Reconstruction

Johnson's Plan

Lincoln's successor, Andrew Johnson, at first pleased the radicals by publicly attacking the planter aristocracy and insisting that the rebellion must be punished. His amnesty proclamation (May 29, 1865) was more severe than Lincoln's; it disenfranchised all former military and civil officers of the Confederacy and all those who owned property worth $20,000 or more and made their estates liable to confiscation. The obvious intent was to shift political control in the South from the old planter aristocracy to the small farmers and artisans, and it promised to accomplish a revolution in Southern society.

With Congress in adjournment from April to Dec., 1865, Johnson put his plan into operation. Under provisional governors appointed by him, the Southern states held conventions that voided or repealed their ordinances of secession, abolished slavery, and (except South Carolina) repudiated Confederate debts. Their newly elected legislatures (except Mississippi) ratified the Thirteenth Amendment guaranteeing freedom for blacks. By the end of 1865 every ex-Confederate state except Texas had reestablished civil government.

The control of white over black, however, seemed to be restored, as each of the newly elected state legislatures enacted statutes severely limiting the freedom and rights of the blacks. These laws, known as black codes, restricted the ability of blacks to own land and to work as free laborers and denied them most of the civil and political rights enjoyed by whites. Many of the offices in the new governments, moreover, were won by disenfranchised Confederate leaders, and the President, rather than ordering new elections, granted pardons on a large scale.

The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.

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