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Several of the State governments were paralyzed and disorganized by the convulsions produced by the Civil War. A deep-seated social system had been overthrown, and in a number of the States business of every kind, public and private, had become deranged. It was necessary for the national government to put forth its powers for the reconstruction of the Union politically, as a preliminary measure for its peaceful and healthful progress. President Johnson took a preliminary step towards reconstruction by proclaiming (April 29, 1865) the removal of restrictions upon commercial intercourse among all the States. A month later (May 29) he issued a proclamation stating the terms by which the people of the late Confederate States, with specified exceptions, might receive full amnesty and pardon, and be reinvested with the right to exercise the functions of citizenship (see amnesty proclamations; Johnson, Andrew). This was soon followed by the appointment by the President of provisional governors for the seven States which originally formed the “Confederate States of America” (q. v.). These governors he clothed with authority to assemble citizens in convention who had taken the amnesty oath, with power to reorganize State governments and secure the election of representatives in the national Congress.

The President's plan was to restore to the States named their former position in the Union without any provision for securing to the emancipated slaves the [384] right to the exercise of citizenship which an amendment to the national Constitution (see Constitution of the United States), then before the State legislatures for consideration, would entitle them to. The President's provisional governors were active in carrying out his plan of reconstruction before the meeting of Congress, fearing that body might interfere with it. Meanwhile the requisite number of States ratified the Thirteenth Amendment of the Constitution. Late in June the order for a blockade of southern ports was rescinded; most of the restrictions upon interstate commerce were removed in August; State prisoners were paroled in October; and the first act of Congress after its meeting in December, 1865, was the repealing of the act authorizing the suspension of the privilege of the writ of Habeas corpus.

Five of the Confederate States had then ratified the Thirteenth Amendment, caused the formation of State constitutions, and elected representatives thereunder; and the President had directed the newly elected governors (some of whom had been active participants in the Confederacy) to take the place of the provisional governors. These events greatly disturbed the loyal people. To many it seemed evident that the President, in violation of his solemn pledges to the freedmen and the nation, was preparing to place the public affairs of the United States under the control of those who had sought to destroy the Union. Within six months after his accidental elevation to the Presidential chair he was at open war with the party whose suffrages had given him his high honors. He had usurped powers which the Constitution conferred exclusively upon Congress. That body clearly perceived the usurpation, and their first business of moment was to take up the subject of reconstruction. On the first day of the session (Dec. 4, 1865) Congress appointed what was called a reconstruction committee. It was composed of nine members of the House and six of the Senate. Their duties were to inquire into the condition of the States which had formed the Confederate States of America, and report whether they, or any of them, were entitled to be represented in Congress. It was resolved that until such report should be made, representatives from those States should not take seats in Congress. This was a virtual condemnation of the President's acts. The angry chief magistrate resented it, and denounced by name members of Congress who opposed his will. He uniformly vetoed acts passed by Congress, but his vetoes were impotent for mischief, for the bills were passed over them by very large majorities. His conduct so estranged his cabinet ministers that they all resigned in March, 1866, excepting the Secretary of War (Mr. Stanton), who retained his post at that critical time for the public good. Congress pressed forward the work of reconstruction in spite of the President's opposition. Late in July Tennessee was reorganized, and took its place in the councils of the nation: The President's official acts finally caused his impeachment, when, after a trial, he was acquitted by one vote. Finally, the disorganized States, having complied with the requirements of Congress, the Union was fully restored in May, 1872. On the 23d of that month every seat in Congress was filled for the first time since the winter of 1860-61, when members from several of the slave-labor States abandoned them. See Civil rights bill; Freedmen's Bureau.

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