The Debate

The Republican Party debated the topic of Reconstruction for the rest of the war, focusing on whether the executive or the legislative branch of government would control the process.

Lincoln insisted that the Confederate states had not really left the Union, because the Union was indissoluble.

  • They were temporarily under the control of bad leaders.
  • Reconstruction meant merely allowing loyal white southerners to reassert control.

Most Republicans in Congress opposed Lincoln’s wish to allow Confederates back into the Union simply by taking the oath of allegiance. Their argument was that:

  • Only men who had been Unionists all along should have leadership in the South.
  • The seceding states had forfeited their constitutional rights. Thaddeus Stevens (Elected as a Republican to the Thirty-sixth and to the four succeeding Congresses and served from March 4, 1859, until his death; chairman, Committee on Ways and Means (Thirty-seventh and Thirty-eighth Congresses), Committee on Appropriations (Thirty-ninth and Fortieth Congresses); chairman of the managers appointed by the House of Representatives in 1868 to conduct the impeachment proceedings against Andrew Johnson, President of the United States; died in Washington, D.C., on August 11, 1868; interment in Shreiner’s Cemetery, Lancaster, Pa.) felt that the South should be treated as conquered provinces,
  • Charles Sumner (elected to the United States Senate in 1851 as a Free Soiler; reelected as a Republican in 1857, 1863, and 1869 and served from April 24, 1851, until his death; in response to his “Crime Against Kansas” speech, was assaulted by Representative Preston Brooks of South Carolina on May 22, 1856, while in his seat in the Senate, and was absent on account of injuries received until December 1859; chairman, Committee on Foreign Relations (Thirty-seventh through Forty-first Congresses), Committee on Privileges and Elections (Forty-second Congress); removed as chairman of the Committee on Foreign Relations in 1871 as a result of differences with President Ulysses S. Grant over policy in Santo Domingo; died in Washington, D.C., March 11, 1874; lay in state in the Rotunda of the U.S. Capitol, March 13, 1874; interment in Mount Auburn Cemetery, Cambridge, Mass.) thought the states of the South were now Federal territories. (Both Stevens and Sumner were considered Radicals.)
  • Other Republicans though thought the Southern states should be made to guarantee civil and political rights for freed people since it was this group that was the most loyal segment of the southern populace.

Lincoln appointed military governors in four occupied states:

  • Louisiana – Col. G.F. Shepley Military Governor June 10, 1862 – 1865. Shepley was previously a member of the 12th Maine Infantry which was part of General Butler’s Army. The following Letter to Shepley written by President Lincoln advises against the allowance of “carpetbaggers.” (car·pet·bag·ger / ˈkärpitˌbagər/ • n. derog. a political candidate who seeks election in an area where they have no local connections. ∎ hist. (in the U.S.) a person from the northern states who went to the South after the Civil War to profit from Reconstruction. ∎  a person perceived as an unscrupulous opportunist.)

Ref. The Oxford Pocket Dictionary of Current English | Date: 2008

Lincoln’s Letter to Governor Shepley


November 21, 1982


DEAR SIR:–Dr. Kennedy, bearer of this, has some apprehension that Federal officers not citizens of Louisiana may be set up as candidates for Congress in that State. In my view there could be no possible object in such an election. We do not particularly need members of Congress from there to enable us to get along with legislation here. What we do want is the conclusive evidence that respectable citizens of Louisiana are willing to be members of Congress and to swear support to the Constitution, and that other respectable citizens there are willing to vote for them and send them. To send a parcel of Northern men here as representatives, elected, as would be understood (and perhaps really so), at the point of the bayonet, would be disgusting and outrageous; and were I a member of Congress here, I would vote against admitting any such man to a seat.

Yours very truly,


Source:  The Project Gutenberg eBook, Speeches and Letters of Abraham Lincoln, 1832-1865, by Abraham Lincoln, Edited by Merwin Roe

  • Tennessee – Andrew Johnson. In 1862 President Lincoln appointed Andrew Johnson as military governor of Tennessee. Johnson ruled with a firm hand silencing sources of anti-Union sentiment. Johnson held the military governorship of Tennessee until 1864. Preparing for the presidential election, foreseeing an imminent end to the war, and preparing for a re-unification of the nation, President Lincoln urged the Republican Party’s leadership to drop his previous vice-president, Hannibal Hamlin, an ardent abolitionist from Maine, in favor of Johnson, a Southerner and a Democrat. President Lincoln defeated General George McClellan in the 1864 election, and Johnson became vice-president of the United States of America.  

Ref. Information Services Branch of the State Library of North Carolina.

  • Arkansas – John S. Phelps. Appointed by President Lincoln in July 1862 as Military Governor of Arkansas; resumed the practice of his profession in Springfield; unsuccessful Democratic candidate in 1868 for Governor of Missouri; Governor of Missouri 1877-1881; resumed the practice of his profession; died in St. Louis, Mo., November 20, 1886; interment in Hazelwood Cemetery, Springfield, Mo.

Ref. Biographical Directory of United States Congress

  • Virginia – John Potts Slough was an American politician, lawyer, Union general and Chief Justice of New Mexico. He is famous for commanding the Union forces at the Battle of Glorieta Pass. During the administration of President Johnson, General Slough became the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of the New Mexico Territory. While in that position he was killed in what the courts ruled as a self-defense killing.

The two sides clash in 1864 over the policy for Louisiana

President Lincoln accepted a state government and constitution that abolished slavery but failed to provide a strong guarantee for freed slaves’ rights. The Radicals wanted a Constitutional Convention first and the Conservatives wanted an election first and then a constitutional convention.

The Radicals condemned the results in Louisiana as typical of what Lincoln’s conciliatory approach would yield, particularly because no radical Unionists had a voice in government. Lincoln backed moderates that gave blacks minimum guarantees, such as black soldiers would have the right to vote. The proposal was not accepted by Congress. On September 1864, ten percent of the population voted to abolish slavery and a school system was established. The Republican Congress refused the results of the 1864 election and refused to seat the representatives from Louisiana and Arkansas.

Congress came forth with the Wade-Davis Bill of July 2,1864.

Transcript of Wade-Davis Bill (1864)

A Bill to guarantee to certain States whose Governments have been usurped or overthrown a Republican Form of Government.

Be it enacted by the Senate and House of Representatives of the United States of America in Congress assembled, That in the states declared in rebellion against the United States, the President shall, by and with the advice and con- sent of the Senate, appoint for each a provisiona1 governor, whose pay and emoluments shall not exceed that of a brigadier-general of volunteers, who shall be charged with the civil administration of such state until a state government therein shall be recognized as hereinafter provided.

SEC. 2. And be it further enacted, That so soon as the military resistance to the United States shall have been suppressed in any such state, and the people thereof shall have sufficiently returned to their obedience to the constitution and the laws of the United States, the provisional governor shall direct the marshal of the United States, as speedily as may be, to name a sufficient number of deputies, and to enroll all white male citizens of the United States, resident in the state in their respective counties, and to request each one to take the oath to support the constitution of the United States, and in his enrolment to designate those who take and those who refuse to take that oath, which rolls shall be forthwith returned to the provisional governor; and if the persons taking that oath shall amount to a majority of the persons enrolled in the state, he shall, by proclamation, invite the loyal people of the state to elect delegates to a convention charged to declare the will of the people of the state relative to the reestablish- ment of a state government subject to, and in conformity with, the constitution of the United States.

SEC. 3. And be it further enacted, That the convention shall consist of as many members as both houses of the last constitutional state legislature, apportioned by the provisional governor among the counties, parishes, or districts of the state, in proportion to the white population, returned as electors, by the marshal, in compliance with the provisions of this act. The provisional governor shall, by proclamation, declare the number of delegates to be elected by each county, parish, or election district; name a day of election not less than thirty days thereafter; designate the places of voting in each county, parish, or district, conforming as nearly as may be convenient to the places used in the state elections next preceding the rebellion; appoint one or more commissioners to hold the election at each place of voting, and provide an adequate force to keep the peace during the election.

SEC.4. And be it further enacted, That the delegates shall be elected by the loyal white male citizens of the United States of the age of twenty-one years, and resident at the time in the county, parish, or district in which they shall offer to vote, and enrolled as aforesaid, or absent in the military service of the United States, and who shal1 take and subscribe the oath of allegiance to the United States in the form contained in the act of congress of July two, eighteen hundred and sixty-two; and all such citizens of the United States who are in the military service of the United States shall vote at the head-quarters of their respective commands, under such regulations as may be prescribed by the pro-visional governor for the taking and return of their votes; but no person who has held or exercised any office, civil or military, state or confederate, under the rebel usurpation, or who has voluntarily borne arms against the United States, shall vote, or be eligible to be elected as delegate, at such election.

SEC.5. And be it further enacted, That the said commissioners, or either of them, shall hold the election in conformity with this act, and, so far as may be consistent therewith, shall proceed in the manner used in the state prior to the rebellion. The oath of allegiance shall be taken and subscribed on the poll-book by every voter in the form above prescribed, but every person known by or proved to, the commissioners to have held or exercised any office, civil or military, state or confederate, under the rebel usurpation, or to have voluntarily borne arms against the United States, shall be excluded, though he offer to take the oath ; and in case any person who shall have borne arms against the United States shall offer to vote he shall be deemed to have borne arms voluntarily unless he shall prove the contrary by the testimony of a qualified voter. The poll-book, showing the name and oath of each voter, shall be returned to the provisional governor by the commissioners of election or the one acting, and the provisional governor shall canvass such returns, and declare the person having the highest number of votes elected.

SEC. 6. And be it further enacted, That the provisional governor shall, by proclamation, convene the delegates elected as aforesaid, at the capital of the state, on a day not more than three months after the election, giving at least thirty days’ notice of such day. In case the said capital shall in his judgment be unfit, he shall in his proclamation appoint another place. He shall preside over the deliberations of the convention, and administer to each delegate, before taking his seat in the convention, the oath of allegiance to the United States in the form above prescribed.

SEC. 7. And be it further enacted, That the convention shall declare, on behalf of the people of the state, their submission to the constitution and laws of the United States, and shall adopt the following provisions, hereby prescribed by the United States in the execution of the constitutional duty to guarantee a republican form of government to every state, and incorporate them in the constitution of the state, that is to say:
First. No person who has held or exercised any office, civil or military, except offices merely ministerial, and military offices below the grade of colonel, state or confederate, under the usurping power, shall vote for or be a member of the legislature, or governor.
Second. Involuntary servitude is forever prohibited, and the freedom of all persons is guaranteed in said state.
Third. No debt, state or confederate, created by or under the sanction of the usurping power, shall be recognized or paid by the state.

SEC. 8. And be it further enacted, That when the convention shall have adopted those provisions, it shaII proceed to re-establish a republican form of government, and ordain a constitution containing those provisions, which, when adopted the convention shall by ordinance provide for submitting to the people of the state, entitled to vote under this law, at an election to be held in the manner prescribed by the act for the election of delegates; but at a time and place named by the convention, at which election the said electors, and none others, shall vote directly for or against such constitution and form of state government, and the returns of said election shall be made to the provisional gov- ernor, who shall canvass the same in the presence of the electors, and if a majority of the votes cast shall be for the constitution and form of government, he shall certify the same, with a copy thereof, to the President of the United .States, who, after obtaining the assent of congress, shall, by proclamation, recognize the government so established, and none other, as the constitutional government of the state, and from the date of such recognition, and not before, Senators and Representatives, and electors for President and Vice President may be elected in such state, according to the laws of the state and of the United States.

SEC. 9. And be it further enacted, That if the convention shall refuse to reestablish the state government on the conditions aforesaid, the provisional governor shall declare it dissolved; but it shall be the duty of the President, whenever he shall have reason to believe that a sufficient number of the people of the state entitled to vote under this act, in number not less than a majority of those enrolled, as aforesaid, are willing to reestablish a state government on the conditions aforesaid, to direct the provisional governor to order another election of delegates to a convention for the purpose and in the manner prescribed in this act, and to proceed in all respects as hereinbefore provided, either to dissolve the convention, or to certify the state government reestablished by it to the President.

SEC. 10. And be it further enacted, That, until the United States shall have recognized a republican form of state government, the provisional governor in each of said states shall see that this act, and the laws of the United States, and the laws of the state in force when the state government was overthrown by the rebellion, are faithfully executed within the state ; but no law or usage whereby any person was heretofore held in involuntary servitude shall be recognized or enforced by any court or officer in such state, and the laws for the trial and punishment of white persons shall extend to all persons, and jurors shall have the qualifications of voters under this law for delegates to the convention. The President shall appoint such officers provided for by the laws of the state when its government was overthrown as he may find necessary to the civil administration of the slate, all which officers shall be entitled to receive the fees and emoluments provided by the state laws for such officers.

SEC. 11. And be it further enacted, That until the recognition of a state government as aforesaid, the provisional governor shall, under such regulations as he may prescribe, cause to be assessed, levied, and collected, for the year eighteen hundred and sixty-four, and every year thereafter, the taxes provided by the laws of such state to be levied during the fiscal year preceding the overthrow of the state government thereof, in the manner prescribed by the laws of the state, as nearly as may be ; and the officers appointed, as aforesaid, are vested with all powers of levying and collecting such taxes, by distress or sale, as were vested in any officers or tribunal of the state government aforesaid for those purposes. The proceeds of such taxes shall be accounted for to the provisional governor, and be by him applied to the expenses of the administration of the laws in such state, subject to the direction of the President, and the surplus shall be deposited in the treasury of the United States to the credit of such state, to be paid to the state upon an appropriation therefor, to be made when a republican form of government shall be recognized therein by the United States.

SEC. 12. And be it further enacted, that all persons held to involuntary servitude or labor in the states aforesaid are hereby emancipated and discharged therefrom, and they and their posterity shall be forever free. And if any such persons or their posterity shall be restrained of liberty, under pretence of any claim to such service or labor, the courts of the United States shall, on habeas corpus, discharge them.

SEC. 13. And be it further enacted, That if any person declared free by this act, or any law of the United States, or any proclamation of the President, be restrained of liberty, with intent to be held in or reduced to involuntary servitude or labor, the person convicted before a court of competent jurisdiction of such act shall be punished by fine of not less than fifteen hundred dollars, and be imprisoned not less than five nor more than twenty years.

SEC. 14. And be it further enacted, That every person who shall hereafter hold or exercise any office, civil or military, except offices merely ministerial, and military offices below the grade of colonel, in the rebel service, state or con- federate, is hereby declared not to be a citizen of the United States.


Brief Interpretation:

  • It required that 50 percent of the citizens enrolled as voters in a state seeking to form a new loyal government take the oath of allegiance (an “ironclad” oath of past loyalty).
  • It mandated that the states write new constitutions before setting up a loyal state government.
  • It provided stronger safeguards for feed people’s rights but did not grant the franchise to black men.
  • It provided for political liability for anyone who had borne arms against the United States.

The framers Benjamin Franklin Wade a Radical Republican form Ohio he chaired the Joint Committee on the Conduct of the War. He urged Lincoln to dismiss General George B. McClellan, and called for the emancipation of all slaves. He co-authored the Wade-Davis Bill and the Wade-Davis Manifesto that attacked Lincoln’s action relating to Reconstruction

Representative Henry W. Davis of Maryland was an unsuccessful candidate for reelection in 1860 to the Thirty-seventh Congress. He was elected as an Unconditional Unionist to the Thirty-eighth Congress (March 4, 1863-March 3, 1865); chairman, Committee on Foreign Affairs (Thirty-eighth Congress); co-sponsor of the Wade-Davis bill of 1864; was not a candidate for re-nomination in 1864; died in Baltimore, Md., on December 30, 1865; interment in Greenmount Cemetery.

Lincoln considered the Bill to harsh and allowed it to expire by using a “pocket veto.” A Pocket Veto is when the President fails to sign a bill within the 10 days allowed by the Constitution. Congress must be in adjournment in order for a pocket veto to take effect. If Congress is in session and the president fails to sign the bill, it becomes law without his signature.

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