Andrew Johnson: A Study in Courage

By Lloyd Paul Stryker | Go to book overview

XIV
LINCOLN AND THE RADICALS

To Herndon in 1866 John Hay wrote: " Lincoln with all his foibles is the greatest character since Christ."1 It was a valuation of Lincoln dead. There is not more difference between death and life than between Hay's estimate of 1866 and that of many of his countrymen in 1864. In the latter year Congress began the struggle over reconstruction that was not to end until the blackest chapter in our history had been written.

The ink on Lincoln's reconstruction proclamation of December 8th, 1863, had not had seven days to dry when Thaddeus Stevens reported to the House a resolution to refer the proclamation to a special committee of which Henry Winter Davis of Maryland became chairman.2 Davis had been elected a representative from his state in 1855 as a "Know-Nothing," and had served continuously until 1861. In the election of 1860 he was defeated. He thereupon became a Republican and as such was reëlected in 1862.3 In 1864 he was 47. Whatever else was wanting this young man did not lack self-confidence. He strongly preferred his own statesmanship to that of Abraham Lincoln and loudly proclaimed the superiority of his opinions to those of the chief executive of the nation. He was cocky, intolerant, egotistical, self-opinionated, unyielding. In short, he was splendid material for the Radicals. He was a man after their own heart. On January 18th, 1864, he presented a bill embodying the Congressional scheme of reconstruction.4 The differences between this and Lincoln's plan were fundamental.

The theory of the Radicals was that the eleven states adopting ordinances of secession were no longer "states"; that they had become mere territories and as such were under the direct control of Congress. In the last analysis, it was the recognition of the

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