What if Abraham Lincoln Had Never Been Assassinated?
Historians are not supposed to play the “what if?” game. But we can always wonder! Given the above hypothetical, I propose that Reconstruction would have turned out better than it did. First off, Lincoln was a sublime politician. If anyone could have healed the wounds of war, it would have been him. In his second inaugural address he said those famous words regarding the Confederates, “with malice towards none, with charity for all.” Soon after his speech he was assassinated and Andrew Johnson– a man overflowing with malice for Southern aristocrats and their freed slaves–took over.
Johnson hated Southern plantation owners because he was jealous of their success. As a Southerner himself, he had not fared very well. But Johnson hated one group even more, free Blacks. With his desire for punitive vengeance against the South, his transparent racism and his refusal to cooperate with the Republican reformers in Congress, the frustrated Representatives impeached him. He escaped conviction by one vote in the Senate.
Reconstruction proved a disaster. The Southern “Redemption” movement took over and the clock was turned back. The promise of freedom vaporized as former slaves suffered the expansion of vagrancy laws and widespread KKK terror the federal government could not stop. Without being given land of their own, freed slaves faced another kind of bondage, sharecropping. But it got worse, much worse. We know from recent research, the vagrancy laws themselves put many free Blacks into a horrible system of “neoslavery.”* To pay off their fines for various forms of “vagrancy,” they were forced to labor in the most hazardous and unhealthy mines and factories of corporations like U.S. Steel. In these Southern ‘ death camps’ they died by the hundreds and were buried out back in shallow, mass graves. * By 1877 Reconstruction was officially over and an abject failure, in this humble historian’s opinion.
If Lincoln had lived, significant parts of this tragic story would have turned out otherwise.
“The Untold Story of Post-Civil War Neoslavery”