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Reconstruction Period

In 1865, the American Civil War came to an end and the period of Reconstruction began. The purpose of Reconstruction was to restore the Southern states to the Union and to insure the rights of the recently freed blacks. From the start, the President and the Congress clashed over which branch of the government should have control of the Reconstruction process. This became an important issue which went beyond the concerns of Reconstruction itself. Specifically, the struggle between Congress and the Presidency was concerned with determining the relative power of the legislative and executive branches. During the course of Reconstruction, Congressional power became dominant in the U.S. government. This dominance was to continue throughout the Reconstruction period, until 1877.

During the Civil War, President Lincoln declared a state of emergency and assumed many of the powers that had formerly been held by Congress. There were several occasions in which the President issued wartime orders "without waiting for authority from Congress" (Diamond, 1976, p. 198). Most of the members of Congress were opposed to this assumption of power by the Presidency. The strongest opponents were the so-called "Radical Republicans," who were led by Senator Charles Sumner and House Representative Thaddeus Stevens. Senator Sumner, for example, claimed that Congress had the exclusive power to "the exercise of the rights of war," and that the Presidency was "only the instrument of Congress" (Keller, 1977, p. 22) The clash between the President and Congress became even stronger as the war came to an end. In particular, the members of Congress were opposed to Lincoln's plan for the Reconstruction of the South. Lincoln wanted to restore the union as quickly as possible, and his plan involved readmitting any Southern state that was willing to take an oath of loyalty. By contrast, the Radical Republicans in Congress "were determined to reshape the pow...

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Reconstruction Period. (1969, December 31). In Retrieved 10:00, November 29, 2021, from