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  1863-1866 | 1867-1877


Reconstruction Timeline: 1863-1866


January 1: President Abraham Lincoln signs the Emancipation Proclamation, declaring that the majority of the nation's slave population "henceforth shall be free."

July: In New York City, opposition to the nation's first military draft triggers a riot, the largest in American history, as poor white Northerners protest being forced to fight to end slavery. Over four days, the insurrection develops into wholesale violence, with an uncounted number of victims.

December 8: President Lincoln announces the Proclamation of Amnesty and Reconstruction. It offers pardon and restoration of property -- except slaves -- to Confederates who swear allegiance to the Union and agree to accept emancipation. Known as the 10 Percent Plan, it requires only 10% of a former Confederate state's voters to pledge the oath before the state can begin the process of readmission into the Union.


Early 1864: President Lincoln begins Reconstruction in the Union-occupied former Confederate state of Louisiana. Lincoln's lenient 10 percent policy upsets Radical Republicans, who expect the South to do more to gain readmission, and believe Lincoln's approach does not provide enough protection to ex-slaves.

July: In response to Lincoln's plan, Congress passes its own, the Wade-Davis Bill. It ups the allegiance requirement from 10% to a majority of a state's voters, limits many former Confederates from political participation in state reconstruction, demands blacks receive not only their freedom but equality before the law, and imposes a series of other requirements on the states. Lincoln does not sign the Wade-Davis Bill; his pocket veto means the bill does not pass into law.

November 8: Lincoln is reelected.


By 1865, some 180,000 blacks have served in the Union Army, over one-fifth of the adult male black population under 45.

January 16: Marching the Union Army through the South with an ever-growing number of freed slaves in its wake, General William Tecumseh Sherman issues Special Field Order 15, setting aside part of coastal South Carolina, Georgia, and Florida by settlement exclusively by black people. The settlers are to receive "possessory title" to forty-acre plots.

January 31: The Thirteenth Amendment, abolishing slavery throughout the Union, wins Congressional approval and is sent to the states for ratification. By the end of February, 18 states will ratify the amendment; after significant delay in the South, ratification will be completed by December.

February 18: General Sherman's troops enter Charleston, South Carolina.

March: The temporary Bureau of Refugees, Freedmen, and Abandoned Lands is established within the War Department. The Freedmen's Bureau works to smooth the transition from slavery, providing formers slaves with immediate shelter and medical services, help in negotiating labor contracts with landowners, and more. The bureau is initially authorized for just one year, but will remain in operation until 1868.

April: In Lincoln's last speech, he mentions black suffrage for soldiers and some others. The Civil War ends when Confederate general Robert E. Lee surrenders to Union general Ulysses S. Grant. Six days later, President Lincoln is assassinated, and his vice president, Southern Democrat Andrew Johnson, becomes president.

May: President Johnson announces his plan of Presidential Reconstruction. It calls for general amnesty and restoration of property -- except for slaves -- to all Southerners who will swear loyalty to the Union. No friend to the South's large landowners, Johnson declares that they and the Confederate leadership will be required to petition him individually for pardons. This Reconstruction strategy also requires states to ratify the Thirteenth Amendment, ending slavery. The president's plan is implemented during the summer.

August/September: President Johnson shows growing leniency toward the white South: he orders the restoration of land to its former owners, including the land provided to freed slaves by General Sherman's January field order. Freedmen are especially reluctant to leave the land they have started farming in South Carolina and Georgia. The president starts aligning himself with the Southern elite, declaring, "white men alone must manage the South."

Fall: Southern states elect former Confederates to public office at the state and national levels, drag their feet in ratifying the Thirteenth Amendment, and refuse to extend the vote to black men. Southern legislatures begin drafting "Black Codes" to re-establish white supremacy. The laws impose restrictions on black citizens, especially in attempts to control labor: freedmen are prohibited from work except as field hands, blacks refusing to sign labor contracts can be punished, unemployed black men can be seized and auctioned to planters as laborers, black children can be taken from their families and made to work. The new laws amount to slavery without the chain.

November-December: At the request of President Johnson, victorious Union general Ulysses S. Grant tours the South, and is greeted with surprising friendliness. His report recommends a lenient Reconstruction policy.

December: President Johnson declares the reconstruction process complete. Outraged, Radical Republicans in Congress refuse to recognize new governments in Southern states. More than sixty former Confederates arrive to take their seats in Congress, including four generals, four colonels and six Confederate cabinet officers -- even Alexander H. Stephens, the former vice president of the Confederacy. The Clerk of the House refuses to include the Southern representatives in his roll call, and they are denied their elected seats.

The Union Army is quickly demobilized. From a troop strength of one million on May 1, only 152,000 Union soldiers remain in the South by the end of 1865.

Southern towns and cities start to experience a large influx of freedmen. Over the next five years, the black populations of the South's ten largest cities will double.


February: President Johnson vetoes a supplemental Freedmen's Bureau Bill, which Republican moderates have designed to extend protection to Southern blacks.

April: Another piece of moderate Republican legislation, the Civil Rights Bill, grants citizenship and the same rights enjoyed by white citizens to all male persons in the United States "without distinction of race or color, or previous condition of slavery or involuntary servitude." It passes both houses of Congress by overwhelming majorities, and when President Johnson vetoes it, Congress overrides the veto, making the bill the first major piece of legislation enacted over a presidential veto. The rift between Congress and the president is complete.

May 1: Racial violence rages in Memphis, Tennessee for three days as whites assault blacks on the streets. In the aftermath, 48 people, nearly all black, are dead, and hundreds of black homes, churches, and schools have been pillaged or burned.

June 13: Congress sends the Fourteenth Amendment to the states. It writes the Republican vision of how post-Civil War American society should be structured into the U.S. Constitution, out of the reach of partisan politics. The amendment defines citizenship to include all people born or naturalized in the U.S. and increases the federal government's power over the states to protect all Americans' rights. It stops short of guaranteeing blacks the right to vote. The controversial amendment will take over two years to be ratified.

July: Congress re-passes its supplemental Freedmen's Bureau Bill. President Johnson vetoes it again, and Congress again overrides the veto, making the bill a law.

July 24: Tennessee is the first former Confederate state readmitted to the Union.

July 30: Riots break out in New Orleans, Louisiana: a white mob attacks blacks and Radical Republicans attending a black suffrage convention, killing 40 people.

August 28: "The swing around the circle." With Congress demanding that Southern states ratify the Fourteenth Amendment in order to gain re-admittance to the legislature, President Johnson begins a disastrous speaking tour of the North to bolster support for his policies in the mid-term elections. He asks popular Union general Ulysses S. Grant to come along. When crowds heckle the president, Johnson's angry and undignified responses cause Grant -- and many Northerners -- to lose sympathy with the president and his lenient Reconstruction policies.

Fall: Following the president's ruinous campaign, the mid-term elections become a battleground over the Fourteenth Amendment and civil rights. Johnson's opponents are victorious, and the Republicans occupy enough seats to guarantee they will be able to override any presidential vetoes in the coming legislative session.

Union troops are further demobilized; only 38,000 remain in the South by the fall.

1863-1866 | 1867-1877  

page created on 12.19.03
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