American Civil War for Kids - Reconstruction Under President Johnson
Andrew Johnson took over as president after Lincoln was assassinated. Johnson was a Democrat. He was originally selected by the Republican party as the Vice President candidate to run with Lincoln because Johnson was a Democrat who supported Lincoln's ideas. The Republican party was hoping this would get them some votes from Democrats.
Long before Lincoln was assassinated, Lincoln had clashed with Congress over how the South should be handled during reconstruction. Lincoln believed that a lenient reconstruction was the best way to mend the wounds of the war. His goal was to unite the states under one roof, not to punish the South for the war. President Andrew Johnson believed he was following Lincoln's plan, basically carrying on in face of the tragedy of Lincoln's assassination.
The first thing Johnson did was issue a proclamation of presidential pardons. This proclamation pardoned most Confederates for their participation in the Civil War except for high ranking officers and high ranking government officials who had to apply for a pardon. General Lee applied for a pardon. He did not receive one in his lifetime. But following Lee's lead, other generals and high ranking officials did apply and were granted pardons. More than 7,000 pardons were issued by 1866, with more requests coming in daily. Some Southerners who applied for pardons had already been elected to high government offices in the South. For example, former Confederate General Humphreys received his pardon 10 days after he became the governor of Mississippi.
In addition, Johnson's reconstruction policy allowed any Southern leader who had fought in the war to return to Congress. He provided for new seats for Southern states in Congress because freed slaves were counted as a full man, not 3/5th of a man as originally counted prior to the 13th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.
Congress rejected Johnson's lenient plan. They denied Southerners entry to Congress. They set about establishing a series of laws to handle reconstruction in the South. Their plan was much more harsh than Johnson's. Their actions are referred to as the Congressional Reconstruction, some of which is detailed in the Reconstruction Act of 1867. But Johnson did not give up. He, like Lincoln, believed the best course for the country was to help the South recover by allowing them to manage themselves.
Johnson vetoed the Reconstruction Act of 1867 that replaced civilian government in the South with a military government. This act designed by Congress to control government in the South and give power to the enforcement of unpopular laws, like the 13th Amendment. Congress overrode his veto.
Johnson vetoed an extention of time for the Freedman's Bureau to operate. The Bureau was a temporary agency created in 1865 to help freed African-Americans transition to freedom. The Congress overrode his veto, and time was extended.
And so the fight continued. Johnson was nearly impeached. It was very close. When impeachment did not work, the Republicans went after Johnson from another angle. Congress passed two laws that restricted his power. One law stated that Johnson was forbidden to give any orders to the military without permission of the Senate. The other stated that Johnson could not remove any high-ranking civilians in his administration without permission of the Senate. These laws were probably unconstitutional, but by this time, the Republican majority in Congress really did not care. If these rules had not already been revoked when no longer needed, then the Supreme Court could rule them unconstitutional, but by that time Andrew Johnson would no longer be president.