Abraham Lincoln in Reconstruction
Abraham Lincoln (1809-1865) was the sixteenth president of the United States during one of the most consequential periods in American history, the Civil War. Before being elected president, Lincoln served in the Illinois legislature and lost an election for the U.S. Senate to Stephen A. Douglas. Nevertheless, his fierce campaign earned him a nomination for the presidency. The first Republican president ever, Lincoln led the Union to victory in the Civil War and ended slavery in America. On April 14, 1865, John Wilkes Booth assassinated President Lincoln at Ford's Theater in Washington, D.C., only days after the end of the Civil War.
In the Emancipation Proclamation of 1863, Lincoln made a brilliant political move by framing the abolition of slavery as a military necessity to the Union cause. The legalistic document only applied to parts of the South still in rebellion, but it forever re-defined the Civil War itself and the American perception of liberty. Lincoln subsequently pushed for the passage of the Thirteenth Amendment outlawing slavery or involuntary servitude anywhere in the United States. Later that same year, he issued a Proclamation of Amnesty and Reconstruction, which came to be known as his 10 Percent Plan. Under its terms, any rebel state could form a Union government if a number equal to ten percent of its white males who had voted in 1860 took an oath of allegiance to the Constitution and the Union and received a presidential pardon. Those participating also had to swear their support for laws and proclamations that addressed emancipation. Lincoln thus claimed the right of the executive to direct the course of Reconstruction, but Republicans in Congress countered that this obligation belonged to the legislative branch. They proposed the more stringent Wade Davis Bill in 1864, which Lincoln pocket-vetoed. Two days after Gen. Robert E. Lee surrendered at Appomattox in April 1865, Lincoln made a speech that included the tentative suggestion that literate blacks and African-American Union veterans might be given the right to vote. According to some accounts, actor John Wilkes Booth heard the suggestion and declared, "That means n----- citizenship…That is the last speech he'll ever make." Booth assassinated Lincoln three days later. Some historians have called it the first shot in the longer struggle for black equality.