The war's aftermath

Gradually, many in the north came to feel that the President had been too lenient, and there developed a wide popular sympathy for the radicals in Congress. That body proceeded to enact over Johnson's veto a Civil Rights Bill in April 1866, and a new Freedmen's Bureau Bill in July 1866, both of which virtually prevented southern legislation from authorizing discrimination. Finally Congress proposed the Fourteenth Amendment which stated that "All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the state wherein they reside." The immediate intention of its framers, of course, was to insure the conferring of citizenship upon the Negroes.

All of the southern state legislatures, with the exception of Tennessee, refused to ratify the amendment. Some of them voted against it unanimously. Such action seemed proof enough to certain factions that severe punishment was necessary and that the north must intervene to protect the rights of the freedmen. The radicals in Congress proceeded to force their plan upon the south and in March of 1867 passed a Reconstruction Act, ignoring the civil governments which had been established in the south. The act divided the south into five districts and placed them under military rule. It provided an escape from permanent military government by declaring that if the people of Confederate states would take an oath of allegiance, ratify the Fourteenth Amendment, and adopt Negro suffrage, they might establish civil governments and be restored to the Union. In July 1868, the Fourteenth Amendment was ratified and the next year, to fasten Negro suffrage upon the south beyond the power of repeal by a future Congress, the Fifteenth Amendment was passed by Congress and ratified in 1870 by state legislatures. It provided that "the right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or any state on account of race, color, or previous condition of servitude."

The fact that the Reconstruction Act meant the defeat and humiliation of President Johnson was no small reason for the indefatigable energy with which Congress pushed it. Congressional antipathy to Johnson was so great, in fact, that for the only time in American history, proceedings were instituted to remove the Chief Executive from office. His sole offense was his opposition to Congressional policies and his violent language in criticizing them. The most serious charge his enemies could level against him was that despite a Tenure of Office Act, he had removed from his Cabinet a staunch Congress supporter. Yet when the impeachment trial was held by the Senate, it was proven that he was technically within his rights in removing the Secretary of War, and even more important, it was impressively pointed out how dangerous would be the precedent if Congress were able to remove a President because he disagreed with an overwhelming majority of Congress. The attempt to remove him from office was unsuccessful and Johnson continued as President until his term expired.

Under the Reconstruction Act, Congress, by the summer of 1868, readmitted to the Union over the President's opposition the states of Arkansas, North Carolina, South Carolina, Louisiana, Georgia, Alabama, and Florida. How representative the new governments of these seven reconstructed states were can be judged from the fact that the majority of the governors, Representatives, and Senators elected were northern men who had come south after the war to make their political fortunes. The Negros gained complete control of Louisiana, South Carolina, and Mississippi legislatures. In several other states, though they were a minority in the legislatures, they were a strong voting power. The sprinkling of white southern legislators was unable to hold in check the combination of northerners and newly enfranchised Negroes who, although they undertook valuable work in building roads and bridges and initiating good laws concerning education and charities, were, on the whole, incompetent and wasteful of funds.

In despair, the southern whites who believed their old civilization threatened and could find no legal remedy to stop the new regimes, resorted to extralegal means. The use of violence became more frequent as time passed, and the multiplying excesses and disorders led, in 1870, to the passage of an Enforcement Act which drastically punished those who attempted in any way to deprive the Negro of his civil rights.