Radical Republicans — the Architects of Reconstruction and Civil Rights


The Radical Republicans were a faction within the Republican Party that existed from the mid-1850s through the Reconstruction Era. They briefly held control of Congress after the Civil War, and aimed to make significant changes in the South. Important leaders included Thaddeus Stevens in the House of Representatives and Charles Sumner in the Senate.

Thaddeus Stevens, Radical Republican, LOC

Representative Thaddeus Stevens of Pennsylvania. Image Source: Library of Congress.

Who were the Radical Republicans?

The Radical Republicans were a faction within the Republican Party that existed from the mid-1850s through the Reconstruction Era. They briefly held control of Congress after the Civil War, and aimed to make significant changes in the South. Important leaders included Thaddeus Stevens in the House of Representatives and Charles Sumner in the Senate.

The Radical Republicans were known for their staunch opposition to slavery, support for emancipation, civil rights, and social equality for black Americans, and their desire to enact harsh laws on the Southern States in retaliation for the Civil War. However, they also encouraged the humane treatment of Southerners following the war.

Horace Greeley, Illustration, LOC
This illustration depicts newspaper editor Horace Greeley. Image Source: Library of Congress.

Radical Republicans Facts

  • Radical Republicans were members of the Republican Party who wanted to see the abolition of slavery and equality of whites and blacks in America.
  • They opposed President Abraham Lincoln’s Reconstruction Plan, which they felt was too lenient on the South and Southern slave owners.
  • Despite their differences, Lincoln included Radical Republicans in his cabinet, including Salmon P. Chase, James Speed, and Edwin M. Stanton.
  • A key opponent of the Radical Republicans was Henry Jarvis Raymond, a Moderate Republican who was editor of the New York Times and chairman of the Republican National Committee.
  • Radical Republicans impeached President Andrew Johnson, making him the first President to go through the process. Johnson was acquitted by one vote.
  • The reputation of the Radical Republicans suffered due to their association with men who were known as “Carpetbaggers” and “Scalawags.”
  • After Reconstruction, Radical Republicans slowly lost control of the South to the “Redeemers,” who were members of the Democratic Party from the South.
  • After the demise of the faction, the Radical Republicans were often criticized for corruption and harsh policies that were considered to be anti-democratic. For example, they wanted to ban former Confederates from having the right to vote.
  • Radical Republicans played a significant role in the passage of the 13th Amendment, 14th Amendment, 15th Amendment, and the Civil Rights Act of 1866.

Formation of the Radical Republicans

The Republican Party emerged during the 1850s. Although Abolition was not a stated goal of the party, many of the members were Abolitionists and a “radical” faction sought to bring about an immediate end to slavery.

The Radical Republicans were never an organized Political Party, but they held a significant influence within the Republican Party. During the 1850s, they opposed legislation that supported slavery, including the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850 and the Kansas-Nebraska Act.

By the time the Civil War started, the Radical Republicans included prominent politicians and journalists. In Congress, Thaddeus Stevens and Charles Sumner were the leading voices of the Radical Republicans. Other prominent men associated with the Radical Republicans were:

  • James M. Ashley of Ohio introduced the first proposal during the Civil War for a constitutional amendment to abolish slavery in the United States. Ashley’s proposal formed the basis of the 13th Amendment.
  • John A. Bingham, who contributed to the 14th Amendment to the United States Constitution. Bingham was a Representative from Ohio.
  • Benjamin Butler played an important role in the confiscation of slaves during the war. Butler was a politician and soldier from Massachusetts.
  • Salmon P. Chase, who served as Secretary of the Treasury under President Lincoln and was later named Chief Justice of the Supreme Court.
  • William Gannaway Brownlow, publisher of the Knoxville Whig. Brownlow also served as a Senator and Governor of Tennessee.
  • Horace Greeley, editor of the New York Tribune. Over time, the New York Tribune was the leading outlet for Radical Republican news and opinion
  • James H. Lane, a Senator from Kansas. Lane was a prominent leader of the Jayhawkers, an anti-slavery group that rose to prominence during the Bleeding Kansas period of the 1850s.
  • Benjamin Franklin Wade, an Ohioan who helped design the Wade-Davis Bill, which served as the basis for the policies the Radical Republicans implemented during Reconstruction.
James Ashley, Portrait
James M. Ashley. Image Source: Library of Congress.

The Buildup to the Secession Crisis

By 1860, decades of political and social division over slavery finally reached a breaking point in the United States. With a Presidential Election set for November of 1860, incumbent James Buchanan had announced he would not seek reelection for a second term.

Republican National Convention of 1860

Delegates from the Republican Party gathered in Chicago from May 16 to May 18, 1860, to adopt their platform and nominate a candidate for the presidency. They adopted a 16-point platform that:

  • Denounced threats to disunion.
  • Maintained the rights of the states.
  • Denied the “authority of Congress, of a territorial legislature, or of any individuals, to give legal existence to slavery in any territory of the United States.”
  • Branded the African slave trade as a “crime against humanity and a burning shame to our country and age.”
  • Demanded passage of the Homestead Act of 1860, which was intended to spur westward expansion, but had been vetoed by President Buchanan because he believed it was unconstitutional for the government to give away land for free.
  • Deemed a railroad to the Pacific Ocean as “imperatively demanded by the interests of the whole country” and “the federal government ought to render immediate and efficient aid in its construction.”

On May 18, the delegates to the Republican National Convention selected Abraham Lincoln of Illinois as their candidate for President and Hannibal Hamlin of Maine as their candidate for Vice President.

Abraham Lincoln, Portrait, Gardner
Abraham Lincoln. Image Source: Wikipedia.

Southern Reaction to the Republican Platform

The Republican Platform raised concerns in the Southern states, including:

  • Prohibiting the extension of slavery in the United States.
  • Imposing high tariffs to protect northern industry.
  • Providing free land to homesteaders in the West. 

Some leaders even believed the Federal Government would bow to the wishes of Radical Republicans and Abolitionists and abolish slavery. They also felt Northern policies would harm their own social and economic interests. As a result, several Southern states issued warnings that they would secede from the United States if the Republican ticket were to win the election.

Presidential Election of 1860

On November 6, 1860, American voters elected Republican Abraham Lincoln as the 16th President of the United States. Alarmed by what they considered to be extremist views held by Lincoln and Radical Republicans, Southerners escalated their efforts to leave the Union. 

The Secession Crisis Begins

On November 10, only four days after Lincoln’s victory, South Carolina was the first state to act, calling for a state convention to consider secession. On December 3, 1860, when the second session of the 36th Congress convened, President James Buchanan sent the legislature a message requesting an “exploratory amendment” to deal with the secession crisis. Congressmen from both houses responded with a flurry of proposals to save the Union.

Radical Republicans and the Committee of Thirty-Three

On December 4, 1860, the House of Representatives voted to form a committee to deal with the crisis. The committee met for the first time on December 11, which was chaired by Thomas Corwin of Ohio

For just over a month, the committee considered various proposals. In the committee’s majority report, Corwin informed the full House that the members could not agree on a compromise. However, the committee endorsed a constitutional amendment prohibiting Congress from interfering with slavery in states where it already existed.

Thomas Corwin, Congressman, Ohio, LOC
Thomas Corwin. Image Source: Library of Congress.

Corwin Amendment

Known as the Corwin Amendment, it was introduced to the House on January 21, 1861. The House debated the Amendment for five weeks and it was approved on February 28. The Senate approved it on March 2.

Congress sent the Amendment to the States, however, the Battle of Fort Sumter took place and the process was interrupted. Technically, the proposed Corwin Amendment is still pending before the state legislatures for ratification.

Radical Republicans and the Committee of Thirteen

The Senate also established a committee, which met for the first time on December 18, one day after South Carolina’s secession convention convened. The Committee of Thirteen comprised seven Democrats, five Republicans, and one Constitutional Unionist. 

Among the Republicans were William Seward and Benjamin Wade. Both were from Ohio and both were Radical Republicans. Key Democrats were Jefferson Davis from Mississippi and Stephen Douglas from Illinois.

Over the course of two weeks, the committee developed and reviewed several proposals. The most notable of these was the Crittenden Compromise, which was defeated in the Senate. 

Washington Peace Conference

Toward the end of January 1861, a coalition that included John Letcher, Governor of Virginia, and John Tyler, 10th President of the United States, invited representatives from the states to send delegates to a conference. 21 states — 14 free and 7 slave-holding — participated in the conference, and 13 states did not.

President John Tyler, Portrait
John Tyler. Image Source: Wikipedia.

States Attending the Washington Peace Conference

  • On February 4, delegates from Delaware, Indiana, Kentucky, Maryland, New Hampshire, New Jersey, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, and Virginia met at the Willards’ Concert Hall, adjacent to the Willard Hotel, in Washington, D.C. 
  • They were eventually joined by Connecticut, Illinois, Iowa, Kansas, Maine, Massachusetts, Missouri, New York, Tennessee, and Vermont representatives. 

States Not Attending the Washington Peace Conference

  • Seven states from the Deep South — Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, South Carolina, and Texas — had already seceded from the Union and chose not to participate. 
  • Arkansas, California, Michigan Minnesota, Oregon, and Wisconsin did not send delegates. 

Delegates Meet with President-Elect Lincoln

The delegates met throughout most of the month of February and developed a compromise. On February 24, a small group of delegates met with President-elect Lincoln, hoping to secure his support for the compromise. 

However, the compromise still included support for pro-slavery measures, and Lincoln would not support it. The delegates met with Lincoln again on February 26, but he still refused to support the compromise.

Proposed Amendment Defeated in the Senate

Senator Lazarus W. Powell of Kentucky introduced the proposed amendment in the U.S. Senate, where it was overwhelmingly defeated by a vote of 28 to 7. 

After several days of political maneuvering, on March 1, the House refused to hear the convention’s proposal.

Abraham Lincoln Inauguration

Abraham Lincoln took office as the President of the United States on March 4, 1861, at a time when the country was deeply divided and facing an uncertain future. He made it clear that he would not allow secession to happen and that he would do everything in his power to keep the nation united. However, he also promised to avoid violence unless it was necessary to defend the Union.

His cabinet consisted of experienced politicians and bureaucrats, such as William H. Seward of New York, who was the Secretary of State, and Salmon P. Chase of Ohio, who was the Secretary of the Treasury. Other key members of Lincoln’s cabinet included Simon Cameron of Pennsylvania as the War Secretary, and Gideon Welles of Connecticut as the Secretary of the Navy.

Seward and Chase were leaders within the Radical Republicans faction.

Radical Republicans and the Civil War

As the Union dissolved, the seceding state governments seized federal property within their borders, including forts and arsenals. In South Carolina, Governor Francis Pickens tried to negotiate a peaceful takeover of Federal facilities in Charleston Harbor, including Fort Sumter. 

When Major Robert Anderson moved his men from Fort Moultrie into Fort Sumter, Pickens had the South Carolina militia build artillery batteries around Charleston Harbor that could fire on the fort and prevent Union supply ships from reaching it. After the Confederate States of America was formed, P.G.T. Beauregard was placed in command of Confederate forces laying siege to Fort Sumter.

When Lincoln announced he was sending three unarmed supply ships to Union troops occupying Fort Sumter, the Confederate States warned that it would be viewed as an act of aggression. Anderson and Beauregard negotiated the surrender of the fort, but could not agree to terms. 

As a result, Confederate artillery batteries opened fire on Fort Sumter at 4:30 a.m. on April 12. The Confederate batteries shelled the fort until the afternoon of April 13, when Anderson finally surrendered. Beauregard allowed the Union troops to leave the fort. Major Anderson carried the American flag that had flown over the fort with him when he left. 

Bombardment of Fort Sumter, Illustration
This illustration depicts the bombardment of Fort Sumter. Image Source: Library of Congress.

Emergence of the Radical Republicans

When the Civil War started, most Republicans supported President Abraham Lincoln and his moderate approach to the war. As the war progressed, ideological differences among Congressional Republicans became apparent.

The Radical Republicans, like Charles Sumner, Benjamin Wade, and Thaddeus Stevens disagreed with Lincoln, especially on abolition, emancipation, and the recruitment of black soldiers.

Joint Committee on the Conduct of the War

The Radical Republicans preferred an aggressive approach to the war and established the Joint Committee on the Conduct of the War. The purpose of the committee was to keep watch on Lincoln’s wartime decisions and monitor the progress. The Committee was chaired by Senator Benjamin Wade.

Radical Republicans and Reconstruction

As the war carried on, the United States started to develop a plan to reincorporate the Confederate States into the Union. The plan, known as Reconstruction, led to further division between Lincoln and his supporters and the Radical Republicans.

The Radical Republicans saw it as an opportunity to transform Southern society, so that embraced freedom, equality, and racial justice. The Radical Republicans were willing to implement measures that would force the South to comply, but Lincoln preferred a more lenient approach.

Radical Republicans’ View of the South

Senator Charles Sumner of Massachusetts believed the Southern states had effectively “committed suicide” by seceding from the Union. He believed the action meant they had reverted to territorial status. This was convenient because Congress had authority over territories.

However, moderates like James G. Blaine in the House and John Sherman in the Senate favored a more conservative approach. They called for Southern citizens to pledge allegiance to the Union, recognize the freedom of former slaves, and help keep them safe as they started their new lives.

The Wade-Davis Bill — the Foundation for Congressional Reconstruction

In February 1864, two Radical Republicans, Senator Benjamin Wade, and Representative Henry Winter Davis, authored the Wade-Davis Bill, which was an alternative to Lincoln’s Reconstruction Plan.

Benjamin Franklin Wade, Senator
Benjamin Franklin Wade. Image Source: Wikipedia.

The Wade-Davis Bill outlined the requirements and penalties the Confederate States would have to meet before being readmitted into the Union. The bill represented the idea the Confederate States would have to be forced to comply in order to be readmitted to the Union — and still suffer the consequences for having lost the war.

After several weeks of consideration, the House passed Davis’ proposal on May 4, 1864, and sent it to the Senate for concurrence. The Senate approved the measure in principle and passed an amended version on July 1. On July 2, a conference committee between the two chambers resolved their differences. The full Congress approved the measure on the same day and sent it to the President for approval.

However, Lincoln never signed the bill — a political maneuver known as a “Pocket Veto.” Lincoln took the unusual step of issuing a presidential proclamation on July 8, outlining his reasons for the Pocket Veto. 

In his proclamation, Lincoln stated that he was “unprepared, by a formal approval of this Bill, to be inflexibly committed to any single plan of restoration,”, especially in Arkansas and Louisiana where reconstruction under his Ten-Percent Plan was already underway. Lincoln also questioned the “constitutional competency in Congress to abolish slavery in States,” despite his sincere hopes that “a constitutional amendment, abolishing slavery throughout the nation, may be adopted.”

Assassination of President Lincoln  

After President Lincoln’s death on April 15, 1865, Vice President Andrew Johnson was sworn in as the 17th President of the United States

Abraham Lincoln Assassination, Booth Prepares to Shoot, Illustration
This illustration depicts the Assassination of Abraham Lincoln. Image Source: Wikipedia.

Eleven days later, the last major Confederate army in the field, under the command of General Joseph E. Johnston, surrendered to General William T. Sherman at Bennett Place, North Carolina. Johnston’s surrender ended major organized fighting in the American Civil War.

Johnson turned his attention to reconstructing the Union, implementing the lenient approach that Lincoln favored, which was in direct opposition to the ideology of the Radical Republicans.

Like Lincoln, Johnson believed the Southern States had never legally left the Union. Thus, Reconstruction was a matter of forming new state governments in the South so they could resume their constitutionally guaranteed status, including representation in Congress.

When Johnson was sworn in, Congress was in recess. He hoped to end the Reconstruction process before Congress reconvened in December. He appointed temporary governors in the Southern States to oversee the drafting of new state constitutions, and he agreed to recognize officially each state that complied with constitutional requirements for statehood and that ratified the 13th Amendment.

The 13th Amendment Abolishes Slavery

The 13th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution achieved ratification by the states on December 6, 1865, when Georgia voted to approve it. The amendment abolished the practice of slavery in the United States — except as a punishment for a crime — and provided Congress with broad powers to ensure the enforcement of the amendment.

Turmoil in the South

The Southern States responded to the 13th Amendment by enacting “Black Codes” aimed at oppressing newly emancipated slaves.

Former slaves in the South suffered as targets of violence. Two major incidents were:

  1. Memphis Massacre (May 1–3, 1866).
  2. New Orleans Massacre (July 30, 1866).
Memphis Riot, 1866, Illustration
This illustration depicts the Memphis Riot of 1866. Image Source: Tennessee Virtual Archive.

Radical Republicans and Congressional Reconstruction

The Radical Republicans were outraged over Lincoln’s assassination, the treatment of former slaves, and Johnson’s attempt to impose his own version of Reconstruction. When the Radical Republicans returned to Washington, they reasserted their Congressional authority to dictate terms for Reconstruction and started by refusing to seat representatives from the Southern States.

Joint Committee on Reconstruction

Johnson, who was not as politically skilled as Lincoln, alienated his most supportive congressional allies, including the Moderate Republicans. The Moderates responded by aligning with the Radicals. Together, they established the Joint Committee on Reconstruction, which was used to organize opposition to Johnson.

Congressional Reconstruction

The Radical Republicans started to work on their own version of Reconstruction through a series of acts and proposed constitutional amendments and principles expressed in the Wade-Davis Bill resurfaced in Congressional Reconstruction. 

Congressional Reconstruction established federally ensured rights for former slaves and imposed much harsher treatment of Southern states, including military occupation. 

Johnson Vetoes Reconstruction Bills Enacted by the Radical Republicans

Congress passed much of its Reconstruction legislation, including the Civil Rights Act of 1866, the Second Freedmen’s Bureau Act, and the Military Reconstruction Acts of 1867. Although Johnson vetoed all three, the Radical Republicans garnered enough votes to overturn the vetoes.

In the North, Abolitionists and Republicans supported the use of the Federal Government’s power to guarantee the freedom and security of former slaves. A Republican newspaper argued that ensuring civil rights for Freedpeople was a natural consequence of the war. It said, “The party is nothing if it does not do this; the nation is dishonored if it fails.”

President Andrew Johnson, Photograph, LOC
Andrew Johnson. Image Source: Library of Congress.

Civil Rights Act of 1866

The Civil Rights Act of 1866 aimed to counter Black Codes enacted by Southern states by validating the citizenship of former slaves and endowing them with specific, federally guaranteed, civil rights. It was vetoed by Johnson, but overturned by the Radical Republicans. The law was enacted on April 9, 1866.

Fourteenth Amendment Proposed

In June 1866, Congress approved a proposed 14th Amendment to the Constitution and sent it to the states — including the Southern States — for ratification. The proposed amendment gave all Freedpeople citizenship and equal protection under the law. 

Tennessee ratified the amendment in July, but the other Southern States, encouraged by President Johnson, refused to follow suit, despite an implicit understanding that ratification was a condition for regaining representation in Congress.

President Johnson’s Swing Around the Circle

As the 1866 mid-term elections approached, Johnson attempted to end his growing impasse with Congress by going on a speaking tour through the Midwest. The purpose was to generate support for his Reconstruction policies and encourage voters to elect Democratic representatives who supported his policies. 

The tour is known as the “Swing Around the Circle,” and turned into a mudslinging campaign between Johnson and Radical Republicans. The outcome was a disaster for Johnson. 

He alienated the few supporters he had in Congress, and voters responded by electing more Radical Republicans to Congress.

Radical Republicans Gain Control of Congress

In 1866, the Radical Republicans gained control of Congress, allowing them to propose and implement their own legislation during the Reconstruction Era.

Radical Republicans and the Reconstruction Acts

The Reconstruction Acts were a set of four bills the Radical Republicans passed a set of four bills between March 2, 1867, and March 11, 1868. With Congress under their control, the Radicals passed laws that established criteria and procedures for former Confederate states — except Tennessee — to regain readmission to the Union.

The Reconstruction Acts mandated the registration of African Americans as voters while disqualifying former Confederates. To rejoin the Union, each state was required to ratify the 14th Amendment and create a new state constitution ensuring the civil rights of black citizens. Further, the new state constitution had to be approved by Congress.

The Reconstruction Act produced the results the Radical Republicans were seeking. 

By July 21, 1868, seven Southern states — Arkansas, Florida, North Carolina, Louisiana, South Carolina, Alabama, and Georgia —  adopted new constitutions, formed new governments, and ratified the 14th Amendment, paving the way for readmission to the Union. 

Virginia agreed in October 1869, followed by Mississippi and Texas in 1870.

Impeachment of President Andrew Johnson

On February 24, 1867, roughly a week before the Fourth Reconstruction Act was enacted, the House of Representatives voted to impeach President Johnson, after he tried to remove Secretary of War Edwin M. Stanton from office.

Edwin Stanton, Secretary of War, LOC
Edwin M. Stanton. Image Source: Library of Congress.

The House brought eleven charges against him in his trial before the Senate, which started on March 30, 1868.

Johnson avoided removal from office by a single vote. However, the failure of the impeachment proceedings marked the beginning of the decline of the Radical Republicans.

Fourteenth Amendment Ratified

During Congressional debates that led to the enactment of the Civil Rights Act of 1866, some legislators supported the concept of ensuring civil rights by amending the Constitution rather than through acts of Congress. 

As early as December 6, 1865, Ohio Congressman John A. Bingham proposed a constitutional amendment establishing the authority of Congress to protect civil rights. Referred to the Joint Committee on Reconstruction on January 12, 1866, Bingham’s proposal served as the basis of what eventually became the first section of the Fourteenth Amendment.

John Bingham, Radical Republican, Ambassador to Japan, LOC
John A. Bingham. Image Source: Library of Congress.

An updated version was drafted by Congressman Thaddeus Stevens, who proposed a constitutional amendment on April 21, 1866. A week later, on April 28, the committee completed drafting what would become the Fourteenth Amendment to the Constitution.

On July 28, 1868, the 14th Amendment was ratified, granting “All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the state wherein they reside.”

Presidential Election of 1868

In 1868, the Democratic Party chose Horatio Seymour as its presidential candidate. Seymour, a former governor of New York, supported states’ rights and opposed equal rights for African Americans. 

The Republican Party nominated Ulysses S. Grant, who rose to prominence for his leadership of Union forces during the war. Grant was a defender of equal opportunities for blacks and a supporter of a strong Federal Government. 

On Election Day, 53% of American voters selected Grant. He easily won the Electoral College vote, capturing 26 of the 34 states, to become the 18th President of the United States. Grant sought reelection in 1872 and easily won again, receiving fifty-six percent of the popular vote.

President Ulysses S. Grant, Photograph, LOC
President Ulysses S. Grant. Image Source: Library of Congress.

Aftermath of Johnson’s Impeachment

Following his acquittal, Johnson served the last 10 months of his presidency at odds with Congress. At the 1868 Democratic National Convention, party delegates nominated Horatio Seymour as their presidential candidate over him, ending his aspirations for a second term. On March 4, 1869, Johnson completed his term as President and returned to Greeneville, Tennessee.

Fifteenth Amendment

In 1870, the passage of the 15th Amendment marked a significant milestone, as it granted black Americans the right to vote.

The Decline of the Radical Republicans

The decline of the Radical Republicans escalated following the 1868 elections because: 

  1. The Moderate Republicans, under the leadership of President Ulysses S. Grant, were now tasked with carrying out congressional Reconstruction in the Southern states. 
  2. Some of the key leaders of the Radical Republicans took more moderate views.
  3. The faction lost a key leader when Thaddeus Stevens died on August 11, 1868.
  4. Some Radical Republicans were accused of corruption, including accepting bribes.

Political scandals marred Grant’s Presidency. Several leaders and cabinet members engaged in corrupt activities. While Grant remained above the controversy, many Americans faulted him for his political appointments and his inability to control his cabinet.

In the South, the nation seemed far from healing its war wounds. Violence increased between whites and the African-American population. A growing number of Republicans lost their enthusiasm for Radical Reconstruction policies and encouraged Grant to withdraw federal troops from the South.

Over time, the opposition from white Southerners against Republican policies to incorporate former slaves into Southern politics and society intensified and Northern support for reshaping the South declined. In fact, many Northerners started looking to put the war behind them and embracing the reintegration of Southerners into the Union.

Rutherford B. Hayes and the Compromise of 1877

Following the Grant Administration, some of the accomplishments of the Radical Republicans were reversed. 

In June 1876, the Republican National Convention met in Cincinnati, Ohio, and selected dark-horse candidate Rutherford B. Hayes as its nominee for President.

In November, Hayes defeated Democrat Samuel J. Tilden in one of the closest and most controversial elections in United States history. Although Tilden received more popular votes than Hayes, his total electoral votes were one short of the number he needed to secure the election. 

Rutherford B Hayes, 19th President
President Rutherford B. Hayes. Image Source: Wikipedia.

The Hayes camp challenged the election results in four states — Florida, Louisiana, South Carolina, and Oregon. When Congress could not settle the dispute, the members established a nonpartisan electoral commission to determine the winner in the four disputed states. 

The commission declared Hayes the winner in each state. In each case, the eight Republican members voted for Hayes, and the seven Democrats voted for Tilden. 

In what became known as the “Compromise of 1877,” and the “Wormley House Bargain,” Hayes became president. To secure the victory, Republican leaders made concessions to Democrats, including:

  • The withdrawal of the federal troops from the South, returning home rule to the Southern States, and ending Reconstruction.
  • The appointment of Southerners to the cabinet of President Hayes

Americans who were upset by the bargain referred to Hayes as “Rutherfraud” B. Hayes” and “His Fraudulency” during his time in office.

However, Hayes worked to maintain rights for black Americans. In 1877, he dispatched federal troops to several cities to limit violence and end rioting by striking workers during the Great Railroad Strike of 1877. He was also an advocate for civil service reform, a stance that made him unpopular with politicians in both major parties.

Emergence of Jim Crow Laws

Following the end of Reconstruction, white Democrats initiated the implementation of laws that discriminated against black Americans, limiting and removing their civil rights and privileges. Known as “Jim Crow Laws,” they erased much of the progress that had been achieved through the efforts of the Radical Republicans.

Radical Republicans Significance

Radical Republicans are important to United States history because they were responsible for some of the most significant legislation in American history — the 13th Amendment, the 14th Amendment, the 15th Amendment, and the Civil Rights Act of 1866.

Overall, the legacy of the Radical Republicans is mixed. 

Some historians are critical because of the failure of some of the programs they implemented, pointing out that the harsh treatment of Southern States may have made black Americans the target of frustration.

Others make the case that their approach to Reconstruction was necessary, and the only way to achieve the end of slavery in the United States.

Charles Sumner, Radical Republican, LOC
Charles Sumner. Image Source: Library of Congress.

Radical Republicans APUSH, Review, Notes, Study Guide

Use the following links and videos to study Abolition, the Secession Crisis, and the Civil War for the AP US History Exam. Also, be sure to look at our Guide to the AP US History Exam.

Radical Republicans Definition APUSH

The Radical Republicans are defined as a faction within the Republican Party during the American Civil War and Reconstruction Era, primarily from 1861 to 1877. Committed to a comprehensive vision of racial equality and civil rights for freed African Americans, they sought to ensure that the South underwent a thorough transformation after the Civil War. Led by figures such as Thaddeus Stevens and Charles Sumner, they advocated for measures such as the Reconstruction Acts, which aimed to dismantle the old Confederate power structure, grant civil rights to African Americans, and ensure their political participation. The Radical Republicans played a pivotal role in shaping the post-war South and the trajectory of civil rights in the United States.

Radical Republicans Video for APUSH Notes

This video from Course Hero discusses the Radical Republicans and their vision for Radical Reconstruction.

Radical Republicans — Related Terms and Definitions

Black Codes — Black Codes were laws passed by Southern states in the aftermath of the Civil War that imposed strict regulations on the behavior and activities of African Americans. These codes often restricted the rights and freedoms of African Americans, including their ability to vote, own property, and enter into contracts.

Freedmen’s Bureau — The Freedmen’s Bureau was a U.S. government agency established in 1865 to provide assistance to newly freed slaves in the South following the Civil War. The bureau provided food, housing, medical care, and education to former slaves, and it also worked to protect their rights and ensure their fair treatment.

Impeachment of Andrew Johnson — The Impeachment of Andrew Johnson was the process by which the U.S. Congress attempted to remove President Andrew Johnson from office in 1868. Johnson, a Democrat, was impeached by the House of Representatives on charges of abuse of power and violation of the Tenure of Office Act. The Senate subsequently voted to acquit Johnson, and he was allowed to remain in office.

Ku Klux Klan — The Ku Klux Klan (KKK) was a white supremacist organization that was active in the United States in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. The organization, which was founded in Tennessee in 1865, promoted white supremacy and used violence and intimidation to suppress the rights and freedoms of African Americans and other minority groups. The KKK was active during the Reconstruction era and again in the 1920s, and it has continued to exist in various forms to the present day.

Presidential Reconstruction — Presidential Reconstruction refers to the period of Reconstruction in the United States following the Civil War that was led by President Andrew Johnson. During this period, Johnson implemented a lenient policy towards the former Confederate states, allowing them to rejoin the Union without significant punishment or reforms. This approach was criticized by many as being too lenient on the former Confederates, and it ultimately led to the failure of Presidential Reconstruction.

Radical Reconstruction — Radical Reconstruction refers to the period of reconstruction in the United States following the Civil War that was led by the Radical Republicans in Congress. During this period, Congress implemented a more aggressive policy towards the former Confederate states, requiring them to make significant reforms and grant equal rights to African Americans before being allowed to rejoin the Union.

Reconstruction Acts (1867) — The Reconstruction Acts were a series of laws passed by the U.S. Congress in 1867 that established a new system for the reconstruction of the former Confederate states. The acts divided the South into five military districts, each of which was governed by a military governor appointed by the president. The acts also imposed stringent requirements on the former Confederate states for their re-admission to the Union, including the granting of equal rights to African Americans.

Redeemers — Redeemers were a group of conservative Democrats who emerged in the South following the Civil War and sought to restore white supremacy and the traditional social and economic order. The Redeemers, who were also known as the Bourbons, opposed Reconstruction and the advances made by African Americans during this period, and they used a variety of tactics, including violence and intimidation, to undermine the progress of the Reconstruction Era.

Scalawags and Carpetbaggers — Scalawags and carpetbaggers were terms used to describe certain groups of people who were active in the politics of the Reconstruction South. Scalawags were Southern whites who supported Reconstruction and the Republican Party, while carpetbaggers were Northerners who moved to the South during Reconstruction and were often viewed with suspicion by Southerners. Both groups were unpopular in the South and were often accused of corruption and abuse of power.

Sharecropping — Sharecropping was a system of agriculture in which a landowner allowed a tenant farmer to work a piece of land in exchange for a share of the crops produced. Sharecropping was common in the South following the Civil War, as many former slaves and poor whites were unable to afford to purchase land or equipment to farm on their own. Sharecropping was often criticized as a form of economic exploitation, as it left many sharecroppers in debt and poverty.

Tenure of Office Act (1867) — The Tenure of Office Act was a law passed by the U.S. Congress in 1867 that prohibited the president from removing certain government officials without the consent of the Senate. The act was designed to protect the independence of government offices and prevent the president from stacking the government with political allies. The act was later used as a basis for the impeachment of President Andrew Johnson after he tried to remove Secretary of War Edwin M. Stanton from office.

Wade-Davis Bill (1864) — The Wade-Davis Bill was a piece of legislation introduced by Senators Benjamin Wade and Henry Davis in 1864 that would have imposed stricter conditions on the former Confederate states for their re-admission to the Union. The bill called for the establishment of military governments in the South and the confiscation of land from former Confederate leaders. The bill was pocket-vetoed by President Abraham Lincoln and did not become law.

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  • Article Title Radical Republicans — the Architects of Reconstruction and Civil Rights
  • Date 1850s—1870s
  • Randal Rust
  • Author Harry Searles
  • Keywords Radical Republicans
  • Website Name American History Central
  • Access Date April 21, 2024
  • Publisher R.Squared Communications, LLC
  • Original Published Date
  • Date of Last Update March 19, 2024