World History Blog Logo

Reconstruction Plans After The Civil War

United States [1865–77]

By Saul Mcleod, Last Updated: May 23, 2022

The American Civil War was the most gruesome fight in US history. Its main cause was longstanding slavery. The war was fought between the United States of America and the former Confederate States of America, a group of eleven southern states that left the Union. 

After the Union won the war and abolished slavery, the Confederate States were in shambles. Many states were destroyed amidst the war, and their economies were torn. 

The plans to rebuild the south were called reconstruction plans. We will look at the reconstruction era and the three major reconstruction plans.

What Was The Reconstruction Era?

The reconstruction era lasted from 1865 to 1877. It was the years following the civil war, during which the United States had to deal with problems on how to:

  1. Readmit the southern states that had seceded into the Union.

  2. Determine the status of the emancipated African-Americans and incorporate them into the Union.

  3. Rebuild the economy because the southern states had confederate money, which was now useless.

  4. Treat the freed slaves and the people of these states.

  5. Enforce law and order in the country to prevent another uprising.

At the time of reconstruction, the political leaders conflicted with each other about the conditions of readmission.

Abraham Lincoln’s Plan For Reconstruction

President Abraham Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation on January 1st, 1863, declaring all slaves free. He announced his presidential reconstruction plans. He also offered pardons to those Confederates who swore allegiance to the Union. 

Lincoln wanted the infighting to stop and strengthen the Union, so he was lenient towards the confederates. He maintained that the secession had no legality and did not deserve punishment. 

Lincoln’s plan for the southern states was also called the “Ten Percent Plan.” Its key points stated that the Confederate state would be readmitted to the Union if:

  • Ten percent of state voters will take an oath of alliance to the United States.

  • The state population agreed to pledge to abide by the emancipation proclamation. 

Lincoln passed a bill creating an agency called the Freedmen’s Bureau, which helped the enslaved people acquire land, education, and food. 

The Wade-Davis Bill

The Radical Republicans strongly opposed Lincoln’s Ten Percent Plan. In response, Congress passed a bill called the Wade-Davis Bill, written by Senator Benjamin Wade and Representative Henry Davis. The bill stated:

  • Instead of 10%, most voters had to take a loyalty oath to the union.

  • Many Confederate leaders would be restricted from participating in political activities. 

  • African Americans should be treated equally before the law. 

Lincoln pocket vetoed this bill, which means it did not become law. 

Unfortunately, Lincoln was assassinated in 1865. He died before any of his plans could be carried out.

President Andrew Johnson’s Plan

After Abraham Lincoln's assassination, Vice President Andrew Johnson took over the presidency after Lincoln’s death. President Johnson was a southerner, and he was also a slave owner. He was a senator in Tennessee, a state that had remained loyal to the Union.

Radical republicans hoped that Johnson would impose strict rules on the confederates for their readmission. But, it turned out to be the opposite. His policies ended up being more lenient and relaxed than Lincoln’s. Because Johnson, like Lincoln, wanted to restore the states speedily. 

President Andrew Johnson’s reconstruction policies were:

  • All the southerners will be given a pardon, except for the former Confederate leaders and wealthy plantation owners. 

  • Each leader was required to appeal for amnesty to regain their property and citizenship.

  • All states had to abolish slavery and renounce secession permanently.

President Johnson issued thousands of pardons to former confederates and even recognized governments made up of confederate leaders. Due to this, he had to face immense hostility from the Northerners and Congress. 

Unlike radical republicans, Johnson was not too sympathetic with African-Americans and did not see them as equals. He vetoed the Civil Rights Act and a bill for expanding the Freemen’s Bureau. 

The Black Codes Law

Like the slave codes, the southern states passed the Black Codes to keep slavery alive. These codes include:

  • All the enslaved people were named “people of color” and were required to sign labor agreements.

  • They would be given limited freedom with no right to vote, serve as jurors, or testify against whites.

  • It would be illegal for them to leave their posts and travel without permission. 

Johnson gave the Confederates the liberty to form new governments, which led to the formation of black codes. Congress was completely against it, so they impeached Andrew Johnson but failed to remove him from office. 

Radical Or Congressional Reconstruction Plan

The radicals aimed to transform the traditional political system through revolution or reforms. The radical republicans were harsher towards the confederalists and wanted to impose additional rules for their readmission. They were against Lincoln’s and Johnson’s plans and wanted to be in charge of the reconstruction plan.

The following were the radical reconstruction plans:

  1. They did not acknowledge the southern states readmitted by President Lincoln or Johnson.

  2. For the states to get approval, they have to abide by the 14th Amendment and remove all confederates from their government. 

  3. Congress also divided the south into five military districts.

  4. Formerly enslaved people should be treated equally before the law and be given the right to vote.

After the Civil War, the Republican Congress passed three reconstruction amendments to end slavery and enhance the status and livelihood of African-Americans.

  1. Adopted on December 6, 1865, the 13th amendment abolished slavery in America. 

  2. The Fourteenth Amendment, ratified on July 9, 1868, had three main clauses to guarantee citizenship rights, such as equal protection and the right to possess property.

  3. The 15th Amendment granted voting rights to male freedmen. It was ratified in 1870.

Here is some additional information about the reconstruction plans and their outcome.

What Were Two Goals of Reconstruction Post-Civil War?

After the civil war ended, the main goals of the southern reconstruction plans were to:

  1. Restore the southern states and readmit them to the union.

  2. Implement progressive laws in support of formerly enslaved people’s rights.

In What Ways Was Reconstruction Successful After The Civil War?

The reconstruction was successful in how the United Nations was restored, and the Confederate States acknowledged the emancipation proclamation. The state governments drafted revised state constitutions to include labor and slave rights.


In American history, the reconstruction plan was a major milestone in abolishing slavery and gave black Americans protection from slavery under the law. This also gave birth to the idea of the “American Dream,” where a person of any race or religion can experience a better, well-rounded life.

Cite this Article (Chicago Style)

Mcleod, S. "Reconstruction Plans After The Civil War." World History Blog, May 23, 2022.

About the Author

Saul Mcleod is a qualified psychology teacher with over 17 years' experience of working in further and higher education. He has recently worked as a psychology teaching assistant for The University of Manchester, Division of Neuroscience & Experimental Psychology

He previously worked for Wigan and Leigh College, where he was a psychology lecturer for ten years, primarily teaching A-level psychology and sociology.