Reconstruction

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What were the strengths and weaknesses of the Radical Republicans' plan and Andrew Johnson's plan?

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During the Civil War, President Lincoln began formulating a plan to reunify the nation when the war came to an end. He felt reunification should be a gentle and gradual process. He planned to pardon Confederates who severed their Confederate ties and took an oath to uphold the US Constitution and the Union. When 10% of the people who had voted in 1860 in each state had taken the oath, and when their legislature had abolished slavery, then the state could be readmitted to the Union.

This plan was countered in 1864 by Radical Republicans in Congress who thought it too lenient. They proposed the Wade-Davis Bill which said that half the male voters had to take the oath and repudiate having voluntarily been a Confederate, and the legislature had to abolish slavery. Lincoln vetoed the bill, saying it was too harsh.

When Lincoln was killed on April 14, 1865 and Andrew Johnson, who was a pro Union Democrat from Tennessee, became president, he followed in the more lenient direction. He recognized the states that had reorganized themselves under Lincoln’s plan and required the remaining southern states to disavow their secession, repudiate their war debts, and ratify the thirteenth amendment which abolished slavery. However, when many states did not fulfill these requirements, sent many wartime leaders to Congress, and did not give freedmen their rights, he recognized the new governments anyway.

This set the stage for both the moderate and radical Republican members of Congress to set forth their own plan. They did not want Confederates to be forgiven for their acts, opposed the Black Codes that southern legislatures had passed, and wrote the Reconstruction Act of 1867. It barred Confederates as office holders and set up military governments in states until they were readmitted into the Union. In 1866, they passed the Fourteenth Amendment, which gave citizenship to African Americans, and the Fifteenth Amendment in 1870, which gave all male citizens the right to vote. They also strengthened the Freedmen’s Bureau which had been established in 1865 to help former slaves. By 1871, with the help of newly enfranchised African American voters, all the state legislatures in the south had fulfilled the requirements and were readmitted into the Union.

Basically, the strength of Johnson’s plan was that the South could be eased back into the Union. Its weakness was that Black Codes kept African Americans in conditions of servitude.

The strengths of Radical Reconstruction were that it passed the 13th, 14th and 15th Amendments. Its weakness is that the gains could not last. The southern economy was in a shambles, poor white and black citizens often became sharecroppers, and resentment led to terrorism, Jim Crow laws, and the Ku Klux Kan.

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The main strength of the Radical Republicans' plan was that it provided federal enforcement of civil rights protection. Had civil rights enforcement been left to the states, then no progress would've been made as Southern state legislatures—made up of white supremacists—did not accept that African Americans were entitled to the same rights as the white majority.

The downside of this plan was that it required sustained political will to make it work. Over time, however, most people wanted to move on from the Civil War and its legacy—including Reconstruction—and so there was no longer any political incentive for the Republican Party to devote energy to dealing with the civil rights issue.

As for Andrew Johnson's less radical plan, the upside was that it provided a road map for the eventual re-incorporation of the South back into the Union. Instead of treating the South like a vanquished foe, Johnson's plan looked upon the defeated Southerners as equals, as fellow Americans who would once again play their full part in the life of the nation.

The main drawback with this approach, however, was that it did nothing to protect civil rights. As the plan's chief focus was on the Southern states rejoining the Union, African Americans and their civil rights tended to be overlooked. Johnson was so anxious for reconciliation between North and South that he ignored the fact that Southern legislatures and governors would not lift a finger to protect civil rights unless forced to do so by the Federal Government.

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There were strengths and weaknesses of both the Radical Republican plan for Reconstruction and Andrew Johnson’s plan for Reconstruction. The biggest weakness in Andrew Johnson’s plan is that many people felt it was too easy on the South. There were not many rights enumerated for the former slaves in his plan since he wanted the states to decide what rights the former slaves would have. His plan also called for returning some property to white Southerners. One strength of his plan was that it required the states to write new state constitutions that approved the Thirteenth Amendment and rejected secession.

The Radical Republican plan was a very harsh plan for the South. A strength of this plan was that it gave freedoms to the former slaves. The passage of the Fourteenth Amendment said any person born in the United States was a citizen and had the rights of citizenship. The Fifteenth Amendment prevented the denial of voting rights based on race or color. Both of these amendments helped African Americans get more rights, at least for a period of time. A disadvantage of this plan is that it created much resentment among white southerners. They hated this plan and many people never accepted that the former slaves would have voting rights and the rights that citizens have. White Southerners hated the Republican Party for a long time and supported Democratic Party candidates for many years. This resentment eventually led to the creation of groups such as the Ku Klux Klan, which worked to deny African Americans their rights and to terrorize them.

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