Lincoln's broad goals for reconstructing the South after the Civil War were laid out in the Proclamation of Amnesty and Reconstruction of 1863. Lincoln began planning Reconstruction after the battles of Gettysburg and Vicksburg because it was clear at that point that the South would lose the war.
In the Proclamation, Lincoln wanted to make reunifying the war-torn country as easy as possible. He therefore emphasized forgiving the Southern rebels. For example, he called for allowing the Southern states back into the union if only ten percent of the voters on its 1860 voter rolls took an Oath of Allegiance to the United States.
The Proclamation also called for granting amnesty to all but the highest military and government officials in the South. Rank and file soldiers and officers did not have to worry about being prosecuted for treason. Furthermore, the Proclamation guaranteed Southerners property rights, except that the slaves were freed, in order to reassure large landowners that they could keep their holdings. Lincoln also wanted the states to handle their own reconstruction rather than having it imposed by Washington.
The Radical Republicans, on the other hand, wanted to break the power of the big landowners who had started the war. They wanted to redistribute land and ensure that freed slaves had full civil rights, meaning that they would be treated as full citizens under the law. Some Southern states, in contrast, wanted to deny blacks such rights as property ownership and the vote. The Radical Republicans also passed legislation, that Lincoln never signed, requiring fifty percent of Southern voters to pledge an oath of allegiance to the United States.
The Radical Republicans established the Freedmen's Bureau to distribute forty acres of land to both poor whites and freed slaves, stating that these people could buy the land in a few years as long as they pledged loyalty to the United States. The Freedmen's Bureau also extended economic aid to blacks and built black schools.
If the goal of Reconstruction was to bring the rebelling Southern states back into the Union on an equal footing with the other states, Reconstruction was a success. However, many historians see it as a failure, because it allowed legal racism to flourish for a century in the South.
After Lincoln was assassinated, Andrew Johnson became president, and this set back the goals of Reconstruction from the Radical Republican point of view. Johnson believed fervently in state's rights, and he blocked the Radical Republican goal to redistribute property in the South in way that would have broken the monopoly of power the wealthy white planters still possessed. He allowed the states, on the whole, to make their own decisions about Reconstruction.
This worked out very poorly. Most of the whites in power wanted to keep life as much as possible like it had been before the Civil War. Johnson also undermined change when he insisted all the land that had been set aside for the Freedmen's Bureau be returned to its owners. By 1872, Congress disbanded the Freedmen's Bureau.
Two positive steps, however, came out of Reconstruction. First, Congress passed the Civil Rights Act of 1866, which guaranteed citizenship rights to all blacks, although it not give these rights to Native Americans, who had to wait to 1924. Blacks were also granted the right to own property and sign contracts. The 14th Amendment to the Constitution outlawed all slavery, except for allowing people in prison to work without pay.
Left to their own devices, however, the Southern states imposed a segregated social order based on the concept of keeping the races apart, promising they would be "separate but equal." In reality, the two races were kept separate but unequal. Furthermore, the South essentially re-enslaved many blacks through long prison sentences.
It would take a century for blacks in the South to gain the full civil rights they could have been granted in the late 1860s had Congress been able to impose a fuller Reconstruction on the South. For example, many blacks had inadequate educational opportunities and were unable to vote until the 1950s and 1960s. In terms of creating an equal society in the South, Reconstruction failed. In evaluating whether Reconstruction failed, you will need to evaluate how important you find reuniting all the states into one country versus the importance of establishing equal racial rights in the Southern states.