The Civil War ended in defeat for the Confederacy in early 1865. But the United States continued to struggle with complicated issues in the period after the war. For example, Union authorities had to decide whether to punish Confederate leaders, what process to use to readmit the Southern states to the Union, and how much help to provide in securing equal rights for the freed slaves. This difficult period in Amer ican history came to be known as Reconstruction (1865-77). Immediately after the war ended, Union officials charged Stephens with treason (betraying his country) and put him in prison in Boston, Massachusetts. But they released him after only six months and allowed him to return home to Georgia.
During this time, President AndrewJohnson (18081875; see entry)—who took office after Lincoln was assassinated in April 1865—controlled the Reconstruction process. He pardoned many Confederate leaders and established lenient (easy) conditions for the Southern states to return to the Union. Many Northerners worried that Johnson's Reconstruction policies would allow Confederate leaders to return to power in the South and continue to discriminate against blacks. Georgia set up a new state government that met the president's conditions. In January 1866, Stephens was elected to represent the state's interests in the U.S. Senate. But many Northerners were outraged by this turn of events. They felt that Stephens should have been punished more severely for his role in causing the Civil War. They pointed to his election to the Senate as proof that the South had not learned anything from its defeat.
At this point, members of the Republican political party in the U.S. Congress decided to take over control of Reconstruction from the president. They established new, stricter conditions for the Southern states to rejoin the Union, and they sent federal troops into the South to enforce their policies. They also refused to allow Stephens or any other Southern representatives to take their seats in the federal government. As a result, Stephens became a vocal opponent of Congress's Reconstruction policies over the next few years.
Denied a chance to serve in the Senate, Stephens resumed his legal practice in Georgia. He finally regained his former seat in the U.S. House of Representatives in 1872 and served for the next ten years. He also wrote a two-volume history of the Civil War called A Constitutional View of the Late War between the States. The book became a best-seller, and Southerners adopted "War between the States" as their unofficial name for the conflict. In 1882, Stephens put the finishing touch on his political career by being elected governor of Georgia. He only served one year in office, however, before he died on March 4, 1883.
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