VIENNA, Va., Dec. 8, 2010 — It was five months after the bloody battle of Gettysburg, scene of Pickett’s (or Longstreet’s, take your pick depending on your view of history) Charge, leaving in its wake thousands of dead, dying or injured, the so-called high water mark of the Confederacy. The war would not be over for another year and a half, yet President Lincoln decided that he knew who would win, and took the opportunity to issue his “Proclamation of Amnesty and Reconstruction.”
Hindsight telling us that the war was beginning to wind down, Lincoln faced the fact that he would have a major reconstruction situation to deal with, as well as homeless Southerners and a war torn country. In some areas of the country, large portions of the South had been captured and devastated, and the states there were anxious to do what they could to try and rebuild their governments and be able to function again.
Lincoln addressed these concerns by stating that any state in which ten per cent of the eligible voters had taken the step of signing the Oath of Allegiance to the United States, could begin to reform and resume some semblance of normal life.
To get to that point, Lincoln offered a full pardon to any who had been engaged in “the rebellion” as it was referred to. Excepted from this group, however, were the highest of Confederate officials and its Confederate military leaders. This also exempted any who were civil or diplomatic officers of the Confederate States of America. Also excepted were any individuals who had resigned from Congress to participate in the rebellion and any soldiers above the rank of colonel (Army) or lieutenant (Navy.)
And last, any of the Southern states which met the above requirements for re-establishing their entities, were strongly encouraged to prepare plans on how to deal with the slaves freed within their boundaries, with the proviso that their freedom could not be compromised in any way.
The timeline is interesting when one considers that Lincoln had issued his Emancipation Proclamation on January1, 1863 — almost a year earlier! While this read well and was embraced as the ultimate goal having been achieved, it omitted many states either border states or not technically in rebellion, and did nothing to free those being held in the North.
It was felt that Lincoln’s latest proclamation made the results of the war more palatable to the rebels and their families and indeed many Southerners were able to return home with at least their horses. Horses could pull plows as well as carry soldiers, it was felt. On the other hand, many felt that Lincoln had taken it upon himself to relieve the Congress from any initiative acts toward reconstruction.
However, it was a start, a beginning for the beleaguered South and the victorious North could see the fruits of their labor coming to pass. It did not all end happily ever after – following Lincoln’s assassination in April of 1865, it set up a rather hot battle between Congress and the next President, Andrew Johnson.
It was not until December of 1865 that the 13th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution would be passed and ratified, ending slavery in the United States, and completing the task begun, some would say, back in 1861 and which Lincoln took up in 1863.
And it seems as though Americans have been fighting the Constitution over one thing or another, ever since.
Follow the column on Facebook at Martha Boltz; email is MBoltz2846@aol.com
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