Lincolns wartime reconstruction policies

Some of the earliest Reconstruction efforts began while the Civil War was still going on. As Union forces conquered Southern territory, they occupied several cities and eventually entire states. President Abraham Lincoln started to implement his own Reconstruction policies in these occupied areas.

Lincoln wanted to restore the Union quickly, so he was willing to be fairly lenient in dealing with the Confederate states. In December 1863, he announced his Ten Percent Plan for readmitting states to the Union. Whenever 10 percent of the citizens of a Southern state declared their loyalty to the Union, that state would be allowed to form a new civilian government. This was the first step toward rejoining the United States. Lincoln was also willing to pardon, or officially forgive, all but the highest Confederate leaders, meaning that they would not be prosecuted (brought to trial) for treason or other crimes committed during the war.

Some Northerners felt that Lincoln's plan was too easy on the Confederates. They worried that the safety of the country would be in jeopardy under his plan, because states could conceivably rejoin the Union even when 90 percent of their citizens still supported the Confederacy. They also worried about the safety of former slaves and Union supporters in Southern states. If the Confederate leaders were not punished, they could soon return to power and cause problems for blacks and Unionists.

The U.S. Congress responded to Lincoln's Ten Percent Plan by passing the Wade-Davis bill in July 1864. This bill required a majority of adult white males in any Southern state to take an oath to support the Constitution before that state could be readmitted to the Union. It also prohibited men who had willingly served the Confederacy from voting, and completely abolished slavery. Lincoln felt that the Wade-Davis bill was too strict and worried that it might prolong the war. He refused to sign it, and it never became law. But Lincoln was assassinated in April 1865, just a few days after the end of the war, so his Reconstruction policies were never implemented fully.

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