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Andrew Johnson's Policy // Problems in the South

Following the assassination of Abraham Lincoln in April 1865, Vice President Andrew Johnson, a War Democrat from Tennessee, was sworn in as president.  Johnson had been elected in November 1864 on the Union Party ticket with Lincoln, a Republican, and, having been inaugurated in March 1865, had served just over a month as vice president when he assumed the presidency.  The Civil War had recently ended, and the new chief executive inherited the task of overseeing the Reconstruction process of reintegrating the former Confederate states back into the Union.  Loyal state governments had already been established by the Lincoln administration in Arkansas, Louisiana, Tennessee, and Virginia (although none had been recognized by Congress).  The other seven states of the failed Confederacy—North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, Florida, Alabama, Mississippi, and Texas—had yet to undergo the process.

On May 29, 1865, President Johnson announced his Reconstruction plan and began implementing it during the summer of 1865 when Congress was in recess.  He offered general amnesty to all who would take an oath of future loyalty to the Union and agree to accept all laws and proclamations issued during the Civil War emancipating slaves.  He appointed temporary governors, authorizing them to call constitutional conventions in their respective states.  The president allowed most of those who had been eligible voters in 1860 (a qualification that excluded blacks) to participate in elections for delegates to state constitutional conventions and, subsequently, for state and federal office-holders.  However, he withheld political rights from high-ranking Confederate officials and men of wealth (worth over $20,000) until they personally petitioned the president for individual pardons.  The cover of the October 14, 1865 issue of Harper’s Weekly showed a roomful of former Confederates seeking pardons from the president. 

Under Johnson’s guidelines, the new state constitutions abolished slavery, repealed their secession ordinances, and repudiated Confederate war debts.  The president encouraged, but did not require, the former Confederate states to ratify the proposed Thirteenth Amendment, which abolished the institution of slavery.  (Of the former Confederate states, all but Florida, Texas, and Mississippi ratified the Thirteenth Amendment before it officially became part of the U.S. Constitution on December 18, 1865.  Florida ratified it on December 28, 1865; Texas on February 18, 1870; and Mississippi never ratified it.)  By the time Congress convened in December 1865, the former Confederate states had achieved or were nearing compliance with the Presidential Reconstruction plan, and were ready to reenter the Union on an equal status with all the other states.

Harper's Weekly References

1)  October 14, 1865, p. 641
illustration, “Pardon-seekers at the White House,” Stanley Fox

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Andrew Johnson's Policy // Problems in the South






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