What were Lincoln’s general plans for Reconstruction?

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davmor1973 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Lincoln's overall approach to Reconstruction was gradual and inclusive. For Lincoln, the most important thing of all was to keep the Union from breaking apart. It was his prime motivation in conducting the Civil War, and it was uppermost in his mind when thinking about what would happen at the war's end. As a result, Lincoln wanted to incorporate the Confederate states back into the Union over a period of time. At no point did he look upon the South as an enemy needing to be punished. They were to be defeated, yes, but not punished. 

Lincoln's approach to Reconstruction was encapsulated in the so-called "Ten Percent Plan." Under these proposals, rebel states would be allowed back into the Union if ten percent of its 1860 vote agreed to pledge allegiance to the Union and also abide by Emancipation.

Radical Republicans were sharply critical of Lincoln's plan. For one thing, they felt it was way too lenient; Lincoln seemed to forget that the rebels were criminals, guilty of open sedition against the legitimate authorities. As such, they should be treated as criminals and subjected to the appropriate punishment.

Lincoln's Reconstruction plans also did not involve the kind of root and branch change in Southern politics and society that the Radical Republicans demanded. The same kind of people with the same kind of prejudices would be left in charge of government at the statewide level with potentially disastrous consequences not just for the integrity of the United States, but also for the equality and civil rights of African Americans.