Chronology of Reconstruction

1863 Lincoln's issues his Proclamation of Amnesty and Reconstruction—states may be readmitted where 10% of the 1860 electorate takes an oath of loyalty to the Union and the state agrees to emancipation. Congress refuses to recognize this plan.
1864 Congress passes the Wade-Davis Bill, more restrictive than Lincoln’s plan—it requires a majority loyalty oath, etc. Lincoln vetoes this bill. 

Sherman in Georgia authorizes former slaves to occupy plantation property in Savannah vicinity, sets precedent of “40 acres and a mule” which later brings false expectations, problems.

In his Second Inaugural address, Lincoln promises to restore the Union with charity for all and malice toward none. His death is a tragedy for the South.


March 3: Bureau of Refugees, Freedmen and Abandoned Lands established. Freedmen's Savings and Trust Company chartered. 

Lincoln assassinated, dies next day (Good Friday.) Congress not in session when Lincoln dies—Reconstruction becomes the province of the Republican radicals in Congress.

April 25: Final Capitulation of the Confederacy; Sherman in Raleigh; all resistance ends May 26.

Johnson issues various proclamations: Amnesty to oath takers (except criminals and property holders over $20,000, officers, those who had resigned from U.S. government, etc.) 

May-June: Johnson granted many special pardons to old Confederates and enjoyed their groveling before him. 

Summer: Johnson organizes provisional governments—calls on them to amend constitutions, abolish slavery, nullify secession, repudiate war debt. Allows South to enfranchise Blacks voluntarily. 

By December Johnson announces that the Union has been "restored." 

December: Congress refuses to endorse Johnson’s Reconstruction, forms a Joint Committee of 15 members which is dominated by the Radicals under Thaddeus Stevens. The Radicals are incensed by the fact that the South gets more Congressmen since 3/5 rule has been abolished by the 13th Amendment. In order to redress the political balance Congress needs to get Blacks enfranchised and so declares war on Johnson.

1865-66 Black Codes are passed in many Southern states. (See examples.) Some are reasonable legislation needed to define the Freedmen's situation. Other parts are discriminatory. The harshest recreated slavery through vagrancy laws, work-contract provisions, etc., fines to be paid by those looking for cheap labor. 

The Ku Klux Klan is founded. Even before that random violence in South is directed against Blacks. As long as Johnson is sympathetic, it is under some control. When Congressional programs kick in, various white supremacy groups appear, including the Knights of the White Camelia, the Ku Klux Klan, etc. 

Met with Southern resistance, Congress begins to challenge Johnson for control of Reconstruction. 

February: A new Freedmen’s Bureau Bill is passed to counteract Black Codes. Johnson vetoes the bill put is overridden. 

March: The Trumbull Civil Rights Act grants Blacks citizenship to counter Dred Scott. Same rights to all persons born in U.S. Affirms freedmen's rights to make contracts, sue, give evidence, buy, lease, convey personal and real property. Excluded any state statutes on segregation. Did not provide for full public accommodations, so separate but equal implicit. Johnson vetoes on grounds that it is illegal because passed in the absence of southern congressmen and is also unconstitutional on various grounds.

June: The 14th Amendment is passed by Congress because of fear of unconstitutionality of the Civil Rights Act. Ratification eventually made condition for readmission. Because of committee reports Congress decides that Confederate states are not entitled to representation and asserts Congressional authority over executive. Tennessee restored under the Radical plan. 

June: The Southern Homestead Act grants 44 million acres of land for Freedmen; most is of poor quality; 80 acres/family, must be cultivated 5 years; Freedmen have no capital to exploit the land. 

August: National Union Party Convention in Philadelphia challenges Radicals for 1866 elections. Republicans unite against Johnson. During the campaign Johnson's maladroit speaking tour arouses indignation: hecklers, insults traded; Johnson hurt his own cause.

Fall: Congressional Elections: Republicans win overwhelming victory; 43-11 majority in Senate, 143-49 in the House. With veto override radicals can now control Reconstruction.  


Congress Takes the Initiative. Radicals are determined to crush the old southern ruling class. Radical Reconstruction becomes a "states’ righters’ nightmare" and an "exquisite chastisement" of the South. Southerners stonewall, refuse to cooperate. Reconstruction Acts didn’t go nearly as far as radicals wanted to go. Johnson fought Reconstruction acts by appointing governors who refused to fully comply. 

March 2. 1st Reconstruction Act becomes law—made necessary by South's position: impose what you will, but we will accept nothing voluntarily. 

Provisions: Five military districts; Existing governments declared provisional only; Governors to call constitutional conventions with full manhood suffrage; Enroll Blacks on voter registration rolls, ratify constitutions and 14th Amendment. Then representatives will be admitted to Congress. 

March 2. Tenure of Office Act. Johnson cannot dismiss cabinet officers approved by Senate without Senate approval. (Aimed at keeping Secretary of War Stanton, a Radical sympathizer.) Command of the Army Act also passed to control the president. All Reconstruction actions must go through C-in-C of Army—General Grant. (Both acts are the later basis for Johnson's Impeachment.) 

March 23 through March 1868: Supplementary Reconstruction Acts close loopholes in original act, enforce provisions through authority of military governors, allow simple majorities to decide ratification, etc.


Military Reconstruction. Johnson faithfully carries out plan, appoints governors, etc. Over 700,000 Blacks are registered to vote. Small corps of southern Unionists form the nucleus of the Republican Party in the South: blacks join en masse. Black-White coalition: Freedmen, Southern loyalists ("Scalawags"); Northern Republicans in the South (“Carpetbaggers.”)

Southern State Conventions are Radical dominated. Blacks participate in all. Constitutions guarantee civil rights for Blacks, exclude former rebels, etc. Blacks have majority of voters in many areas of the South. The new Constitutions are generally quite progressive, often ahead of those of the North.

The white counterrevolution: the Ku Klux Klan and other white supremacy groups are underway by 1867. They conduct a reign of terror over the next decades, thousands are killed, injured. The target of the KKK was the republican Party, both Blacks and whites.


The impeachment of Andrew Johnson. When Johnson sabotages Radical Reconstruction in the way he administers it, Congress moves to remove him from office. The House impeaches him in February 1868, but the Senate refuses to convict by one vote. Popular opinion has begun to turn against the Radical Republicans, who seem willing to subvert the Constitution to accomplish what they want. Johnson has the power to influence Reconstruction even while still obeying the law by appointing conservative governors, issuing orders to the Army, etc. Radicals acknowledged that impeachment is a political act—a test of the power of the legislature—“as powerful as the British?” It was also personally directed against Johnson. The final outcome may have been rigged because of fear of Ben Wade (next in line) in 1868. Aim was to neutralize veto power, but Congress didn't approach it in that way.

February: Johnson fires Stanton, defies Tenure of Office Act, so Radicals have cause to impeach. Resolution passes House 126-47—violation of acts, and "attempting to bring disgrace and ridicule on Congress." May 16: Vote for conviction is 35-19, one short of conviction. Johnson is chastised, carries out Reconstruction for rest of term without incident. 

General Grant elected President in fairly close election. Over 450,000 Black votes for Grant. 

Serving during one of the most difficult periods in American history, Grant lacked the consistency, and sense of purpose to be an effective administrator. Grant faced problems that might have defeated a better president, but he contributed to his own failure. He was not a man with strong political principles, and was by temperament not well suited to the job. Just as he had been an un-military general, he was an un-political president. His administration was tainted by controversy and corruption, though he was never personally implicated. (He was the first President to get a pay raise, however.) The scandals included Credit Mobilier, in which Union Pacific railroad managers formed a company to divert profits to themselves, others.

In the South Grant's administration failed to sustain black suffrage against violent groups bent on restoring white supremacy. Organizations like the Ku Klux Klan used terrorism, insurrection, and murder to intimidate southern Republican governments and prospective black voters. 

With the Fifteenth Amendment severely threatened, Congress passed the Force Acts which allowed the president to use military force to quell insurrections.


Congress passes the Fifteenth Amendment and attempts for a few years afterward to suppress terrorist groups like the Ku Klux Klan, which have become strong enough to seize political control of some southern states. By 1876 Republicans control only South Carolina, Louisiana, and Florida. Forceful measures are necessary to quell terrorism in the South, but the northern public would no longer support military action.

Texas v. White. Important Decision. Court holds secession inadmissible. Confederate state authorities never legally existed. "The Constitution . . . looks to be an indestructible Union, composed of indestructible states." Congress has Constitutional duty to assure every state a republican form of government. 

1870-71 Several Ku Klux Klan Acts passed to enforce 15th Amendment; they are called the Force Bills.
1872 Grant reelected. Liberal Republicans support Horace Greeley because of scandals, etc.
1873 Financial Panic leads to depression. Panic over silver issue—will discuss later under currency issues, etc.
1875 Sumner Civil Rights Act passed. Calls for equal rights in public places, conveyances; Blacks cannot be excluded from jury duty.
1876 By now many, North and South, are tired of Reconstruction, want to forget the Civil War. The winter of 1876-77 is one of discontent, confusion, rumbles of further war. The election is marked by fraud, and from election day, November 2, until inauguration day, no one knows for sure who will be president. 




Compromise of 1877 ends the conflict over election. Hayes becomes President in exchange for: 
  1. An end to Military Reconstruction; 
  2. A Southerner on the Cabinet; 
  3. Internal improvement dollars for the South. What the South really wanted was "home rule." 
The Compromise included things President Hayes probably would have done anyway.
End of the Reconstruction Era | Reconstruction Home | Updated August 8, 2013