Reconstruction (1865–1877)

by: History SparkNotes

Key People

key-people Key People

John Wilkes Booth

A well-known stage actor and fanatic supporter of the South who assassinated President Abraham Lincoln on April 14, 1865, during a performance at Ford’s Theatre in Washington, D.C. After Lincoln’s death, Vice President Andrew Johnson became president.

Ulysses S. Grant

Union general and Civil War hero who went on to defeat Horatio Seymour in the presidential election of 1868. Nicknamed “Unconditional Surrender” due to his hard-nosed war tactics, Grant joined the Republican Party and entered politics during the Reconstruction years. He served briefly as secretary of war after Andrew Johnson fired Edwin M. Stanton but resigned after Congress forced Johnson to reinstate Stanton. Although Grant himself was an honest man, his cabinet was corrupt, and numerous scandals, such as the Fisk-Gould gold scheme, Crédit Mobilier, and the Whiskey Ring, marred his presidency. He retired after his second term.

Horace Greeley

Former New York Tribune editor who ran for president in the election of 1872. The Democrats and Liberal Republicans both nominated Horace Greeley for president that year because they both desired limited government, reform, and a swift end to Reconstruction. This political alliance, however, ultimately weakened the Liberal Republicans’ cause in the North, because most Americans still did not trust the Democratic Party. In the election, Ulysses S. Grant easily defeated Greeley.

Rutherford B. Hayes

Republican governor from Ohio and presidential nominee who ran against Democrat Samuel J. Tilden in the election of 1876. Republicans chose Hayes because he was virtually unknown in the political world, had no controversial opinions, and came from the politically important state of Ohio. In the wake of the scandals associated with Ulysses S. Grant’s presidency, Hayes’s clean political record made him a sound candidate. Although Hayes received fewer popular and electoral votes than Tilden in the election, he nonetheless became president after the Compromise of 1877.

Andrew Johnson

Former governor and senator from Tennessee who became president after Abraham Lincoln’s assassination. Lincoln chose Johnson as his running mate in the 1864 election in order to persuade the conservative border states to remain in the Union. Johnson, neither a friend of the southern aristocracy nor a proponent of securing rights for former slaves, fought Congress over passage of the Fourteenth Amendment and the Civil Rights Bill of 1866. Johnson also believed that only he, not Congress, should be responsible for Reconstruction, recognizing new state governments according to the Ten-Percent Plan without Congress’s consent. The House of Representatives impeached Johnson in 1868 for violating the Tenure of Office Act, but the Senate later acquitted him.

Abraham Lincoln

Former lawyer from Illinois who became president in the election of 1860 and guided the Union through the Civil War. In 1863, after several significant Union victories, Lincoln proposed the Ten-Percent Plan for Reconstruction of the South. He was unable to carry out the plan, however, because he was assassinated by John Wilkes Booth on April 14, 1865, at Ford’s Theatre in Washington, D.C.

Edwin M. Stanton

Secretary of war under Abraham Lincoln and Andrew Johnson. A former Democrat, Stanton joined the Republicans and went on to support Radical Reconstruction in the South. Johnson and Stanton butted heads on Reconstruction policy, however—so much so that Radical Republicans in Congress passed the Tenure of Office Act in 1867, requiring Johnson to seek Congress’s permission before removing any congressionally appointed cabinet members. When Johnson ignored the act and fired Stanton, Republicans in the House countered by impeaching Johnson.

Samuel J. Tilden

A former New York prosecutor who ran for president against Rutherford B. Hayes in 1876. Tilden first became famous in 1871 when he brought down New York City politician William “Boss” Tweed on corruption charges. Although Tilden received more popular votes than Hayes in the election of 1876, he fell one electoral vote shy of becoming president, leaving the election outcome disputed and unresolved. Ultimately, Democrats and Republicans reached the Compromise of 1877, which stipulated that the Democrats concede the presidency to Hayes in exchange for a complete withdrawal of federal troops from the southern states.

William “Boss” Tweed

A corrupt New York Democrat who was exposed in 1872 by prominent lawyer and future presidential candidate Samuel J. Tilden. “Boss” Tweed controlled most of New York City, promising improved public works to immigrants and the poor in exchange for their votes. Although Tweed was eventually prosecuted and died in prison, the Tweed Ring came to exemplify the widespread corruption and graft in northern politics during the Reconstruction era and the Gilded Age that followed.

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