At the time Abraham Lincoln was assassinated, he did not have a definite plan for dealing with the postwar South. Although 360,000 Union troops had died during the Civil War, the North had not suffered the widespread devastation of the Southern states. The nine million white citizens and four million former slaves who lived in the former Confederacy faced a grim future.
Six weeks after he assumed the presidency, Andrew Johnson revealed his vision for uniting the country. He declared a sweeping amnesty that restored all property, except slaves, to most rebels as long as they swore to “support, protect, and defend” the Constitution and the Union. To Radical Republican leaders such as Senator Charles Sumner and Representative Thaddeus Stevens, it seemed white residents of the South were treated with remarkable leniency.
In his magnificent After Lincoln: How the North Won the Civil War and Lost the Peace, A.J. Langguth takes us through the Reconstruction period and its many heroic and tragic events. Among the latter were the so-called Black Codes, stringent state laws passed after Johnson became president. They ranged from a South Carolina law requiring any black man who wanted work other than as a servant or farmer to apply for a license from a judge and pay an annual tax, to Kentucky, where all contracts had to be approved by a white citizen, to Florida where “impudence,” a form of vagrancy, could cause the violator to be whipped. Lynchings and the killing of innocent black citizens went unpunished.
For all practical purposes, Reconstruction ended in 1887 when Republican President Rutherford Hayes joined with Democrats in a deal that led to the removal of federal troops from Louisiana and South Carolina. That arrangement brought to an end any hopes that African Americans would enjoy full equality as U.S. citizens.
Langguth skillfully illuminates the roles of key figures and offers enlightening commentary on events. After Lincoln is an excellent choice for readers who want to understand why the post-Civil War period was a major disappointment and why the Civil Rights Act of 1964 did not come until 99 years after the end of the Civil War.