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Abraham Lincoln. Library of Congress, Words and Deeds in American History Collection Alternate: The first reading of the Emancipation Proclamation before the cabinet

[Detail] The first reading of the Emancipation Proclamation


After the war, Americans faced the task of reconstructing the Confederate States. This included solving questions of how to reintegrate the former rebels into the United States as well as how to integrate freed slaves into southern society. However, plans for Reconstruction had begun early in the war. And debates about whether free African Americans could be integrated into American society predated the war and resulted in the Colonization Movement. Search on colonization for correspondence about plans to create colonies of free African Americans in Haiti, New Granada, and Liberia.

During the war, Union General William T. Sherman initiated a colony of freed slaves in South Carolina. On January 15, 1865, General Sherman issued Special Field Order No. 15 as he moved his forces north from Savannah through the Carolinas. The order gave former slaves the exclusive right to settle on abandoned and confiscated lands on the Sea Islands of South Carolina and on a thirty-mile wide strip of land from Charleston to the St. John's River in Florida.

On February 1, General John C. Robinson wrote to Lincoln of "the utter folly of any such attempt at colonization." After the war, Robinson, who had opposed providing lands to freedmen, headed the Freedmen's Bureau in North Carolina.

  • What were General Robinson's reasons for opposing Special Field Order 15?
  • What course of action did Robinson recommend instead? What were his goals for the freed slaves?
  • What does the letter reveal about Robinson's attitudes towards the freed slaves?
  • To what extent do you think that these attitudes, which were also shared by others in the Lincoln and later Johnson administrations, would affect Reconstruction?
  • Why were freedmen not given land after the war similar to lands provided in the Homestead Act of 1862? What factors prevented freedmen from obtaining "forty acres and a mule?"

In his annual message to Congress on December 8, 1863, Lincoln announced his Proclamation of Amnesty and Reconstruction. Search on Reconstruction for reaction to Lincoln's proclamation and advice on Reconstruction. In his December 25 letter to Lincoln, Arkansas Unionist William D. Snow congratulated Lincoln that his policy in "a single stroke" gives "direction to, too discursive & acrimonious political discussions, threatening the much needed unity of friends; and at the same time, opens a practical & easy door to rapid reconstruction." Other correspondents, however, such as Horace Maynard, warned of problems with Lincoln's plan for Reconstruction.

  • Who does Lincoln exclude from his general pardon and why?
  • What did the proclamation require of the former Confederate States in order to be readmitted into the Union? Do you think this policy was lenient? What else could Lincoln have required?
  • What were the requirements of the oath of loyalty?
  • What other options, besides general pardon, could Lincoln have exercised in reconstructing the Confederate States?
  • What were some of the problems that people such as Maynard had with Lincoln's Reconstruction plan?
  • Why do you think that Lincoln issued his Proclamation of Amnesty and Reconstruction before the war was over?

As per Lincoln's plan, Louisiana and Arkansas reestablished their state governments for reentry into the Union. Several Republicans, however, thought Lincoln's plan was too lenient and Congress refused to recognize representatives from the two ex-Confederate States, believing that to do so would be to surrender control of Reconstruction to the President. Search on Arkansas reconstruction and Louisiana reconstruction for materials related to these early efforts at Reconstruction.

  • What do these materials reveal about how Reconstruction was actually implemented and what challenges stood in the way?

In July 1864 Congress passed the Wade-Davis bill, outlining its own plan of Reconstruction. The plan called for the President to appoint a military governor to oversee the South. It also required 50 percent of the state's voters to swear allegiance to the Union and to swear that they had never supported the Confederacy before creating a new state constitution. The plan called for the end of slavery, but would have limited suffrage in the South to white men. President Lincoln vetoed the bill, and Wade and Davis responded with their Wade-Davis Manifesto, which was printed in the New York Tribune on August 5. Search on Wade-Davis for pertinent materials.

  • What does the Wade-Davis Bill suggest about Congress's attitude toward the South?
  • Why did Congress think that Lincoln's Reconstruction plan was too lenient? What would the benefits and dangers of being less and more lenient have been?
  • What do letters about Reconstruction reveal about the southern population's actual allegiance to the Union and to the Confederacy?
  • Do you think that Lincoln's plan or Congress's plan offered a better way to reconstruct the South? Why?

A search on Reconstruction also provides correspondence from a number of political leaders with whom Lincoln discussed Reconstruction. On April 11, Salmon P. Chase proposed a plan, writing:

"The easiest & safest way seems to me to be the enrollment of the loyal citizens, without regard to complexion, and encouragement & support to them in the reorganization of State Governments under constitutions securing suffrage to all citizens of proper age & unconvicted of crime. This you know has long been my opinion. It is confirmed by observation more & more.

This way is recommended by its simplicity, facility &, above all, justice. It will be, hereafter, counted equally a crime & a folly if the colored loyalists of the rebel states shall be left to the control of restored rebels, not likely in that case to be either wise or just, until taught both wisdom and justice by new calamities."

From "Salmon P. Chase to Abraham Lincoln, April 11, 1865 (Reconstruction)."

In December of 1864 Montgomery Blair informed Lincoln that the reason some leaders, including Chase, were arguing that the Confederate states ought to be considered territories instead of states was because it would allow the Federal Government, instead of State Governments, to determine state laws including suffrage. He warned:

"One object now avowed is, to enable Congress to constitute a government by exacting conditions on admission which shall put the blacks and whites on equality in the political control of a government created by the white race for themselves — This is not merely manumission from masters, but it may turn out that those who have been held in servitude may become themselves the masters of the Government created by another race.

On January 31, 1865, Congress passed the 13th Amendment to the Constitution, abolishing slavery in the United States. Though he did not need to, Lincoln also signed the Amendment. It was not until July 28, 1868, that the 14th Amendment, known as the Reconstruction Amendment was ratified. It recognized African Americans as citizens and guaranteed their civil rights, such as suffrage. Nevertheless, it took the Civil Rights movement of the1960s to better secure equal rights for many African Americans living in the South."