Effect of Lincoln’ Death on Reconstruction

How did the assassination of Abraham Lincoln affect Reconstruction?

Facts About The Lincoln Assassination

At the end of the Civil War two very different plans for
reconstructing the nation were offered. Had Lincoln lived perhaps
history would have different. The assassination of Lincoln, however,
left the vulnerable Andrew Johnson, a Southerner and former slave
owner with no college education, President. Could he live up to
Lincoln’s ideals? Would he be allowed the opportunity? That is the

After the Civil War congress was controlled by a group called the
“Radical Republicans.” Lincoln was able to control them and had
proposed a plan for reconstruction that looked to treating the South
more like a lost brother returning home. Lincoln looked to
reconstruction as a time of healing. The Radical Republicans,
however, looked at reconstruction as an opportunity to teach the
South a lesson and to punish them. In 1866 Congress passed the
Wade-Davis Bill which
called for rather draconian Reconstruction measures. Lincoln vetoed
the bill but thedebate raged.

Lincoln would have been able to control the Radical Republicans,
at least that is the conventional wisdom. Lincoln’s death, however,
left a void in leadership. The new President, Andrew Johnson, was a
southerner. As you can imagine this bitter irony was not lost on the
Radical Republicans who hated him even before he was President.
Johnson proposed a plan similar to Lincoln’s. Suffice it to say,
congress was not amused. The relationship between Lincoln and
Congress soured quickly.

Immediately following the Civil War, Southern states passed
numerous laws restricting the rights of Blacks. They were known as
the “Black codes”. Mississippi, for example, barred interracial
marriages. The punishment for such an act was death. Another code
restricted the area in which Blacks could live. For example, Blacks
could not own or rent land outside of an incorporated town. The
purpose of this code was to undermine the efforts of the federal
government in giving forty acres of land to former slaves. Many large
plantations in the South were confiscated or abandoned. Much of this
land was parceled out to slaves in forty acre allotments.

These actions by Southern states angered congress. Led by the
“Radical Republicans”, congress passed sweeping legislation during
the Reconstruction years. Congressmen Charles Sumner and Thaddeus
Stevens led the fight and first passed an act to establish the
Freedmen’s Bureau. Its purpose was to provide education and training
for Blacks in their transition from slavery to freedom. Despite the
best efforts of President Andrew Johnson to stop all legislation
assisting Blacks, several significant bills were passed. With martial
law in force in the South, congress could do virtually anything it
wanted to. The rebellious states could not vote on the measures
before congress, and there were enough votes to override President
Johnson’s vetoes.

The year following the Civil War, congress passed the Civil Rights
act of 1866. It was subsequently vetoed by Andrew Johnson. Congress,
however, overrode his veto and immediately passed the 14th Amendment
due in part to Johnson’s resistance. The purpose of both measures
involved the rights of persons born or naturalized in the United
States, “All persons born or naturalized in the United States and
subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United
States and of the State wherein they reside. No State shall make or
enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of
citizens of the United States; nor shall any State deprive any person
of life, liberty or property, without due process of law; nor deny to
any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.”
With exception to Tennessee, all Southern states refused to ratify
the amendment.

Congress than passed the Reconstruction Act, which prohibited
these states from participating in Congress until they passed the
measure and revised their own state constitutions. Passage of this
amendment and the Reconstruction Act met with violent opposition.
Despite the presence of the military, Whites went on a rampage
killing, beating, burning, and destroying any Blacks they could find.
Blacks were lynched by the hundreds. In 1870, another Civil Rights
Act was passed, and was immediately followed by the 15th Amendment –
“the right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be
denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of
race, color or previous conditions of servitude.”

Clearly the discord between Johnson and the Radical Republicans
made Johnson an ineffective President and strengthened the power of
Congress. In 18668 Congress impeached Johnson for violating a law
called the Tenure of Office Act which forbade the President from
firing a member of the Cabinet. Johnson was not convicted but clearly
he was a lame duck President.