Aftermath & Reconstruction

    Radical Republicans  "Zealous Crusaders"

Throughout the Civil War, the Radical faction of the Republican party, though never a majority in the party, was able to dominate the moderate and conservative factions. Viewing the war as a fervent crusade against slavery, the abolitionist Radicals advocated the total and uncompromising prosecution of the war against the rebellious South. Two key members of President Lincoln's cabinet were Radicals, as were the Speaker of the House and the chairman of the Ways and Means Committee. The powerful Committee on the Conduct of the War, led by outspoken abolitionist Sen. Benjamin F. Wade and "radical among radicals" Sen. Zachariah Chandler, was made up almost entirely of Radicals.

During the war, this influential and zealous group of politicians had been at the forefront of key issues and legislation such as emancipation, black enlistments, and the 13th Amendment. After the war, the Radical Republicans continued to dominate both the party and Congress, and they directed the harsh and punitive Reconstruction of the former Confederate states. Lincoln had somehow always managed to control the Radicals, but there was no stopping them after the country lost its moderating influence. When they felt that President Andrew Johnson's Reconstruction policies were too lenient on the South, the Radicals had him impeached and disallowed the new state governments that had been formed under his policies.

In spite of Johnson's veto, a series of Radical Reconstruction Acts were passed by Congress. The Southern state governments initiated by Johnson were replaced with military ones. The Radicals required the Southern states to make emancipation and black suffrage a part of their constitutions and banned former Confederates from political participation. It was 12 years after the war before the country finally tired of Reconstruction issues, the Radicals lost their influence, and the South was restored to home rule.

Fascinating Fact:  New England was the center of Radical strength with leaders such as Senators Charles Sumner and Henry Wilson from Massachusetts and Sen. John P. Hale from New Hampshire.


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