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What Is Lincoln's Reconstruction Plan?

By B. Koch
Updated May 17, 2024
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Lincoln’s reconstruction plan strove to readmit the Confederate states into the Union as quickly and easily as possible following the US Civil War. His plan, known as the 10 Percent Plan, involved promoting the loyalty of the southern states and pardoning as many individuals as possible. Lincoln’s plan continued after his death but was reversed in 1866 after the Radical Republicans gained control of Congress.

It was important to Lincoln that the process of Reconstruction take place with haste. He did not want to create a feeling of animosity or to harshly punish the Southern states but wanted them to re-enter the Union without delay. Lincoln’s Reconstruction plan did not involve any strict punishment of former Confederates. He decided that anyone who took an oath of loyalty and agreed to follow the new rules regarding slavery would be pardoned for their actions during the war.

One of the main points of Lincoln’s Reconstruction plan involved obtaining an oath of loyalty from many former Confederates. He expected the oath to be signed by 10 percent of the individuals who voted in the 1860 election that had been held right before the war began. It was because of this point that Lincoln’s plan was entitled the "10 Percent Plan.” Many in congress thought this strategy was not stringent enough and wanted harsher punishment for the Confederacy.

The next part of Lincoln’s Reconstruction plan was to prohibit individuals who were especially active in the Confederacy during the war, such as military leaders, officials, or wealthy supporters, from participating in Reconstruction. They were banned from serving in any new government that was established, at least during the Reconstruction period. As Reconstruction progressed, after Lincoln was assassinated, this element of his plan was not as strictly followed.

After Lincoln's assassination, President Johnson continued Lincoln’s Reconstruction plan. The 10 Percent Plan was retained even against strong opposition from members of Congress who called themselves the Radical Republicans. The Radical Republicans wanted harsher measures to be taken against the former Confederate states. They wanted Confederate leaders to be punished, and for the wealthy landowners of the south to have their land redistributed to newly freed slaves.

Eventually, Lincoln’s reconstruction plan was abandoned when the Radical Republicans gained control of congress in 1866. Under their power, the south was divided into military districts, in which new local governments were established, mostly consisting of African Americans as well as some politicians from the north. Several amendment to the constitution were passed that gave African Americans citizenship as well as the right to vote.

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