In December 1865, President Andrew Johnson, Lincoln’s successor, announced his plan of “reconstructing” the States which had departed the Union four years earlier and had been defeated militarily. But Northern Republicans had their own vision of reconstruction, seeing the black man’s enfranchisement as a convenient vehicle for enduring political hegemony, and clothing it in high moral sentiments which set that black man against his white neighbor.
Later, W.E.B. DuBois, would see the War’s result in Marxist terms and viewed it as the greatest social revolution ever possible – “that of giving the Negro the franchise and uniting the workers as such, against the capitalists.” But these newly united workers, and their votes, were destined to be used by the Gilded Age capitalists energized by Lincoln’s war.
Dictator of the Republic
“Had reconstruction had been only a problem of restoring the Union and bringing peace to a war weary people, Andrew Johnson’s report would have indicated real progress. Under existing conditions, it served only to show that the war had become the carrier of a social, political and moral revolution and had left its early impulses far behind. The great masses may have gladly seen the army disbanded and looked forward to a quick return to normal living, but there were persons in Congress and out who would not believe the war had come to an end until those who had caused it were adequately punished, the Negro set on the road to first-class citizenship and the Republican party assured of perpetual political dominance.
As early as May 5, 1865, the Independent, which spoke for what came to be called the Radical Republicans in Congress, was asserting:
“There is one, and only one, sure and safe policy for the immediate future, namely: The North must remain the absolute Dictator of the Republic until the spirit of the North shall become the spirit of the whole country . . . The South is still unpurged of her treason. Prostrate in the dust she is no less a traitor at this hour than when her head was erect . . . They cannot be trusted with authority over their former slaves: they cannot be trusted with authority over the recemented Republic . . . The only hope for the South is to give the ballot to the Negro and in denying it to the rebels.”
In like spirit George W. Julian of Indiana would “indict, convict and hang Jefferson Davis in the name of God; as for Robert E. Lee, unmolested in Virginia, hang him too. And stop there? Not at all. I would hang liberally while I had a hand in.” Senator Benjamin F. Wade of Ohio suggested that “if the Negroes by insurrection could contrive to slay one-half of the Southern whites, the remaining half would then hold them in respect and treat them with justice.”
Thaddeus Stevens [of Pennsylvania] would wipe out Southern State lines and reduce the section to a territory where rebels would learn to practice justice to all men. Charles Sumner [of Massachusetts] would seize all rebel property and distribute it to the Negroes, give them the vote, and let them rule the section.”
(Reconstruction and the Ending of the Civil War, Avery Craven, Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1969, excerpts, pp. 92-93)