With malice toward none
Lincoln's second inaugural address closed with these words: . . With malice toward none; with charity for all, with firmness in the right, as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in; to bind up the nation's wounds; to care for him who shall have borne the battle, and for his widow, and his orphan ... to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace among ourselves and with all nations." Three weeks later, two days after Lee's surrender, Lincoln delivered his last public address in which he unfolded his reconstruction policy - the most generous terms towards a helpless opponent ever offered by a victor. For Lincoln did not consider himself a conqueror. He was and had been, since 1861, President of the United States. The rebellion must be forgotten and every southern state readmitted to her full privilege in the Union. On Thursday night, April 13, Washington was illuminated to celebrate Lee's surrender, and joyous crowds paraded the streets. On the 14th, the President held his last cabinet meeting. It was decided to lift the blockade. He urged his secretaries to turn their thoughts to peace - to turn away from bloodshed, from persecution. That night he was assassinated by a crazed fanatic as he sat in his box in the theater.
As James Russell Lowell, the poet, wrote: "Never before that startled April morning did such multitudes of men shed tears for the death of one they had never seen, as if with him a friendly presence had been taken from their lives, leaving them colder and darker. Never was funeral panegyric so eloquent as the silent look of sympathy which strangers exchanged when they met that day. Their common manhood had lost a kinsman."
Under a new, untried, and unevenly equipped leader, Andrew Johnson, the nation had to face the trying problems of readjustment and reconstruction. For the war had left the country a mixed heritage of good and evil results. It had saved the Union and given it an indestructible character, but surely the country had not escaped from the cauldron unscathed.
The most important political problem confronting the victorious north was the question of determining the status of the seceded states. There was confusion as to whether this question fell within the realm of Congress or the President. Lincoln had held to the view that the southern states had never legally seceded, but that their people had been misled by some disloyal citizens into a defiance of federal authority. According to Lincoln, the war was the act of individuals, and the federal government would have to treat with those individuals and not with the states. Lincoln believed that the President, as commander-in-chief of the army and navy and possessor of the power to pardon, had complete control of the situation. Acting upon this theory, he declared by proclamation in 1863 that if, in any state, ten per cent of the voters of 1860 would form a government that was loyal to the Constitution and acknowledge obedience to the laws of Congress and the proclamation of the President, he would recognize the government so created as the legal government of the state. Congress rejected this plan and challenged Lincoln's right to deal with the question without consulting them, alleging that it was an unwarranted usurpation of legislative Power. On the other hand, Lincoln refused to sign a much rnore stringent bill which Congress passed in 1864.
Indeed, before the war was actually over, Lincoln had set up governments in Virginia, Tennessee, Arkansas, and Louisiana. Some members of Congress, however, disapproved of this action and wished to impose severe punishment on all the Confederate states. One of these Congressmen, Thaddeus Stevens, leader of the Republican Party in the House of Representatives, believed, in fact, that southern planters should be kept under military rule for a period of probation. Others were determined to give the Negro the right to vote immediately. Actually, the chief concern of Congress at this time-rather than the readmission to the Union of the southern states, was the condition of the emancipated Negro, and in March 1865, it established the Freedman's Bureau, which was to assume a position of guardianship over the Negro and direct his first efforts at self-support. In addition, Congress also formalized the fact of Negro freedom by proposing the thirteenth constitutional amendment which abolished slavery and was ratified in December 1865.