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1865

The Civil War Ends:
On April 2, General Robert E. Lee ordered the evacuation of Petersburg and Richmond, the Confederate capital. He then headed west from Petersburg along the north side of the Appomattox River, hoping to steer south and join General Joseph E. Johnston in North Carolina. General Ulysses S. Grant’s Union troops rode behind Lee’s, while General Philip Sheridan’s Union cavalry moved on the south parallel to the Confederates, blocking access to North Carolina. On April 6, part of Lee’s troops became separated. Union General George Armstrong Custer charged his men into the gap, forming a barrier to the Confederates’ reunification. The ensuing Battle of Sailor’s Creek resulted in 7700 Confederate and 1148 Union casualties. The Union captured 8000 Confederate soldiers and 8 generals.

After that devastating blow, Lee began retreating northward, reaching the town of Appomattox Court House on the evening of April 8. Sheridan’s men were west and in front of him; those of Grant and General George Meade were behind him. In the early morning of April 9, the Confederates tried to break through the Union line, but were unsuccessful. That afternoon, Lee and Grant met at the home of Wilmer McLean, where the Confederate commander surrendered. The formal surrender ceremony occurred on April 12. Sporadic fighting continued until the last of the Confederate armies surrendered on May 26, and Confederate naval operations ceased on June 2. Nevertheless, the surrender of General Robert E. Lee on April 9, 1865, stands as the symbolic end of the American Civil War.

The Assassination of President Lincoln:
John Wilkes Booth, a popular theatrical actor sympathetic to the Confederacy, organized a conspiracy against President Abraham Lincoln. After a kidnapping plot proved impractical, plans were made to assassinate the president and other high-ranking Union officials. Although Confederate General Robert E. Lee had surrendered on April 9, 1865, Booth believed that Lincoln’s assassination would give new life to the Confederate cause. On April 14, Booth mortally wounded the president while he and Mrs. Lincoln were attending a performance of “Our American Cousin” at Ford’s Theater in Washington, D.C. Lincoln lingered unconscious until he died at 7:22 a.m. on April 15, 1865. One Booth co-conspirator failed to shoot Vice President Andrew Johnson, while another wounded Secretary of State William Henry Seward (who recovered). Johnson, a Southern Democrat, assumed the presidency. On April 26, Booth was killed after refusing to surrender. Seven of his co-conspirators were tried and found guilty; four were hanged on July 7, 1865, and three given life sentences (two were later pardoned).

The 13th Amendment:
In January, Congress passed the proposed 13th Amendment to the Constitution, which banned slavery in the United States. It became part of the Constitution in December 1865 when ratified by three-quarters of the states.

The Freedmen’s Bureau:
On March 3, 1865, Congress created the Bureau of Refugees, Freedmen, and Abandoned Lands, commonly known as the Freedmen’s Bureau, as a temporary agency within the War Department. General Oliver Otis Howard became its director. The law granted (non-monetary) relief to black and white persons displaced by the Civil War, but was aimed at assisting freed slaves in their transition from enslavement to liberty. The freed slaves were provided basic shelter and medical care, assistance in labor-contract negotiation and the establishment of schools, and similar services. The Freedmen’s Bureau was the first federal agency dedicated to social welfare.

President Johnson’s Reconstruction Plan:
President Andrew Johnson announced his Reconstruction plan soon after he became president following Lincoln’s assassination, and implemented it during the summer of 1865 when Congress was in recess. It offered general amnesty to all who would take an oath of future loyalty. High-ranking Confederate officials or wealthy white Southerners could petition the president for individual pardons. In order to be readmitted, a state would have to ratify the 13th Amendment, which abolished slavery, and repudiate Confederate war debts. By the end of 1865, all the former Confederate states had complied with Johnson’s plan and were ready to reenter the Union on an equal status with all other states.

In December, however, Congress refused to seat representatives and senators elected by the state governments reconstructed under Johnson’s plan. Republicans were disturbed by the reluctance of Southern state legislators to ratify the 13th Amendment, their refusal to grant voting rights to black men, their enactment of black codes limiting the rights and liberties of blacks, and their election of former Confederates, such as Confederate Vice President Alexander Stephens, to state and federal offices.


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1866 Freedmen’s Bureau Act Vetoes:
In February 1866, Congress passed a second Freedmen’s Bureau Act, which extended the temporary agency’s life for two years and gave the U.S. Army the responsibility of protecting the civil rights of black Americans in the former Confederate states. President Andrew Johnson vetoed the bill. In July 1866, Congress passed the Freedmen’s Bureau Act a second time. President Johnson vetoed it again, but Congress was able to override his veto and it became law. The Freedmen’s Bureau ceased functioning on January 1, 1868.

Civil Rights Act of 1866:
In April, Congress passed a Civil Rights Act aimed at incorporating former slaves into the American political system. It granted citizenship to all persons born or naturalized in the United States, and guaranteed them equal rights under the law. The statute made it a federal crime, punishable by fine and imprisonment, to deprive any person of his or her civil rights. Judicial authority over the act was assigned to the federal courts. President Johnson vetoed the bill, but Congress overrode the veto and the bill became law.  It was the first time in history that Congress had overridden a presidential veto.

Memphis Race Riot:
The black population of Memphis, Tennessee, had quadrupled during the Civil War and racial tensions grew tense. A riot was sparked on May 1, 1866, when the horse-drawn carriages of a black man and a white man collided. As a group of black veterans tried to intervene to stop the arrest of the black man, a crowd of whites gathered at the scene. Fighting broke out, and then escalated into three days of racially motivated violence, primarily pitting the police (mainly Irish-Americans) against black residents. When it was over, 46 blacks and two whites had been killed, five black women raped, and hundreds of black homes, schools, and churches had been vandalized or destroyed by arson.

Fourteenth Amendment Passed Congress:
On June 13, 1866, Congress approved the proposed 14th Amendment to the United States Constitution. It defined citizenship as all persons born or naturalized in the United States so that the citizenship given blacks by the Civil Rights Act of 1866 would have constitutional protection. The amendment also denied states the authority to deprive citizens of their privileges and immunities, the due process of law, or the equal protection of the law. It was ratified in 1868.

New Orleans Race Riot:
The election of former Confederates, including the mayor of New Orleans, John Monroe, provoked Governor James Madison Wells of Louisiana to call a state constitutional convention. He endorsed enfranchising black men, banning former Confederates from voting, and other Radical Republican goals. On July 30, 1866, 25 white delegates and 200 black supporters assembled in New Orleans for the constitutional convention. A fight began on the street outside the hall between opponents and supporters of the convention. The arrival of the police, sympathetic to the Confederate cause, only worsened the conflict. General Philip Sheridan, in charge of the Louisiana military district, was out of the state when the riot occurred, but later described it as “an absolute massacre.” During the New Orleans riot, 34 blacks and three white Radical Republicans were killed, and over 100 persons were injured.
 
Tennessee Readmitted:
On July 24, 1866, Tennessee became the first former Confederate state readmitted to the Union. Congress voted to seat the representatives and senators from Tennessee after its state legislature ratified the proposed 14th Amendment on July 19.

Swing Around the Circle:
From August 28 to September 15, 1866, President Andrew Johnson and key administration figures embarked on a campaign speaking tour across the nation in an effort to build support for the election that fall of politicians sympathetic to his policies. The itinerary took the president north from Washington, D.C., to New York, west to Chicago, south to St. Louis, and east through the Ohio River valley back to the nation’s capital, and was therefore called the “swing around the circle.” Rumors circulated widely that the president delivered his speeches while drunk. At various stops, Johnson blamed Congress (as they blamed him) for the recent race riot in New Orleans. The tour was a public relations fiasco, undermining popular and congressional support for the president.

Congressional Elections:
Widely considered a national referendum on the proposed 14th Amendment, Republicans won a major victory in the congressional elections of 1866, gaining enough seats to give them over a two-thirds majority in the next Congress—more than enough to override any presidential vetoes.

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1867

Reconstruction Acts:
In March and July, Congress passed three Reconstruction Acts over the vetoes of President Johnson. Under the provisions of the laws, military courts could be used to try cases involving civil and property rights violations, as well as criminal trials. States had to enact new constitutions granting voting rights to black men. High-ranking Confederate officials were temporarily barred from political participation. States had to ratify the 14th Amendment in order to be represented in Congress. That fall, ten states held constitutional conventions to begin the process of reconstruction under the congressional plan. Black men voted and were elected to local, state, and federal offices.

Tenure of Office Act:
In order to prevent President Johnson from interfering with Reconstruction, Congress passed the Tenure of Office Act over a presidential veto on March 2, 1867. The Constitution required that the Senate confirm high-ranking presidential appointments. The Tenure of Office Act added the legal requirement that the president get Senate approval for removing high-ranking offices from office. The law was an attempt to protect War Secretary Edwin Stanton who was cooperating with Congress on Reconstruction. On August 12, Johnson fired Stanton during a congressional recess and appointed General Ulysses S. Grant as acting secretary. Johnson’s violation of the Tenure of Office Act was the key issue in his later impeachment (see below). The Tenure of Office Act was repealed in 1887.


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1868 Impeachment of President Johnson:
In January 1868, after reconvening, Congress refused to consent to President Andrew Johnson’s removal of Edwin Stanton as secretary of war (see above). The acting secretary, General Ulysses S. Grant, voluntarily surrendered the office back to Stanton. On February 21, President Johnson notified Congress that he had again removed Stanton as secretary of war and replaced him with Adjutant-General Lorenzo Thomas. Three days later, the House of Representatives impeached the president for “high crimes and misdemeanors.” Nine of the 11 articles of impeachment dealt with Johnson’s alleged violation of the Tenure of Office Act.

President Johnson’s removal trial in the Senate began on March 23 and was presided over by Chief Justice Salmon P. Chase. On May 16, the Senate voted first on the last article of impeachment, which incorporated many of the charges contained in the preceding articles and was considered the best chance for conviction. The vote was 35-19 in favor of the impeachment charge (i.e., “guilty”), one vote short of the two-thirds majority needed for conviction. On May 26, after the Senate also voted 35-19 on two other articles, the case against the president was dropped because it was obvious there were not the votes to convict and remove him from office.

For more information, visit the HarpWeek site on the Johnson’s impeachment.

Republican National Convention:
Meeting in Chicago on May 20-21, delegates to the Republican National Convention unanimously nominated General Ulysses S. Grant of Illinois for president on the first ballot. Speaker of the House Schuyler Colfax of Indiana was nominated for vice president on the sixth ballot over Senator Benjamin Wade of Ohio and Senator Henry Wilson of Massachusetts. The Republican platform endorsed Congressional Reconstruction, mourned the death of President Lincoln, denounced President Johnson, encouraged immigration, and advocated veterans’ pensions.

States Readmitted:
In June, Congress readmitted the senators and representatives, elected under the terms of Congressional Reconstruction, from seven former Confederates states: Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, North Carolina, and South Carolina.

Democratic National Convention:
The Democratic National Convention was held in New York City on July 4-7, 1868. The frontrunner for the presidential nomination was Congressman George Pendleton of Ohio, the party’s vice-presidential nominee in 1864. Other major contenders included General Winfield Hancock of Pennsylvania, Senator Thomas Hendricks of Indiana, and President Andrew Johnson, along with several favorite-son candidates. Since through 21 ballots no one was able to secure the required two-thirds majority, Horatio Seymour, the former governor of New York, was put forward as a compromise candidate. He won the presidential nomination unanimously on the 22nd ballot. Delegates then selected Frank Blair Jr., a former congressman from Missouri, as the vice-presidential nominee. The party platform accepted the end of slavery, but demanded the end of Reconstruction, which it characterized as “military despotism and Negro supremacy.”

Fourteenth Amendment Ratified:
The required three-fourths of states had ratified the 14th Amendment (see above), which secured citizenship for black Americans, so that it became part of the U.S. Constitution on July 28, 1868.

Election Results:
On November 3, 1868, Republican Ulysses S. Grant won the presidency with an Electoral College victory of 214-80 over Democrat Horatio Seymour. Grant’s victory in the popular vote was 53% to Seymour’s 47%. With 78% of the electorate participating, an estimated 500,000 black men voted in a presidential election for the first time in American history. Republicans retained control of both houses of Congress.
 

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