The New International Encyclopædia/Reconstruction

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RECONSTRUCTION (from Lat. re-, back again, anew + com-, together + strucre, to heap). In American history, the process by which, after the Civil War, the seceded States were restored to their normal relations with the Union. The only provision of the Constitution that seemed to have any bearing on the matter was that which makes it the duty of the United States to guarantee to every State in the Union a republican form of government. Even this was not explicit, for it was not stated which branch of the Government — whether the Executive or Congress — was charged with the execution of the constitutional mandate. Among the views as to the status of the States at the close of the war several deserve a brief explanation: First, there was the Southern view, based on the assumption that the acts of secession were invalid and of no effect. Its cardinal doctrine was the indestructibility of a State, either by its own act or by act of the United States Government. All that was necessary, therefore, to the reëstablishment of normal relations with the Union was for the State governments to cease their resistance to the Government of the United States, and repeal all measures passed in furtherance of secession and rebellion. Second, there was the view of President Lincoln, based on the assumption that the act of rebellion in each State was the act not of the State itself, but of combinations of disloyal persons who had unlawfully subverted the loyal State governments. The States, therefore, continued to exist as members of the Union, though they were out of their ‘proper practical relations’ with it. According to this view the problem of reconstruction consisted simply in placing the loyal element in the seceded States in control of the State governments which had been subverted by the disloyal element. Furthermore, President Lincoln regarded the problem as one devolving upon the Executive rather than upon Congress — for the work of creating a loyal element necessarily involved the exercise of the pardoning power, which alone was vested in the President — and the support by the military arm of the loyal governments so established. Thirdly, there was the Congressional view, which held that reconstruction was a legislative problem; that as a result of rebellion the Southern States were ‘deprived of all civil government,’ and that all de facto governments set up during the war were illegal. This view has been called the ‘forfeited rights’ theory. The States continued to exist, but as disorganized communities subject to the paramount authority of the United States. In pursuance of this view Congress passed an act in July, 1864, which was fathered by Henry Winter Davis in the House and Benjamin F. Wade in the Senate, and which provided a remedy for the defects of the Presidential scheme as understood by the supporters of the Congressional view. The view embodied in this measure differed from that of President Lincoln, first, in regarding the problem of reconstruction as a legislative problem; second, in requiring the loyalty of a majority of the adult white males of the State for the basis of the reconstructed government instead of the loyalty of one-tenth, as required by President Lincoln's plan; thirdly, in requiring the abolition of slavery as the starting point in the process of reconstruction. President Lincoln refused to sign the bill before the expiration of the session, thus indirectly defeating it. A fourth view was the so-called State suicide theory of Charles Sumner, enunciated by him in a series of resolutions offered in the Senate in 1862. The gist of these resolutions was that the attempt of a State to secede from the Union, involving as it did an attempt to exclude the Constitution of the United States from the territory of the State, was, if successfully sustained by force, equivalent to a practical forfeiture by the State of all rights under the Constitution. It involved, furthermore, the immediate extinction of the State sovereignty and its reduction to the position of a Territory under the exclusive jurisdiction of the Government of the United States. Finally, there was the view ably expounded by Thaddeus Stevens, and popularly called the conquered province theory, according to which rebellion against the national authority by a State of the Union not only put an end to its existence as a State, but even forfeited its rights as a Territory under the Constitution. The inhabitants of such a community were remanded to the status of an unorganized province owned by the National Government and subject to its dominion without the restraint of constitutional limitations. The advocates of this theory appealed to the actual facts of the case to show that at the close of hostilities the Southern States were in the condition of dependent provinces subject to the absolute dominion of the conqueror.

Of the several theories advanced, that held by President Lincoln was the first to receive attention. Early in 1862, large portions of Louisiana, Arkansas, and Tennessee having been recovered by the Federal armies, the President appointed ‘military governors’ in those districts with somewhat vague and undefined powers. In general they were to take the initiative in the movement to reëstablish civil governments and prepare the way for representation in Congress. In his third annual message of December 8, 1863, the President announced a more definite and systematic plan of reconstruction, to which was appended a proclamation of amnesty offering a full and complete pardon to all who would take an oath to support the Constitution of the United States and the Union of the States thereunder, as well as all acts of Congress passed during the war, and all proclamations of the President, with reference to the slaves. From the benefits of the amnesty were excluded certain classes of men who had held high military or civil offices under the Confederate Government or who had left the service of the United States to engage in the rebellion. He then proposed to restore the State governments in the seceded States to the amnestied class by declaring that whenever a number of persons not less than one-tenth of those who had cast votes in such State at the Presidential election in 1860 had taken the oath, if they were qualified voters by the State law in force at the time of secession, and had reëstablished a State government republican in form, such government should be recognized by the Executive as the true Government of the State. He said, however, that whether members sent to Congress from any State so reconstructed should be admitted to their seats rested exclusively with the two Houses. The proclamation did not apply to Virginia, both the President and Congress having from the first recognized the loyal Pierpont Government at Alexandria as the true Government; nor did it apply to Missouri and Kentucky. ‘Ten per cent.’ governments, so called, were accordingly established in Louisiana and Arkansas in the following year. Representatives were also elected to Congress, but when the new members from the reconstructed States appeared with their credentials neither House would admit them to seats. In Tennessee the President's plan of reconstruction was put into operation early in 1865. Representatives were chosen to Congress, but they were refused admission to their seats in December, 1865. In the meantime Congress had assumed the right to take in hand the matter of reconstruction, and had passed the Wade-Davis Bill, to which reference has already been made. In February, 1865, it also passed a resolution which prohibited the counting of any electoral votes for President or Vice-President in the election of 1864 from States which had passed secession ordinances. The refusal of the President to sign the Wade-Davis measure, and his proclamation in regard to the subject in which he stated his objections to the setting aside of the constitutions and governments in Louisiana and Arkansas, made a breach between the President and Congress inevitable.

After the assassination of President Lincoln, President Johnson took up the policy of his predecessor without material change, and on May 29th issued a proclamation of amnesty and pardon to all persons who had neglected to avail themselves of the benefits extended by the amnesty proclamation of President Lincoln. His proclamation of amnesty differed from that of President Lincoln only in the enlargement of the classes of excepted persons. Besides those who had held high rank in the Confederate military and civil service and those who had resigned positions in the service of the United States to enter the rebellion, and a few other classes, President Johnson excluded all who had voluntarily taken part in any capacity in the Confederate service and who were the owners of taxable property of the value of more than $20,000. Persons excluded from the benefits of the amnesty were allowed to make special application to the President, who promised that such clemency would be extended as appeared to be consistent with the facts of the case and the peace and dignity of the United States. By subsequent proclamations the President appointed provisional Governors for the States of North Carolina, Mississippi, Georgia, Alabama, South Carolina, and Florida, and directed them to call constitutional conventions in their respective States for the purpose of restoring the said States to their constitutional relations with the United States. The heads of the several executive departments were at the same time directed to put the laws of the United States into operation in these States, and the United States judges were required to open the courts and to proceed with the business on their dockets. President Johnson regarded the States of Virginia, Louisiana, Arkansas, and Tennessee as already reconstructed, and therefore provisional Governors were not appointed for those States. During the summer and autumn of 1865 conventions were held in all the States not yet reconstructed, except Texas; and when Congress assembled in December of that year they had all passed ordinances either ‘repealing’ the ordinances of secession or pronouncing them null and void ab initio; they had all abolished slavery by constitutional amendment; and with one or two exceptions all had passed ordinances repudiating State debts incurred in aid of the rebellion. They had, moreover, held elections for members of the Legislature, for State officers, and for members of Congress, and the Legislatures had met and with two or three exceptions had chosen United States Senators and ratified the Thirteenth Amendment to the Constitution of the United States. When, therefore, Congress met in December, the President was able to inform that body that all the States except Texas, whose convention did not meet until March, 1860, “had been reconstructed and were ready to resume their places in the two branches of the National Legislature.”

Congress, however, did not accept the view of the President, but appointed a joint committee of nine Representatives and six Senators to inquire into the condition of the seceded States and to report by bill or otherwise whether any of them were entitled to representation in Congress. Pending the report of the committee and the action of Congress thereon, it was resolved that no member should be received into either House from any State lately in arms against the United States. The chief reason for the rejection of the President's plan was the character of the police legislation passed by several of the Southern Legislatures in the autumn of 1865. On account of the general demoralization of the freedmen after emancipation, together with their habits of improvidence and shiftlessness, all the Southern States passed stringent police measures to prevent disorder and pauperism among them. One of the chief objections urged against these laws was that in most cases they applied only to the negro race. In Mississippi, for instance, negroes were prohibited from renting or leasing land in incorporated towns and they were allowed to be competent witnesses only in cases at law in which they were parties. The Republicans in Congress professed to see in these measures an attempt to reënslave the freedmen of the South. In the meantime the Thirteenth Amendment, abolishing slavery, had secured the ratification of the requisite number of States and had been promulgated by the Secretary of State as the law of the land. In March, 1866, Congress passed the Civil Rights Bill (q.v.) conferring the rights of citizenship upon the freedmen. This act established complete equality in the enjoyment of civil rights for all citizens without respect to color or race. On March 27th President Johnson vetoed the bill, but early in April Congress passed it over his veto. About the same time Congress passed a measure to enlarge the powers of the Freedmen's Bureau (q.v.). It too was vetoed, and was not passed over the veto. In July another measure for the same purpose was passed, was vetoed by the President, and passed over his veto. In the meantime Congress was debating a proposition to amend the Constitution so as to place beyond the reach of any subsequent Congress the provisions of the Civil Rights Bill. In June the proposed amendment secured the necessary two-thirds majority of both Houses and was sent to the State Legislatures for ratification.

In the same month the Joint Committee on Reconstruction made its report declaring that the seceding States had deliberately abolished their State governments and Constitutions so far as these connected them with the Union, and were consequently disorganized communities; and that guarantees of future security should be required as an essential condition of restoration to normal relations with the Union. The committee recommended denial of representation to these communities until “sufficient guarantees were provided which would tend to secure the civil rights' of all citizens, temporary restoration of suffrage to those not guilty of participation in the rebellion, and the disqualification from office of at least a portion of those whose crimes have proved them to be the enemies of the Union and unworthy of public confidence.” During the period intervening between the report of the joint committee and the reassembling of Congress a riot had occurred between the white and black races in New Orleans, resulting in the death of 40 or 50 persons and the wounding of 160 others; and the President in the course of a journey to Chicago had used indiscreet language in his criticism of Congress. When Congress met in December, 1866, it made an unsuccessful effort to impeach the President, and then, in order that the President might be prevented from carrying out his policy of reconstruction, enacted a law requiring the new Congress, which contained a large majority opposed to the executive policy, to meet on March 4, 1867. Next it passed the Tenure of Office Act (q.v.) to limit the President's power of removal. It then passed acts establishing negro suffrage in the District of Columbia and in the Territories. Finally it practically deprived the President of his power of command over the army and vested it in General Grant, whose position was further made irremovable.

Meantime Congress was spurred on by the action of all the Southern States except Tennessee in rejecting by votes nearly or quite unanimous the proposed Fourteenth Amendment. It now took up the work of reconstruction in earnest, showed little or no disposition to yield to the views of the President, and in February passed an “Act to provide for the more efficient government of the seceded States,” assigning as a reason that “no legal State governments or adequate protection of life, liberty, or property existed in those States, and that it was necessary that peace and good order should be enforced in them until loyal and republican State governments could be legally established.” The bill was promptly vetoed by the President, and on the same day was passed over his veto. The act divided the ten seceding States into five military districts, as follows: (1) Virginia; (2) North and South Carolina; (3) Georgia, Florida, and Alabama; (4) Mississippi and Arkansas; (5) Louisiana and Texas. Each district was to be under the command of an army officer not below the rank of brigadier-general, appointed by the President, and charged with the duty of protecting all persons in their rights of person and property, of suppressing insurrection, disorder, and violence, either by military commission or through the local courts. In the meantime the existing civil governments were to be deemed as provisional only and subject to the authority of the United States. The act also contained provisions for the calling of a convention by the people of the State with a view to restoration in the Union. By a supplementary act passed March 19th by the new Congress, the voluntary action of the States was anticipated and the process of reconstruction hastened. This measure directed the district commanders to cause to be registered as voters all persons, without regard to race or color, not disqualified by participation in rebellion; to hold an election for delegates to a State convention; and if a majority of the registered voters were in favor of holding a convention, to call it together for the purpose of adopting a new constitution. As soon as the Constitution was ratified it was to be transmitted to Congress, and if it were approved by that body, the State was to be readmitted to representation in Congress. The President promptly vetoed the act, on the ground that some of its provisions were without constitutional warrant, that it purposed to disfranchise the great body of respectable whites, and that it conferred the suffrage on the mass of ignorant freedmen. With equal promptness the measure was passed over the executive veto. The President, despite his hostility to the act, at once appointed the district commanders, his first appointees being Generals Schofield, Sickles, Ord, Thomas, and Sheridan. These officers with military commands assumed control of their respective districts and immediately put into operation martial law. Orders were issued in every district for the regulation of various matters of private law and for the prevention of discrimination against the blacks. Boards of registration were appointed in each county and the work of registering the new electorate was soon in full progress. In the early winter of 1867 elections were held in all the military districts, and by February, 1868, conventions were in session in every Southern State that had seceded from the Union. The Constitutions drafted by these bodies reflected the views of the delegates, a majority of whom in most instances were freedmen and Northern Republicans who had emigrated to the South after the war, and who came to be called in derision ‘carpetbaggers.’ The constitutions drafted by them provided equality in civil rights and in some cases undertook to secure social advantages for the blacks. They established negro suffrage and in most cases disfranchised those whites whom the proposed Fourteenth Amendment would disqualify from holding office. In several States those who had violated the rules of civilized warfare or had voted for secession were likewise disfranchised. Everywhere except in Mississippi, Texas, and Virginia reconstruction constitutions were promptly ratified by the new electorates. In Mississippi, on account of several provisions of a proscriptive character in the new Constitution, a determined and systematic campaign was undertaken by the whites for the purpose of defeating ratification. By the aid of a considerable proportion of the colored voters they were successful, and the State was left to continue for a while longer under military rule. In Texas and Virginia the obnoxious features of the constitutions created such strong opposition that the reconstructionists were induced to delay indefinitely the submission of those instruments and these States likewise continued under military rule. In the other States, the constitutions having been duly ratified and the Fourteenth Amendment adopted by the newly constituted Legislatures, Congress on June 22, 1868, readmitted Arkansas into the Union, and on June 25th Georgia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Florida, Alabama, and Louisiana. The Fourteenth Amendment was also declared by the Secretary of State to have been adopted by the requisite number of States and was accordingly promulgated as a part of the Constitution. In the meantime the Georgia Legislature had rejected the negro members elect to that body, and the United States Senate thereupon refused admission to the Senators from that State after the act of June 25th had declared the State reconstructed. Thus at the time of the accession of General Grant (1868) to the Presidency four of the States were still unrestored to their full places in the Union. He at once recommended to Congress the submission of the constitutions of Virginia and Mississippi to the people in such a manner as to enable them to vote separately upon the obnoxious provisions. Congress acted upon the President's recommendation and the constitutions were promptly ratified without the objectionable clauses. By the same act Congress authorized the President to submit the Constitution of Texas to the voters, which was done and it, too, was ratified. In the cases of these three States, however, Congress imposed an additional condition which had not been required of the other reconstructed States, namely, the ratification of the Fifteenth Amendment. In January, February, and March, 1870, respectively, Virginia, Mississippi, and Texas were restored to their full positions in the Union, but subject to certain conditions which to some extent impaired their equality with the original States. Finally, after being twice reconstructed, Georgia complied with the new conditions imposed by Congress, and by an act of June 24, 1870, was again restored to her place in the Union and military government was withdrawn.

From the technical point of view reconstruction was now complete, but the consequences of what has come to be generally recognized as a mistaken policy were destined during the ensuing years to be far-reaching in their effects upon the reconstructed States. As a result of the disfranchisement of large classes of whites and the enfranchisement of the negro race, which outnumbered the whites in some of the Southern States, the local and commonwealth governments fell into the hands of unscrupulous adventurers from the North and West, who controlled the colored vote and excluded the native whites from participation in the administration of the government. Negroes who but a few years earlier were in slavery now filled up the Legislatures, held many of the executive offices, many of the minor judicial positions, and in some cases occupied seats on the benches of the higher courts. An era of extravagance, amounting to outright plunder in some States, now set in. Legislative sessions were frequent and long drawn out, the members voting themselves a large per diem as compensation for their services. Bulky codes were enacted and numerous offices, amounting to sinecures in many cases, were created for the benefit of the ‘carpetbaggers,’ who now came in great numbers to the South. The rate of taxation everywhere was increased out of all proportion to the ability of the people to pay in their then impoverished condition. In Mississippi the rate rose from one mill on the dollar to fourteen, and resulted in the confiscation of one-sixth of the entire land of the State for non-payment of taxes. In most of the States large debts were created for projected improvements, many of which were never carried out. In Louisiana and South Carolina a wholesale system of plunder was inaugurated. In the latter State the public debt was increased from $5,000,000 in 1868 to $18,000,000 in 1872, with little to show for it. The tax levy of $500,000 a year was raised to $2,000,000, although the value of taxable property had decreased from $400,000,000 to $200,000,000. Soon disorders began to arise in all the Southern States, and presently the Ku-Klux Klan (q.v.) was organized to terrorize the negroes and exclude them from the enjoyment of their newly acquired political rights. The disorder became so great that Congress was called upon to take action to preserve order and protect the blacks. By the so-called Enforcement Act of 1870 the Federal courts were given jurisdiction of a series of offenses committed with the intention of denying equal rights to any citizen of the United States. The Federal district attorneys now bestirred themselves throughout the South, and many indictments were found under the act, but few convictions followed. In the following year Congress passed the so-called Ku-Klux Act, which authorized the President to suspend the writ of habeas corpus and employ military force for the suppression of violence in any community. Acts were also passed providing for Federal supervision of elections, and finally, in 1875, an act was passed to secure equality of treatment to negroes in theatres, railway cars, hotels, and other public places. This act, however, as well as the chief provision of the Ku-Klux Act, was declared by the Supreme Court to be unconstitutional, not being within the power of Congress. As the extravagance and corruption of the carpetbag governments increased, the determination of the whites to regain control of affairs became fixed. The withdrawal of the military forces from the South left the reconstruction governments without power to maintain themselves. Already by 1870 North Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Georgia, and Virginia had been ‘reclaimed’ from the Republicans. Meantime the wholesale removal of political disabilities by Congress restored to public life many old and respected citizens of the South. This, together with the division of the Southern Republicans into conservative and radical wings, the former coalescing with the Democrats, made possible Democratic success. In 1874 Alabama and Arkansas went Democratic, and the carpetbag governments in those States came to an end. In the following year a great campaign was waged in Mississippi not unaccompanied by violence, intimidation, and even riots, but which resulted in the defeat of the Republicans. The ‘Mississippi plan’ was applied with success, in 1876, to the three remaining States of Louisiana, South Carolina, and Florida. The ‘redemption’ of the Southern States was now complete, and was followed by a general emigration of the ‘carpetbaggers’ to the States of the North and West. The subsequent virtual disfranchisement of the negro race in the South marks the final recession from the status established by the process of reconstruction.

Consult: Dunning, Essays on the Civil War and Reconstruction (New York, 1898); Burgess, Reconstruction and the Constitution (New York, 1902); Andrews, The United States During the Last Quarter of a Century (New York, 1896, 2 vols.); Scott, Reconstruction in Civil War (Boston, 1895); McPherson, Political History of the Rebellion (Washington, 1864); id., Political History of Reconstruction (Washington, 1871); Herbert, Why the Solid South? (Baltimore, 1890); Cox, Three Decades of Federal Legislation; McCarthy, Lincoln's Plan of Reconstruction (New York, 1901); Blaine, Twenty Years in Congress (Norwich, Conn., 1884). Consult also a series of excellent articles in the Atlantic Monthly, vols. lxxxvii and lxxxviii.