School Improvement in Maryland
Clarifications: Each clarification provides an explanation of an indicator/objective to help teachers better understand the skills and/or concepts.

Standard 5.0 History

Topic B. Emergence, Expansion and Changes in Nations and Empires

Indicator 5. Analyze the political, economic, and social goals of Reconstruction

Objective a. Explain the goals and policies of the various Reconstruction plans


During the Civil War, government officials in the United States began a contentious debate over the best way to rebuild the South and reintegrate it into the Union after the war. Reconstruction was a period of upheaval, as several competing plans were put forward. Elements of a given plan would be enacted, only to be blocked and reversed by the opposition.

In December of 1863, President Abraham Lincoln announced his Ten Percent Plan, which aimed to bring the rebellious states back into the Union as quickly and painlessly as possible. This plan stipulated that Southern states could establish new state governments and rejoin the Union as soon as ten percent of the voters took an oath of loyalty to the Union. Lincoln offered amnesty to all white Southerners who took the oath, except Confederate leaders. His plan also permitted the former states of the Confederacy to decide what rights to offer African Americans, although it suggested that well-educated blacks and those that had served in the Union army be given the right to vote.

The so-called Radical Republicans in Congress, who wanted the Confederate states and their leaders to be treated more harshly, opposed Lincoln’s plan as too lenient and countered in July 1846 with the Wade-Davis Bill. Under this plan, a majority of a state’s white males would be required to swear loyalty to the Union, and only those white males who swore that they had never fought for the Confederacy could vote for delegates to each Confederate state’s required constitutional convention. The Wade-Davis Bill also mandated that the new state constitution abolish slavery, and barred former Confederates from holding office. Lincoln refused to sign this bill into law.

After he assumed the presidency following Lincoln’s assassination in April of 1865, Andrew Johnson enacted his own plan, unimpeded by Congress, which had recessed shortly before he became president and did not reconvene until December. Johnson appointed governors to the Southern states and ordered them to hold constitutional conventions to create constitutions that outlawed slavery. On the surface, Johnson’s voting requirements seemed to deprive the South’s old ruling elite of all power. For example, all white voters had to swear an oath of loyalty to gain amnesty, and several classes of people had to apply directly to the president for pardon, including all former federal officials, all military officers who had attended West Point or the Naval Academy and had resigned their commissions to fight for the Confederacy, high ranking Confederate leaders, and all southerners who had supported the Confederacy and owned property worth more than $20,000. But in an effort to speed up the process of creating new state governments and complete Reconstruction before the reconvening of Congress, Johnson pardoned a great many ex-Confederates from these groups, and they soon had resumed control of Southern politics. Johnson’s plan allowed the states to decide the fate of freedmen, and the former Confederate states quickly established black codes to deny rights to former slaves.

When Congress reconvened, the Republicans immediately opposed Johnson’s plan as far too lenient and ushered in a period known as Radical Reconstruction. They passed the Civil Rights Act of 1866 to grant full citizenship to African Americans and solidified this move with the Fourteenth Amendment. The First Reconstruction Act of 1867 divided the Southern states into five military districts under the authority of a military commander until new state governments could be formed. Former Confederate leaders were banned from holding office, and African Americans were guaranteed the right to vote. Only after ratifying the Fourteenth Amendment and submitting new state constitutions for Congressional approval could the Southern states return to the Union. President Johnson strongly opposed this legislation and the Republicans’ Reconstruction agenda, but Radical Reconstruction ultimately reshaped the South.

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