Radical Reconstruction

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Radical Reconstruction has been described as “a successful attempt by northeastern business, acting through the Republican party, to control the national government for its own economic ends: notably, the protective tariff, the national banks, [and] a “sound” currency.” The Radical program is also said to have been “the method by which the “Masters of Capital” . . . expected to exploit the resources of the southern states” behind federal protection. (Coben). Radical Reconstruction was also largely motivated by a genuine desire to grant equal rights to freedmen, and to punish the South for their disloyalty to the Union. This essay will examine how the Radical Republicans achieved these goals. In doing so, it will include discussion of various acts and other measures that the Radicals used to restore the Union following the Civil War.

The Radical Reconstruction movement was formed primarily in response to the policies of President Andrew Johnson. Both moderate and Radical Republicans alike criticized Johnson for his ideas concerning freed people’s rights and his strong fear of excessive legislative power in the federal government. For example, in 1866 Johnson vetoed two different acts that were designed to better the life of blacks: the first act would have extended the life of the Freedmen’s Bureau and enlarged its powers, the second was a civil rights bill that extended the authority of federal courts to protect blacks. In addition to believing the acts to be unconstitutional, Johnson also vetoed the measures passed by Congress in the hopes that it would create a split between Radical and moderate Republicans. He was convinced that the moderates would not break with him over the issue of freed people’s rights. Unfortunately for Johnson, this was a serious miscalculation. The moderate and Radical Republicans instead united against the president to override his veto and enact the Civil Rights Act of 1866.

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