Radical Republicans of Lincoln’s party barely concealed their contempt for him and certainly favored having him out of the way in order to fully control punishment for the American South’s bid for political independence.
It was these Radicals, who, along with Lincoln, spurned any and all compromise efforts in early 1861 to settle differences peaceably, and drove the country into a war which ended a million lives and laid waste to the South.
Radicals Versus the American South
“While the war from one point of view might be considered tragic, Radicals believed that it furnished an opportunity to make America’s political system just. “If we fail to embrace” the opportunity, warned one Congressman, “the golden moment will have escaped for years, if not forever.”
After winning victory on the battlefield, Radicals were determined not to lose the peace. These two elements – the Radical belief that Reconstruction politics were an extension of wartime issues and the Radical determination not to lose the fruits of military victory – are crucial in understanding Radical motivation.
Lincoln’s assassination confirmed these ideas. “My God Gov.,” wrote a friend to ex-Governor Austin Blair . . . “Poor Lincoln a victim of his own goodness and leniency. Death to all Traitors.”
Another of Blair’s correspondents reacted similarly: “Poor old Abraham has yielded up his life at last . . . Let justice now be meted out to the remorseless villains who led the people into rebellion by a man of their own household [Andrew Johnson] – a man who knows and fully realizes the depth of their depravity & has no mawkish sympathy for them when conquered.”
[Michigan] Senator [Zachariah] Chandler reacted in a more calculating manner. “I believe that the Almighty continued Mr. Lincoln in office as long as he was useful,” Chandler wrote to his wife, “& then substituted a better man to finish the work.” Had Lincoln’s policy [of reconstruction] been carried out, he believed that Jefferson Davis and his followers would be back in the Senate; “but now,” gloated the senator, “their Chance to Stretch hemp are [sic] better than for the Senate . . .”
Needed in Washington, the grim Michigan Senator substituted someone else to accompany Lincoln’s remains to Springfield. “[Andrew] Johnson is right now,” he reported; “thinks just as we do & desires to carry out Radical measures & punish treason & traitors, but much depends on his Surroundings.”
A few days later Chandler described Johnson: “as Radical as I am & fully up to the mark. If he has good men around him there will be no danger in the future.”
(Radical Republican Motivation, George M. Blackburn, Journal of Negro History, Volume LIV, Number 2, April 1969, Carter G. Woodson, editor, excerpts pp. 112-113)