Lincoln’s Plan For Reconstruction

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Another prominent Virginia unionist was the distinguished lawyer John Minor Botts. He had strongly opposed Southern Democratic disunionists, and, though disapproving also of abolitionists, had given support to the efforts of John Quincy Adams in the matter of antislavery petitions presented to Congress. When Lincoln was a Whig member of Congress from Illinois, Botts was a Whig member from Virginia (1847-49); indeed many of his views were similar to Lincoln’s. Both in 1850 and in 1860 he was an earnest opponent of secession, his opposition to Jefferson Davis and to Governor Henry Wise of Virginia being especially marked. He greatly regretted the secession of his state in 1860, which he had tried to prevent. During the war he was so far out of sympathy with the Confederate government that he was arrested and confined for some months in jail. For the most part, however, he spent the war years in retirement. His later career showed the steadfastness of his Union loyalty.

The fact that certain Southern areas had never left the Union was, of course, significant. That was true of Kentucky. It was remarked that the mountainous districts of that border state were “with very few exceptions . . . thoroughly union.” The same observer noted derisively that in the central part of the state “most of the large slave holders, . . . the gamblers ... all the decayed chivalry ... all the fast & fashionable ones & nearly all the original Breckinridge Democrats are bitter to secessionists.”

V Unionist voices were audible throughout the unhappy South. A clear sign of the times in Louisiana was the editorial of the True Delta of New Orleans (February 5, 1864) praising Lincoln, comparing him to Washington and Jackson, and favoring his re-election. In Mississippi a local judge wrote: “I have first, last and all the time , been a Union man.” Secession, he reported, had been put over without the people understanding what was involved. In another report from Mississippi it was indicated that there were “thousands . . . who desire most ardently the restoration of the United States.”

In North Carolina peace movements were rife and it was reported early in 1864 that troops from the Old North State were deserting rapidly and extensively from the Confederate service. In the previous year a group of North Carolina citizens had presented a petition to the President, asking him to “order an election day for this district for the purpose of electing a representative for the next Congress.” These petitioners represented themselves as “loyal to the Constitution of our country anxious that it should be perpetuated.”

As to Alabama it was predicted that if the question of returning to the Union were submitted to a vote, the people would “vote aye, five to one .” The President was given the following assurance: “Could you know how deep and universal is the returning love for the union among the people of Ala & Geo you would discharge your great responsibilities with a hymn of joy in your heart.”

These evidences, and more of the same, were available to Lincoln. Since his day further material has come to light tending to reveal the extent of Union sentiment in seceded states. Naturally, men and women of Union sympathies in the South found existing conditions difficult for any expression of loyalty in active, organized form. Yet their restricted attitude was significant as they maintained a kind of passive resistance, avoided voluntary measures against the government at Washington, opposed the Confederate draft, carried provisions and medicines to Union soldiers, contributed money for the welfare of blue-coats, attended boys in hospitals, and performed other friendly acts for Federal troops. Such acts incurred persecution, and the Southern unionist moved often in an atmosphere of scorn and hostility not unaccompanied by threats and acts of personal violence. Of course, in various respects he was compelled to act against his will when it was a matter of serving as conscript, subscribing to a Confederate loan, contributing cotton, paying taxes, or performing labor. Since Southern wartime history has been largely remembered and recorded in Confederate terms, these details are still somewhat obscure; at least their full force is not generally recognized.

No history of Lincoln, however, can ignore them. His reports from the South were a vital element in policy making. When he made his broad appeal in December, 1863, offering pardon, prescribing his simple oath, and opening the way for new state governments by genuine Southern effort looking toward peace with freedom and union, he had reason to know, at least in large part, the kind of support and fulfillment upon which he could count. His sense of his own function as leader was strengthened by his realization that Southern unionism did not signify willingness to accept the program and regime of congressional Radicals. On the contrary, such union-mindedness was oriented in Lincolnian terms. In taking on the responsibility of launching and promoting reconstruction, Lincoln saw an opportunity which needed to be seized while its most fruitful results were yet possible.

Congress: Means and Ends

At the end of June, 1864, the final resignation of Treasury Secretary Chase raised new questions about government finance and complicated the relations between Congress and President. His resignation climaxed the long-raging feud in Congress between his adherents and those of Seward, Welles, and the Blairs.