President Lincoln issues Proclamation of Amnesty and Reconstruction

President Lincoln issues Proclamation of Amnesty and Reconstruction

On December 8, 1863, President Abraham Lincoln offers his conciliatory plan for reunification of the United States with his Proclamation of Amnesty and Reconstruction.

By this point in the Civil War, it was clear that Lincoln needed to make some preliminary plans for postwar reconstruction. The Union armies had captured large sections of the South, and some states were ready to have their governments rebuilt. The proclamation addressed three main areas of concern. First, it allowed for a full pardon for and restoration of property to all engaged in the rebellion with the exception of the highest Confederate officials and military leaders. Second, it allowed for a new state government to be formed when 10 percent of the eligible voters had taken an oath of allegiance to the United States. Third, the Southern states admitted in this fashion were encouraged to enact plans to deal with the formerly enslaved people so long as their freedom was not compromised.

In short, the terms of the plan were easy for most Southerners to accept. Though the emancipation of enslaved people was an impossible pill for some Confederates to swallow, Lincoln’s plan was charitable, considering the costliness of the war. With the Proclamation of Amnesty and Reconstruction, Lincoln was seizing the initiative for reconstruction from Congress. Some Radical Republicans thought the plan was far too easy on the South, but others accepted it because of the president’s prestige and leadership. Following Lincoln’s assassination in April 1865, the disagreements over the postwar reconstruction policy led to a heated battle between the next president, Andrew Johnson, and Congress.

"Proclamation of Amnesty and Reconstruction," May 29, 1865

UNC School of Education, "Johnson's Amnesty Proclamation," Learn NC: North Carolina Digital History, (accessed January 18, 2012).

Original Format

Whereas the President of the United States, on the 8th day of December, A.D. eighteen hundred and sixty-three, and on the 26 day of March, A.D. eighteen hundred and sixty-four, did, with the object to suppress the existing rebellion, to induce all persons to return to their loyalty, and to restore the authority of the United States, issue proclamations offering amnesty and pardon to certain persons who had directly or by implication participated in the said rebellion and whereas many persons who had so engaged in said rebellion have, since the issuance of said proclamations, failed or neglected to take the benefits offered thereby and whereas many persons who have been justly deprived of all claim to amnesty and pardon thereunder, by reason of their participation directly or by implication in said rebellion, and continued hostility to the government of the United States since the date of said proclamation, now desire to apply for and obtain amnesty and pardon:

To the end, therefore, that the authority of the government of the United States may be restored, and that peace, order, and freedom may be established, I, ANDREW JOHNSON, President of the United States, do proclaim and declare that I hereby grant to all persons who have, directly or indirectly, participated in the existing rebellion, except as hereinafter excepted, amnesty and pardon, with restoration of all rights of property, except as to slaves, and except in cases where legal proceedings, under the laws of the United States providing for the confiscation of property of persons engaged in rebellion, have been instituted but upon the condition, nevertheless, that every such person shall take and subscribe the following oath, (or affirmation,) and thenceforward keep and maintain said oath inviolate and which oath shall be registered for permanent preservation, and shall be of the tenor and effect following, to wit:

I, _______ _______, do solemnly swear, (or affirm,) in presence of Almighty God, that I will henceforth faithfully support, protect, and defend the Constitution of the United States, and the union of the States thereunder and that I will, in like manner, abide by, and faithfully support all laws and proclamations which have been made during the existing rebellion with reference to the emancipation of slaves. So help me God.

The following classes of persons are excepted from the benefits of this proclamation: 1st, all who are or shall have been pretended civil or diplomatic officers or otherwise domestic or foreign agents of the pretended Confederate government 2nd, all who left judicial stations under the United States to aid the rebellion 3d, all who shall have been military or naval officers of said pretended Confederate government above the rank of colonel in the army or lieutenant in the navy 4th, all who left seats in the Congress of the United States to aid the rebellion 5th, all who resigned or tendered resignations of their commissions in the army or navy of the United States to evade duty in resisting the rebellion 6th, all who have engaged in any way in treating otherwise than lawfully as prisoners of war persons found in the United States service, as officers, soldiers, seamen, or in other capacities 7th, all persons who have been, or are absentees from the United States for the purpose of aiding the rebellion 8th, all military and naval officers in the rebel service, who were educated by the government in the Military Academy at West Point or the United States Naval Academy 9th, all persons who held the pretended offices of governors of States in insurrection against the United States 10th, all persons who left their homes within the jurisdiction and protection of the United States, and passed beyond the Federal military lines into the pretended Confederate States for the purpose of aiding the rebellion 11th, all persons who have been engaged in the destruction of the commerce of the United States upon the high seas, and all persons who have made raids into the United States from Canada, or been engaged in destroying the commerce of the United States upon the lakes and rivers that separate the British Provinces from the United States 12th, all persons who, at the time when they seek to obtain the benefits hereof by taking the oath herein prescribed, are in military, naval, or civil confinement, or custody, or under bonds of the civil, military, or naval authorities, or agents of the United States as prisoners of war, or persons detained for offenses of any kind, either before or after conviction 13th, all persons who have voluntarily participated in said rebellion, and the estimated value of whose taxable property is over twenty thousand dollars 14th, all persons who have taken the oath of amnesty as prescribed in the President&rsquos proclamation of December 8th, A.D. 1863, or an oath of allegiance to the government of the United States since the date of said proclamation, and who have not thenceforward kept and maintained the same inviolate.

Provided, That special application may be made to the President for pardon by any person belonging to the excepted classes and such clemency will be liberally extended as may be consistent with the facts of the case and the peace and dignity of the United States.

The Secretary of State will establish rules and regulations for administering and recording the said amnesty oath, so as to insure its benefit to the people, and guard the government against fraud.

In testimony whereof, I have hereunto set my hand, and caused the seal of the United States to be affixed.

Done at the City of Washington, the twenty-ninth day of May, in the year of our Lord one thousand eight hundred and sixty-five, and of the Independence of the United States the eighty-ninth.


Although the first recorded amnesty was proclaimed at Athens in 403 B.C. , American practice not unexpectedly derives from English usage. Beginning with Ethelbert, the sixth-century king of Kent, and continuing through succeeding monarchies, “the king’s mercy”—what Rlackstone called “the most amiable prerogative” of the British Crown—gradually became a settled part of English common law until it was recognized by parliamentary statute in the sixteenth century. It was carried to the New World in the commissions of the colonial governors, who were empowered to offer pardons on behalf of the king.

When the American Revolution forced the colonists to replace their English charters as the base of government, all thirteen states made some provision for pardon in their constitutions, five of them vesting it fully in the executive. Congress did not include the power in the Articles of Confederation, but in 1787 the delegates to the Constitutional Convention—with only slight reservation—restored the pardon as an executive right. It has remained with the President ever since, although it is possible for Congress, under the, provisions of the “necessary and proper” clause, also to grant amnesty.

Article II, Section 2 of the Constitution confers on the President authority “to grant reprieves and pardons for offenses against the United States, except in cases of impeachment.” It is a free and full power, for the President may exercise it without interference from Congress or the courts. In fact, he may grant pardons—as the distinguished constitutional historian E. S. Corwin points out—“for good reasons, bad reasons, or no reason at all.…”

From George Washington onward, Presidents have assumed that the pardoning power carried with it the right to proclaim amnesties. The distinction in the law is a fine one and, simply put, means that a pardon is usually an individual, private act granted after a conviction has been secured, while an amnesty is taken to be a class action designed to arrest the movement of the law before trial and conviction have taken place.

With the granting of an amnesty society overlooks the offense and takes no legal steps against the offenders. All indictments are. cancelled, there are no trials, and convictions already secured are expunged. In short, society chooses to absolve the offenders from all future consequences of their acts and restores them to full citizenship as if the offense had never taken place. It does so—as the Supreme Court noted in 1915—because “forgiveness is deemed more expedient for the public welfare than prosecution and punishment” in a given instance.

An amnesty, then, is a form of general pardon. Since 1795, when Washington amnestied participants in the Whiskey Rebellion, fifteen Presidents have availed themselves of the power on thirty-seven separate occasions. The following is a representative sample of instances throughout our history when the opportunity for pardon and amnesty arose.

Discontent and violence erupted in the Monongahela Valley of western Pennsylvania in the spring and summer of 1794 as farmers from four counties reacted to attempts of the federal government to enforce a tax on whiskey. For many of the farmers the only way to get grain to market (Spain had closed the Mississippi to American trade) was to convert it to whiskey. Moreover, in an area where hard money was in short supply, whiskey had become a medium of exchange. Protesting the excessive duty on liquor and the violation of their civil rights in what they took to be highhanded efforts to collect the tax, the farmers drove the tax agents from the counties, stopped the mails, and closed the federal courts. At one point several thousand armed men threatened to sack the town of Pittsburgh, and there was talk that an army would march on Philadelphia.

Efforts to negotiate with the rebels broke down, and Washington, calling the rebels’ action treason, raised an army of thirteen thousand men from the militias of several states. After some weeks of prowling through Pennsylvania the army was withdrawn and the insurrection declared at an end. Fewer than a hundred suspects were rounded up—there had been no fighting—and perhaps twenty were brought to trial. Two of these were found guilty, but on examination one was discovered to be feebleminded and the other insane. In separate and private action Washington subsequently pardoned both of the men.

In the meantime, on July 10, 1795, the President pardoned all those who had participated in the uprising and had since signed an oath of allegiance to the laws of the United States. Exempted from the pardon were any persons currently under indictment for continued violation of the laws or for failure to sign the required oath of renewed allegiance.

As he explained to Congress later, Washington was convinced that the “misled have abandoned their errors, and pay the respect to our Constitution and laws which is due. … though I shall always think it a sacred duty to exercise with firmness and energy the constitutional powers with which I am vested, yet it appears to me no less consistent with the public good … to mingle in the operations of Covernment every degree of moderation and tenderness which the national justice, dignity, and safety may permit.”

A second instance of rebellion, known as the Fries Uprising, took place in Pennsylvania in March, 1799, this time in three eastern counties: Northampton, Bucks, and Montgomery. The issue was a direct federal property tax passed by Congress in 1798 in anticipation of war with France. A roving auctioneer named John Fries successfully raised several hundred men to oppose the government’s efforts to collect the tax. After they had chased the tax collectors from the area and freed three tax dodgers from the Bethlehem jail, President Adams proclaimed the uprising treason and sent in the militia to put it down. The troops found no insurrection—the armed men had long ago dispersed—but did capture Fries and two of his lieutenants, who were brought to trial, found guilty, and sentenced to hang.

Informed of the death penalty imposed on Fries, Adams assembled his Cabinet for direction. The Cabinet unanimously opposed the extension of pardon, but Adams decided to “take on myself alone the responsibility of one more appeal to the humane and generous natures of the American people.” He pardoned the three condemned men and on May 21, 1800, extended a “full, free and absolute pardon” to virtually all the remaining insurrectionists.

With the onset of the second war with Great Britain in 1812, Congress authorized a 166,000-man army to be drawn primarily from the state militias to supplement the seven-thousand-man Regular Army. Three New England states refused to comply with Congress’ request, and elsewhere recruiting proved difficult. In 1814, following two years of disastrous defeats that culminated in the burning of the city of Washington, President Madison asked for a congressional draft of forty thousand men. Both houses passed separate bills, but before the differences between them could be ironed out, the war ended and the draft issue was dropped.

On three separate occasions (February and October, 1812, and June, 1814) Madison attempted to bring the small Regular Army up to strength by offering a general pardon (as President Jefferson had done in October, 1807) to any deserters who reported for duty within four months of the proclamation date.

No general pardons were granted to deserters after the war had ended. The only postwar amnesty was directed to the Barataria pirates. For some years prior to 1814 about eight hundred pirates under the command of the notorious Lafitte brothers had plied their trade along the Gulf coast until in September, 1814, the U.S. Navy closed their base at Barataria in the bayous south of New Orleans. Under indictment for piracy, the Baratarians nonetheless refused a bid to join with the British and offered instead to help in the defense of New Orleans. A reluctant Andrew Jackson finally accepted their services, and the “hellish banditti” (as he called them) were instrumental in defeating the English troops.

Acting on a petition from the I/uiisiana legislature and convinced in his own mind that the pirates had “abandoned … the worse cause for the support of the best,” Madison concluded that they could “no longer be considered as objects of punishment, but as objects of a generous forgiveness.” Accordingly, on February 6, 1815, he tendered a “free and full Pardon” to any accused pirate who could produce written proof from the governor of Louisiana that he had taken part in the successful defense of New Orleans, provided no act of piracy had taken place after January 8, 1815.

Because Congress had lately redrafted the military code, repealing the death penalty for deserters in peacetime, President Jackson issued an executive order on June 12, 1830, extending “free and full pardon … to those who at the date of this order stand in the character of deserters.” All those in prison were freed and returned to duty. Those still at large and those under the death sentence were ordered discharged and prohibited from all future military service. Wrote Jackson, “… the ranks of the Army should be composed of respectable, not degraded materials.”

Nearly fifty thousand troops for the Mexican War were raised entirely from volunteers. There were no conscripts, and the state militias were not called on to serve. Despite formidable opposition to the war in New England the government had little difficulty in filling the ranks. President Polk later told Congress that the war had proved again that it was unnecessary to have a large peacetime army. “Unlike what would have occurred in any other country,” he said, “we were under no necessity of resorting to drafts or conscriptions. On the contrary, such was the number of volunteers who patriotically tendered their services that the chief difficulty was in making selections and determining who should be disappointed and compelled to remain at home.”

There was no general pardon for deserters at the war’s end.

The Civil War amnesties are the most complicated of any in our history, if only because the questions of whom to pardon and when were not fully resolved until 1898. In addition, the use of the pardoning power by the President came into dispute, and the effect of his pardons was temporarily lost in the resultant power struggle with Congress. The passage of the Fourteenth Amendment markedly changed the constitutional grounds of the matter, and in the end full amnesty was only achieved by a combination of Presidential pardon and congressional amnesty.

What is clear is that the Union side from the beginning viewed pardon as the requisite preliminary to restoration of the South as a political entity. Starting with President Lincoln’s proclamation of conditional pardon on December 8, 1863, which required an oath of allegiance to “henceforth support, protect and defend the Constitution,” the Union gradually reduced the number of exempted classes until virtually all Southerners were pardoned. Between them, Lincoln and Johnson issued six conditional pardons. The last of these, proclaimed on December 25, 1868, was to all intents and purposes a universal amnesty.

However, Congress in the interim had taken control of suffrage and officeholding under the Fourteenth Amendment, and despite Johnson’s unconditional pardon some 150,000 Southerners were barred from voting until Congress moved to remove the disability. In a congressional amnesty on May 22, 1872, the number of exempted Confederates was reduced to between five hundred and seven hundred men. Their disabilities in turn were removed by a series of individual bills in Congress through February 24, 1897. Complete amnesty was achieved the next year when, on June 6, 1898, more than thirty years after the war had ended, Congress approved a universal and unconditional amnesty for any Southerners still disabled by Section 3 of Amendment 14.

If in time the majority of Union military deserters and draft evaders secured pardon, they did so through individual petition to the President. There were two conditional general pardons for deserters. The first, proclaimed on March 11, 1865, granted full pardon to all deserters who returned to their units within sixty days and served a period equal to the original term of enlistment. Johnson offered a conditional pardon on July 3,1866, to deserters who returned to their units by August 15,1866. Such men would escape punishment but would have to forfeit their pay. There was no universal amnesty.

Like the Mexican War fifty years earlier the Spanish-American War was fought almost entirely by volunteers. There was no draft, and the militia was not called up. The Regular Army of twenty-eight thousand was swiftly increased to 210,000 in 1898 and reduced almost as quickly to eighty thousand the next year.

There was no general pardon nor amnesty for deserters at the war’s end.

The annexation of the Philippines, one of the acquisitions of the Spanish-American War, ultimately cost more in both lives and money than the entire war against Spain as a result of the Philippine Insurrection. Initially the United States had employed the rebels under Emilio Aguinaldo in the capture of Manila, but when the terms of the Treaty of Paris were made known, the Filipinos refused to accept an American take-over and began to fight their one-time allies. Some seventy thousand U.S. troops were rushed to the islands to confront a rebel army almost as large. By the end of 1899 formal resistance had given way to guerrilla warfare, but it was two years before the insurrection came to an end and a civil government was established. Aguinaldo, in the meantime, had been taken prisoner by the Americans in March, 1901.

On July 4, 1902, President Roosevelt offered a conditional pardon and amnesty to a majority of the insurrectionists, provided they signed an oath of allegiance to United States authority in the islands. The Moro tribesmen, who continued to fight, were as a class exempted from the pardon, as were all persons convicted of, or under indictment for, “murder, rape, arson, and robbery.” The latter, however, were free to ask for individual pardons in the light of their particular circumstances.

There were no general pardons or amnesties extended to deserters from the American forces sent in to suppress the insurrection.

World War I is the first of the nation’s wars to reflect present-day conditions, that is, to engender a population of military deserters, draft and war resisters, and draft evaders who would benefit from amnesty of the kind now sought after the Vietnam war. A policy of selective pardon, rather than general amnesty, was adopted.

When the war began, the United States Army numoered about two hundred thousand men. By the end of 1918 that number had swollen to nearly four million, more than half of whom had been drafted. Open resistance to the draft was at a minimum (compared with what had taken place in the Civil War) despite its being the first truly comprehensive draft in history. More than twenty-four million men were registered, and eventually 2,810,296 were inducted. There were, however, some two hundred thousand draft evaders, who, if caught and found guilty, were subject to up to five years in prison.

A total of 3,989 conscientious objectors were assigned to alternative service or to noncombatant military service. Four hundred and fifty men who failed to meet the narrow test for C.O. status or who simply refused outright to cooperate with the military system in any way (for example, by refusing to register for the draft) were imprisoned for terms up to five years.

The precise number of military deserters is not known, but the figure undoubtedly ran into the thousands. Between the armistice and February, 1920, for instance, 11,089 men deserted the Army.

In addition, there were at least two thousand “political” prisoners who had been found guilty and jailed under two wartime measures, the Espionage Act of 1917 and the Sedition Act of 1918. The latter prohibited, among other things, the use of “profane, scurrilous or abusive language” against the government or any of its leaders. Both laws provided for fines up to ten thousand dollars and prison terms up to twenty years. Hundreds of Socialists, including Eugene Debs, the party’s Presidential candidate in 1916, who opposed the war on ideological grounds, were sent to prison. Debs was sentenced to ten years. Several hundred members of the Industrial Workers of the World ( I.W.W. ), including “Big Bill” Haywood, who received twenty years, were similarly jailed for opposing the war.

With the armistice various peace groups pressed for amnesty without success. Wilson adamantly refused to consider the matter, either as a general pardon for all or as individual pardons granted case by case. The clearest statement of his position concerned Debs, whose release had been the subject of numerous editorials once the war was over. Speaking privately to an aide, the President said: “I will never consent to the pardon of this man. … Were I to consent to it, I should never be able to look into the faces of the mothers of this country who sent their boys to the other side. While the flower of American youth was pouring out its blood to vindicate the cause of civilization, this man, Debs, stood behind the lines, sniping, attacking, and denouncing them.… This man was a traitor to his country and he will never be pardoned during my administration.”

Debs was finally pardoned by Warren Harding on Christmas Eve, 1921, along with twenty-three other political prisoners. Over the next two years Harding freed hundreds of others on a case-by-case basis, refusing to resort to general amnesty. In June, 1923, in one of his last acts as President, he freed twenty-seven members of the I.W.W.

After Harding’s death Coolidge continued his predecessor’s practice of freeing political prisoners after a case-by-case review. On March 5, 1924, he pardoned nearly one hundred deserters who had left their units after November, 1918. But neither Wilson nor Harding nor Coolidge pardoned any wartime deserters or draft evaders.

The last of the World War I pardons was tendered by Franklin Roosevelt on December 23, 1933, in a Christmas amnesty that, fifteen years after the war, restored voting rights and other civil liberties to fifteen hundred violators of the Espionage Act who had finished serving their sentences.

Similarly, in World War II , a policy of selective pardon was followed. Nearly 12,466,000 Americans served in the armed forces during the war. Of these, 8,300,000 were in the Army, and 61 per cent of them were draftees. The official figure for draft evasions is 348,217, but this figure is misleading because it lumps together technical violations (e.g., reporting on the wrong day) as well as direct evasions. In any case the number of evasions was substantial.

In all, 36,887 men claimed C.O. status or volunteered for alternative service under the draft classification IV-E . A total of 6,086 men were imprisoned either because they had refused induction outright, refused to register for the draft, or failed to meet the narrow test for C.O. status. Among them were more than four thousand Jehovah’s Witnesses who were refused deferments as ministers of their faith, 167 Negro Muslims (now Black Muslims) who refused to join a segregated army, and a number of Hopi Indians whose pacifism was not recognized by the government.

As in World War I the number of deserters is not known, but as late as 1944 the Army was recording a rate of sixty-three desertions for every thousand men on active duty.

At the war’s end President Truman refused to grant a general amnesty for military deserters or draft evaders, and none has been granted since. Truman did, however, grant a number of limited pardons. The first, granted on December 24, 1945, pardoned civilian prisoners who had volunteered for military service and who upon completion of a year’s duty or more received an honorable discharge. The effect of the pardon was to restore their full civil and political rights.

The second Truman pardon was granted to 1,523 draft evaders who had served or were serving prison terms. Like the first, this was a Christmas Eve pardon, and it came twenty-three months after the end of the war, December 24, 1947. A year earlier Truman had established a three-man review panel to examine some fifteen thousand cases of draft evasion. Chaired by Owen J. Roberts, a former Associate Justice of the Supreme Court, the President’s Amnesty Board included James F. O’Neil, the chief of police of Manchester, New Hampshire, and later national commander of the American Legion, and Willis Smith, former president of the American Bar Association and later governor of North Carolina. Well aware that it had recommended pardons for only one out of every ten cases it reviewed, the board defended its choices in these words: “We found that some founded their objections on intellectual, political or sociological convictions resulting from the individual’s reasoning and personal economic or political philosophy. We have not felt justified in recommending those who thus have set themselves up as wiser and more competent than society to determine their duty to come to the defense of the nation.”

On December 24, 1952, Truman granted full pardon and restoration of civil and political rights to former convicts who had served in the peacetime army between August 14, 1945 (the end of active hostilities in World War II ), and June 25, 1950 (the Korean invasion), and who had not been covered by his earlier pardon. In addition, he pardoned all convicted peacetime deserters from the military up to June 25, 1950.

A maximum duty force of 3,700,000 was raised for service during the Korean War. Twenty-seven per cent were draftees. Surprisingly, both the draft-evasion rate and the desertion rate were the lowest of the four wars in this century. At the height of the war in 1952 only twentytwo men per thousand were reported as deserters in 1954 the rate had dropped to 15.7. In 1950, 109 men were imprisoned for draft evasion in 1955 the number totalled 217. Exact figures for intervening years are unavailable.

There was no general amnesty for either military deserters or draft evaders.

By the end of American ground participation in the Vietnam war early in 1973 more than six million men had served in Vietnam. Roughly 25 per cent were draftees. Although fully reliable statistics are difficult to come by—even government figures vary on occasion by several thousand—it is estimated that nearly 450,000 desertions took place from 1966 onward. As of November 1, 1972, 32,557 deserters were still at large. Of these, more than thirty thousand are thought to be underground in the United States, the remainder in foreign countries (principally Canada and Sweden).

The number of draft evaders is in excess of twenty-four thousand for the years 1966 through 1972. Nearly five thousand of them are still at large. Of these, 2,300 are thought to be in Canada, and perhaps 1,700 are underground in the United States.

Whatever the true figures—and possibly they can never be accurately reckoned—a sizable number of Americans have lost—or face the loss of—civil rights because of the stand they took during the war. At some point the nation will have to decide whether to forgive them in a general amnesty, to offer amnesty conditional on public service or some form of punishment, or to ignore them entirely, leaving them, in effect, to seek an individual pardon whenever they wish to be restored to full participation in American life.



The Oath of Allegiance !

WHEREAS, By the Constitution of the United States it is provided that the President shall have power to grant reprieve and pardon for offenses against the United States, except in cases of impeachment

And, Whereas, A rebellion now exists, wherein the functions of the Government of the United States have for a long time been suspended, and many persons have committed and are now guilty of treason against the United States

And, Whereas, As with reference to said rebellion and treason, laws have been enacted by Congress, enacting [declaring] forfeiture and confiscation of property and liberation of slaves, all upon terms and conditions therein stated, and also declares that the President was thereby authorized at any time thereafter by proclamation to extend to persons who may have participated in the existing rebellion in any State, or part thereof [pardon and amnesty], with such exceptions and at such times and on such conditions as he may deem expedient for the public welfare

And, Whereas, The Congressional declaration for limited and conditional pardon accords with well-established judicial exposition of the pardoning power

And, Whereas, As with reference to said rebellion, the President of the United States has issued several proclamations with provisions in regard to the liberties of slaves, and inviting persons heretofore engaged in said rebellion to resume their allegiance to the United States, and to re-inaugurate loyal State Governments, within and for their respective States :

THEREFORE, I, Abraham Lincoln, President of the United States, do proclaim, declare, and make known to all persons who have, directly or indirectly participated in the existing rebellion, except as hereinafter named, a full pardon is granted to them and each of them with restoration of all rights, [except as to slaves and in property cases where rights of third parties shall have intervened, and] upon the condition that every such person shall take and subscribe an oath, and thenceforward keep and mantain [sic] said oath inviolate, and which oath shall be registered for permanent preservation, of the following tenor and effect, to wit :

“I do solemnly swear, in presence of Almighty God, that I will support, protect, and defend the Constitution of the United States, and the Union of the States therein and that I will in like manner uphold and faithfully support all acts of Congress, passed during the existing rebellion, with reference to slaves, so long and so far as not repealed, modified, or vetoed by Congress, or by decision of the Supreme Court and that I will in like manner abide by and faithfully support all Proclamations of the President during the existing rebellion, having reference to slaves, so long and so far as not modified or declared void by decision of the Supreme Court. So help me God !”

The persons excepted from the foregoing provisions are all who are, or shall have been, military officers or agents of the so-called Confederate Government all who have left official stations under the United States, to aid the Rebellion all who are or shall have been military or naval officers of the rank of colonel in the army, or like rank in the navy all who left seats in the United States Congress to aid the Rebellion all who resigned their commissions in the Army and Navy of the United States, and afterwards aided the Rebellion and all who have engaged in any way in treating colored persons, or white persons in charge of such, otherwise than lawfully as prisoners of war, and which persons may be found in the Confederate service, as soldiers, sergeants, or in any other capacity.

And I do further proclaim, declare, and make known that whenever, in any of the States of Arkansas, Texas, Louisiania [sic], Missouri, Tennessee, Alabama, Georgia, Florida, South Carolina, and North Carolina, a number of persons, not less than one-fourth of the number who voted in such States at the Presidential election in the year of our Lord 1860, having taken the oath, and not having since voted, and being a qualified voters by the election laws of the State, at, or immediately before the act of secession, and excluding all others, shall have established a State Government, in nowise contravening said oath, it shall be recognized as the true government of the State and the State shall receive thereunder the benefits of the constitutional provision which declares that the United States shall guarantee to every State in this Union a Republican form of Government, and shall protect each of them against incursion, and on application of the Legislatures, or the Executive, when the legislature can not be convened, against domestic violence.

Secondly, I do further proclaim, declare, and make known, that any provision which may be adopted by such State Government in relation to the freed people of such State, which shall encourage and declare their permanent freedom, and provide for their education, and which may yet be consistent as a temporary arrangement, with their present condition as a laboring, landless, and homeless class, will not be objected to by the National Executive, and it is suggested as not improper, that in assuming a loyal State Government in any State, the line of the boundary, the subdivisions, the construction, and the Federal code of laws, be maintained as before the Rebellion, subject only to the modifications necessary by the conditions hereinbefore stated, and such others, if any, not contravening said conditions as may be deemed expedient by those framing the new State Government.

To avoid misunderstanding, it may be proper to say that this proclamation, so far as it relates to State Governments, has no reference to States wherein loyal State Governments have all the while been maintained, and for the same reason, it may be proper to further say, that whether members sent to Congress from any State can be admitted to seats, constitutionally, rests conclusively with the House of Representatives, and not to any extent with the Executive and still further, that this Proclamation is intended to present to the people of the States wherein the National authority has been suspended, and loyal State Governments have been supported, a mode by which the National authority over every loyal State Government may be established within such States, or in any of them, and while the mode presented is the best the Executive can suggest with his present impressions, it must not be understood that another practicable mode would not be adopted.

GIVEN UNDER MY HAND, at the City of Washington, the 8th day of December, One Thousand Eight Hundred and Sixty Three, and of the Independence of the United States of America, the Eighty-Eighth.

The White House and Reconstruction

January 1, 1863 was a watershed moment in American history. That morning, President Abraham Lincoln hosted the annual New Year’s Day reception at the White House, spending several hours in the Blue Room shaking hands with hundreds of citizens. In the early afternoon, Lincoln returned to his office upstairs on the Second Floor. Secretary of State William Seward and his son, Frederick, brought the president the Emancipation Proclamation. Before taking his pen to this historic document, Lincoln was recorded as saying:

"I never in my life felt more certain that I was doing right than I do in signing this paper. But I have been shaking hands since nine o’clock this morning till my arm is stiff and numb. Now this signature is one that will be closely examined, and if they find my hand trembled, they will say, ‘he had some compunctions.’ But, anyway, it is going to be done." 1

With those words and a slightly trembling hand, Abraham Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation, declaring “that all persons held as slaves. shall be then, thenceforward and forever free.” 2 Although this proclamation did not immediately eliminate slavery in the United States, it fundamentally altered the character of the Civil War, transforming it from a sectional conflict into a war for freedom and abolition. From that point forward, the road to reimagining America without slavery would be long and arduous. During and immediately following the Civil War, the United States faced the enormous task of piecing the war-torn nation back together after years of military conflict, economic devastation, social strife, and massive losses of life. In particular, this included grappling with the end of slavery, readmitting eleven secessionist states to the Union, and addressing Black suffrage. Over the course of fourteen years from 1863 to 1877, three presidents—Abraham Lincoln, Andrew Johnson, and Ulysses S. Grant—worked from the White House to reconcile and rebuild the United States. 3 Click here to learn more about the household of President Abraham Lincoln.

On the final page of the Emancipation Proclamation, you can see President Abraham Lincoln's signature. He signed the document with slightly trembling hands after shaking hands with hundreds of citizens during the annual White House New Year's Day reception earlier that morning.

The National Archives and Records Administration

Initial efforts to begin Reconstruction occurred prior to the end of the Civil War when President Abraham Lincoln began to implement policies aimed at “sectional reconciliation” between the North and South. During the early days of the conflict, Lincoln refrained from discussing the future of slavery in the United States after the Civil War, hoping to preserve and repair the Union without directly tackling the contentious issue. However, it became increasingly apparent that slavery would need to be addressed.

His first effort, the Emancipation Proclamation, freed enslaved people in the Confederate states. However, this did not apply to the border states—Maryland, Kentucky, West Virginia, Missouri, and Delaware. These states permitted slavery but did not secede from the Union. The proclamation also announced that Black men would be allowed to enlist in the Union Army. Although the proclamation did not free all of the nation’s enslaved people, it was a significant turning point. African-American men began enlisting in the Union Army in earnest, gaining equality before the law for the first time. The preeminent historian of Reconstruction Eric Foner explained, “The Emancipation Proclamation and the presence of Black troops ensured that, in the last two years of the war, Union soldiers acted as an army of liberation.” 4 This shift in priorities demonstrated that the United States needed to begin the difficult process of reintegrating two separate societies with distinct economies the North and the South.

On December 8, 1863, President Lincoln introduced his first plan for Reconstruction the Proclamation of Amnesty and Reconstruction. This announcement offered a full pardon to those individuals that took an oath of loyalty and accepted the abolition of slavery. It also promised the “restoration of all rights of property, except as to slaves,” meaning that all landholdings and homes would be restored to members of the Confederacy, with the exception of enslaved people. 5 This proclamation was part of Lincoln’s Ten-Percent Plan, a strategy that allowed Confederate states to rejoin the Union when ten percent of its voters swore an oath of allegiance to the Constitution. Lincoln likely never intended the Ten-Percent Plan to serve as a comprehensive blueprint for Reconstruction since the war was still ongoing. Instead, it was a preliminary effort meant to shorten the conflict and cement white support for emancipation by presenting rebels with a choice—surrender enabled the retention of land. However, Confederate states refused because it meant the end of slavery. 6

This widely circulated engraving depicts the first reading of the Emancipation Proclamation in the Cabinet Room of the White House, in what is now the Lincoln Bedroom. The Emancipation Proclamation was signed on January 1, 1863 and granted freedom to enslaved people residing in Confederate states. Those present were (from left to right): Secretary of War Edwin M. Stanton, Secretary of the Treasury Salmon P. Chase, President Abraham Lincoln, Secretary of the Navy Gideon Welles, Secretary of the Interior Caleb B. Smith, Secretary of State William H. Seward, Postmaster General Montgomery Blair, and Attorney General Edward Bates.

Prior to the conclusion of the Civil War, state Reconstruction efforts first occurred in the border states with varied degrees of success. Maryland, West Virginia, and Missouri underwent internal reconstructions that reformed their state governments and abolished slavery, while Kentucky and Delaware protected the institution. Meanwhile, as Union forces captured areas of the South, Reconstruction efforts picked up momentum. In Tennessee, Union forces claimed Nashville in February 1862 and President Lincoln appointed Andrew Johnson as the state’s military governor. Previously, Johnson had chosen to remain in the United States Senate after Tennessee seceded from the Union and his loyalty was rewarded. At the end of 1863, Johnson and Unionists endorsed the Emancipation Proclamation and by 1864, ended slavery in Tennessee. For Johnson, a slave owner himself, ending slavery in Tennessee was based less upon the gross injustice of the institution and more on his strong hatred of the Confederacy. 7 Click here to learn more about the enslaved household of President Andrew Johnson.

Still, Johnson’s loyalty elevated him to prominence within the Republican Party. In 1864, President Lincoln selected Andrew Johnson as his running mate for reelection. By choosing Johnson as his vice president, Lincoln hoped to balance the ticket with a southern leader who supported the Union. 8

On April 9, 1865, Confederate General Robert E. Lee surrendered the Army of Northern Virginia to Union General Ulysses S. Grant, effectively ending the Civil War. 9 As the Union celebrated, tragedy struck when President Lincoln was assassinated days later and died on April 15, 1865. Andrew Johnson ascended to the presidency, saddled with the monumental task of reconstructing the nation.

In this 1866 drawing by Alfred Waud, the African-American community in Little Rock, Arkansas celebrates as U.S. Colored Troops returned home at the end of the Civil War. The victorious soldiers were greeted by women and children.

By most accounts, Johnson did not adequately rise to this occasion. Those that expected Johnson to take a strong position in punishing former Confederates and expanding Black suffrage were sorely mistaken. He announced his plan for Presidential Reconstruction on May 29, 1865, issuing two proclamations. The first granted amnesty and returned property to southerners willing to take a loyalty oath to the Constitution. However, many groups were excluded, including Confederate officials and wealthier planters with property valued at more than $20,000. Instead, these individuals had to personally apply for a pardon from the president. 10 The second proclamation outlined a plan for North Carolina, which served as a blueprint for state efforts. He appointed a provisional governor and instructed North Carolina to call a convention to amend its prewar constitution for readmittance into the Union. 11 When the plan was first announced, Johnson enjoyed widespread northern support, but cracks soon began to appear.

While serving as Tennessee's military governor in 1864, Johnson gave a speech declaring himself the “Moses of colored men” while also sharing his disdain for southern elites: “I am no agrarian, but if the princely plantation of Wm. G. Harding, who boasted that he had disbursed over $5,000,000 for the rebel Confederacy, were parcelled out among fifty loyal, industrious farmers, it would be a blessing to our noble Commonwealth.” 12 This was a sentiment expressed by Johnson on several occasions prior to his presidency, leading people to believe Johnson would hold former Confederates accountable with severe punishments and penalties, as well as by enacting strict post-war regulations. This did not happen.

A photograph of the White House taken during either the Lincoln Administration or Johnson Administration.

White House Collection/White House Historical Association

Instead, Johnson all but guaranteed the white South a free hand in managing its own affairs. During the summer of 1865, Johnson appointed provisional governors and states began amending their constitutions. Unfortunately, while the war ended slavery, Johnson’s lenient amnesty policies failed to abolish the “slaveocracy” that existed in the South prior to the Civil War. Instead, former enslavers and Confederates inserted themselves into these reform efforts. In fact, as his policies unfolded, the mild terms caused many southerners to view Johnson as more of an ally than an enemy. 13

Johnson signaled this in several ways, including his generous and mild treatment of former Confederates. Although he cautiously granted pardons at first, by 1866, 7,000 of the 15,000 individuals excluded from general amnesty had received individual pardons directly from Johnson. This even included lenient treatment for former Confederate President Jefferson Davis. Despite serving two years in federal prison, Davis never faced trial for treason. 14 The question remains—why would Johnson abandon an assault on Confederate elites?

On May 29, 1865, President Johnson issued this proclamation granting amnesty and the return of property to southerners willing to take a loyalty oath to the Constitution. The text of the oath stated: "I, ____, do solemnly swear, (or affirm) in presence of Almighty God, that I will henceforth faithfully support and defend the Constitution of the United States and the Union of the States thereunder, and that I will, in like manner, abide by and faithfully support all laws and proclamations which have been made during the existing rebellion with reference to the emancipation of slaves. So help me god."

According to Foner, the most likely explanation is that Johnson chose to cooperate with Confederates to guarantee his own reelection and safeguard white supremacy in the South. 15 Based on his previous actions related to the abolition of slavery, some expected Johnson to support the expansion of voting rights and civil liberties for African Americans. However, as Frederick Douglass once noted, “he [Johnson] is certainly no friend to our race.” 16 Johnson’s prejudices toward African Americans are well documented. During his annual message to Congress in 1867, Johnson stated:

"It must be acknowledged that in the progress of nations Negroes have shown less capacity for government than any other race of people. No independent government of any form has ever been successful in their hands. On the contrary, wherever they have been left to their own devices they have shown a constant tendency to relapse into barbarism." 17

This racist statement was one of many that reveal Johnson’s disdain for African Americans. On another occasion Johnson’s private secretary, Colonel William G. Moore, recorded in his diary that the president, “has at times exhibited a morbid distress and feeling against the negroes” after Johnson discovered “half a dozen stout negroes” at work on the White House Grounds and demanded to know immediately whether “all of the white men have been discharged.” 18

Johnson’s personal racism certainly extended outward to Reconstruction and he sometimes directly supported southern efforts to restrict freedoms for African Americans. In August 1865, Johnson ordered the removal of Black troops from the South after southerners complained that their presence was affecting morale. He also ordered the return of land to pardoned Confederates, directly defying the Commissioner of the Freedmen’s Bureau. 19 The Freedmen’s Bureau was established as part of the War Department in 1865 to provide assistance to both formerly enslaved individuals and impoverished white people. Since the Civil War had displaced and impacted so many individuals, the Bureau issued food, clothing, and other supplies, operated hospitals, reunited families, provided employment opportunities, and assisted formerly enslaved people with settling on abandoned or confiscated lands. 20 Undercutting this institution’s autonomy demonstrated Johnson’s limited interest in improving the conditions of the nation’s freedmen.

This photograph provides a rare, early glimpse of White House staff at work in 1862.

Collection of Set Momjian

Johnson also did little to halt southern states’ conscious efforts to undermine freedoms for African Americans. The states were able to freely construct their new governments, as long as they abided by the guidelines. This allowed many states to enact Black Codes, laws limiting political, social, and economic freedoms for African Americans. By the end of 1865, both Mississippi and South Carolina had enacted the first and most harsh Black Codes. Mississippi required all African Americans to provide written evidence of employment each year and in the event that laborers left their contracts early they would forfeit their earned wages. Further restrictions prevented African Americans from having any occupation other than farmer or servant unless they were able to pay an annual tax. These restrictions and others caused an uproar, so other southern states enacted milder Black Codes that were nonetheless restrictive and discriminatory. 21

Meanwhile, as Johnson’s policies rapidly lost support and Presidential Reconstruction came to a close, other changes were set in motion. On December 6, 1865, the Thirteenth Amendment was ratified, abolishing slavery in the United States: “Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction.” 22

In December 1865, the Thirty-ninth Congress convened for the first time. Because they were elected during the final days of the Civil War, both the House and Senate had a majority Republican legislative body, outnumbering Democrats three to one. A group of “Radical Republicans” in Congress called for state governments to expand universal male suffrage and uphold equality before the law. They also refused to seat representatives from southern states. By 1866, the Radical Republicans began passing civil rights legislation and extended the Freedmen’s Bureau. This powerful group of legislators were led by Pennsylvania Representative Thaddeus Stevens and Massachusetts Senator Charles Sumner. 23

Johnson also did little to halt southern states’ conscious efforts to undermine freedoms for African Americans.

As Radical Republicans began passing progressive legislation, President Johnson fought back with his executive authority. In 1866, two important pieces of legislation were presented to Johnson. The first was a second Freedmen’s Bureau bill. The first bill, passed on March 3, 1865, created the bureau. The second piece of legislation aimed to extend the life of the Bureau by removing its expiration date and including freedmen from the entire United States—not just those living in formerly Confederate states. 24 At the same time, representatives also drafted the Civil Rights Act of 1866, presenting the first major legislative attempt to give greater meaning to the Thirteenth Amendment. This act declared:

“That all persons born in the United States and not subject to any foreign power, excluding Indians not taxed, are hereby declared to be citizens of the United States and such citizens, of every race and color, without regard to any previous condition of slavery or involuntary serviture, except as a punishment for crime…” 25

After these bills passed in the House and Senate, they arrived on President Johnson’s desk at the White House. Republicans in Congress believed that the president would sign the legislation. However, Johnson vetoed the bills, creating a significant rift between the president and his own party. Johnson defended his vetoes, arguing that it was not necessary to extend the original Freedmen’s Bureau legislation, that it infringed upon states’ rights, and that it gave the federal government too much power in providing aid. 26 He also argued that Reconstruction legislation should not be passed while eleven states remained unrepresented in Congress. 27 When it came to his veto of the Civil Rights Act, Johnson outright rejected the underlying principle within the bill, arguing that offering citizenship to all Americans, except Native Americans, overstepped the authority of individual states and that “the distinction of race and color is by the bill made to operate in favor of the colored and against the white race.” In other words, Johnson believed that offering lawful protections to African Americans would undermine the power and authority of white males in favor of African Americans. 28

This 1866 political cartoon depicts Johnson's veto of the Freedmen's Bureau Bill. It was originally published in Harper's Weekly Magazine.

House Divided Project at Dickinson College

Congress passed the civil rights and Freedmen’s Bureau legislation by overriding Johnson’s vetoes. The Freedmen’s Bureau bill became law on March 3 and the Civil Rights Act became law on April 9, 1866, a year to the day Confederate General Robert E. Lee surrendered the Army of Northern Virginia at Appomattox Court House. Although the legislation was eventually passed, Johnson’s vetoes were a highly visible confrontation between the executive and legislative branches. During the spring of 1866, Congress also introduced a number of provisions that would be combined to create the Fourteenth Amendment, guaranteeing citizenship to all Americans, including formerly enslaved people:

“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. No state shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States nor shall any state deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.” 29

The Fourteenth Amendment also ensures “due process of law,” which was intended to prevent state and federal governments from discriminating against Black Americans. It also authorized the federal government to punish states if they infringed upon voting and civil rights. Congress passed the amendment on June 16, 1866, and submitted it to the states for ratification. The Amendment was ratified nearly two years later on July 9, 1868. Unfortunately, the amendment was flawed and efforts to undermine it quickly arose. For example, the amendment introduced the phrase “male” to the Constitution, indicating that voting rights would not be extended to women. Meanwhile, many states frequently and continuously violated the Fourteenth Amendment by enacting restrictive Black Codes including poll taxes and literacy tests designed to impede African Americans from exercising their right to vote. 30

The next congressional term was fraught with dissension. Johnson continued to clash with the Fortieth Congress over Reconstruction, steadfastly refusing to compromise on protections under the law for Black Americans. The conflict came to a head on February 24, 1868, when the House of Representatives voted to impeach President Johnson. In an effort led by Congressman Thaddeus Stevens, a resolution of impeachment passed 126-47, and several days later the House of Representatives brought eleven articles of impeachment against the president. 31 Most of the charges related to President Johnson’s violations of the Tenure of Office Act, where he removed Secretary of War Edwin Stanton improperly from his position. 32 It also addressed an 1867 incident where Johnson had removed military commanders and replaced them with officers supportive of white rule in the South and later tried to create an “Army of the Atlantic” which would be headquartered in Washington, D.C. This was meant as an intimidation tactic against Congress. After taking steps to fire Stanton in the summer of 1867, Johnson attempted to replace him with General Ulysses S. Grant. However, Grant soon turned against the president after realizing Johnson was endangering the lives of American soldiers with his antics, aligning himself with the Radical Republicans ahead of his 1868 run for the presidency. 33 The impeachment signaled war between the president and Congress. After the House submitted articles of impeachment, the Senate began its trial on March 4, 1868, concluding in May. Senators ultimately voted on three articles of impeachment. The trial ended in dramatic fashion when the Senate fell one vote short of the two-thirds necessary on all three articles to convict and remove Johnson from office. He served out the remainder of his term without popular or congressional support. 34

This painting by George Peter Alexander Healy depicts four significant Union figures toward the end of the Civil War. In the cabin of the steamer River Queen are seated (from left to right) Maj. Gen. William Tecumseh Sherman, Lt. Gen. Ulysses S. Grant, President Abraham Lincoln, and Rear Admiral David D. Porter. The meeting took place in March 1865 on the James River in City Point, Virginia, less than a week before the fall of Petersburg, Virginia.

White House Collection/White House Historical Association

Ulysses S. Grant won the presidency in 1868 with an overwhelming victory after campaigning with the slogan, “Let Us Have Peace.” One of President Grant’s most significant accomplishments during Reconstruction was his effort to combat the Ku Klux Klan (KKK). This organization formed in Pulaski, Tennessee in 1865 immediately following the Civil War. Rooted in white supremacy and “Lost Cause” ideology, the KKK terrorized Black Americans with threats and violence while vowing to restore the glory of the Old South. 35 Many white southerners joined the Klan, interested in preserving law and order for white people. Throughout the remainder of the nineteenth century, and continuing to the present day, the Ku Klux Klan has been responsible for countless acts of racial violence including the deaths of thousands of voters, lynchings of African Americans, the direct targeting of southern Republican leaders after the Civil War, and successful attempts to weaken the political power of African Americans. 36 Click here to learn more about the enslaved household of President Ulysses S. Grant.

Ahead of the 1868 election, the Klan increased its activity, intimidating Republican voters with widespread violence. For example, in Arkansas, 2,000 murders occurred in connection with the 1868 election. Although the Klan made its position clear, these violent actions proved to many northerners that the South needed further punishment and regulation. 37 Support soon grew for the Fifteenth Amendment, which ensured: “The rights of the citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of race, color, or previous condition of servitude.” 38 The Fifteenth Amendment was ratified on February 3, 1870. That year also saw a number of formerly Confederate states including Virginia, Mississippi, and Texas readmitted to the Union.

Meanwhile, President Grant supported ongoing Reconstruction efforts to varying degrees of success. In response to the extreme violence in the South, Grant supported Congress in passing several pieces of legislation enforcing the Thirteenth, Fourteenth, and Fifteenth Amendments the Enforcement Act of 1870, the Enforcement Act of 1871, and the Ku Klux Klan Act. The 1870 act intended to restrict the KKK and other white supremacist organizations from harassing African Americans and enacted penalties for interfering in any male citizen’s right to vote. A subsequent report investigated this violence and led to the 1871 act which added severe punishments for criminal offenders. The final piece of legislation, passed in April 1871, outlawed organizations threatening the constitutional rights and safety of citizens, including the KKK. It also allowed the president the ability to suspend the writ of habeas corpus or use the military in regions with terrorist activities. 39

The rights of the citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of race, color, or previous condition of servitude.

— The Fifteenth Amendment

Several months later, in October 1871, President Grant used the powers extended to him by the Ku Klux Klan Act when he directed federal troops to South Carolina to enforce civil rights legislation and protect African Americans from ongoing violence. While Grant acted decisively in the case of South Carolina, he was inconsistent with the use of the army, failing to send troops to other troubled areas of the South. 40

Unfortunately, the measures implemented during Grant’s presidency to prevent violence and voter suppression were not successful beyond his administration. 41 The election of 1876 was one of the most contentious elections in United States history and the outcome essentially ended Reconstruction as a federal endeavor. When it came time to choose Grant’s successor, tensions were growing within the federal government. Over time, Northerners became frustrated with Reconstruction and Radical Republicans, blaming problems on Black voters and deeming them inferior, further perpetuating racist ideology. The 1873 financial crisis had also plunged the United States into a depression, further impeding economic recovery in the South and corruption accusations leveled at Grant’s administration shook confidence in the government. 42

For the 1876 election, Democrats put forward Governor Samuel Tilden of New York to run against Republican Governor Rutherford B. Hayes of Ohio. Although Tilden won the popular vote, he only obtained 184 electoral votes, just one vote shy of securing the presidency. Meanwhile, returns from Louisiana, Florida, and South Carolina were disputed and both sides claimed victory. Congress ultimately decided the election. Since Republicans controlled the Senate and Democrats controlled the House of Representatives, a bipartisan electoral commission consisting of five representatives, five senators, and five Supreme Court justices settled the issue of the contested votes. Voting strictly along party lines, the commission awarded the electoral votes from all three contested states to Hayes. He became president by a single electoral vote. 43

However, while the commission deliberated over the election’s outcome, southern Democrats met secretly with Republicans allied with Hayes to negotiate his election. Ultimately, the Democrats agreed not to block Hayes’ election if Republicans agreed to withdraw all federal troops from the South, allowing Democrats to consolidate power in the region and reestablish control. Within two months of taking office, Hayes had removed federal troops guarding statehouses in South Carolina and Louisiana, effectively ending Reconstruction. 44

This 1867 print by Francis Ratellier depicts a grand allegory of the reconciliation. In this image, a flattened dome featuring a map of the United States sits atop a drum featuring the Senate, House of Representatives, Supreme Court, and Cabinet. The drum is supported by columns representing the states and the people. An eagle with a flag and shield sits atop the dome. The structure is undergoing "reconstruction" as the bases of the columns of former Confederate states are replaced with new ones. These old bases are called the "Foundations of Slavery." The new bases represent justice, liberty, and education. A number of other historical figures are represented in the painting including Ulysses S. Grant, Robert E. Lee, Daniel Webster, John C. Calhoun, and Joan of Arc, Horace Greeley, and Jefferson Davis.

The end of federal control in the South ultimately led to increased disenfranchisement and intimidation of Black voters. With the end of Reconstruction marked traditionally as 1877, the final year of Grant’s presidency and transition to Rutherford B. Hayes, many of the policies put in place to help formerly enslaved individuals and enfranchise Black citizens were quickly set aside, ignored, or altered to ensure white supremacy. Although many African-American men gained the right to vote during Reconstruction, Black Codes continued to limited their freedoms—keeping them from the polls, arresting them for minor infractions, and establishing a system of penal labor called “convict leasing,” where Black men arrested for vagrancy were forced to work as unpaid laborers. 45 In addition, economic devastation in the South led to the rise of a new system of labor exploitation—sharecropping. Under this system, many formerly enslaved Black families and poor white families rented land from white owners to raise cash crops—but the terms of the contracts were set by employers, ensuring that those that worked the land received little for their efforts. Although sharecropping varied depending on the location, crops, and time period, this exploitative system resembled slavery. Contracts kept workers under strict control. If the contracts were violated, offenders often went to jail, feeding into a prison system of unpaid labor. 46

By the 1890s, Jim Crow laws began to be implemented across the South in earnest, segregating public spaces, schools, and businesses, further restricting the rights and freedoms of African Americans. The effects of Reconstruction are still felt today as the nation continues to grapple with its complicated past, hoping to reconcile over 400 years of racial violence and discrimination and realize an equal and just society where "all men are created equal" as originally promised in the Declaration of Independence.

Presidential Proclamation (December 8, 1863)

“The same concern for state jurisdiction characterized Lincoln’s approach to Reconstruction, even after he conceded the process required more than mere substitution of loyal for disloyal state officers. As commander in chief he could provide for temporary military governance of Confederate state territory. He could combine the threat to enforce confiscation laws with the promise of amnesty to encourage southerners to resume their national allegiance. But he could not directly organize state governments he could not order the incorporation of abolition into the state constitutions. He could only invite southerners to take oaths of allegiance and to reorganize their own governments. If those constitutions did not comport with freedom, as commander in chief he might continue to hold southerners in the grasp of military power. But he eschewed constitutional power directly to impose the terms of state constitutions or laws, despite the authority and indeed the obligation that the Constitution imposed on the national government to secure republican forms of government to the states. Nationalist constitutional theory suggests that in the circumstances of the Civil War, the guarantee clause implies broad national power to restructure state institutions. But when Republicans claimed such power for Congress and passed the Wade-Davis Reconstruction Bill pursuant to it, Lincoln refused to sign, killing the measure with a ‘pocket veto.’”

— Michael Les Benedict, “Abraham Lincoln and Federalism,” Journal of the Abraham Lincoln Association 10, no.1 (1988): 1-46.

“To justify his plan, Lincoln cited the provision of the Constitution authorizing the chief executive ‘to grant reprieves and pardons for offences against the United States.’ He also cited the Second Confiscation Act, which stipulated that the president could ‘extend to persons who may have participated in the existing rebellion, in any State of party thereof, pardon and amnesty.’ Lincoln’s reliance on the pardoning power was strained, for the framers of the Constitution clearly meant it to apply to individual cases, not whole classes of people. In tightening his grip on the reins of Reconstruction, Lincoln felt strengthened by military victories in the summer and fall as well as by the Supreme Court decision in the Prize Cases, handed down in March 1863, upholding the legality of his action during the opening weeks of the war. But he did not ignore Congress. Repeatedly he acknowledged that only the House and Senate could determine whether to seat members from the Confederate states.”

— Michael Burlingame, Abraham Lincoln: A Life (2 volumes, originally published by Johns Hopkins University Press, 2008) Unedited Manuscript by Chapter, Lincoln Studies Center, Volume 2, Chapter 32 (PDF), 3530.


February 12 – Abraham Lincoln was born in a log cabin in Sinking Spring Farm in Hardin County, Kentucky, now La Rue County. He was the second child of Thomas Lincoln and Nancy Hanks.

Brother Thomas is born but died during infancy.

His father lost all his land due to lack of land surveying and unclear property titles and had to move to Spencer County, then Perry County, Indiana.

Abraham’s mother, Nancy, died of milk sickness or tremetol. Older sister Sarah had to look after the household, she was 11 years old.

Thomas Lincoln married Sarah Bush Johnston, a widow with three children. Abraham developed a deep bond with her stepmother.


Worked the land and helped his father. Abraham attended school occasionally, few months at a time.

Sister Sarah died while in labor.

Employed by Denton Offutt, Abraham took a flatboat and transported goods to New Orleans. For the first time he experienced slavery first hand, he observed a slave auction.

The Lincoln family moved west to Macon Country, Illinois.

The family decided to move to Coles County, Illinois but Abraham did not follow his family. Instead he moved to New Salem where he worked as a shopkeeper. During this time he learned math, read literature and participated in the debate club.

The store where he worked went bankrupt. Abraham partnered with William Berry and opened a new store in New Salem.

The Black Hawk War broke out and Lincoln volunteered to serve.

Abraham was a very popular young man, everyone grew fond of him, his sense of humor, storytelling and anecdotes were famous and soon the entire town became his most enthusiastic admirers. People insisted he ran for the Illinois General Assembly. He finished 5 th out of 13 candidates. He had the support of New Salem with 277 of the 300 casted votes.

The store was not profitable and had to shut down. He was left with heavy debt.

Abraham Lincoln was appointed Postmaster in New Salem and Deputy County Surveyor.

Began teaching himself law.

For the second time he run for the Illinois state legislature and this time he won the elections as a Whig.

Former store partner, William Berry, died leaving him with a debt of $1000.

Ann Rutledge, a woman Lincoln was courting, died, leaving him devastated.

Abraham was admitted to the bar. The Illinois Supreme Court licensed him to practice law.

August 1 – Lincoln was reelected to the Illinois General Assembly.

Lincoln moved to Springfield, Illinois where he started practicing law as a junior partner with John T. Stuart. They opened an office at Number 4 Hoffman’s Row.

August 6- Abraham was reelected to the Illinois General Assembly for the third consecutive term.

Lincoln started traveling on the 8 th Judicial Circuit that included nine counties in central and eastern Illinois.

Abraham met Mary Todd at a dance at the house of her sister Elizabeth Edwards.

Abraham was reelected to a fourth term to the Illinois General Assembly.

He became engaged to Mary Todd.

Abraham in a bout of insecurity broke the engagement with Mary Todd.

March 1 – Stephen Logan offered Lincoln to start a partnership, “Logan and Lincoln”.

Lincoln decided not to seek another term to the legislature.

September – Abraham accepted a challenge to a duel by Democrat James Shield over satirical letters published in newspapers. The duel did not proceed. An explanation of the letters was published.

November 4 – Abraham and Mary married and moved to a rental room in the Globe Tavern on Adams Street.

The couple had their first child, Robert Todd Lincoln and moved to a rental house on South Street.

Abraham and Mary bought their first house on Eight and Jackson Street. The house belonged to the Episcopal minister who married them, Charles Dresser.

Logan and Lincoln dissolved their partnership as Logan wanted his son to join the business.

Lincoln started a partnership with William Herndon, “Lincoln and Herndon” this time Lincoln was the senior partner.

March 10 – Edward Baker Lincoln, second son of Abraham and Mary, was born.

May 1 – Lincoln was nominated the Illinois Whig candidate for congress.

August 3 – Lincoln was elected to the House of Representatives.

Abraham and his family moved to Washington DC and settled at the boarding house of Ann G. Sprigg. Dissatisfied with the arrangements, Mary and the boys went to Lexington to her father’s house.

February – The Wilmot Proviso was reintroduced, it passed the House but failed to pass the senate. Lincoln voted for its passage.

Lincoln campaigned for General Zachary Taylor for president.

Lincoln accused President James Polk of unconstitutionally invading Mexico.

November – Zachary Taylor won the election and became the 12 th president of the United States.

Lincoln’s end of appointment in congress. He declined offer of governorship of the Oregon territory.

February 1 – Eddie, the second born, died of tuberculosis when he was three years old.

December 21 – William Wallace Lincoln, third child of Abraham and Mary, was born.

September – The Compromise of 1850 gave the country a pause in the controversy of expansion of slavery.

“Lincoln and Herndon” represented Alton & Sangamon Railroad in a lawsuit. Abraham Lincoln became one of the most prominent practitioners of railroad law in the state of Illinois.

January 17 – His father, Thomas Lincoln, died.

April 4 – Thomas Lincoln III was born. His father nicknamed him Tad because he wiggled as a tadpole when he was an infant.

May 30 – The Kansas-Nebraska Act was passed by congress.

The Republican Party was organized in the northern states attracting Whigs, antislavery supporters, foreign citizens, Know Nothings and specially Kansas-Nebraska opponents.

Lincoln helped organize anti Kansas-Nebraska coalition.

Lincoln helped organize the Republican Party in Illinois and campaigned for Republican presidential candidate John Frémont.

March 5 – The Supreme Court decided on the Dred Scott case. It declared that slaves or their descendants could not be US citizens and had no rights to sue in a Federal court.

June 26 – Lincoln addressed a crowd speaking against the Dred Scott decision.

June 16 – The Republican Convention voted for Lincoln as a Republican candidate for the senate against Democrat Stephen Douglas. In accepting the nomination Lincoln gave his memorable “House Divided” speech.

The Illinois legislature elected Stephen Douglas as US Senator for Illinois. Douglas received 54 votes while Lincoln 46.

Lincoln wrote his first autobiography for Jesse Fell who published it in the Chester County Times in Pennsylvania. The autobiography was reprinted several times by Republican newspapers across the country.

Follet, Foster and Co. of Columbus, Ohio published “Political Debates between Honorable Abraham Lincoln and Honorable Stephen Douglas, in the Celebrated Campaign of 1858 Illinois.

February – Lincoln was invited by the Young Men’s Central Republican Union to give a lecture in Cooper Union, Manhattan.

Matthew Brady took Lincoln’s first photographic portrait.

May 18 – Lincoln was elected Republican presidential candidate at the Republican Convention in Chicago. The candidates were William Seward, Salmon Chase, Edward Bates and Simon Cameron.

June – Lincoln wrote a second longer autobiography for John L. Scripps of the Chicago Press and Tribune.

November 6 – Abraham Lincoln was elected the 16th president of the United States.

December 20 – South Carolina became the first state to declare secession from the Union.

January – Mississippi, Florida, Alabama, Georgia and Louisiana followed South Carolina in seceding from the Union.

An attempt to reinforce Fort Sumter failed when the ship Star of the West was fired by Confederate forces. South Carolina seized all federal property in Charleston except for Fort Sumter.

February 1 – Texas seceded from the Union.

February 11 – President-elect Abraham Lincoln and his family departed Springfield on a 12 day journey to the Nation’s Capital.

February 14 – Jefferson Davis was elected Provisional President of the Confederation and Alexander H. Stephens, Vice President.

US surrendered all military posts in Texas.

March 4 –Inauguration of the 16th US President. Abraham Lincoln delivered his 1 st Inaugural Address.

April 12 – Fort Sumter was attacked by Confederate forces and Major Anderson was forced to surrender. The American Civil War had begun.

April 15 – The president issued a Proclamation Calling Militia and Convening Congress. He called for the recruitment of 75,000 men.

April 17 – Virginia seceded from the Union.

April 27 – President Lincoln suspended the privilege of habeas corpus, the emergency situation of war required the president to act before authorization.

May 6 – Arkansas seceded from the Union.

May 20 – North Carolina followed Arkansas.

June 3 – Stephen Douglas, long time Democratic rival, died.

July 21 – Union Army was defeated at Bull Run in Northern Virginia.

July 27 – General McClellan was selected as Commander of the Army of the Potomac.

April 16 – Lincoln signed an Act abolishing slavery in Washington DC.

September 22 – President Lincoln issued a preliminary Emancipation Proclamation that was introduced to congress.

January 1 – The final Emancipation Proclamation was issued freeing slaves in territories held by Confederates.

February 25 – Lincoln signed a bill creating the national banking system.

March 3 – Lincoln signed the Conscription Act. It called for males between the ages of 20 to 45 for service in the war instead of assigning quotas to each state.

July 3 – Union victory in the Battle of Gettysburg, a turning point in the American Civil War.

August 10 – Lincoln and Frederick Douglass met to talk about equality in Union troops.

October 3 – Lincoln issued the Proclamation of Thanksgiving on the third Thursday of November.

November 9- Lincoln gave his Gettysburg Address during the dedication of a cemetery in the Gettysburg battlefield.

February 1 – President Lincoln signed the 13 th Amendment.

April 8 – The Senate passed the 13 th Amendment. The House passed it on January 1 st , 1865 and it was adopted on December 6, 1865.

March – Ulysses Grant was appointed as General-in-Chief of the Union Army.

June 8 – Abraham Lincoln was nominated for a second term by a coalition of Republicans and War Democrats.

November 8 – Lincoln was reelected for a second term. He defeated Democratic candidate George B. McClellan getting 55% of the popular vote and 212 of 233 electoral votes.

March 4 – Inauguration ceremonies took place and the president delivered his second inaugural address. It was the shortest inaugural speech at 703 words.

March 20 – John Wilkes Booth failed to kidnap the President when he changed plans and did not show up.

April 9 – Confederate General Robert Lee surrendered at Appomattox marking then end of the Civil War.

April 11 – President Lincoln gives his final public address outside the White House. For the first time he let know his plans for African American suffrage.

April 14 – President Lincoln was assassinated by John Wilkes Booth while attending the play “Our American Cousin” at the Ford Theater. He was shot in the back of the head.

April 15 – President Abraham Lincoln died at 7:20. He was 56 years old.

April 28 – John Wilkes Booth is found and killed in Virginia.

May 4 – President Lincoln was buried in Oak Ridge Cemetery in Springfield, Illinois.


By the end of this section, you will be able to:

  • Describe Lincoln&rsquos plan to restore the Union at the end of the Civil War
  • Discuss the tenets of Radical Republicanism
  • Analyze the success or failure of the Thirteenth Amendment

The end of the Civil War saw the beginning of the Reconstruction era, when former rebel Southern states were integrated back into the Union. President Lincoln moved quickly to achieve the war&rsquos ultimate goal: reunification of the country. He proposed a generous and non-punitive plan to return the former Confederate states speedily to the United States, but some Republicans in Congress protested, considering the president&rsquos plan too lenient to the rebel states that had torn the country apart. The greatest flaw of Lincoln&rsquos plan, according to this view, was that it appeared to forgive traitors instead of guaranteeing civil rights to former slaves. President Lincoln oversaw the passage of the Thirteenth Amendment abolishing slavery, but he did not live to see its ratification.


From the outset of the rebellion in 1861, Lincoln&rsquos overriding goal had been to bring the Southern states quickly back into the fold in order to restore the Union. In early December 1863, the president began the process of reunification by unveiling a three-part proposal known as the ten percent plan that outlined how the states would return. The ten percent plan gave a general pardon to all Southerners except high-ranking Confederate government and military leaders required 10 percent of the 1860 voting population in the former rebel states to take a binding oath of future allegiance to the United States and the emancipation of slaves and declared that once those voters took those oaths, the restored Confederate states would draft new state constitutions.

Lincoln hoped that the leniency of the plan&mdash90 percent of the 1860 voters did not have to swear allegiance to the Union or to emancipation&mdashwould bring about a quick and long-anticipated resolution and make emancipation more acceptable everywhere. This approach appealed to some in the moderate wing of the Republican Party, which wanted to put the nation on a speedy course toward reconciliation. However, the proposal instantly drew fire from a larger faction of Republicans in Congress who did not want to deal moderately with the South. These members of Congress, known as Radical Republicans , wanted to remake the South and punish the rebels. Radical Republicans insisted on harsh terms for the defeated Confederacy and protection for former slaves, going far beyond what the president proposed.

In February 1864, two of the Radical Republicans, Ohio senator Benjamin Wade and Maryland representative Henry Winter Davis, answered Lincoln with a proposal of their own. Among other stipulations, the Wade-Davis Bill called for a majority of voters and government officials in Confederate states to take an oath, called the Ironclad Oath , swearing that they had never supported the Confederacy or made war against the United States. Those who could not or would not take the oath would be unable to take part in the future political life of the South. Congress assented to the Wade-Davis Bill, and it went to Lincoln for his signature. The president refused to sign, using the pocket veto (that is, taking no action) to kill the bill. Lincoln understood that no Southern state would have met the criteria of the Wade-Davis Bill, and its passage would simply have delayed the reconstruction of the South.


Despite the 1863 Emancipation Proclamation, the legal status of slaves and the institution of slavery remained unresolved. To deal with the remaining uncertainties, the Republican Party made the abolition of slavery a top priority by including the issue in its 1864 party platform. The platform read: &ldquoThat as slavery was the cause, and now constitutes the strength of this Rebellion, and as it must be, always and everywhere, hostile to the principles of Republican Government, justice and the National safety demand its utter and complete extirpation from the soil of the Republic and that, while we uphold and maintain the acts and proclamations by which the Government, in its own defense, has aimed a deathblow at this gigantic evil, we are in favor, furthermore, of such an amendment to the Constitution, to be made by the people in conformity with its provisions, as shall terminate and forever prohibit the existence of Slavery within the limits of the jurisdiction of the United States.&rdquo The platform left no doubt about the intention to abolish slavery.

The president, along with the Radical Republicans, made good on this campaign promise in 1864 and 1865. A proposed constitutional amendment passed the Senate in April 1864, and the House of Representatives concurred in January 1865. The amendment then made its way to the states, where it swiftly gained the necessary support, including in the South. In December 1865, the Thirteenth Amendment was officially ratified and added to the Constitution. The first amendment added to the Constitution since 1804, it overturned a centuries-old practice by permanently abolishing slavery.

President Lincoln never saw the final ratification of the Thirteenth Amendment. On April 14, 1865, the Confederate supporter and well-known actor John Wilkes Booth shot Lincoln while he was attending a play, Our American Cousin, at Ford&rsquos Theater in Washington. The president died the next day. Booth had steadfastly defended the Confederacy and white supremacy, and his act was part of a larger conspiracy to eliminate the heads of the Union government and keep the Confederate fight going. One of Booth&rsquos associates stabbed and wounded Secretary of State William Seward the night of the assassination. Another associate abandoned the planned assassination of Vice President Andrew Johnson at the last moment. Although Booth initially escaped capture, Union troops shot and killed him on April 26, 1865, in a Maryland barn. Eight other conspirators were convicted by a military tribunal for participating in the conspiracy, and four were hanged. Lincoln&rsquos death earned him immediate martyrdom, and hysteria spread throughout the North. To many Northerners, the assassination suggested an even greater conspiracy than what was revealed, masterminded by the unrepentant leaders of the defeated Confederacy. Militant Republicans would use and exploit this fear relentlessly in the ensuing months.


Lincoln&rsquos assassination elevated Vice President Andrew Johnson, a Democrat, to the presidency. Johnson had come from very humble origins. Born into extreme poverty in North Carolina and having never attended school, Johnson was the picture of a self-made man. His wife had taught him how to read and he had worked as a tailor, a trade he had been apprenticed to as a child. In Tennessee, where he had moved as a young man, he gradually rose up the political ladder, earning a reputation for being a skillful stump speaker and a staunch defender of poor southerners. He was elected to serve in the House of Representatives in the 1840s, became governor of Tennessee the following decade, and then was elected a U.S. senator just a few years before the country descended into war. When Tennessee seceded, Johnson remained loyal to the Union and stayed in the Senate. As Union troops marched on his home state of North Carolina, Lincoln appointed him governor of the then-occupied state of Tennessee, where he served until being nominated by the Republicans to run for vice president on a Lincoln ticket. The nomination of Johnson, a Democrat and a slaveholding southerner, was a pragmatic decision made by concerned Republicans. It was important for them to show that the party supported all loyal men, regardless of their origin or political persuasion. Johnson appeared an ideal choice, because his nomination would bring with it the support of both pro-Southern elements and the War Democrats who rejected the conciliatory stance of the Copperheads , the northern Democrats who opposed the Civil War.

Unexpectedly elevated to the presidency in 1865, this formerly impoverished tailor&rsquos apprentice and unwavering antagonist of the wealthy southern planter class now found himself tasked with administering the restoration of a destroyed South. Lincoln&rsquos position as president had been that the secession of the Southern states was never legal that is, they had not succeeded in leaving the Union, therefore they still had certain rights to self-government as states. In keeping with Lincoln&rsquos plan, Johnson desired to quickly reincorporate the South back into the Union on lenient terms and heal the wounds of the nation. This position angered many in his own party. The northern Radical Republican plan for Reconstruction looked to overturn southern society and specifically aimed at ending the plantation system. President Johnson quickly disappointed Radical Republicans when he rejected their idea that the federal government could provide voting rights for freed slaves. The initial disagreements between the president and the Radical Republicans over how best to deal with the defeated South set the stage for further conflict.

In fact, President Johnson&rsquos Proclamation of Amnesty and Reconstruction in May 1865 provided sweeping &ldquoamnesty and pardon&rdquo to rebellious Southerners. It returned to them their property, with the notable exception of their former slaves, and it asked only that they affirm their support for the Constitution of the United States. Those Southerners excepted from this amnesty included the Confederate political leadership, high-ranking military officers, and persons with taxable property worth more than $20,000. The inclusion of this last category was specifically designed to make it clear to the southern planter class that they had a unique responsibility for the outbreak of hostilities. But it also satisfied Johnson&rsquos desire to exact vengeance on a class of people he had fought politically for much of his life. For this class of wealthy Southerners to regain their rights, they would have to swallow their pride and request a personal pardon from Johnson himself.

For the Southern states, the requirements for readmission to the Union were also fairly straightforward. States were required to hold individual state conventions where they would repeal the ordinances of secession and ratify the Thirteenth Amendment. By the end of 1865, a number of former Confederate leaders were in the Union capital looking to claim their seats in Congress. Among them was Alexander Stephens, the vice president of the Confederacy, who had spent several months in a Boston jail after the war. Despite the outcries of Republicans in Congress, by early 1866 Johnson announced that all former Confederate states had satisfied the necessary requirements. According to him, nothing more needed to be done the Union had been restored.

Understandably, Radical Republicans in Congress did not agree with Johnson&rsquos position. They, and their northern constituents, greatly resented his lenient treatment of the former Confederate states, and especially the return of former Confederate leaders like Alexander Stephens to Congress. They refused to acknowledge the southern state governments he allowed. As a result, they would not permit senators and representatives from the former Confederate states to take their places in Congress.

Instead, the Radical Republicans created a joint committee of representatives and senators to oversee Reconstruction. In the 1866 congressional elections, they gained control of the House, and in the ensuing years they pushed for the dismantling of the old southern order and the complete reconstruction of the South. This effort put them squarely at odds with President Johnson, who remained unwilling to compromise with Congress, setting the stage for a series of clashes.

1860, Nov. 6

Abraham Lincoln elected president of the United States.

1860, Dec. 20

South Carolina became the first of eleven southern states to secede from the United States. Ultimately Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, North Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, and Virginia would follow.

1861, Feb.

Confederate States of America organized in Montgomery, Ala., and elected Jefferson Davis president. The Confederate capital moved to Richmond, Virginia, not long after Virginia seceded in April 1861.

1861, Mar. 2

Congress passed a joint resolution proposing a thirteenth amendment to the United States Constitution which stated that "no amendment shall be made to the Constitution which will authorize or give to Congress the power to abolish or interfere, within any State, with the domestic institutions thereof, including that of persons held to labor or service by the laws of said State," in essence guaranteeing constitutional protection of slavery in those states wanting to retain slave systems. The amendment was sent to the states, but not ratified.

1861, Mar. 4

1861, Apr. 15

President Lincoln issued a call for troops after Confederates in Charleston, South Carolina, fired on Union-held Fort Sumter, initiating the Civil War.

1861, May

General Benjamin F. Butler declared escaped slaves who sought refuge at Fortress Monroe in Virginia to be "contraband of war" whose labor could be used by the Union. "Contrabands" became a term applied to fugitive slaves during the Civil War.

1861, July 21

First Battle of Bull Run at Manassas, Virginia

1861, Aug. 6

Congress passed the First Confiscation Act which invalidated the claims of slave owners to escaped slaves who had been used on behalf of the Confederacy Lincoln signed into law.

1861, Sept.

General John C. Frémont, in command of the Department of the West, issued an order emancipating the slaves of disloyal citizens in Missouri. Frémont refused Lincoln's request that he modify the order with regard to slavery, and in September President Lincoln demanded Frémont to do so.

1861, Nov.

Port Royal Sound in the Sea Islands of South Carolina captured by U. S. Captain Samuel F. Du Pont. Slave owners in the area fled to the mainland, leaving thousands of slaves behind. The area around Beaufort became the scene of the "Port Royal Experiment" in which former slaves, and military authorities, abolitionists and teachers from the North first tested emancipation and the transition to freedom.

1861, Dec.

Secretary of War Simon Cameron advocated emancipation and the military employment of fugitive slaves in a draft of his annual report made public without Lincoln's approval. The final report submitted to Congress omitted these recommendations. Lincoln's annual message instead proposed compensated emancipation and colonization measures.

1862, Mar. 6

Lincoln submitted to Congress a joint resolution proposing a federally compensation emancipation plan. Both houses of Congress passed the resolution in April, but state legislatures in the effected states failed to respond.

1862, Mar. 13

Congress passed an article of war prohibiting the army from returning escaped slaves to their masters Lincoln signed into law.

1862, Apr. 16

Congress abolished slavery in the District of Columbia with a compensated emancipation program Lincoln signed into law.

1862, May

General David Hunter declared free slaves in South Carolina, Georgia and Florida. President Lincoln quickly revoked Hunter's proclamation.

1862, June

Congress outlawed slavery in federal territories Lincoln signed into law.

1862, July 12

Lincoln met with congressmen from the border states to encourage them to adopt gradual, compensated emancipation measures in their own states, but two days later they rejected his appeal.

1862, July 13

Lincoln discussed a possible emancipation proclamation with Secretaries William H. Seward and Gideon Welles.

1862, July 17

Congress passed the Second Confiscation Act, which included provisions that freed the slaves of disloyal owners, authorized the president to employ African Americans in the suppression of the rebellion, and called for exploring voluntary colonization efforts.

Congress passed the Militia Act, which authorized the employment of African Americans in the military, freedom for those who were enslaved, and freedom for their families if owned by those disloyal to the Union. Lincoln signed into law.

1862, July 22

Lincoln presented a draft Preliminary Emancipation Proclamation to his cabinet. Secretary Seward suggested waiting for a Union military victory before issuing a proclamation.

1862, Aug.

General Benjamin F. Butler incorporated into the Union military effort several African American "Native Guard" units organized in Louisiana.

1862, Aug. 20

Lincoln responded to New York Tribune editor Horace Greeley's "Prayer of Twenty Millions" editorial in support of emancipation.

1862, Aug. 25

War Department authorized recruitment of African American soldiers in the South Carolina Sea Islands

1862, Sept. 17

Battle of Antietam considered a Union victory

1862, Sept. 22

President Lincoln issued the Preliminary Emancipation Proclamation, declaring that as of January 1, 1863 "all persons held as slaves within any State, or designated part of a State, the people whereof shall then be in rebellion against the United States shall be then, thenceforward, and forever free."

1862, Oct.

Confederate Congress passed "twenty-negro law," which exempted from military service one man per plantation with twenty or more slaves.

1862, Dec.

Confederate President Jefferson Davis proclaimed that captured African American soldiers and their white officers would not be treated as prisoners of war.

1863, Jan. 1

Lincoln signed the Final Emancipation Proclamation, which freed all slaves not residing in specified Union-controlled areas of the Confederacy, and authorized enrollment of African Americans into the military.

1863, Apr.-May

Chancellorsville campaign in Virginia

1863, May

Bureau of Colored Troops established

1863, May-June

Black troops participated in the Battles of Port Hudson and Milliken's Bend in Louisiana

1863, July

Union victories at Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, and Vicksburg, Mississippi

Targets of draft rioters in New York City include African Americans

Assault on Fort Wagner near Charleston, S.C. led by black troops

1863, Aug. 10

Lincoln met with Frederick Douglass to discuss recruitment of black troops

1863, Aug. 26

Lincoln wrote public letter for James C. Conkling in which he defended his emancipation policies. The letter was read at a mass Union meeting in Springfield, Illinois.

1863, Nov. 19

Lincoln delivered his Gettysburg Address at the dedication of the national cemetery in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania

1863, Dec. 8

Lincoln issued his Proclamation of Amnesty and Reconstruction, which established lenient terms for the return to the Union of former Confederates, but required them to "abide by and faithfully support all proclamations of the President made during the existing rebellion having reference to slaves."

1864, Apr. 4

Lincoln explained the progress of his decisions related to emancipation in a letter written to Albert Hodges.

1864, Apr.8

United States Senate passed a joint resolution proposing a constitutional amendment abolishing slavery

1864, Apr. 12

Massacre of African American soldiers captured by Confederate troops led by General Nathan Bedford Forrest at Fort Pillow, Tennessee

1864, May-June

Overland Campaign in Virginia

1864, June

Petersburg campaign began in Virginia

1864, Sept. 1

1864, Nov. 8

Lincoln re-elected president

1865, Jan. 16

General William T. Sherman issued Special Field Order 15, reserving confiscated land in coastal South Carolina, Georgia, and Florida for settlement by former slaves freed during the war.

1865, Jan. 31

United States House of Representatives passed the joint resolution proposing a thirteenth constitutional amendment abolishing slavery, which the Senate had passed in April 1864. The proposed amendment was sent to the states for ratification.

1865, Mar.

Bureau of Refugees, Freedmen and Abandoned Lands ("Freedmen's Bureau") established within the War Department in March

Confederate Congress authorized recruitment of slaves as soldiers with permission of owners

1865, Apr. 9

Confederate General Robert E. Lee surrendered to General Ulysses S. Grant at Appomattox Court House, Virginia, effectively ending the Civil War.

1865, Apr. 11

In what was his final speech, Lincoln suggested limited voting rights for "very intelligent" African-American men and those who had served in the military.

1865, Apr. 14

Abraham Lincoln shot at Ford's Theatre by John Wilkes Booth. Lincoln died at 7:22 a.m. on April 15 (further details available in Lincoln assassination timeline).

1865, Dec. 18

Ratification of the Thirteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution


THE correspondence between the French and English Governments relating to the proposed European Congress, has been published. On the 4th of November the French Emperor wrote to "Madame my sister," the Queen of England, setting forth his reasons for desiring the Congress, and requesting her Majesty to participate in it. On the 11th Earl Russel replied that the matter should be taken into consideration. Diplomatic correspondence ensued explanation, were asked and given and the decision of the British Government was finally announced on the 25th, in these words: "Not being able to discern the likelihood of those beneficial consequences which the Emperor of the French promised himself when proposing the Congress, her Majesty's Government, following their own strong convictions, after mature deliberation, feel themselves unable to accept his Imperial Majesty's invitation." The reply also contained the significant intimation that "Her Majesty's Government have good grounds to believe that no Austrian representative would attend a congress where any proposition for the surrender of Venetia by Austria was to be discussed."

Watch the video: History in Five: Abraham Lincoln and the Emancipation Proclamation