During the Reconstruction era of United States history, there were several different viewpoints on the issue of rebuilding the country. One was the lenient view of Presidents Abraham Lincoln and Andrew Johnson. On the other hand are the views of the Radical Republicans. This group, according to the standards of the 21st century, was actually quite conservative, unlike the name given to them that may insinuate otherwise. They strived not only for the abolition of slavery, but equal civil rights for all men, regardless of race. The Radical Republicans held a major role in Reconstruction and fought for equality and justice.
First, not every Republican back then was a Radical Republican, though some of their ideas agreed with each other. President Johnson’s plan of Reconstruction was highly opposed by the Radical Republicans. Another quality that Radical Republicans had in common was their quest for vengeance against the South. Historians give the idea that the Reconstruction was “an era of hate.” In reality, the Radicals only wanted repentance from the South over the Civil War. In their minds, the Southerners were traitors to the Union. Radicals also believed that the Legislative branch, rather than the Executive branch, should resolve the problems of Reconstruction. They said that they could represent the ideas of the people better than the President of the United States of America could. They believed that the Legislative branch directly represented the people’s ideas rather than the single person elected by a whole population. Conservative and Moderate Republicans still believed that this role should be reserved for the president.
Not only did the Radical Republicans differ politically, but also their ideas and thoughts on rights and economic issues differed very much from the democratic president’s view. For example, The Radicals said that the South should be withheld from certain benefits of the Reconstruction for a period of time after the Civil War as a punishment, unlike Lincoln’s ten percent plan or Andrew Johnson’s plans for Reconstruction. More important were the “Radical” ideas on black rights. The other Republicans supported some of the ideas, but the Radicals were the leaders of the fight for black rights. There were many Radicals, such as Benjamin Wade, Frederick Douglass, Charles Sumner, and Wendell Phillips, but the undisputed leader was Thaddeus Stevens. The first issue the radicals fought for was black's suffrage. Not only would this increase the amounts of Republican votes in the South, but it would also help the recently freed slaves retain their freedom. Stevens fought for the overall abolishment of all segregation between blacks and whites. Radicals also supported the right for all blacks to have an education and to have civil rights. Also, the Radical Republicans wanted to give ex-slaves land reparations. Sumner was the most passionate about this topic, and helped create the suggestion to seize all plantations and divide them equally onto all former slaves. Lincoln refused this plan, and later, Andrew Johnson had returned almost all of the seized plantation land.
Many historians look at the Radical Republicans and tell how extreme their ideas were, but really the ideas were not that extreme. Giving African American people rights to vote is not a radical issue of today. The Radical Republicans should be commended in their efforts on solving a problem that would last for almost another century.