Presidential Reconstruction

In 1865 President Andrew Johnson implemented a plan of Reconstruction that gave the white South a free hand in regulating the transition from slavery to freedom and offered no role to blacks in the politics of the South. The conduct of the governments he established turned many Northerners against the president's policies.

The end of the Civil War found the nation without a settled Reconstruction policy.

In May 1865, President Andrew Johnson offered a pardon to all white Southerners except Confederate leaders and wealthy planters (although most of these later received individual pardons), and authorized them to create new governments.

Read the Johnson's Pardon of 1865

See the Pardon document

Blacks were denied any role in the process. Johnson also ordered nearly all the land in the hands of the government returned to its prewar owners -- dashing black hope for economic autonomy.

At the outset, most Northerners believed Johnson's plan deserved a chance to succeed. The course followed by Southern state governments under Presidential Reconstruction, however, turned most of the North against Johnson's policy. Members of the old Southern elite, including many who had served in the Confederate government and army, returned to power.

The new legislatures passed the Black Codes, severely limiting the former slaves' legal rights and economic options so as to force them to return to the plantations as dependent laborers. Some states limited the occupations open to blacks. None allowed any blacks to vote, or provided public funds for their education.

Read the Mississippi Black Code (1865)

Read the Louisiana Black Code (1865)

The apparent inability of the South's white leaders to accept the reality of emancipation undermined Northern support for Johnson's policies.

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he Meaning of Freedom: Black and White Responses to Slavery From Free Labor to Slave Labor Rights and Power: The Politics of Reconstruction The Ending of Reconstruction Epilogue: The Unfinished Revolution Resources Credits for this Exhibit Introduction