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The Radical Republicans were biased in their assumptions regarding the South and they overestimated possible outcomes of radical changes in the political, economic, and social life, which they initiated in the time of reconstruction. In this regard, Lincoln’s approach was less radical, more moderate and possibly more effective with regard to the reconstruction after the Civil War and profound changes the South needed after the war. Such different approaches have their advantages and disadvantages, but changes initiated by Radical Republicans occurred too fast and the South was still unprepared for changes initiated by Radical Republicans (Kosary, 2008). In such a context, Lincoln’s approach would be more effective because, on the one hand, Lincoln would evoke less opposition and his changes would be less radical, while, on the other hand, he would implement changes steadily and those changes would overall lead to the inclusion of African Americans, granting them with equal rights and ultimately accomplish the same goals that Radical Republicans pursued.
Even though Lincoln’s approach evoked a strong opposition in the South, his approach was more moderate compared to the approach of Radical Republicans. In such a situation, the radical approach would not and actually did not work successfully in South. The problem was that Southern states viewed their defeat and introduction of rules and laws imposed on them by the federal state as the direct intervention into their rights granted to them by the US Constitution. The interference of the federal government into the sovereignty of people and state governments naturally evoked a strong opposition in the South and such opposition was enhanced by their recent defeat in the Civil War. Hence, white Southerners believed that the federal government and Congress driven by Radical Republicans were just attempted to deprive Southern states and people living in those states of their basic, fundamental rights. Moreover, they viewed new radical policies as the direct offensive of their, Southern way of life. They did not view radical changes driven by Radical Republicans as a part of the state policy or a part of natural democratic processes. Instead, they viewed such radical changes as a sort of revenge from the part of Northern states. As a result, such policies evoked a greater opposition and resistance from the part of Southerners compared to policies and approach initiated and planned by Lincoln.
Moreover, freed African Americans could not exercise and take full advantage of those opportunities granted to them by changes initiated by Radical Republicans. The inclusion of African Americans into the US politics, their election at the state and federal level, and other accomplishments were undoubtedly great. However, they could not take full advantage of those gains because they did not have a solid basis on the grounds of which they could construct a powerful African American political wing in the Republican Party or, what was more important, they could not gain the wide public support nationwide, especially in the South (Behrend, 2017). Without changing the public opinion in the US and, especially in the South, African Americans could not take advantage of rights and liberties granted to them by the US Constitution and Amendments, including the 13th, 14th, and 15th Amendments. This is why the reforms started by Radical Republicans had failed within a decade.
In this regard, Lincoln would introduce an alternative less radical but more efficient approach which could bring African Americans to the consistent improvement of their position in the US society, expansion of their rights and liberties, along with the considerable and positive change of the public opinion about African Americans and their inclusion in the US society. Lincoln considered the introduction of the voting rights for some African Americans, who took part in the Civil War, for example. Such step would lay the ground for the further expansion of the voting rights of African Americans and steadily, the US Congress and government would come up with the wider introduction of equal rights and liberties for African Americans, while white Southerners would steadily learn to live up with the fact that African Americans were actually equal to them and the different skin color is not a reason for their discrimination or exclusion (Hinson, 2018). The moderate approach would also grant African Americans with greater opportunities to prepare the enhancement of their position in the US society as leaders of the African American community could steadily increase their political weight or even create their political party to lead African Americans and the entire nation toward the elimination of racial inequality.
Thus, the approach Lincoln planned to use to complete the reconstruction and to eliminate the inequality of African Americans after the abolition of slavery and the end of the Civil War was more effective compared to Radical Republicans. Lincoln’s approach would give time to both African Americans and white Americans to accept their equality and take changes initiated by the Congress and the government for granted. This approach would bring greater public support and less fierce opposition compared to the changes introduced by Radical Republicans. Moreover, changes driven by Radical Republicans failed within a decade and African Americans remained in the inferior position, regardless of potentially optimistic changes during the reconstruction era.
- Behrend, J. (2017). Educational reconstruction: African American schools in the urban south, 1865-1890. The Journal of the Civil War Era, 7(2), 345-347.
- Hinson, W. R. (2018). Land gains, land losses: The odyssey of African Americans since reconstruction. The American Journal of Economics and Sociology, 77(3-4), 893-939.
- Kosary, R. A. (2008). The dance of freedom: Texas African Americans during reconstruction. Southwestern Historical Quarterly, 111(3), 351.
- Davidson (2014). U.S Narrative History. Reconstructing the Union 1865-1877(332-348).
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