1.2 Congressional Reconstruction
- Identify the ideas of the Radical Republicans and the Moderate Republicans, and explain what the terms Radical, Moderate, and Conservative mean in terms of the history of Reconstruction.
- Explain the origin and importance of laws such as the Civil Rights Act of 1866, the Reconstruction Acts, and the Fourteenth and Fifteenth amendments. Identify why some women who supported black civil rights could not support the Fourteenth Amendment.
- Explain the reasons why Andrew Johnson was impeached. Demonstrate how his trial and the presidential election of 1868 reflected the leading political issues of the Reconstruction era.
When Congress reconvened in December 1865, the stage was set for conflict between the White House and Capitol Hill. Republicans were angered by the president’s handling of Reconstruction, but were divided in their views about how much the federal government should intervene in matters concerning the former Confederate states. A small group of lawmakers, known as Radical RepublicansMembers of the Republican Party who demanded equal legal and political rights for African Americans and believed that the power of the federal government should be mobilized to preserve these rights., hoped to use the power of the federal government to mandate legal equality for African Americans, including the right to vote. Moderate RepublicansMembers of the Republican Party who hoped to prevent violence against former slaves but did not initially support measures extending legal and political equality to African Americans. hoped that the new Southern state governments would treat African Americans more fairly and agreed that violence and the Black Codes were a clear indication that something more must be done. At the same time, they did not believe in racial equality and considered radical plans to use the federal government to mandate full civil and political equality as a dangerous social experiment. The most common complaint of Moderate Republicans was the way Johnson permitted former Confederate leaders to return to positions of power. Before long, Johnson’s refusal to compromise and work with Congress in shaping a more meaningful plan for Reconstruction was also viewed as an affront, and the two groups of Republicans began to see themselves as united against “King Andrew.” As time went on, the two groups worked together to oppose President Johnson and his plan for reconstruction.
Radicals and Moderates
The radical wing of the Republican Party earned their name through their consistent advocacy of causes that were unpopular and therefore derisively labeled as “radical.” For example, the leading radical cause in the late 1850s was the immediate abolition of slavery. Abolitionists were extremely unpopular among most whites in both the North and the South at this time. Radicals were vilified and abolitionist speakers were frequently attacked until their cause was vindicated by secession and war. Slavery strengthened the Confederacy, while the service of former slaves helped to save the Union—two facts that led to a convergence of interests between the once radical abolitionists and those who sought to preserve the Union.
In this 1869 image of Andrew Johnson, the artist criticizes the authoritative style of the departing president. After his first year in office, many Republicans mockingly referred to the president as “King Andrew.” The president was later impeached by the House of Representatives and came within one vote of being removed from office by the Senate.
Radical Republicans also called for greater federal authority both before and after the Civil War. Like abolition, this idea had been unpopular and was even considered dangerous by many Americans until South Carolina took the doctrine of states’ rights to its logical conclusion. Secessionists argued that because all power belonged to the states, the federal government had no authority to stop a state from leaving the nation. Secession led many advocates of a weak central government to reconsider their perspective and move closer to the radical perspective of a strong federal government and limited state sovereignty. As Reconstruction began, the Radicals pushed for a third measure that was equally unpopular with most Americans but would also be vindicated by events—equal legal and civil rights for former slaves. Denying these rights and leaving white Southerners to reconstruct their own governments led to Black Codes and violence, the Radicals argued. If former slaves were granted full citizenship and suffrage, however, Radicals believed that black men would vote for political leaders who would protect their interests. Black suffrage, the Radicals explained to a skeptical nation, meant that the South might reconstruct itself.
By adopting this argument, the Radicals were borrowing an idea of early feminist leaders. Suffragists as early as the 1840s tried to convince a skeptical public that women’s suffrage, an unpopular and “radical” measure at that time, would actually promote society’s best interests. Without the vote, these women argued, half of the population was unable to speak for themselves and the political interests of women and families became an added burden for men. If women could vote, these early suffragists countered, women could protect themselves by voting for men who supported laws that protected women and children. The Radical Republicans modified this argument by replacing notions of chivalry with another gendered idea. Radicals claimed that black male suffrage would cultivate “manhood” among former slaves who could use the vote to protect their families. Black men as voters would topple the Black Codes, the Radicals continued, because black men would demand leaders who defended their freedom and economic opportunity. Radicals believed the solutions to Reconstruction also required using the power of the federal government, and even the army, to assure that former slaves were guaranteed their rights during a transition period. So long as their rights were enforced, the Radicals argued, black men as voters would eventually solve the problems of Reconstruction and stability and prosperity would replace violence and anarchy throughout the South.
Former Slaves, Former Masters, and the Former Vice President
It is important to remember that no matter how egalitarian these radical leaders appeared in comparison to other whites of the era, few of them genuinely felt that African Americans were their equals. In general, Radicals shared a paternalistic view that believed in the possibility of equality after generations of educational and economic progress. No one understood the limitations of Radical Republicans more than Southern black leaders who adapted their arguments to accommodate their tenuous political allies. Black leaders acted tactically by framing their messages in ways that stressed the need for active government intervention to safeguard their rights as citizens and provide funding for schools. In general, these moderate black leaders spoke of equality in the future tense.
A handful of black leaders advanced a more radical argument that stressed equality was not conditional. These leaders demanded full recognition of their right to vote. Some also demanded the redistribution of land that had been abandoned by rebel leaders during the war. Many former slaves believed that they had already paid for these lands twice, once as laborers and a second time as soldiers in defense of the Union. For some, like black editor and Union officer Martin DelanyKnown as “the father of black nationalism,” Martin Delany was an abolitionist, newspaper editor, Civil War officer, physician, and leading black intellectual. His early life was spent in and around Pittsburgh, and he was active in South Carolina politics during Reconstruction., even Frederick Douglass was occasionally too conservative. Like many black leaders, Douglass tactically accommodated whites who viewed civil rights and land redistribution as a form of governmental aid on behalf of grateful former slaves. If the laws of the nation were colorblind, Delany argued, civil rights were already guaranteed to the former slave.
Martin Delany is known as “the Father of Black Nationalism” because he was one of the early advocates of racial separatism. Rather than beg for acceptance among whites, Delany hoped black Americans would create an independent nation in Africa or Latin America. Delany also worked to improve the condition of black women and men in the United States as an author, editor, doctor, and judge. Achieving the rank of major, he was also the highest-ranking black officer in the Civil War.
Delany turned the notion of black dependency on its head, arguing that Southern whites were the ones who requested and received special governmental assistance both before and after the Civil War. When slaves escaped during the antebellum period, Delany reminded listeners, the slave asked for no special assistance from the government. When former slaves took control of abandoned rebel lands, Delany continued, they neither asked for nor received assistance from the government. In each of these cases, Delany countered, whites demanded and received government assistance in returning their absconded slaves and abandoned lands. Even those whites who had tried to destroy the Union had requested and received federal government intervention to recover their lands from the very men and women who had worked those lands for generations without pay. As a result, Delany posited that former slaves were the true defenders of the Founding Fathers’ vision of limited government. He also argued that black men should not be expected to beg for the rights the Founding Fathers had proclaimed were given to all people by their Creator. Former slaves could fend for themselves so long as they had equal access to land, Delany argued, and they did not need generations, years, weeks, or even a day to prove that their rights were as self-evident as any other group of Americans.
Had Delany enjoyed access to the records used by historians, he could have pointed to over a dozen locations where former slaves had turned a profit on land that had been abandoned by leading Confederates. For example, the slaves of former Confederate President Jefferson Davis divided the abandoned Davis plantation into individual family farms. These men and women even paid the government for these lands with the profits they had made. As Delany suggests, the Davis family sought and received the assistance of the government in taking the land back from their former slaves.
Union generals are often credited with generosity regarding abandoned rebel lands. One such example is the Sea Islands ExperimentArmy officials allowed former slaves to continue working land abandoned by rebel planters on the islands off the coast of South Carolina and Georgia. This was considered an “experiment” by those who viewed the successful operation of plantations by former slaves as a model for Reconstruction., where Union officers permitted the former slaves to continue working lands that had been abandoned by plantation owners in coastal South Carolina. In this “experiment,” 10,000 men and women collectively ran a number of plantations that provided cotton for the Union army. By the end of the war, about 40,000 freed persons had settled on 400,000 acres of land throughout coastal Georgia and South Carolina. In nearly every instance, these black farmers were evicted by the government in late 1865 despite their vital contributions to the war effort. From Delany’s perspective, President Johnson’s actions showed that he supported land redistribution, but only so long as it benefitted whites. After all, the president permitted the eviction of black men and women and the president also allowed the abandoned lands to be redistributed back to their former owners regardless of their acts of treason. Landownership was key to independence, and former slaves recognized that if their former masters maintained control of the land, they would have little option but to work for them. “Give us our own land and we will take care of ourselves,” one former slave counseled, “return the land to the old masters and they will hire or starve us as they please.”
Southern planters, like the president, believed the issue of Reconstruction was settled once their lands had been returned, their pardons were signed, and their states were returned to the Union. But in their swift passage of the Black Codes, their sudden attempt to regain political offices, and their toleration of those who committed violence against African Americans, Southern elites nearly derailed their efforts to recreate the antebellum status quo. Few Northerners were deeply concerned enough about the condition of former slaves to tour the South and observe the conditions they faced. However, news of the Black Codes and the horrific violence caused even the most callous Northerner to think twice about the finality of Reconstruction.
Andrew Johnson also did a great deal to undermine the position of those who considered Reconstruction to be a settled issue, vetoing two bills that enjoyed a great deal of support among Moderates. In early 1866, Congress proposed a two-year extension of the Freedman’s Bureau. The bill included a modest budget for schools and support for the bureau’s mission as a mediator between planters and laborers. Congress also passed the Civil Rights Act of 1866A law passed by Congress that granted citizenship to all persons born in the United States regardless of race, color, or previous condition of servitude with the exception of Native Americans who lived on reservations. As citizens, these persons were guaranteed access to the courts, which were bound to enforce contracts and protect their rights.. This law granted citizenship to all persons born in the United States regardless of race, color, or previous condition of servitude. The Civil Rights Act of 1866 also specified that all citizens were guaranteed the right to make contracts, utilize the courts, and enjoy equal property rights. The law made no mention of voting as one of the protected rights of citizenship and explicitly excluded Native Americans who lived on reservations from becoming citizens. The law had tremendous implications for Reconstruction because it implicitly voided the Black Codes and other laws that sought to restrict these freedoms. Despite their overwhelming support in Congress, Andrew Johnson vetoed both bills. Congress quickly superseded both of the president’s vetoes and reapproved both measures by the two-thirds majority required by the Constitution. It was the first time in American history that Congress had passed any major piece of legislation over a presidential veto. It was also a sign that the balance of power had shifted from the White House to a Congress that was growing more unified in the wake of the president’s obstinacy.
Reconstruction also saw the first substantial amendment of the Constitution when the Thirteenth Amendment, which outlawed slavery, was ratified in December 1865. Only two amendments had been passed since the ratification of the Constitution—the first of which applied to lawsuits across state lines and the second clarified the procedures for electing the vice president. For nearly a century, most American political leaders agreed that the federal government did not have the power to ban slavery within states, and so the Thirteenth Amendment was a radical break with the notion of limited governmental powers. Of course, by the end of 1865, emancipation was hardly controversial and the law merely confirmed what had already occurred during the war. The next two amendments Congress would pass during Reconstruction would be much more controversial. The first expanded the definition of citizenship and the second guaranteed the right to vote regardless of race.
Inspired by the resolutions and petitions passed and circulated by dozens of black conventions, Congress proposed the Fourteenth AmendmentA Constitutional amendment that assured the provisions of the Civil Rights Act could not be overturned by Congress or the Supreme Court. The amendment also added language that guaranteed equal protection of law regardless of race or previous condition of servitude. The Amendment also reduced the number of representatives in Congress of any state that denied its male citizens the right to vote. in June 1867. The Fourteenth Amendment declared that all persons born in the United States were entitled to the “privileges and immunities” of national citizenship regardless of race or previous condition of servitude. Similar to the Civil Rights Act of 1866, the amendment specifically excluded Native Americans who lived on reservations. The amendment also addressed the issue of voting rights for former slaves. Due to the controversial nature of black suffrage (only five Northern states recognized the right of African Americans to vote at this time), Northern politicians engineered a method that would practically require the South to grant black suffrage without specifically mentioning race or requiring black suffrage in their own states.
The Fourteenth Amendment encouraged but did not require black suffrage because it connected the number of seats a state was given in the House of Representatives to the number of adult men who were allowed to vote in that state. If the leaders of a state such as South Carolina did not want to recognize the right of black men to vote, they could legally do so. However, in this example South Carolina would forfeit a majority of its seats in Congress because a majority of the adult men in South Carolina were black. Every Southern state had a large black population and stood to lose between a fourth to over a half of their congressional representatives if they denied black suffrage. Most Northern states, however, could continue to bar black men from voting without losing any representation because their percentage of black residents was so small. For example, Pennsylvania specifically limited the vote to white males in 1837 and continued to do so after the passage of the Fourteenth Amendment without losing a single seat in Congress because the black population of the state was below 4 percent.
In many ways, Andrew Johnson deserves some of the credit for the Fourteenth Amendment. Had the president not been so insistent on opposing even the most modest congressional proposals, such as the extension of the Freedman’s Bureau, it is unlikely that Moderates would have joined Radicals in pushing for a Constitutional guarantee of equal protection for African Americans. The president alienated more than just Congress in the fall of 1866 when he traveled from New York to Ohio in opposition to the Fourteenth Amendment. This “Swing Around the Circle,” as the president called his journey, featured a number of aggressive speeches in which Johnson attacked his Republican opponents in vile and abusive language. On several occasions it also appeared that the president had had too much to drink. At one point the president nearly stumbled off the edge of a platform while suggesting that former slaves were to blame for their own victimization. The president even proposed that the late president’s murder was providential because it cleared the way for him to lead the nation. Never a good judge of his audience, Andrew Johnson was in Illinois when he made this statement.
Johnson’s ill-advised tour occurred just before the midterm congressional elections of 1866 and backfired in its avowed purpose of reviving the Democratic Party in the North. Far more important than the Democrat’s association with an unpopular president, news of massacres and race riots convinced many Americans that the federal government had to take a more active role in Reconstruction. News of the postwar massacres were finally circulating throughout the North and the horrid tales of entire families being massacred convinced many Northerners that the Radicals should be permitted to use the federal government to intervene on behalf of Southern blacks. When the votes were all counted, the Republicans had a two-thirds majority in both the House of Representatives and the Senate for the 1867 and 1868 sessions.
Every Southern state except Tennessee rejected the Fourteenth Amendment in 1866 and early 1867. This rejection, along with race riots in Memphis and New Orleans and continued violence against rural black sharecroppers, led Congress to declare that the former Confederacy was in a state of civil disorder. Congress passed the Reconstruction ActsA series of four laws passed by Congress that reversed statehood for every Confederate state other than Tennessee. The laws created five military districts that would be administered by the army until each former state permitted black men to vote, ratified the Fourteenth Amendment, and submitted revised constitutions for Congressional approval. over President Johnson’s veto in March 1867. These laws dissolved Southern state governments and voided the readmission of the former Confederate states that had occurred during the Lincoln and Johnson administrations. Most significantly, they divided the South into five districts, which were placed under control of military commanders. The Reconstruction Acts contained a list of requirements that must be met before the former states could be readmitted to the nation for a second time. Chief among these requirements was the ratification of the Fourteenth Amendment and the revision of state constitutions to remove all barriers against black suffrage. These state constitutions would be written by delegates chosen in a special election where black men would vote and even run for election. In addition, federal troops would be stationed throughout the South to make sure that black men would be permitted to vote while certain Confederate leaders would be barred from the polls.
Many Northerners perceived the Reconstruction Acts as mild compared to the actions that could be taken against a defeated territory that had initiated a civil war. White Southerners shared a different perspective and deeply resented the indignity of having their statehood stripped from them. They also felt that black suffrage was being forced on them at gunpoint, as soldiers would occupy their states and run their governments until they “voluntarily” accepted black suffrage. Few Northern states acknowledged the right of black men to vote, white Southerners reminded the nation. Believing that the violence against former slaves had largely subsided, they asked why their communities should be occupied by soldiers nearly two years after the war’s end. By their perspective, a handful of Northern congressmen were forcing an entire region to accept a political vision that their own constituents did not support. The deployment of soldiers to enforce the will of Northern politicians on the South that still had no voice in Congress seemed the antithesis of democracy to millions of white Southerners.
For 4 million black Southerners, these federal interventions were long overdue. Former slaves recognized that political power was the key to achieving their dream of publicly funded schools, color-blind justice, and real economic opportunity. Armed now with the vote, black men continued to work collectively as they had before the war to press for equal rights. Former slave owners attempted to maintain the authority they had once exercised, yet once the army occupied the region these men could no longer resort to violence without fear of consequence. Now backed by federal laws that invalidated the Black Codes and protected by soldiers sworn to uphold law and order, the Equal Rights Leagues and Union Leagues proliferated. Black communities organized parades and marched openly carrying banners calling for equal rights. Black men even organized armed militias that pledged their loyalty to local army commanders and offered their assistance in preventing further violence against members of their race.
Many white Southerners boycotted the elections of 1867. Given the reluctance of Northern Republicans to embrace black suffrage at home, white Southerners believed that black suffrage was simply a ploy by the Republican Party to reduce the power of the Democratic Party and force Republican rule in the South. There were few white Republicans who lived south of the Mason-Dixon Line, they pointed out, but if black men were granted suffrage they would likely support the “Party of Lincoln.” Because many Southern states and counties had black majorities, black suffrage would likely doom the Democrats in many districts. Although they were certainly correct in identifying the chief motivation of many white Republicans—the creation of a viable Republican Party in the South at the expense of the Democrats—the boycott by white Southerners simply guaranteed a Republican landslide in 1867.
Black men voted and were elected to offices throughout the South in these elections, and black delegates would later play a key role in rewriting Southern Constitutions during this phase of Reconstruction. Black women could not vote but still played a key political role by attending mass meetings and constitutional conventions where they let their voices be heard. Black women were active participants in every aspect of Southern politics during Reconstruction. In many localities, black women took the lead in organizing parades and rallies. They attended conventions as delegates and also held their own meetings where they drafted resolutions and circulated petitions.
The majority of Southern Republican political leaders during Reconstruction were white, but as many as 3,000 black men were elected to city, county, state, and even national offices. Sixteen black politicians served in Congress during Reconstruction and personified the amazing change that had taken place in only two years. Hiram RevelsThe first African American to serve in Congress, Revels represented Mississippi in the US Senate. He would later become the first president of Alcorn Agricultural and Mechanical College (Alcorn State University today)., a Methodist minister, was elected to fill the Senate seat that had been left vacant by Jefferson Davis when he abandoned his office to lead the Confederacy. Blanche K. Bruce, a former slave from Mississippi, was the first African American elected to fill a full six-year term in the US Senate. More African Americans were elected to the US Congress and Southern state legislatures during Reconstruction than any other time in American history, including the present. Yet even during the years when the Reconstruction Acts, the army, Freedman’s Bureau, and the Fourteenth Amendment supported black suffrage, tens of thousands of African Americans were still not permitted to vote for a variety of reasons.
This 1870 print depicts a Baltimore parade celebrating the ratification of the Fifteenth Amendment, as well as scenes of African Americans exercising their civil rights, teaching, forming militias, and working in their own fields. Maryland did not ratify the amendment until 1973. However, the amendment still had the force of law in Maryland and throughout the country once it was ratified by two-thirds of the states and became part of the Constitution.
Radical Congressmen were disappointed that the Fourteenth Amendment had not led to black enfranchisement in many Northern states. Furthermore, they were concerned that some white Southerners still opposed black suffrage, regardless of any potential loss of Congressional representation. Still others resorted to fraud and violence to silence black voters. In February 1869, Congress approved the Fifteenth AmendmentA Constitutional Amendment prohibiting the denial of suffrage the basis of race, color, or previous condition of servitude., which explicitly guaranteed the right of citizens to vote regardless of race. The measure was ratified quickly by several Southern states owing to the electoral strength of the black vote. Ironically, the measure was much more contentious in the Northern states.
Nearly an entire year passed before the required three-fourths of states ratified the Fifteenth Amendment. Its eventual passage occurred largely because Congress made its ratification a requirement for readmission for several Southern states. Nevada was the first to ratify the amendment, but only after its legislature was assured that it would not apply to Mexican and Asian immigrants. Similar concerns about other minority groups led to the amendment’s failure in Oregon and California. Newspaper columns throughout the West warned readers that the Fifteenth Amendment would lead to “greater oppression” of whites in their communities by enfranchising “Indians and Mongolians.” Native American, Asian American, and Mexican American leaders were disappointed that the Fifteenth Amendment did not guarantee universal male suffrage. Although he was not a proponent of extending voting rights to these groups, Charles Sumner was also disappointed in the wording of the law. Sumner hoped the amendment would include language that outlawed the use of poll taxes, property requirements, and literacy tests as prerequisites for voter registration. While such requirements might appear racially neutral, he correctly predicted that white registrars would soon modify these instruments in ways that would disenfranchise black voters.
Women and the Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendments
Many prominent supporters of women’s suffrage had been leaders in the abolitionist movement, and most of these suffragists were among the earliest advocates of extending the vote to former slaves. However, the Fourteenth Amendment specifically included the word “male” when referring to qualified voters, which led many women’s rights advocates to oppose the amendment as it was written. When even the most radical congressmen, such as Wendell Phillips, responded that women’s suffrage should be placed on hold, many women’s rights activists felt betrayed. Although they might have joined the supporters of the Fourteenth Amendment even if it did not include provisions for women’s suffrage, suffragists such as Elizabeth Cady StantonThe leading author of the Declaration of Sentiments—the 1848 document signed by the participants of the first major women’s rights convention at Seneca Falls, New York—Stanton would play a leading role in many of the early women’s suffrage associations, and would serve as the president of the National Women’s Suffrage Association (NWSA) for two decades. responded that they could not support the amendment because it introduced the word “male” into the Constitution for the first time and implicitly restricted the vote to men. “If that word ‘male’ be inserted,” Stanton cautioned, “it will take us a century at least to get it out.” The Fifteenth Amendment extended the right to vote to all regardless of race, but was conspicuously silent about gender—an omission suffragists feared might become a second obstacle in their challenge to combat the idea that voting was an exclusive privilege granted only to men.
Stanton believed that the right to vote should be extended liberally, but she lived in time when many Americans were automatically disqualified from voting because of their race or gender. If the government intended to set restrictions on who was qualified to vote, Stanton argued, these restrictions should at least be based on merits such as education. While supporters believed a provision tying the ballot to formal education would reward intelligence, others believed these kinds of restrictions were elitist. Stanton and other middle-class women enjoyed opportunities for higher education few Americans could obtain regardless of their ambition and aptitude. Other suffragists, such as Lucy Stone who founded the American Equal Rights Association in 1866 alongside Stanton and Susan B. Anthony, believed that women should embrace black suffrage as progress toward their goal of universal suffrage. Stone reminded her contemporaries that public support for women’s suffrage was minimal at this time and opposing any extension of the vote would be counterproductive. Recent events had led to a change in public opinion regarding black suffrage, Stone argued, and women should support the extension of suffrage as a matter of justice as well as expediency.
Elizabeth Cady Stanton with her daughter Harriet. Together with Lucretia Mott, Stanton planned the first Women’s Rights Convention in Seneca Falls, New York, in 1848. Stanton was a prolific writer on behalf of women’s rights and served as the president of the National Women’s Suffrage Association.
Events in Kansas demonstrated the practicality of Stone’s argument. Local suffragists, such as Clarina Nichols, had successfully navigated a provision granting women the right to vote in school elections in the state constitution. In 1867, she and others convinced the legislature to place the issue of women’s suffrage on the ballot. The measure’s unpopularity among the male electorate resulted in a resounding defeat of the referendum on women’s suffrage. It also provided fodder for opponents of black suffrage. Defenders of white supremacy convinced voters that it was not a coincidence that provisions for black suffrage and women’s suffrage appeared side by side on the ballot. Black suffrage would lead to women voting, they argued, a gender-based argument that led to the defeat of both proposals in a state many predicted would approve black suffrage.
The issue of whether to support the Fourteenth and Fifteenth amendments and black male suffrage divided some suffragists, but most agreed that Southern violence against former slaves demanded the immediate right to vote as a matter of life and death. Ohio suffrage leader Frances Dana Gage expressed the views of many when she exclaimed that a defeat of the Fifteenth Amendment would prevent millions from exercising their rights while doing nothing to aid the cause of women. Elizabeth Cady Stanton appreciated Gage’s argument and understood why many women supported black male suffrage as a tactical concession in an ongoing battle. For Stanton, however, compromise was surrender.
Leading black men such as Martin Delany and Frederick Douglass had supported women’s suffrage as early as 1848. In that year, Delany proposed a resolution in favor of women’s suffrage at a Cleveland convention of black leaders. Douglass had been one of the leading participants in the first women’s rights convention in Seneca Falls that same year. Other black men who were national and state leaders tended to be far more supportive of women’s suffrage than their white counterparts. While leading white politicians used female suffrage to mock those who favored black suffrage, even the black leaders who opposed women’s suffrage believed the matter at least merited serious discussion. South Carolina was the only state legislature to have a black majority, and it was also the only Southern legislature to endorse women’s suffrage. These men invited black women such as Louisa Rollin to address them on the subject in 1869. Three years later, most black delegates voted in favor of a women’s suffrage amendment to the South Carolina state constitution.
Women’s support of black male suffrage was the leading question at the 1869 meeting of American Equal Rights Association. At this meeting, Frederick Douglass expressed his fear that any dissension among women might derail black suffrage. Stanton challenged Douglass to realize that as a black leader, he needed to consider his equal obligation to consider the perspective of the women of his race. As Stanton recognized, black women had a unique perspective on the question. Sojourner TruthBorn into slavery in New York as Isabella Baumfree, Sojourner Truth would become one of the leading abolitionists before the Civil War. Selecting the name “Sojourner Truth” for herself, she delivered lectures around the country in defense of civil rights during Reconstruction and suffrage for women. spoke for many black women in opposing any compromise, even if such a compromise assisted the cause of black male suffrage. Other black women agreed with Douglass and hoped he was correct in predicting that Congress would soon pass a sixteenth amendment that would extend the vote to women. Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton disagreed. The two women walked out of the meeting with a small group of supporters who and formed the National Women’s Suffrage Association (NWSA)A national women’s rights association that promoted suffrage and other causes. The NWSA was created in 1869 by suffragists who refused to support the Fifteenth Amendment unless it also protected the right of women to vote.. This group continued to challenge disenfranchisement through petitions, lecture tours, and direct protest. Women such as Lucy Stone who supported the Fifteenth Amendment went on to form the American Women’s Suffrage Association (AWSA)One of the two leading women’s suffrage associations in the United States, the AWSA was formed in 1869 when women’s rights advocates divided over whether to support the Fifteenth Amendment even if it failed to guarantee women the right to vote. The organization focused on promoting women’s suffrage at the state and local level., which followed a slightly more conservative approach. The AWSA believed the best tactic was to work with the male leadership of the Republican Party and promote women’s suffrage at the state and local level.
Impeachment and the Election of 1868
The army was tasked with implementing nearly every aspect of Reconstruction, from overseeing elections to the daily operation of the Freedman’s Bureau. As president, Johnson was the military’s commander in chief and he used his authority to remove army commanders and bureau officials who supported the Radicals and their vision for a more egalitarian postwar South. In return, the Republicans passed the Tenure of Office ActA law that required senate approval before any public official could be removed from office if their original appointment had required the confirmation of the Senate. The law was passed in 1867 and repealed twenty years later. in March 1867. The law forbade the president from removing any federal official whose original appointment had required senate confirmation without first gaining the approval of the Senate. Johnson was outraged and understood that the intent of the law was to prevent him from removing Secretary of War Edwin Stanton. Stanton had become increasingly critical of the president due to his interference with the military and Johnson hoped to replace him with someone who would be more accommodating to his political agenda. Aware of the Tenure of Office Act, Johnson waited until the Senate was in recess before demanding his resignation. When Stanton refused to quit, the president simply appointed another Secretary of War in his place. Congressional Republicans believed that Johnson’s actions violated the law and demonstrated criminal contempt for the legislative process. They called for the president’s removal, citing Article II, Section 4, of the Constitution, which states that the president “shall be removed from office on impeachment for, and conviction of, treason, bribery, or other high crimes and misdemeanors.” Members of the House of Representatives voted along party lines in February 1868, with 126 Republicans voting for impeachment and 47 Democrats opposing the measure.
ImpeachmentThe process of a legislature bringing formal charges against a government official. Impeachment is followed by a trial to determine whether to remove that official from office. is the first step in the process of removing a president and results in a trial before the Senate. If two-thirds of the Senate votes in favor of conviction, the president will be removed from office. Andrew Johnson was the first president to be impeached, and his trial in the Senate was the leading topic of discussion throughout the nation. Despite their animosity toward President Johnson, some Republicans questioned whether the president had really committed a crime. Edwin Stanton had been appointed by President Lincoln, and the Tenure of Office Act was vague and perhaps unconstitutional given the power it granted the Senate over the president’s own cabinet. Others were afraid of who would take over if President Johnson was removed from office. The next in line for the office was the president pro tempore of the Senate, Benjamin Wade, whom a number of Senators did not admire.
This scene from Andrew Johnson’s impeachment trial demonstrates the spectacle these proceedings became in Washington. Tickets for the few seats in the Senate gallery sold for small fortunes, and Americans across the nation surrounded telegraph offices as they eagerly awaited news from the trial.
Johnson’s trial featured high tensions and dramatic rhetoric, but it was clear to most Americans that the “crime” the president was really being tried for was his opposition to Republican plans for Reconstruction. The Republicans dominated the Senate, yet the attempt to remove Johnson failed by one vote as seven Republicans opposed the measure because they believed removal was both unconstitutional and unwise. Johnson’s supporters had secretly assured these senators that the president would no longer oppose their legislation, and Republicans feared actual removal would mean that they were guilty of a similar abuse of power they were accusing Johnson of committing.
During the summer of 1868, both parties held their political conventions to determine who would be their candidate for president. Few Democrats favored Johnson, given his near removal from office. The Democrats instead settled on Horatio SeymourAn influential New York politician and governor, Horatio Seymour was nominated for the presidency in 1868. He was defeated by the Republican Ulysses S. Grant. who had been an influential governor of New York. The Democrats ran what historian David Blight has called “arguably the most openly white supremacist election campaign in American history.” The party adopted the slogan “This Is a White Man’s Country, Let White Men Rule,” and accused any of their political opponents as being traitors to their race. The Republicans chose the victorious Union commander, Ulysses S. GrantA military officer from Ohio who would become the commander of US forces by the end of the Civil War, Ulysses S. Grant was nominated by the Republican Party for the presidency in 1868. He had serves two terms (1869–1877) and generally supported the plans of leading Republicans in Congress regarding the reconstruction of the South.. Although Grant was known for holding many paternalistic views about African Americans, he was also associated with the Union victory that led to emancipation. Grant avoided public statements regarding race and the actual campaigning for both candidates was conducted largely by their political supporters. Republicans urged Union men to “vote as you shot” for General Grant, while warning that Seymour and the Democrats were all secret rebels in their hearts. Many predicted that the election would be a referendum on Reconstruction, with a Grant victory symbolizing national support for Republican policies and a Seymour victory demonstrating that the nation wanted to abandon the project and allow the white South to reconstruct itself.
If a Grant victory signaled a continuation of Reconstruction, he and his supporters worked hard to obscure what his policies might be regarding race and reconciliation. His campaign slogan was “Let Us Have Peace,” a positive but vague mantra that Grant supporters could use to support a number of perspectives. The slogan might imply the abandonment of controversial programs such as the Freedman’s Bureau when talking to conservative audiences, and it could also be spun to imply protection of former slaves from racial violence when talking to Radicals. For example, when campaigning among former slaves and Northerners who were concerned about the conditions they faced, Grant supporters used the slogan to demonstrate the general’s devotion to justice and order. Black leaders throughout the South had long called for an increased federal presence for precisely this reason, arguing that an increase in army personnel and Freedman’s Bureau agents was required to end the racial violence that had plagued the South.
Although Seymour’s vice presidential running mate spoke openly about how a Democratic victory could restore white rule to the South, Seymour himself followed Grant’s strategy of avoiding precise statements of policy. Absent of a debate that might have forced a clear discussion of the issues the nation faced, both campaigns quickly denigrated to mudslinging. Democrats publicized Grant’s past history of alcoholism while seeking to capitalize on the racial prejudices of the era by branding Grant as a “Negro-Lover.” Accusations of affection for American citizens may seem strange politics, but this label was considered one of the sharpest indictments against a white person in 1868 and was tantamount to suggesting that Grant was a traitor to his ancestors. The Republicans were less than virtuous in their campaigns as well. They did not hesitate to “Wave the Bloody Shirt”A phrase used by opponents of the Republican Party to bring attention to the tendency of Republicans to invoke the memory of the Civil War in order to advance their political agenda.—a phrase that referred to the tendency of Republican candidates to present every election a referendum on whether the Civil War had been fought in vain. While some of their party members had opposed Union participation in the war, Democrats argued that it was both unfair and inaccurate to paint every Democrat with the brush of treason. They also argued that such tactics were intended to distract voters from important political issues. Of course, it did not help Seymour’s chances in the North he had been very critical of Lincoln and had shown favor to members of a mob that had attacked Union troops and ransacked a black orphanage during the war.
Union troops supervised the elections in the South to ensure that all men, regardless of race and previous condition of servitude, were permitted to vote. Approximately half a million African Americans went to the polls and historians estimate that at least 90 percent of these votes went to Grant and the Republican Party. Because of the black vote and the fact that Mississippi, Virginia, and Texas had not been readmitted to the Union at the time of the election, Seymour won only two Southern states. The Democratic candidate won Georgia and Louisiana, as well as the Border States of Maryland, Delaware, and Kentucky, his home state of New York, and New Jersey and Oregon. While the election results may give the appearance of a landslide victory for the Republicans, the nation was far from united in support of Grant. Very few Southern whites voted for the former Union commander, a situation reminiscent of Lincoln and the Republican victory of 1860 that led to the Civil War.
Southern whites who supported the Republicans were branded as traitors to the race and the Southern way of life. When the voting results are analyzed, it is easy to see that the greatest area of support for Grant in the South was also the area with the greatest number of African Americans. However, Grant also received support from regions inhabited by poor whites, such as Appalachia. A much smaller percentage of African Americans lived in West Virginia, northern Alabama, and eastern Tennessee, yet these were all areas of support for Grant and the Republican Party. In these regions, whites who were resentful of political domination by wealthy planters found hope in the platform of Republican politicians who promised public schools and government assistance for poor farmers. Because poor whites were the largest voting bloc in the South, followed closely by former slaves, the possibility of political fusion between these groups represented a possible challenge to those seeking a return to the antebellum tradition of small government and low taxes on land. As a result, Democratic leaders worked hard to convince white Southerners that their interests were united as white men and women regardless of their income levels. For the next four years, Democratic leaders worked to convince whites of all economic backgrounds that black suffrage, Yankee domination, and the Republican Party were destroying their beloved communities.
Review and Critical Thinking
- Who were the Radicals and the Moderates and what were their goals regarding Reconstruction? To what degree did they pursue equal rights for African Americans? How did different groups of Americans differ in their views on Reconstruction?
- How did President Johnson’s actions help to solidify the Republicans? How might Reconstruction have been different with a Moderate Republican in the White House?
- How did Southern whites try to limit the ability of freed slaves to have access to the ballot box? How did former slaves respond?
- Why did Congress pass the Tenure of Office Act in 1867? Was this a legitimate use of congressional power or a violation of the idea of checks and balances? Why did some Republican senators not vote to convict President Johnson?
- Why did some women oppose the Fourteenth Amendment?
- What were the major issues of the election of 1868? What did the results of the election show about the unity of the country in 1868?