Johnson, Grant, and the Politics of Reconstruction

By Martin E. Mantell | Go to book overview

CHAPTER ONE
THE PROBLEM OF RECONSTRUCTION

In April of 1865, as the Civil War came to a close, it might have seemed that the North had completely achieved its war aims and there was therefore no need for a long or complicated process of reconstruction. Even before Appomattox it had been clear that the effort to establish an independent southern nation had failed, and after the surrender of the Army of Northern Virginia even the most ardent Confederate had to admit that the struggle was over. With southern resistance to national authority thus virtually ended at least one northern leader, Major General William T. Sherman, thought that peace could be made quickly and easily. On April 18th, he signed a convention with Confederate General Joseph E. Johnston that represented the first effort to deal with the problem of reconstruction within the postwar context. The terms of the Sherman-Johnston Convention were simple enough: the remaining Confederate armies would lay down their weapons, the authority of the national government would be reestablished, and everything would then be restored essentially to the status quo ante bellum. 1 This agreement thus represented an effort to settle the war on the simplest basis possible by having the South renounce its claim to a right of secession, which had been the most obvious and immediate cause for the start of hostilities.

But the administration at Washington immediately and emphatically refused to ratify these terms, which were in fact a totally inadequate effort to deal with the situation as it existed at the end of the war. Instead, the new President, Andrew Johnson, established a much more far-reaching program for reconstruction. Where the Sherman-Johnston Convention would have left the Confederate state governments in existence, the President's plan abolished them, giving power instead to existing Unionist governments in four states; Arkansas, Louisiana, Tennessee, and Virginia, and to men appointed as provisional governors elsewhere. In the latter

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