Reconstruction Act of 1867

As the Civil War drew to a close how to treat those states that had left the Union was a significant challenge. President Lincoln had a forgiving attitude and believed that the states never actually left the Union, and thus believed that all the states needed to do was accept the 13th amendment outlawing slavery. They then had to a elect new local governments and send their representatives to Washington. When Lincoln was assassinated Vice President Johnson took over. As the only Senator from the South to remain loyal during the Civil War he was not totally trusted by the Northerns. Johnson continued Lincoln’s policies towards the Southern states, but without Lincolns prestige, Johnson was opposed by the Republicans in the Congress. Johnson’s task was made harder by the actions of the Southern States in passing “Black Codes”- laws that put restrictions on the freed slaves.

The Republicans in the Congress who became known as the Radical Republicans never accepted Lincoln approach and believed that it was up to the legislative branch to allow states to fully return to the Union. In 1867 they passed the Reconstruction Act that assigned the military of the role of organizing local government, making sure that ex slaves received the full right to vote, and denied the right to vote to supporters of the confederacy. The South was divided into five military districts and the goal of the military was to ensure that African Americans were able to vote. The military oversaw the election process, and were responsible to make sure that all people holding office had taken an oath to the United States. Under the act for a state to be readmitted to the Union it had to approve the 14th amendment guaranteeing all men the right to vote.

President Johnson opposed the Reconstruction Act and vetoed it. His veto was easily overridden by Congress and became law. New governments were elected in the South and they included many African Americans.