President Abraham Lincoln signs the Emancipation Proclamation, declaring that the majority of the nation's slave population "henceforth shall be free."
The largest riot in American history
In New York City, opposition to the nation's first military draft triggers a riot, the largest in American history, as poor white Northerners protest being forced to fight to end slavery. Over four days, the insurrection develops into wholesale violence, with an uncounted number of victims.
The Proclamation of Amnesty and Reconstruction
President Lincoln announces the Proclamation of Amnesty and Reconstruction. It offers pardon and restoration of property -- except slaves -- to Confederates who swear allegiance to the Union and agree to accept emancipation. Known as the 10 Percent Plan, it requires only 10% of a former Confederate state's voters to pledge the oath before the state can begin the process of readmission into the Union.
Beginning of Reconstruction in the Union
President Lincoln begins Reconstruction in the Union-occupied former Confederate state of Louisiana. Lincoln's lenient 10 percent policy upsets Radical Republicans, who expect the South to do more to gain readmission, and believe Lincoln's approach does not provide enough protection to ex-slaves.
The Wade-Davis Bill
In response to Lincoln's plan, Congress passes its own, the Wade-Davis Bill. It ups the allegiance requirement from 10% to a majority of a state's voters, limits many former Confederates from political participation in state reconstruction, demands blacks receive not only their freedom but equality before the law, and imposes a series of other requirements on the states. Lincoln does not sign the Wade-Davis Bill; his pocket veto means the bill does not pass into law.
Lincoln is reelected
By 1865, some 180,000 blacks have served in the Union Army, over one-fifth of the adult male black population under 45.
General William Tecumseh Sherman issues Special Field Order 15
Marching the Union Army through the South with an ever-growing number of freed slaves in its wake, General William Tecumseh Sherman issues Special Field Order 15, setting aside part of coastal South Carolina, Georgia, and Florida by settlement exclusively by black people. The settlers are to receive "possessory title" to forty-acre plots.
The Thirteenth Amendment
The Thirteenth Amendment, abolishing slavery throughout the Union, wins Congressional approval and is sent to the states for ratification. By the end of February, 18 states will ratify the amendment; after significant delay in the South, ratification will be completed by December.
General Sherman's troops enter Charleston, South Carolina.
The temporary Bureau of Refugees, Freedmen, and Abandoned Lands is established within the War Department
The Freedman's Bureau works to smooth the transition from slavery, providing former slaves with immediate shelter and medical services, help in negotiating labor contracts with landowners, and more. The bureau is initially authorized for just one year, but will remain in operation until 1868
Lincoln's last speech and end of Civil War
In Lincoln's last speech, he mentions black suffrage for soldiers and some others. The Civil War ends when Confederate general Robert E. Lee surrenders to Union general Ulysses S. Grant. Six days later, President Lincoln is assassinated, and his vice president, Southern Democrat Andrew Johnson, becomes president.
President Johnson announces his plan of Presidential Reconstruction.
His plan, calls for general amnesty and restoration of property -- except for slaves -- to all Southerners who will swear loyalty to the Union. No friend to the South's large landowners, Johnson declares that they and the Confederate leadership will be required to petition him individually for pardons. This Reconstruction strategy also requires states to ratify the Thirteenth Amendment, ending slavery. The president's plan is implemented during the summer.
President Johnson shows growing leniency toward the white South: he orders the restoration of land to its former owners, including the land provided to freed slaves by General Sherman's January field order. Freedmen are especially reluctant to leave the land they have started farming in South Carolina and Georgia. The president starts aligning himself with the Southern elite, declaring, "white men alone must manage the South."
Southern states elect former Confederates to public office at the state and national levels, drag their feet in ratifying the Thirteenth Amendment, and refuse to extend the vote to black men.
Southern legislatures begin drafting "Black Codes" to re-establish white supremacy. The laws impose restrictions on black citizens, especially in attempts to conrol labor: freedmen are prohibited from work except as field hands, blacks refusing to sign labor contracts can be punished, unemployed black men can be seized and auctioned to planters as laborers, black children can be taken from their families and made to work.
At the request of President Johnson, victorious Union general Ulysses S. Grant tours the South, and is greeted with surprising friendliness.
His report recommends a lenient Reconstruction policy.
President Johnson declares the reconstruction process complete.
Outraged, Radical Republicans in Congress refuse to recognize new governments in Southern states. More than sixty former Confederates arrive to take their seats in Congress, including four generals, four colonels and six Confederate cabinet officers -- even Alexander H. Stephens, the former vice president of the Confederacy. The Clerk of the House refuses to include the Southern representatives in his roll call, and they are denied their elected seats.
The Union Army is quickly demobilized
From a troop strength of one million on May 1, only 152,000 Union soldiers remain in the South by the end of 1865.
Southern towns and cities start to experience a large influx of freedmen.
Over the next five years, the black populations of the South's ten largest cities will double.
President Johnson vetoes a supplemental Freedmen's Bureau Bill, which Republican moderates have designed to extend protection to Southern blacks.
Another piece of moderate Republican legislation, the Civil Rights Bill
It grants citizenship and the same rights enjoyed by white citizens to all male persons in the United States "without distinction of race or color, or previous condition of slavery or involuntary servitude." It passes both houses of Congress by overwhelming majorities, and when President Johnson vetoes it, Congress overrides the veto, making the bill the first major piece of legislation enacted over a presidential veto. The rift between Congress and the president is complete.
Racial violence rages in Memphis, Tennessee
Racial violence rages in Memphis, Tennessee for three days as whites assault blacks on the streets. In the aftermath, 48 people, nearly all black, are dead, and hundreds of black homes, churches, and schools have been pillaged or burned
Congress sends the Fourteenth Amendment to the states
It writes the Republican vision of how post-Civil War American society should be structured into the U.S. Constitution, out of the reach of partisan politics. The amendment defines citizenship to include all people born or naturalized in the U.S. and increases the federal government's power over the states to protect all Americans' rights. It stops short of guaranteeing blacks the right to vote. The controversial amendment will take over two years to be ratified.
Congress re-passes its supplemental Freedmen's Bureau Bill
President Johnson vetoes it again, and Congress again overrides the veto, making the bill a law.
Tennessee is the first former Confederate state readmitted to the Union
Riots break out in New Orleans, Louisiana
A white mob attacks blacks and Radical Republicans attending a black suffrage convention, killing 40 people.
Johnson orders Grant to take over the War Department temporarily.
"The swing around the circle."
With Congress demanding that Southern states ratify the Fourteenth Amendment in order to gain re-admittance to the legislature, President Johnson begins a disastrous speaking tour of the North to bolster support for his policies in the mid-term elections. He asks popular Union Gen Ulysses S. Grant to come along. When crowds heckle the president, Johnson's angry and undignified responses cause Grant and many Northerners to lose sympathy with the president and his lenient Reconstruction policies.
Following the president's ruinous campaign, the mid-term elections become a battleground over the Fourteenth Amendment and civil rights.
Johnson's opponents are victorious, and the Republicans occupy enough seats to guarantee they will be able to override any presidential vetoes in the coming legislative session.
Union troops are further demobilized; only 38,000 remain in the South by the fall.
The North Carolina legislature holds a whiskey party
The North Carolina legislature holds a whiskey party when it adjourns before the state's first election with black candidates. "We have lost all hope of escaping the vengeance of the Northern people," one state senator writes, "and are preparing for the worst."
President Andrew Johnson tells Ulysses S. Grant that he intends to fire Secretary of War Edwin Stanton, who has been a consistent opponent of the president and is close to the Radical Republicans who dominate Congress.
Stanton has refused to resign and Congress has supported him through the Tenure of Office Act, which requires the consent of Congress to removals. At the same time, Congress has weakened the president's control of the army through the Command of the Army Act, which requires that all military orders of the President have the approval of the general of the army. Johnson believes the T.O.Act is unconstitutional, and hopes to defeat the effort to force Stanton upon him by employing the popular Grant
Black and white lawmakers begin to work side by side in the Southern states' constitutional conventions, the first political meetings in American history to include substantial numbers of black men.
Grant resigns his position as interim Secretary of War after Congress insists upon Stanton's reinstatement.
President Johnson believes that Grant has betrayed him; Grant now openly breaks with Johnson.
Having infuriated the Republicans, Andrew Johnson becomes the first president to be impeached by a house of Congress, but he avoids conviction and retains his office by a single vote
He will not get the Democratic nomination in the upcoming presidential election.
The Republican National Convention at Chicago nominates Grant for president and Schuyler Colfax of Indiana for vice president; Grant adopts the conciliatory slogan, "Let us have peace."
Arkansas is readmitted to the Union.
Louisiana, Florida, North Carolina and South Carolina are readmitted to the Union.
The Democrats nominate Horatio Seymour, former Governor of New York, for president, and Francis P. Blair, Jr., formerly one of Grant's commanders, for vice president.
Alabama is readmitted to the Union.
The Fourteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, defining citizenship to include all people born or naturalized in the U.S., is finally ratified.
Black elected officials are ousted from the Georgia state legislature; "The Negro is unfit to rule the State," the Atlanta Constitution declares.
The black legislators appeal to President Grant to intervene to get them readmitted, which takes a year.
Grant is elected president, winning an electoral college majority of 214-80 over his Democratic opponent.
But the popular majority is only 306,000 in a total vote of 5,715,000. Newly enfranchised black men in the South cast 700,000 votes for the Republican ticket.
The Freedmen's Bureau tallies nearly 3,000 schools, serving over 150,000 students, in the South
The Fifteenth Amendment
Congress passes the Fifteenth Amendment, which attempts to address Southern poll violence by stating that the right to vote can not be denied on the basis of "race, color, or previous condition of servitude." It is sent to the states for ratification.
In its 5-3 Texas v. White decision, the U.S. Supreme Court declares Radical Reconstruction constitutional, stating that secession from the Union is illegal.
Black Friday on the New York gold exchange.
Financiers Jay Gould and Jim Fisk attempt to corner the available gold supply, and try unsuccessfully to involve President Grant in the illegal plan.
Violence against blacks continues throughout the South; in October, Georgia legislator Abram Colby is kidnapped and whipped.
Grant proposes a treaty of annexation with Santo Domingo in an attempt to find land for freed slaves to settle.
Under Grant's plan, freed slaves will be able to relocate to the Caribbean island (the Dominican Republic today). The treaty is opposed by the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, headed by Charles Sumner, and will never be confirmed.
Virginia is readmitted to the Union
The 15th Amendment is ratified.
Mississippi is readmitted to the Union.
Texas is readmitted to the Union.
Georgia is the last former Confederate state to be readmitted to the Union.