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What was the main difference between Presidential and Congressional Reconstruction?

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The main difference between Presidential and Congressional Reconstruction was the degree of leniency they afforded to former confederate states. Under the Presidential Reconstruction plans of Lincoln and Johnson, confederate states would be granted readmission to the Union comparatively easily. Under Congressional Reconstruction, former confederate states would have to meet stricter demands, such as the ratification of the Fourteenth Amendment.

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As Abraham Lincoln said in his Second Inaugural Address, "With malice toward none, with charity for all," he hoped to bring the South back into the Union with a forgiving hand. Lincoln's plan was based on the 10 percent rule. This rather generous plan would allow the former Confederate states to be reintegrated back into the Union once ten percent of their voters swore loyalty to the United States. Under this plan, nearly all former confederates would be granted a pardon. They would then be able to draft their state constitutions and elect their own state assemblies.

It was hoped that this kinder version of reconciliation would encourage the rebels to lay down their arms and accept defeat. This plan would be the hallmark of Presidential Reconstruction. Lincoln was assassinated before this plan could be put into action. His successor, Andrew Johnson happened to be even more lenient to the former Confederacy by returning all Southern property rights (accept for their slaves).

This all seemed far too kind to the so-called Radical Republicans in Congress. With a Congressional majority, they instituted their own vision of Reconstruction. While Presidential Reconstruction was designed to simply bring the South back into the Union, Congressional Reconstruction intended to completely alter the fabric of Southern society and make sure the former Confederate states were punished.

They denied Southern states full readmittance into the Union until they ratified the Fourteenth Amendment, giving former slaves the full rights of citizens. To enforce this, the Radical Republicans sent the federal army into the South as an occupation force. As you can see, the severity of the two Reconstruction plans defines their main difference.

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The main difference between presidential Reconstruction and Congressional Reconstruction was that presidential Reconstruction was much more lenient toward the South.  Because the “Radical Republicans” in Congress did not like this, they overrode President Johnson’s wishes and implemented a harsher variety of Reconstruction.

Before he died, President Lincoln had been eager to bring the states that had seceded back into the Union.  He felt that it was important to heal the wounds from the war and wanted to be easy on the South.  Therefore, he proposed a plan that allowed the states to reenter the Union as long as 10% of the people who had voted in the 1860 election swore an oath of allegiance to the US.  After Lincoln died, President Andrew Johnson implemented a very similar plan.

However, the Radical Republicans were not satisfied.  They were particularly angry because the South instituted the “black codes” that treated the freed slaves harshly.  The Radical Republicans felt that the South had not learned its lesson from the war and that the South was trying to reinstitute slavery in a de facto way.

Therefore, Congressional Reconstruction was implemented.  It was much harsher than presidential Reconstruction.  It instituted military government of the South.  It stipulated that Southern states had to ratify the 14th Amendment.  They had to give full suffrage to adult male African Americans.  If they did such things, they could reenter the Union.

In this way, Congressional Reconstruction was much harsher than presidential Reconstruction had been.  

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The primary difference was the degree of amnesty and leniency to be extended to the former Confederacy. President Abraham Lincoln's position was that as President he had the pardon power and the obligation to enforce the law, therefore Reconstruction was up to him. Republican members of Congress disagreed; they said that since Congress was charged under the Constitution with guaranteeing every state a Republican form of government, it had the sole power of reconstructing the South.

As early as April, 1863, even before the war had ended, Lincoln proposed his "ten per cent plan" which called for the states in rebellion to form a new government when ten percent of those eligible to vote in the 1860 election swore and oath of allegiance to the U.S. in exchange for a presidential pardon. Excluded from the plan were former Confederate government military officers and government officials, particularly those who had left federal government posts to join the Confederacy. Lincoln was opposed by a group of Republicans determined to reconstruct the South in the image of the North. They were known as "radical republicans." They pushed through Congress the Wade Davis Bill which provided that the southern states could form a new government only after a majority of male citizens swore an oath of past loyalty to the Union, and any new state constitutions must abolish slavery and repudiate Confederate debt. Lincoln pocket vetoed the measure, so it never became law.

Lincoln was assassinated shortly after the end of the war, and Andrew Johnson's position was somewhat similar to Lincoln's. He said that

there is no such thing as reconstruction; Those states have not gone out of the Union. Therefore, reconstruction is not necessary

He was opposed by two prominent Radical Republicans: Thaddeus Stevens of Pennsylvania who said that the former confederate states were now "conquered provinces," and Charles Sumner of Massachusetts who said that the confederate states had committed political suicide and reverted to the status of unorganized territories.

The controversy continued well into Andrew Johnson's presidency, resulting in a failed attempt to remove him from office. It was complicated by refusal of those in the North and South to consider compromise.

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