Photograph of Lincoln delivering his second inaugural address
Wartime Reconstruction, 1861-1865
Abraham Lincoln began thinking about reconstructing the Union while the war still raged around him. After his reelection in 1864, President Lincoln stood under the East Portico of the newly completed Capitol Dome. There, in his second inaugural address, he intoned, “With malice toward none, with charity for all . . . let us strive on to finish the work we are in, to bind up the nation's wounds . . . to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace among ourselves and with all nations.” In offering to “bind the nation’s wounds” and keep a “just and lasting peace,” he developed a plan for bringing the nation together.
The Ten Percent Plan
Photograph of Abraham Lincoln during the war
That idea became known as the Ten Percent Plan and it allowed for a great deal of leniency with the southern states. He proposed that 10 percent of those who had voted in 1860 take an oath of allegiance to the United States, after which they could elect officials, send representatives to Congress, and form state governments. In his plan only a few Confederate military officers and office holders—for example generals, cabinet officers, and Confederate President Jefferson Davis—would be excluded from pardons. The rest of the population, despite the fact that they might have fought in the war or supported the Confederacy, would be granted pardons.
Lincoln insisted that the new state constitutions end slavery, but he offered the freedpeople no protection of rights or hope of voting. He wanted to encourage the states to stop fighting and rejoin the Union, and he hoped that the simplicity and kindness of his plan would bring an early end to the war.
Photograph of John Wilkes Booth
What were the shortcomings in Lincoln’s plan? Lincoln made no mention of the slaves or what he proposed to do with or for the freed slaves after the war. Because Lincoln created the plan during the war, he considered it a part of the war effort and it was meant to offer southerners an easy point of reconciliation. Even most of Lincoln’s own party believed that the Ten Percent Plan was too lenient on southerners.
By this point, many northerners wanted to exact a degree of revenge on the South, not make their re-entry into the United States easier. The Republican representative from Pennsylvania, Thaddeus Stevens, and his cohort, Senator Charles Sumner of Massachusetts, objected to Lincoln’s plan as too soft on a region that had committed, in their minds, political suicide. They could see in Lincoln’s plan no restructuring of southern society or punishment for treason. They insisted that African Americans become voters, assuming that they would join the Republican Party and strengthen the party of emancipation (after freedmen received the vote this assumption was proven correct).
Congress insisted that it was responsible for Reconstruction, not the President. Congress passed the Wade-Davis Bill, requiring that a majority of white male citizens declare their allegiance and that only those who could take an oath of their past loyalty—the iron-clad oath—could vote or serve in the state constitutional conventions. Under the Wade-Davis bill, southern states had to repudiate their debts, which meant that bonds purchased to support the Confederacy would not be paid back and contractors who supplied goods would not be paid. Anyone who supported the Confederacy financially would lose their entire investment. Lincoln pocket-vetoed the Wade-Davis Bill by simply ignoring it, He refused to sign the bill.
The hanging of the Lincoln conspirators, July 7, 1865
There might have been a huge showdown between President Lincoln and Congress, but on Good Friday, April 14, 1865, Lincoln went to Ford’s Theater. He had visited the theater many times during his presidency; it was the one thing that could take his mind off the troubles of the war. But on that night, while watching “Our American Cousin," John Wilkes Booth, a southern sympathizer, entered the president’s box and shot him in the back of the head at close range with a derringer pistol. Lincoln died the next day.
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Dr. Samuel Mudd
His name was Mudd.
After fleeing Ford’s Theater, John Wilkes Booth stopped by Dr. Samuel Mudd’s home. Dr. Mudd set Booth’s broken leg. Though Mudd professed to know nothing of Booth’s plot to kill President Lincoln, a military tribunal later convicted him as a conspirator in the assassination. Mudd’s conviction helped renew a once popular saying: “His name is Mudd”.
Though President Johnson pardoned Mudd, his conviction still stands. In the 1930s his grandson began lobbying presidents and Congress to clear his grandfather’s name, and in 1992, he filed a petition with the Army. In 2002, a U.S. Court of Appeals dismissed the petition, saying that since Dr. Mudd had not been a member of the armed services, they could not file suit against the Army. The family continues to work to have the conviction overturned to this day.
After shooting Lincoln and struggling with a Union officer, Booth jumped from the box onto the stage, breaking his leg in the fall. Despite this he managed to escape the theater on horseback. Federal soldiers found him two weeks later in a tobacco barn near Bowling Green, Virginia, where, upon his refusal to surrender, he was shot to death. Booth died on April 26, 1865.
John Wilkes Booth formed a conspiracy with others who planned to kill three officers in Lincoln’s cabinet. Only one other attempt was carried out. The same night Booth shot Lincoln, Lewis Paine entered the home of Secretary of State William Henry Seward and slashed his throat. Seward survived and lived another seven years, serving in Andrew Johnson’s cabinet.