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Andrew Johnson’s Reconstruction and How It Works, engraving by Thomas Nast, September 1, 1866

President Andrew Johnson, a former senator from Tennessee, favored leniency toward the former Confederate states. He vetoed two acts of Congress that aided freedmen and protected their civil rights. This cartoon portrayed him as Shakespeare’s Iago, who betrayed the black general Othello. Vignettes depict slavery and race riots in Memphis and New Orleans, where whites viciously attacked African Americans.

Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress

Andrew Johnson’s Reconstruction and How It Works, engraving by Thomas Nast, September 1, 1866

Reconstruction of the Union

After the Civil War, Congress and the executive branch struggled over when and how to bring the former Confederate states back into the Union. The Joint Committee on Reconstruction—established by Congress in December 1865 to investigate under what terms the seceded states should regain their congressional representation—strongly disagreed with President Andrew Johnson’s efforts toward quick readmission. After a yearlong study, the fifteen-member committee outlined qualifications for readmission, including ratification of the Fourteenth Amendment to the Constitution.

The whole fabric of Southern society must be changed and never can it be done if this opportunity is lost. . . . If the South is ever to be made a safe republic, let her lands be cultivated by the toil of the owners, or the free labor of intelligent citizens.

Thaddeus Stevens, “Reconstruction” Speech, September 6, 1865