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Congressional Joint Committee on Reconstruction // The Freedmen's Bureau and Civil Rights Bills

Because of the Black Codes, election of former Confederates to public office, and other problems existing with the state governments organized under Presidential Reconstruction, Republicans decided that Congress should take charge of the Reconstruction process and that the federal government should safeguard at least some rights for black Americans.  Nevertheless, that decision did not mark a complete break with the president.  The Republican Party was divided into two main factions.  Moderate Republicans did not want to dictate to the South measures that were too drastic (such as property confiscation and land redistribution), and they still believed that President Johnson would cooperate with them.  Radical Republicans wanted Congress to impose on the South a sweeping agenda of political and legal equality between the races, and they were already skeptical of President Johnson’s intentions.  The Fourteenth Amendment and other aspects of Congressional Reconstruction would be a compromise between the two wings of the Republican Party.

On Saturday, December 2, 1865, the House Republican Caucus approved without objection three resolutions by Congressman Thaddeus Stevens, declaring Reconstruction to be “the exclusive business of Congress,” judging President Andrew Johnson’s policies to be provisional and subject to congressional oversight, and suspending the seating of members from the South.  At the opening of the 39th Congress on December 4, Stevens introduced, as previously agreed by the House Republican Caucus, a resolution to establish a joint congressional committee on Reconstruction composed of 15 members, six from the Senate and nine from the House.  The resolution also stipulated that no federal representatives elected in former Confederate states could be seated in Congress until the committee reported.  The proposal was approved on December 13. 

With Republicans having large majorities in both houses, they gave themselves a 12-3 majority on the Joint Committee on Reconstruction (also called the Committee of Fifteen).  The Senate Republican members were:  Chairman William Fessenden of Maine, James Grimes of Iowa, Ira Harris of New York, Jacob Howard of Michigan, and George H. Williams of Oregon.  The sole Democratic senator on the committee was Reverdy Johnson of Maryland.  The House Republican members were:  Thaddeus Stevens of Pennsylvania (head of the House delegation), John Bingham of Ohio, Henry Blow of Missouri, George Boutwell of Massachusetts, Roscoe Conkling of New York, Justin Morrill of Vermont, and Elihu Washburn of Illinois.  The two House Democrats on the committee were Henry Grider of Kentucky and Andrew Jackson Rogers of New Jersey.

Harper's Weekly References

1)  December 16, 1865, p. 787, c. 3
“Domestic Intelligence” column

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Congressional Joint Committee on Reconstruction // The Freedmen's Bureau and Civil Rights Bills






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