Roads to Reunion

. . . Are unwashed rebels to be brought in here, men who have not taken the oath and who, without perjuring themselves to the lowest hell, cannot take it?

Senator Benjamin Wade protesting the seating of the Louisiana congressional delegation, 1864

By the end of 1863, as the tide of the Civil War began to shift in the North’s favor, Congress began to consider the question of how the Union would be reunited. In December President Lincoln proposed a lenient reconstruction program. A group of "Radical Republicans" thought these terms were too mild, and many in Congress believed that reconstruction was a congressional responsibility. In response to Lincoln’s plan, Congress passed the Wade-Davis bill that set more stringent requirements for creating new state governments in the South. When Lincoln received the bill, he chose not to sign it, thus killing the bill with a pocket veto. The struggle over Wade-Davis became the first of many battles between Congress and the President over the shape and aims of Federal policy toward the defeated South.

The abolition of slavery was another issue still unsettled in 1864. President Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation was an emergency war measure that did not permanently and comprehensively end slavery. To achieve that end the Senate passed a resolution proposing a constitutional amendment abolishing slavery on April 8, 1864. The House did not pass the amendment until January 31, 1865, and then by only one vote. After the necessary three-fourths of the states agreed, the amendment took effect on December 18, 1865.