The Civil War was four years in the past when plans for the National Peace Jubilee were unveiled in 1869. Yet, these years had been far from peaceful. The Confederacy may have surrendered in 1865, but political tensions remained extremely high. President Abraham Lincoln had proposed a lenient plan for national reconstruction in 1865, and after his assassination, President Andrew Johnson implemented Lincoln’s forgiving proposal. Southern states were re-admitted to the Union on easy terms; most Confederate participants in the rebellion were granted pardons, and their political rights were restored. But very quickly these presidential reconstruction plans drew fire. Many Northerners objected, in particular, to the fact that the newly freed slaves were denied their political and civil rights under the restored Southern governments. Some slaves were even forced to continue working on the same plantations they had just been freed from in order to survive.
In 1866, more progressive forces in the North succeeded in electing “radicals” to Congress who introduced more demanding reconstruction plans. The Southern states were ordered to draft new state constitutions that included a role for the freedmen, but President Andrew Johnson resisted implementation of these “radical” congressional plans. Tension between the two branches grew until 1868, when Congress attempted to impeach President Johnson. Congress failed, but Johnson was politically dead. In the 1868 elections, former Union General Ulysses S. Grant was elected president with a promise to support congress’s reconstruction plan. Grant defeated the Democratic challenger handily in the Electoral College, winning 25 of 33 states, but no state gave Grant a larger majority than Massachusetts, where General Grant won 70% of the popular vote.
This led Bay Staters to feel a bit more optimistic in 1869 when they celebrated peace at the National Peace Jubilee. It appeared that Congress and the president were finally in agreement over reconstruction policy; the political turmoil lingering since the Civil War might be finally approaching an end. This optimism, however, would be short lived. By 1872, Grant’s own Republican Party was divided over his policies, and he faced a significant challenge from within the ranks. He managed to win reelection, but a series of scandals undercut his popularity and effectiveness.