Southern cities like Charleston, South Carolina, lay in ruins after the war. Reconstruction would require more than the rebuilding of the Southern infrastructure. It would require rebuilding relations between North and South, as well as restructuring a society in which African Americans had rights as human beings.

Before the war was over, Abraham Lincoln had already begun making plans for reuniting the country and rebuilding what had been torn down by war. Those plans included the reconstruction of relationships between the North and South, as well as reparation of the physical devastation. When the president was killed, people on both sides of the slavery issue knew that the former Confederate states and the freed African-American slaves had lost a close ally.

During Lincoln’s administration, he had performed a continual balancing act between the opposing factions who had looked to him for support and mediation. He had possessed a rare talent for strategy and for pacifying opposing factions, appeasing disparate parties more or less on all sides, while using them to accomplish his own objectives.

But with Lincoln now dead, there was no single figure to keep the more aggressive factions in check. The Radical Republicans, for example, had begun to chafe at Lincoln’s policy while he was still alive and in office. They believed that the South should be punished for their impertinence in attempting to secede from the United States. The president’s office and responsibilities had now fallen to the new president, Andrew Johnson, and the pacification of the Radical Republicans became an imminent issue.

Johnson did his best to adhere to Lincoln’s post-war policies, but wasn’t as capable to perform the balancing act that Lincoln had achieved. He became unpopular and soon was the first president to be impeached. Johnson determined that he would follow Lincoln’s plans for post-war reconstruction. Secretary of War Edwin Stanton became infuriated with Johnson when he tried to bring the former rebel states back into the Union with no guarantees as to the rights of freed slaves. Stanton spearheaded a push to have Johnson impeached. It was by just one vote in the Senate that Johnson was saved.

Without a strong leader to guide Lincoln’s plans, the Radical Republicans were determined to punish the rebellious South and refused to give ground on any concessions proposed by Johnson that would allow for an easier transition back to a unified country. The president and Congress were at odds over how the former Confederate states should be governed, the rights of all African Americans and the status of those who had participated in the war. Compensation for damages and loss due to the war was refused to Southern applicants. Martial law remained in place, even though hostilities had ceased. These factors contributed to disquiet between African Americans and Anglos in the South, as well as making rebuilding of the South’s infrastructure far more difficult.

Thus, without Abraham Lincoln’s guidance, his plans for post-war reconstruction failed. The war had saved the Union and guaranteed emancipation. But a lack of political stability damaging efforts to address remaining divisions would seriously hinder the gradual process of racial integration. The policies instituted by post-war Congress outlawed slavery of any kind in any part of the United States with the Thirteenth Amendment to the Constitution of the United States. The Fourteenth Amendment defined citizenship to guarantee equal protection. The intent was to secure civil rights for freedmen, but included sections directed at punishment for the rebellious South. The Fifteenth Amendment was supposed to guarantee the right to vote, but requirements such as literacy tests and poll taxes would pose obstacles for freedmen.

In an effort to continue Lincoln’s plans for reconstruction and reconciliation between the North and the South, President Andrew Johnson had issued an amnesty proclamation pardoning all who took part in the ‘rebellion’, and restoring citizenship to Southerners who pledged allegiance to the United States. Some exceptions were made that included Confederate officers. After four years of constant battle with the Radical Republicans who had taken control of Congress, on 25 December 1868, Johnson issued another amnesty proclamation pardoning all who had taken part in the rebellion and restoring their full rights of citizenship.


Children stand at the feet of Abraham Lincoln’s statue inside the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, DC. An inscription above Lincoln’s head reads, ‘In this Temple, as in the hearts of the people, for whom he saved the Union, the memory of Abraham Lincoln is enshrined forever.’

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