On This Day in American History — April 15, 1865 — Abraham Lincoln Dies
“General” Robert E. Lee surrendered the Army of Northern Virginia on April 9, 1865. This is typically considered the end of the US Civil War. At that time, generals commanded different armies in different areas of the country. If a sovereign government didn’t surrender, the other way to end a war was forcing each individual general to surrender his army until there was no one left to fight. That’s how the US Civil War ended. Robert E. Lee surrendered his army famously at the Appomattox Court House. That triggered a series of surrendering by traitorous generals throughout the United States. The war was finally over with the last surrender on June 23, 1865. Victorious President Abraham Lincoln wouldn’t live to see it.
Five days after Bobby Lee gave up (at least two years after the war was already lost), John Wilkes Booth shot Abraham Lincoln in the back of the head. Lincoln died a day later. It’s a pretty familiar story to Americans, but what did it mean to lose Abraham Lincoln?
For his reelection campaign in 1864, Abraham Lincoln dropped Maine Republican Hannibal Hamlin for Andrew Johnson, a Tennessee Democrat. At the time, the Confederates, slaveowners, and other white southerners were almost exclusively Democrats. Lincoln chose Johnson because he thought it would appeal to southerners, especially those still loyal to the United States, and would facilitate a smoother transition into the post-war phase. Keep in mind, the Confederacy had surrendered very port on the Mississippi River by the end of 1863. They had lost their deepwater ports and had only one industrialized city under their control. Everybody with eyes to see and ears to hear knew the Confederacy was doomed. Lincoln was planning how to bring them back in the fold with, in his words, ”malice toward none.”
As evidenced by his public statements and the way he conducted the war, Lincoln was likely to aggressively pursue a restorative Reconstruction that sought to secure rights for Black Americans without punishing rebellious white southerners. The Radical Republicans, a faction in the House and Senate, sought to punish the white southerners while also securing the rights of Black southerners. For example, the Radical Republicans wanted to ban prominent Confederates from voting or holding office ever again. Also, they passed the Wade-Davis Bill which would have required at least 50% of the population of each Confederate state to swear loyalty to the United States before they would be readmitted. Lincoln vetoed this bill and instead, implemented his Ten Percent Plan. This plan only required 10% of a population to swear loyalty before they could draft new constitutions and rejoin the Union.
Lincoln opposed the Wade-Davis Bill for several reasons. One significant reason was that Lincoln believed secession to be illegitimate. If a state had never legally left the United States, then they had no need of being re-admitted. In Lincoln’s view, the United States was not at war with the government of Tennessee, Alabama, et. al. Nor was the United States at war with the Confederate States of America. He considered the US to be at war with rebellious individuals and the CSA to be a fiction.
Andrew (No Middle Name) Johnson
After he died, Andrew Johnson became the 17th president. He was a drunk, a Confederate sympathizer, and just a bad president. As such, he vetoed much of what would have given teeth to Reconstruction. The readmission of unReconstructed Southern states placed political power back in the hands of the same powerholders who had seceded. They used their power to veto, filibuster, and hamstring any real civil rights legislation.
Reconstruction collapsed in 1877, and Black southerners faced another 90 years of legal second-class status. All of this because Lincoln died on this day in 1865. All because one night in a theater, a small man killed the best hope for liberation. Then, Andrew Johnson buried that hope.