With Lincoln's assassination, his "team of rivals," in Doris Kearns Goodwin's phrase, was left adrift. Read more...
With Lincoln's assassination, his "team of rivals," in Doris Kearns Goodwin's phrase, was left adrift. President Andrew Johnson, a former slave owner from Tennessee, was challenged by Northern Congressmen, Radical Republicans led by Thaddeus Stephens and Charles Sumner, who wanted to punish the defeated South. When Johnson's policies placated the rebels at the expense of the black freed men, radicals in the House impeached him for trying to fire Secretary of War Edwin Stanton. Johnson was saved from removal by one vote in the Senate trial, presided over by Salmon Chase. Even William Seward, Lincoln's closest ally in his cabinet, seemed to waver.
By the 1868 election, united Republicans nominated Ulysses Grant, Lincoln's winning Union general. The night of his victory, Grant lamented to his wife, "I'm afraid I'm elected." His attempts to reconcile Southerners with the Union and to quash the rising Ku Klux Klan were undercut by post-war greed and corruption during his two terms.
Reconstruction died unofficially in 1887 when Republican Rutherford Hayes joined with the Democrats in a deal that removed the last federal troops from South Carolina and Louisiana. In 1964, President Lyndon Johnson signed a bill with protections first proposed in 1872 by the Radical Senator from Massachusetts, Charles Sumner.
Publishers Weekly® Reviews
- Reviewed in: Publishers Weekly, page .
- Review Date: 2014-05-26
- Reviewer: Staff
Langguth (Patriots: The Men Who Started the American Revolution) takes a warts-and-all approach in profiling the major figures of the Reconstruction. Bitter rivalries within the Republican Party, the impeachment of an accidental president, and the unlikely hanging of a female assassination conspirator all resulted in a tumultuous post–Civil War period that also kick-started what would later become the Civil Rights movement. Langguth employs brief biographical sketches of key figures to describe the turf wars that arose in the aftermath of Lincoln’s assassination, the fight to protect newly freed slaves, and the internal administrative battle over the degree of punitive efforts towards the South. His primarily chronological vignettes range from those on Lincoln’s bickering cabinet members and antagonistic legislators to former CSA president Jefferson Davis, iconic newspaperman Horace Greeley, and the first African-American governor, P.B.S. Pinchback of Louisiana. Langguth’s well-placed and humanizing personal details about the strident men orchestrating Reconstruction and Johnson’s impeachment add depth and immediacy to the significant struggles of reuniting North and South, while clearly showing the harsh results of their actions in a post-Lincoln United States. 20 b&w illus. Agent: Lynn Nesbit, Janklow & Nesbit. (Sept.)
Stitching the states back together
At the time Abraham Lincoln was assassinated, he did not have a definite plan for dealing with the postwar South. Although 360,000 Union troops had died during the Civil War, the North had not suffered the widespread devastation of the Southern states. The nine million white citizens and four million former slaves who lived in the former Confederacy faced a grim future.
Six weeks after he assumed the presidency, Andrew Johnson revealed his vision for uniting the country. He declared a sweeping amnesty that restored all property, except slaves, to most rebels as long as they swore to “support, protect, and defend” the Constitution and the Union. To Radical Republican leaders such as Senator Charles Sumner and Representative Thaddeus Stevens, it seemed white residents of the South were treated with remarkable leniency.
In his magnificent After Lincoln: How the North Won the Civil War and Lost the Peace, A.J. Langguth takes us through the Reconstruction period and its many heroic and tragic events. Among the latter were the so-called Black Codes, stringent state laws passed after Johnson became president. They ranged from a South Carolina law requiring any black man who wanted work other than as a servant or farmer to apply for a license from a judge and pay an annual tax, to Kentucky, where all contracts had to be approved by a white citizen, to Florida where “impudence,” a form of vagrancy, could cause the violator to be whipped. Lynchings and the killing of innocent black citizens went unpunished.
For all practical purposes, Reconstruction ended in 1887 when Republican President Rutherford Hayes joined with Democrats in a deal that led to the removal of federal troops from Louisiana and South Carolina. That arrangement brought to an end any hopes that African Americans would enjoy full equality as U.S. citizens.
Langguth skillfully illuminates the roles of key figures and offers enlightening commentary on events. After Lincoln is an excellent choice for readers who want to understand why the post-Civil War period was a major disappointment and why the Civil Rights Act of 1964 did not come until 99 years after the end of the Civil War.