Condensed Version of The Politically Incorrect Guide to American History by Thomas E. Woods, Jr. Regnery Publishing, Inc. 270 p.
Compiled and Edited by
Dr. Jimmy T. (Gunny) LaBaume
Chapter 7: Reconstruction
The Constitution made no provision for federal policy toward the Southern states when the war was over.
Lincoln, Johnson, and presidential Reconstruction
Lincoln’s Reconstruction plan granted amnesty to those who took a loyalty oath but high Confederate officials would need presidential pardons. Then, once 10% of a state’s voters took the loyalty oath, the state could send representatives to Congress. Following Lincoln’s assassination, Andrew Johnson followed a similar approach.
Enter the Radical Republicans
Radical Republicans favored a stricter policy including a dramatic expansion of the power of the federal government. Unlike Lincoln, they considered the Southern states as having been out of the union and used this as justification for disregarding the rule of law. For example:
In late 1865 Congress refused to seat the representatives from the Southern states even though they had met the terms of the Lincoln’s or Johnson’s plans.
Were the Radical Republicans just in it for themselves?
Simply stated, the real purpose of Radical Reconstruction was to secure the domination of the Republican Party.
The Radical insistence that the South was out of the union and not entitled to representation, suggested that the north’s motives for going to war had not been so pure after all. It was a tacit admission that the war had not been about slavery. As with all wars, it was about power.
The South’s black codes
Radicals described the “black codes” that had been enacted in some Southern states as a continuation of slavery. But, they were based on northern vagrancy laws and other restrictive legislation. There was hardly a feature of the acts of the Southern states which was not duplicated in northern laws. Vagrancy laws in the north were as broad as anything in the South, but with more severe punishments.
Northerners were blinded to their own problems by their sense of moral righteousness that dominated fashionable northern opinion at the time. For example:
In Illinois, any black who could not produce a certificate of freedom and had not posted a $1,000 bond was subject to arrest and a sentence to hard labor for a year. It was not until 1865 that the state repealed a law which fined free blacks $50 for entering the state.
Southern states begin protecting blacks’ rights
By 1866 most Southern states had passed laws protecting blacks’ rights to hold property and to have access to (and testify in) the courts.
Despite the fact that Grant and Sherman declared the South loyal and deserving of readmission to the union, some still claimed that it was not completely loyal. A friend of Thaddeus Stevens professed shock that “…Confederate Generals are their heroes—Confederate bravery…their pride—Confederate dead their martyrs…”
President Johnson understood why but that only further alienated him from the Radicals.
The Fourteenth Amendment and states’ rights
The passage and ratification of the 14th Amendment is the most glaring example of the contempt for the rule of law that characterized Reconstruction.
The Amendment’s most significant section is the first. The first sentence extended American citizenship to all persons born in America. Controversy still exists with regard to the remainder of the first section. Some prominent scholars believe that the “original intent” was modest in scope. It was intended to empower the federal government only to ensure that the states did not interfere with the basic rights of the freedmen to enter contracts, sue and own property.
Why would anyone oppose it?
Some Southerners believed that giving such powers to the federal government would undermine the federal system and be the beginning of the emasculation of states’ rights. Even some northerners feared the tendency to centralization and concentration of power in the general government.
Section 3 excluded anyone who had held any office in the Confederacy from American politics. Thus, the South’s natural leadership class was excluded from holding office. This single section essentially guaranteed that the South would reject the amendment.
Ratify—or else! Was the Fourteenth Amendment really ratified?
Ten of the 11 states of the Confederacy failed to ratify. (The exception was Tennessee.) The Radicals decided that the South should be punished. The Republicans would bring about the amendment’s ratification through coercion. So, Congress passed the Reconstruction Acts in 1867 which declared that no legal governments existed in any of the Confederate states (except, of course, Tennessee). The ten states would be divided into five military districts and ruled by martial law. Before they could take their places in the union, they had to: 1) elect delegates to draw up a new state constitution; 2) these constitutions had to acknowledge the abolition of slavery, the unlawfulness of secession and introduce black suffrage; and 3) ratify the 14th Amendment.
President Johnson argued that “Radical Reconstruction showed such contempt for law and precedent that it proved the Southern secessionists’ point at the time they withdrew from the union” and that “Radical policy had destroyed the union that the Framers established.”
The Reconstruction Acts were not only unconstitutional, they were contradictory. Congress accepted the Southern states ratification of the 13th Amendment. But then, suddenly they were declared “illegal” when they rejected the 14th. Consistency would require either the acceptance or rejection of both.
On top of that, the Amendment was unlawfully ratified. On the one hand, congress declared that the states were without legal governments. On the other hand, it demanded that these states ratify an amendment in order to resume their place in the union. If a state does not have a legal government, then, logically, it would be excluded from a constitutional amendment process.
The whole process was plagued by irregularities. In Tennessee, opponents purposefully remained absent so there would not be a quorum. But, supporters seized two of the opponents and held them in an anteroom during the vote which went ahead in favor of the amendment anyway.
In Oregon the vote was taken during a time when 2 Republicans’ seats were being challenged. They provided the thin margin by which the amendment passed. Then, when it was determined that they had been illegally elected and they were removed, the legislature voted to rescind its ratification. But, this was not allowed to stand and Oregon was counted as having ratified.
New Jersey also changed its mind in sight of Radical Republican behavior. Its rescission was not allowed to stand either.
There are many other irregularities that could be cited but the point is that “The 14th Amendment was never constitutionally ratified.”
The first impeachment of a president
In 1867 Congress passed the Tenure of Office Act which forbade the president to remove any civil official without the consent of the Senate. The act was clearly on behalf of Edwin Stanton, a White House mole for the Radical Republicans. If Johnson abided by the act, Stanton was safe. If he didn’t, he could be impeached.
Johnson dismissed Stanton because he was convinced that he would be vindicated when the constitutionality of the act was reviewed by the Supreme Court. Years later (in 1926) the court finally did vindicate him in Myers v. United States —a bit late.
The Radicals promptly impeached the President in the House but the vote to remove him from office was one short of the required two thirds. Never-the-less, Johnson had been gravely weakened by the stigma of being the first president to be impeached.
Did Americans support the Radical Republicans?
The key issues for northerners in the 1866 election were economic. They certainly were not anxious to readmit Southern congressmen who would surely favor lower tariffs.
The Radicals spread the idea that disloyal Southern congressmen would vote to repudiate the federal debt which would leave uS bondholders with worthless paper. Although there was not so much as the slightest possibility of that happening, the Radicals used it to scare voters. They relied on evasion of the issues and propaganda in an election where a majority would have supported Johnson had they been given a chance to express their preference.
Historians of the past several decades have suggested that reconstruction was a cartoonish battle of good, noble northerners against wicked, unrepentant Southerners. It was far from it. It left a legacy of federal supremacy over the states that would eventually come to fruition in the 20th century.
The Essence of Liberty Volume I: Liberty and History chronicles the rise and fall of the noble experiment with constitutionally limited government. It features the ideas and opinions of some of the world’s foremost contemporary constitutional scholars. This is history that you were not taught at the mandatory government propaganda camps otherwise known as “public schools.” You will gain a clear understanding of how America’s decline and decay is really nothing new and how it began almost immediately with the constitution. Available in both paperback and Kindle versions.
You might be interested in the other two volumes of this three volume set The Essence of Liberty Volume II: The Economics of Liberty and The Essence of Liberty Volume III: Liberty: A Universal Political Ethic.