Reconstruction on Trial  | Educating American Historical past

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In September 1866, Frederick Douglass turned one of many first black American delegates to a political conference.

What was the Southern Loyalist Conference? 

Frederick Douglass was not anticipated to be in Philadelphia that September of 1866. His choice as an honorary delegate from Rochester, NY, stunned the Southern Loyalist Conference organizers, who had been satisfied that President Andrew Johnson’s Reconstruction insurance policies had failed. They gathered within the “Metropolis of Brotherly Love” to debate different approaches to the large problem of Reconstruction. They met simply three weeks after an analogous conference – the Nationwide Union Conference – met in Philadelphia to marshal help for the President and his supporters campaigning for congressional seats that fall.  

The plan known as for a conference, comprised of solely Southerners who remained loyal to the Union earlier than, throughout, or after the Civil Battle, to recommend different Reconstruction insurance policies. In a bid for larger nationwide unity, the organizers invited border states to ship delegates, and a number of other northern states chosen sympathetic spokesmen to journey to Philadelphia to play supporting roles. Douglass had been appalled to be taught that former Union common Darius N. Sofa marched into the Nationwide Union Conference alongside South Carolina Governor and former accomplice senator James Orr. Douglass was studying that Johnson and his supporters had been keen to sacrifice African American rights for a peaceable reunion with former accomplice whites. 

Why did Frederick Douglass attend?

Douglass’s presence as a spokesman for Northern opinion was unwelcome information for conference organizers and their Congressional supporters. Even Radical Congressman Thaddeus Stevens urged Rochester Republicans to not ship Douglass. He feared that the influential African American chief’s presence would present that Congressional radicals secretly needed social equality for African Individuals. Stevens was involved that this notion may cost radical Republicans in that November’s congressional elections, weakening the opposition to Johnson. His opinion might clarify why there was just one black delegate – P. B. Randolph of Louisiana. 

Race and Civl Rights
{Photograph} of Frederick Douglass (1866) New-York Historic Society Museum & Library.

Frederick Douglass was not backing down. He stated upon leaving Rochester, “If this conference will obtain me, this occasion can be important progress. In the event that they reject me, they are going to solely determine themselves” with Johnson’s Nationwide Union. When approached by fellow passengers on the practice to Philadelphia asking him to not attend the conference, Douglass swore that nothing wanting his assassination would stop his attendance. In his autobiography, Life and Instances, Douglass explains his reasoning. “To not have participated, would contradict the precept and objective of my life,” Douglass wrote. Douglass seemingly took be aware of the irony – that the opposition to his presence got here from allies within the struggle for racial justice.

But, as Douglass stood exterior Philadelphia’s Nationwide Corridor, hoping to march with fellow delegates to Philadelphia’s historic Independence Corridor, all however one consultant ignored him. That exception was 

Theodore Tilton of New York, who seen Douglass standing alone and greeted him “like a brother.” 

The 2 males – one white and one black – locked arms and joined the marchers strolling east on Chestnut Avenue. 

Someplace alongside the route, Douglass seen a well-recognized face belonging to Amanda Auld Sears, whose father was as soon as the authorized proprietor of Frederick Douglass’s physique. Now they greeted each other like childhood mates. In response to Douglass’s account in Life and Instances, he requested Mrs. Sears why she was in Philadelphia. “I heard you had been right here, and I got here to see you stroll on this procession,” she replied. 

What can we study Reconstruction from the Conference?

This transient encounter might function a metaphor for African Individuals’ wrestle for full civil and political rights throughout and after Reconstruction. Douglass, maybe probably the most well-known African American on this planet in 1866, greeted the daughter of his former enslaver within the “Cradle of Liberty” whereas going through criticism that he was demanding an excessive amount of, too quickly. The historical past of Reconstruction proved that it was one factor for 2 childhood mates to see themselves as fellow vacationers towards a extra simply society and one other to translate that imaginative and prescient into nationwide coverage. 

Maybe Reconstruction Period Individuals will be forgiven for considering change was occurring too rapidly. Take into account the dizzying sequence of occasions between mid-1864 and the competing conventions of 1866. President Abraham Lincoln, involved that he wouldn’t be re-elected in November, 1864, eliminated Vice-President Hannibal Hamlin from the Republican ticket and changed him with the loyalist southern governor, Andrew Johnson. Then Common William T. Sherman’s dramatic seize of Atlanta, GA, helped propel Lincoln to a second time period. Accomplice common Robert E Lee surrendered the principal insurgent military on April 9, 1865, simply 5 days earlier than an murderer fatally wounded Lincoln at Washington’s Ford Theatre. 

Core Document Collection
Reconstruction, edited by Scott Yenor

All of the sudden, a brand new, inexperienced, and politically inept President assumed the duty of reuniting the nation. In his Introduction to Educating American Historical past’s Core Doc Assortment quantity, Reconstruction, Boise State Political Scientist Scott Yenor summarized the challenges going through Johnson this fashion: It ought to have been “a time for reconciling the North and South, bringing the previously rebellious Southern governments again into their correct relation with the union, and defending the fundamental civil rights of freedmen, blacks, and Unionists in these Southern states.” Yenor factors out that every one in all these challenges was daunting. Conquering all three – on the identical time? Insurmountable. The professional-Union southerners assembly in Philadelphia that September had first-hand expertise dealing with the trauma the white southern majority felt. They seemingly understood, higher than most Individuals, how controversial Reconstruction coverage would grow to be.

What was President Lincoln’s method to Reconstruction?

President Lincoln acknowledged the challenges Reconstruction would pose earlier than the conflict ended. His December 1863 Proclamation of Amnesty and Reconstruction was notable for its leniency. Lincoln known as for seceding states to reenter the Union when solely 10 p.c of these residents who voted within the 1860 election – with some exceptions – swore loyalty to the Union. He introduced a blanket pardon and the restoration of all property, besides enslaved “property,” for southerners who had not served within the accomplice army or authorities. Congressional Republicans pushed again by passing the Wade-Davis Invoice, which demanded that fifty p.c of southerners pledge loyalty to the Union earlier than implementing steps to create a brand new authorities of their state. Lincoln pocket-vetoed this invoice. Reconstruction coverage remained unsettled when Andrew Johnson took workplace following Lincoln’s dying, though on the finish of his life, Lincoln expressed a willingness to grant black suffrage to “the very clever, and people who served our trigger as troopers,” a place Andrew Johnson by no means adopted.

How did President Johnson’s method to Reconstruction differ?

State of the Union Address 1859
Nast, Thomas. Andrew Johnson’s reconstruction and the way it works (September 1, 1866) Library of Congress, LC-DIG-ppmsca-13467.

President Johnson issued his Proclamation of Amnesty and Reconstruction on Might 29, 1866, which was just like Lincoln’s in its leniency. In his proclamation, Johnson didn’t handle black suffrage or safety for black civil rights. These omissions would show to be important points within the Southern Loyalist Conference. Johnson additionally vetoed the Freedmen’s Bureau invoice and the Civil Rights invoice of 1866, and urged southern states to not ratify the 14th Modification, handed by Congress, to make sure civil rights for the previously enslaved individuals. His actions satisfied the southerners attending the Philadelphia conference that Johnson’s coverage was a failure. Johnson’s refusal to guard black rights created a unstable situation for blacks and whites. Each had been subjected to violent marauders. What most of the delegates needed was peace and safety. Johnson appeared incapable of delivering both. 

In what methods did the Southern Loyalist delegates oppose Johnson’s Reconstruction plan?

The Southern Loyalist delegates mentioned three important points: President Johnson’s Reconstruction coverage, his opposition to the 14th Modification, and African American enfranchisement. That final concern proved to be probably the most controversial. As Douglass relates in Life and Instances, delegates from the deep South supported black suffrage. The African American inhabitants in 1866 was concentrated within the South, particularly the deep South. If the Southern loyalists had been to have any probability of effecting Reconstruction coverage, they wanted the votes of African Individuals within the area. The border states, in contrast, had comparatively low numbers of African Individuals dwelling of their states. Combining the votes of loyalist whites with the previously enslaved wouldn’t considerably alter the political panorama. 

In his biography of Douglass, historian David Blight studies that Douglass was invited to talk to the southern conference delegates by a refrain of voices chanting, “Douglass! Douglass! Douglass!” Douglass recalled responding to the chants “with all of the power of my soul.” He wrote in Life and Instances that he “seemed upon suffrage for the Negro as the one measure which might stop him from being thrust again into slavery.” In his conference speech, Douglass stated that African Individuals requested “a proper to all of the totally different containers – the witness field, the jury field, and the poll field,” drawing cheers and appreciative laughter from his viewers. Solely such entry would enable blacks to flee the “dangerous field” they at the moment inhabited. 

Black enfranchisement was a bridge too far for the border state delegates. They boarded trains for residence, abandoning the conference to the deep South delegates who rapidly endorsed black male suffrage. 

The examine of Reconstruction affords college students of American historical past a singular alternative to debate the successes and failures of Reconstruction. The paperwork in Educating American Historical past’s Core Doc Assortment, Reconstruction, and others on our web site assist college students perceive the alternatives crucial actors within the period made, why they made them, and the long-term penalties of these selections. Learning these paperwork will assist college students resolve for themselves whether or not Reconstruction was a hit and – if we’re fortunate – generate new inquiries to ponder. 

Tyler Ray e1554826668637
Ray Tyler

Ray Tyler was the 2014 James Madison Fellow for South Carolina and a 2016 graduate of Ashland College’s Masters in American Historical past and Authorities. Ray is a former Instructor Program Supervisor for TAH and a frequent contributor to our weblog.

Wish to be taught extra about Reconstruction and its position in American historical past? Be part of us on October 1, 2022 for our Saturday webinar about Reconstruction and the Declaration of Independence.

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