- Thaddeus Stevens (April 4, 1792 – August 11, 1868) was a member of the United States House of Representatives from Pennsylvania and one of the leaders of the Radical Republican faction of the Republican Party during the 1860s. A fierce opponent of slavery and discrimination against African-Americans, Stevens sought to secure their rights during Reconstruction, in opposition to President Andrew Johnson. As chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee during the American Civil War, he played a major part in the war's financing.
- Stevens argued that slavery should not survive the war; he was frustrated by the slowness of President Abraham Lincoln to support his position. He guided the government's financial legislation through the House as Ways and Means chairman. As the war progressed towards a northern victory, Stevens came to believe that not only should slavery be abolished, but that African-Americans should be given a stake in the South's future through the confiscation of land from planters to be distributed to the freedmen. His plans went too far for the Moderate Republicans, and were not enacted.
- After Lincoln's assassination in April 1865, Stevens came into conflict with the new president, Johnson, who sought rapid restoration of the seceded states without guarantees for freedmen. The difference in views caused an ongoing battle between Johnson and Congress, with Stevens leading the Radical Republicans. After gains in the 1866 election the radicals took control of Reconstruction away from Johnson. Stevens's last great battle was to secure articles of impeachment in the House against Johnson, though the Senate did not convict the President. Historiographical views of Stevens have dramatically shifted over the years, from the early 20th-century view of Stevens as reckless and motivated by hatred of the white South, to the perspective of the neoabolitionists of the 1950s and afterwards, who applauded him for his egalitarian views.
- Andrew Johnson (December 29, 1808 – July 31, 1875) was the 17th President of the United States, serving from 1865 to 1869. Johnson became president as he was Vice President at the time of President Abraham Lincoln's assassination. A Democrat who ran with Lincoln on the National Union ticket, Johnson came to office as the Civil War concluded. The new president favored quick restoration of the seceded states to the Union. His plans did not give protection to the former slaves, and he came into conflict with the Republican-dominated Congress, culminating in his impeachment by the House of Representatives. The first American president to be impeached, he was acquitted in the Senate by one vote.
- ohnson implemented his own form of Presidential Reconstruction – a series of proclamations directing the seceded states to hold conventions and elections to re-form their civil governments. When Southern states returned many of their old leaders, and passed Black Codes to deprive the freedmen of many civil liberties, Congress refused to seat legislators from those states and advanced legislation to overrule the Southern actions. Johnson vetoed their bills, and Congress overrode him, setting a pattern for the remainder of his presidency. Johnson opposed the Fourteenth Amendment, which gave citizenship to African-Americans.
- Johnson opposed the Fourteenth Amendment, which gave citizenship to African-Americans. As the conflict between the branches of government grew, Congress passed the Tenure of Office Act, restricting Johnson in firing Cabinet officials. When he persisted in trying to dismiss Secretary of War Edwin Stanton, he was impeached by the House of Representatives, and narrowly avoided conviction in the Senate and removal from office. Returning to Tennessee after his presidency, Johnson sought political vindication, and gained it in his eyes when he was elected to the Senate again in 1875 (the only former president to serve there), just months before his death. Although Johnson's ranking has fluctuated over time, he is generally considered among the worst American presidents for his opposition to federally guaranteed rights for African Americans.
- The Freedmen’s Bureau was established by an act of Congress on March 3, 1865, two months before Confederate General Robert Lee (1807-70) surrendered to the Union’s Ulysses Grant (1822-85) at Appomattox Court House, Virginia, effectively ending the Civil War. Intended as a temporary agency to last the duration of the war and one year afterward, the bureau was placed under the authority of the War Department and the majority of its original employees were Civil War soldiers.
- The U.S. Bureau of Refugees, Freedmen and Abandoned Lands, popularly known as the Freedmen’s Bureau, was established in 1865 by Congress to help former black slaves and poor whites in the South in the aftermath of the U.S. Civil War (1861-65). Some 4 million slaves gained their freedom as a result of the Union victory in the war, which left many communities in ruins and destroyed the South’s plantation-based economy. The Freedmen’s Bureau provided food, housing and medical aid, established schools and offered legal assistance. It also attempted to settle former slaves on Confederate lands confiscated or abandoned during the war. However, the bureau was prevented from fully carrying out its programs due to a shortage of funds and personnel, along with the politics of race and Reconstruction. In 1872, Congress, in part under pressure from white Southerners, shut the bureau.
- America’s Reconstruction era (1865-77) was a turbulent time, as the nation struggled with how to rebuild the South and transition the 4 million newly freed blacks from slavery to a free-labor society. “There was no tradition of government responsibility for a huge refugee population and no bureaucracy to administer a large welfare, employment and land reform program,” according to “The Freedmen’s Bureau and Reconstruction,” edited by Paul Cimbala and Randall Miller. “Congress and the army and the Freedmen’s Bureau were groping in the dark. They created the precedents.”