith in the South, such as the generous treatment of the freed enslaved people.

These actions of good faith did not happen. The South, still reeling from the wounds of the war, held on to their old system. Slavery was replaced with Black Codes - laws designed to severely restrict the rights and movement of the freed enslaved people in the south.

Black Codes

Laws created in Southern states following the American Civil War targeted freed African Americans by imposing severe penalties for vagrancy, heavy restrictions on black workers, and legalizing forms of apprenticeships akin to slavery. The first Black Codes were introduced in 1865 by Mississippi and South Carolina.

Instead of following through with his proposed harsh treatment of Confederate leaders, Johnson began to forgive the leaders with leniency. With these weaker pardons, ex-Confederate leaders soon began to filter back into Congress, including Alexander Stephens, the former Vice-President of the Confederacy.

Did you know? Congress, using its power to regulate itself under Article 1, Section 5 of the Constitution and with Republicans controlling a majority in the House of Representatives and Senate, refused to admit southern delegates, obstructing Johnson’s Reconstruction Plan.

In addition, Congress passed a bill extending the Freedman’s Bureau - an agency created to help freed African Americans with transitioning - and Congress passed a civil rights bill. Johnson vetoed both. Congress could not override the veto for the Freedman’s Bureau but could override the veto for the civil rights bill. In response, Johnson moved to organize support against the Radical Republicans with sympathetic southerners and conservative northern Republicans.

Did you know? Johnson's efforts failed, and in the midterm elections of 1866, radical Republicans had a three-to-one majority in Congress.

The End of Presidential Reconstruction

With Congress in complete opposition to Johnson, he took the only actions he could to reduce the effectiveness of the emerging Congressional plan - remove the officials in the Executive branch who would be enforcing the plan. In 1867, Johnson removed the Secretary of War, Edwin Stanton, and replaced him with Ulysses S. Grant, believing Grant would remain loyal. However, Grant opposed Johnson's actions and became a public critic of his actions. Grant resigned, allowing Stanton to retake the office.

Presidential Reconstruction Secretary of War Edwin Stanton StudySmarterFig. 3 - Secretary of War, Edwin Stanton, whose dismissal and issues led to the impeachment of Andrew Johnson

When Johnson formally dismissed Stanton a second time, Congress drew up Articles of Impeachment against President Andrew Johnson for the first time in US history. The House passed the Articles, but the trial in the Senate failed to remove Johnson from office by one vote less than the two-thirds majority required. Though acquitted, Johnson’s administration was severely weakened. His impeachment ended Presidential Reconstruction and paved the way for Radical Reconstruction led by the Republican-controlled legislative branch.

Presidential Reconstruction - Key takeaways

  • Presidential Reconstruction is the efforts of Reconstruction - restoring the Confederate states into the United States after the American Civil War, led by the Executive Branch (specifically Abraham Lincoln and Andrew Johnson) - using administrative powers to establish the process of bringing the rebellious states back into the Union. Presidential Reconstruction ended with the impeachment of Andrew Johnson in 1868.
  • The Confederate states rejected Lincoln’s Plan, and congressional Republicans responded with a harsher plan. The Wade-Davis Bill passed Congress in July 1864. Lincoln pocket-vetoed the bill.
  • By accident of timing, his successor, Andrew Johnson, was open to acting on his beliefs on Reconstruction. Johnson thought that Reconstruction was the prerogative of the President, not Congress. In May 1865, Johnson began his plan for Reconstruction.
  • At first, Republicans in Congress responded favorably to Johnson’s plan. But soon, they found that Johnson was not fulfilling how harsh the Republicans wanted to be towards the South.
  • With Congress in complete opposition to Johnson, he took the only actions he could to reduce the effectiveness of the emerging Congressional plan - remove the officials in the Executive branch who would be enforcing the plan. His actions would lead to the first presidential impeachment in US History, ending Presidential Reconstruction.

Frequently Asked Questions about Presidential Reconstruction

The efforts of Reconstruction- restoring the Confederate states into the United States after the American Civil War, were led by the Executive Branch (specifically Abraham Lincoln and Andrew Johnson), using administrative powers to establish the process of bringing the rebellious states back into the Union. Presidential Reconstruction ended with the impeachment of Andrew Johnson in 1868.  

The efforts of Reconstruction- restoring the Confederate states into the United States after the American Civil War, were led by the Executive Branch (specifically Abraham Lincoln and Andrew Johnson), using administrative powers to establish the process of bringing the rebellious states back into the Union. Presidential Reconstruction ended with the impeachment of Andrew Johnson in 1868.  

Lincoln proposed a plan that allowed for general amnesty to all but high-ranking Confederates; a state would be readmitted when ten percent of a rebellious state's voters had taken an oath of loyalty, and the state’s legislature approved the 13th Amendment abolishing slavery.  

With the impeachment of Andrew Johnson in 1868

Many Republicans in congress felt that the presidential plans for reconstruction were not harsh enough on the Southern states and leaders of the Confederacy, creating conflict between the legislative and executive branches of government. 

Final Presidential Reconstruction Quiz

Question

Which president did Andrew Johnson loosely base his reconstruction plan off of?

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Answer

Abraham Lincoln

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Question

What percentage of men had to swear loyalty to the Union under Johnson's Reconstruction plan?

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Answer

10%

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Question

Which of the following was not a part of Johnson's reconstruction plan?

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Answer

Ten Percent of the men who voted in the 1860 election had to pledge loyalty to the Union


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Question

Andrew Johnson was the only Southern Republican who did not leave the Union during the Civil War.

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Answer

True

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Question

Who did Andrew Johnson pardon after the Civil War?

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Answer

Confederates

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Question

Lincoln's plan for pardoning Confederates included returning their land that was confiscated during the war. 

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Answer

True

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Question

Which Georgian Confederate was elected into Congress?

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Answer

Alexander Stephens

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Question

____ was a series of laws established in Southern states to reestablish the plantation system. 

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Answer

Black Codes

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Question

Who were Andrew Johnson's opponents?

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Answer

The Radical Republicans 

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Question

Which act lead to Andrew Johnson's Impeachment? 

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Answer

Tenure of Office Act

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Question

Presidential Reconstruction began with which president? 

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Answer

Abraham Lincoln.

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Question

True or False: Lincoln used his executive wartime powers to begin to implement his plan for Reconstruction. 

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Answer

True.

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Question

Lincoln's plan for Reconstruction called for which percentage of ex-Confederates allowed for amnesty? 

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Answer

None, all southerners except Confederate leaders would be granted amnesty. 

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Question

Which amendment did southern states have to ratify before begin restored into the Union? 

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Answer

13th Amendment.

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Question

What was Andrew Johnson's role during the Civil War? 

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Answer

Military Governor of Tennessee.

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Question

What bill did radical Republicans in Congress pass in opposition to Lincoln's plan for Reconstruction? 

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Answer

The Wade-Davis Bill.

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Question

Which of the following was not a provision of the Wade-Davis Bill of 1864? 

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Answer

A majority of all white men in the south had to swear an Oath of Loyalty.

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Question

How did Lincoln respond to the Wade-Davis bill? 

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Answer

He pocket vetoed the bill when Congress recessed. 

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Question

What was a key difference between Andrew Johnson's plan for reconstruction compared to Lincolns? 

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Answer

Appointed governors of the southern states as they worked to restore themselves to the Union. 

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Question

What political event ended Presidential Reconstruction? 

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Answer

The impeachment of Andrew Johnson in 1868.

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