The Fourteenth Amendment of the Constitution was passed by Congress in 1867. The amendment was designed to grant citizenship to and protect the civil liberties of recently freed slaves. Most Southern states refused to ratify this amendment and therefore Radical Republicans such as Thaddeus Stevens, Charles Sumner, Benjamin Wade, Henry Winter Davies and Benjamin Butler urged the passing of further legislation to impose these measures on the former Confederacy.
Congress passed the first Reconstruction Act on 2nd March, 1867. The South was now divided into five military districts, each under a major general. New elections were to be held in each state with freed male slaves being allowed to vote. The act also included an amendment that offered readmission to the Southern states after they had ratified the Fourteenth Amendment and guaranteed adult male suffrage. President Andrew Johnson immediately vetoed the bill but Congress re-passed the bill the same day.
Andrew Johnson consulted General Ulysses S. Grant before selecting the generals to administer the military districts. Eventually he appointed John Schofield (Virginia), Daniel Sickles (the Carolinas), John Pope (Georgia, Alabama and Florida), Edward Ord (Arkansas and Mississippi) and Philip Sheridan (Louisiana and Texas).
It soon became clear that the Southern states would prefer military rule to civil government based on universal male suffrage. Congress therefore passed a supplementary Reconstruction Act on 23rd March that authorized the military commanders to supervise elections and generally to provide the machinery for constituting new governments. Once again Andrew Johnson vetoed the act on the grounds that it interfered with the right of the American citizen to "be left to the free exercise of his own judgment when he is engaged in the work of forming the fundamental law under which he is to live."
The first two Reconstruction Act were followed by a series of supplementary acts that authorized the military commanders to register the voters and supervise the elections. As a result of these measures all of the states had returned to the Union by 1870.
Slavery in the United States (£1.29)