What caused the confrontation between President Johnson and Congress over Reconstruction policies? Why should we care, and how does it connect to today?

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The confrontation between President Johnson and Congress over Reconstruction policies came about because Johnson was too lenient on the southern states, which continued to oppress African Americans, and because Johnson opposed laws that Congress attempted to pass that would give former slaves equality and citizenship. This connects to us today and we should be concerned about it because African Americans are still struggling for the equal rights that they deserve.

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In answering this question, it is important to understand that Andrew Johnson was not elected President of the United States. When the Civil War started, he was a senator from Tennessee, and he remained loyal to the Union after the Southern states seceded. As it turned out, he was the only Southern senator to do so. In 1864, President Abraham Lincoln selected Andrew Johnson as his running mate, considering that adding a Southern senator would balance the ticket. Lincoln and Johnson took their oaths of office on March 4, 1865. On April 9, General Robert E. Lee surrendered to General Ulysses S. Grant, ending the Civil War. On April 14, Lincoln was assassinated and Johnson became president.

With the war over, the next step was the Reconstruction of the South. Before the war, Johnson believed that the Constitution clearly included the right to own slaves. His attitude after the war was a reflection of this. He gave significant autonomy to Southern states in electing new governments and granted amnesty to many Confederates. The Thirteenth Amendment to the Constitution, which abolished slavery in the United States, was passed by Congress while Lincoln was still alive and was later ratified by the states. Johnson opposed the Fourteenth Amendment, which granted citizenship to those born in the United States, including former slaves, but it was ratified anyway.

The perceived leniency of Johnson allowed the Southern states to pass numerous so-called black codes, which were oppressive laws limiting the freedom of African Americans. In early 1866, Congress passed the Freedmen's Bureau Bill and the Civil Rights Bill, both of which were intended to protect the rights of black people. Johnson vetoed these bills, although Congress managed to get enough votes to override the Civil Rights Bill so that it became law.

The president and Congress eventually became so estranged that Johnson was the first president in US history to be impeached. He was later acquitted in the Senate impeachment proceedings by just one vote.

We see, then, that President Johnson did not believe in equality and citizenship for African Americans, and his bigoted attitudes created significant animosity and discord within the federal government during reconstruction. This is relevant today, as African Americans continue to struggle for the equal rights under the law due them by modern legislation and the US Constitution.

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Why was the confrontation between President Johnson and Congress over the Reconstruction policies in the past important? How does it connect to where we are today?

President Andrew Johnson and the Radical Republicans of Congress had two competing visions of Reconstruction. Their disagreements ultimately resulted in the failure of many Reconstruction programs and initiatives. This resulted in a failed promise to integrate and protect the country's Black population. The reverberations of this are still felt today.

Johnson was focused on quickly reuniting a fractured nation. He was not at all concerned about advancing the status of the population of freed slaves. He returned most confiscated Confederate property and issued blanket pardons. The Radical Republicans, on the other hand, wanted to punish the South while empowering former slaves. Clearly, these were two competing agendas.

By seeking reconciliation with the Confederates, Johnson allowed many White southerners to question the full extent of their defeat. It gave rise to the ideology that the Confederate cause was a noble and heroic one. This view is often referred to as "The Lost Cause." It is still strong today. The Lost Cause is supported by many who wish to promote a narrative that is widely seen as oppressive to minorities and untrue to historical reality. In fact, the current debate over the place of Confederate monuments is rooted in the Lost Cause narrative.

When Congress took control of Reconstruction, they set about to empower the Black population. This meant making sure that the Reconstruction amendments were enforced. Many Black people began voting and running for public office. Many White southerners fought back against this. White supremacist groups, such as the Ku Klux Klan, were formed to terrorize and intimidate Black people to keep them from exercising their newly won constitutional rights. Hundreds, perhaps thousands, were murdered.

Several times, white supremacists engaged in direct violent conflict with federal soldiers, such as the Kirk-Holden War in 1870. Eventually, northerners grew tired of devoting the resources and energy to enforce Congressional Reconstruction. With the Compromise of 1877, Reconstruction came to an end and ushered in nearly a century of Jim Crow segregation. Although segregation was legally abolished in the 1960s, its legacy still exists and is responsible for many racial inequities that exist in contemporary America.

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