May 29, 1865: Andrew Johnson’s Reconstruction Proclamations

We’ve heard a lot of talk about Reconstruction and public memory recently. Today offers a chance to measure what people might do about that public memory, or if it’s more talk than action. After all, we’ve marked the sesquicentennial of other documents, and yet the two documents issued under the president’s name this day 150 years ago fundamentally shaped what happened for the next dozen years.

Having accepted the existence of the Lincoln Reconstruction governments in several former Confederate states, Johnson outlined his own policies concerning the restoration of civil government in the remaining states, starting with North Carolina. He named provisional governors who would oversee the process of erecting new state constitutions and governments. The process excluded blacks from voting: the electorate was defined as those would have been eligible to vote in 1860.

Johnson’s second proclamation outlined his pardon policy. Excluded were several classes of individuals, including high-ranking Confederate officials, and those who claimed over $20,000 in taxable property, a Johnson twist designed to make the large landowners seek pardons from him. However, the granting of a pardon restored all of one’s property except for slaves … which would challenge efforts to engage in widespread confiscation and redistribution of property.

I await the usual insightful commentary on causes and consequences. Let’s see what the Reconstruction sesquicentennial will bring us.