Compare Presidential Reconstruction with Congressional Reconstruction.

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rrteacher | College Teacher | (Level 2) Educator Emeritus

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Presidential Reconstruction was the plan implemented by President Andrew Johnson. Possessed of a limited view of the role of the federal government, and above all committed to the idea that the South should remain in white control, Johnson's version of Reconstruction was mild, and generally unconcerned with securing political rights and social equality for the legions of freed African-Americans. In order to gain readmission to the Union, it was only necessary for states to accept the Thirteenth Amendment (thereby agreeing to the end of slavery), to repeal its ordinance of secession, and . Johnson granted pardons to leading Confederates, some of whom were elected to the United States Congress in 1866. He acquiesced in the enaction of "black codes," which legally mandated second-class status for black men and women in the South, in many cases replicating the conditions of slavery itself. In short, Johnson took almost no steps to protect the rights of African-Americans, choosing instead a conciliatory approach to reconstruction. 

Congressional Reconstruction, on the other hand, commenced in late 1866 and 1867, when Congress passed, then repealed Johnson's vetos of, a law that expanded the powers of the Freedman's Bureau and the Civil Rights Act of 1866. They also passed the Fourteenth Amendment, which guaranteed the rights of citizenship to freedmen. They proceeded to pass the Military Reconstruction Acts, which divided the South into military districts governed by Union generals. Led by the so-called Radical Republicans, who controlled the House of Representatives, Congress passed a series of Reconstruction Acts that took control of Reconstruction from the President and from the states, and vested it in Congress. Positive steps were taken to extend the franchise to African-Americans, and the Reconstruction Acts also did not allow former Confederate States back in the Union until they had ratified the Fourteenth Amendment and fulfilled far more stringent requirements.

It should be noted that neither program offered to deal with the economic realities confronting freed slaves, or advocated truly radical reforms like land confiscation. And Congressional Reconstruction eventually faded as public enthusiasm for the project waned in the 1870s. Former Confederates "redeemed" Southern states and installed a harsh new white supremacist (Jim Crow) regime as Reconstruction weakened. But for a time, Republicans in Congress attempted (with some limited, but significant success) to create political equality for African-Americans in the former Confederacy. 

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