Congress had adjourned in March and left matters entirely in the hands of President Lincoln, so that when it met December 4, 1865, there had been a recess of over eight months, in which Presidents Lincoln and Johnson had had time to carry out their plans coincident with the rapid happening of events incident to the sudden collapse. of the Confederate government Upon the meeting of Congress a concurrent resolution was immediately passed by a party vote in both houses to appoint a committee of fifteen, nine representatives and six senators, with instructions to look into the condition of the seceded States, and to advise Congress as to whether or not they should be represented in Congress under the organization effected through the plan of President Johnson. The committee, as conceded by leading men of the time, was really to look after the interests of the Republican party, and to devise some scheme to perpetuate its power. It was admirably organized for this purpose, and was composed of twelve Republicans and three Democrats. Its duty was to visit the States lately at war with the United States and take testimony on which to formulate a report. In the meantime the senators and representatives elected to Congress under the president’s plan were in Washington seeking to be admitted to their seats. Their names were not put on the rolls in organizing the two houses of Congress, and they were left in expectancy, awaiting the pleasure of Congress, until February 26, 1866, when another concurrent resolution was passed in both houses to the effect that neither house should admit any members from the late insurrectionary States until the committee of fifteen, known as the "reconstruction committee," made its report, and Congress had taken action on it. It was resolved also that the Union troops should be kept in the South till Congress recalled them.
On February 6, 1866, another Freedmen’s bureau bill, enlarging the powers of the bureau and with much severer conditions than the preceding one, was passed, but was vetoed by the president. In March, a "civil rights" bill was passed, making all persons born in the United States and not subject to any foreign power "citizens of the United States," and affixing penalties to cover the execution of the law. Each measure bore severely on the white people of the South and enlarged the rights and political conditions of the negroes lately enfranchised, and both showed a determination to override the president and make Congress the sole authority in all matters relating to the reconstruction of the lately seceded States. In June, the Fourteenth amendment to the Constitution was proposed to the States for adoption. The object of this amendment was to put into the fundamental law the provisions of the "civil rights" bill, which had been passed over the president’s veto. Congress had now full power, since it had the majority necessary to pass its bills over the veto of the president. This Fourteenth amendment meant negro citizenship and white disfranchisement, and it reduced representation in Congress, taking the right to regulate suffrage from the States and putting it in the hands of Congress, thus conforming to the provision of the "civil rights" bill. It refused Federal offices to all prominent civil and military officers of the late Confederacy until pardoned by Congress; enforced the repudiation of all debts or obligations "incurred in the aid of insurrection or rebellion against the United States." The States had to accept this amendment or remain without the restoration of civil government.
In July, another Freedmen’s bureau bill was passed over the president’s veto, extending the provisions of the bureau, enlarging the power of the commissioner and appointing agents in almost every locality, and appropriating as much as $6,887,700 for its support. Military protection was given to the agents everywhere to enforce the provisions of the act. In fact, every agent was in himself a court with military power back of him. Every agent had to be able to take the ironclad oath which necessarily confined the appointments mainly to newcomers in the different States. A more ingenious law to show distrust and alienate the negroes and whites of the South who had to live together, could not have been framed.
The State of Tennessee was admitted to congressional representation July 24, 1866, having ratified both the Thirteenth and Fourteenth amendments to the Constitution.
The committee of fifteen had rendered its report June 18th, and Congress adjourned the latter part of July, 1866. The action of Congress during this session, from December 4, 1865, to July 28, 1866, inaugurated by its legislation a fierce war against the executive branch of the government. There was a great gulf between them. The president considered the war as over, Congress said it was not over and that the lately seceded States had forfeited all claim to protection or appeal to the Constitution; that they were conquered provinces and not "indestructible States of an indissoluble union." This, too, was said in spite of the resolution passed in 1861, "that this war is not waged on our part in any spirit of oppression, nor for the purpose of conquest or subjugation, nor for the purpose of interfering with or overthrowing the rights of established institutions of those States."
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