Johnson, Grant, and the Politics of Reconstruction

By Martin E. Mantell | Go to book overview

CHAPTER FOUR
NORTHERN POLITICS AND THE ELECTIONS OF 1867

With the elections of 1866 reaffirming their firm control of the North and the congressional reconstruction program promising to give them a significant base of support in the South, Republicans in 1867 had good reason to feel well satisfied with their political situation. The differences that continued to exist within the party were essentially between those who thought that the legislation already passed was sufficient, and more radical elements who felt that the party's policies should continue to move forward as rapidly in the future as they had in the past. In reference to reconstruction these disagreements involved three separate issues, confiscation of the property of ex-Confederates, the removal of political disabilities, and the impeachment of the President. In the spring and summer of 1867 the future direction that the party would take on these questions was still undecided, as Republicans awaited the outcome of events in the South.

Thaddeus Stevens remained the principal spokesman for the radical group in the House of Representatives, his main concern being a confiscation bill under which the property of ex-Confederates would have been used to provide homesteads for ex-slaves and to pay for northern war damages and pensions. In this he had little immediate support from his own party, Congress taking no action on his proposal and not a single state convention in 1867 endorsing such a measure. But many times in the past the course of events had resulted in Republican moderates accepting measures that they had opposed as too radical just a short time before, and it was recognized that this might happen again. Congress held the threat of confiscation over the South by scheduling consideration of Stevens' bill for December, 1867, and even the moderate New York Times warned that if the congressional terms were rejected, all elements of the party would unite in support of harsher conditions. 1

The operation of this process of radicalization could be seen on

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