Chapter 1: The Trial of the Century and A (Somewhat) Radical Reconstruction
Chapter 1: The Trial of the Century and A (Somewhat) Radical ReconstructionMay 16th, 1868
Andrew Johnson, the first POTUS to be impeached
Andrew Johnson, the first POTUS to be impeached
Capitol Hill is caught in a frenzy of activity and excitement. Reporters from every paper in the country jostle for position, and mob incoming Senators for an inkling of what the coming proceedings might mean. Inside the Senate gallery, everyone who's anyone (or can afford to bribe a Senator) is wearing their Sunday's best and trying to ignore the oppressive heat. Outside the Capitol building, large crowds gather waiting to hear the news. Indeed, the whole country is similarly possessed, as anxious newspapermen and government officials across the whole Union are waiting to see what will happen. The United States of America is enthralled by the men in the Senate chamber, for today is the day they try, and potentially remove, the President of the United States. It would be the first time in American history that a President has been removed.
The vote came down to one man: Edmund Ross. A moderate Republican, Ross had been skeptical about the case for impeachment, but also disliked President Johnson's disregard for both Congress and his perceived mishandling of Reconstruction. Further complicating the issue was the fact that if Johnson was impeached, Benjamin Wade would become President. To call Wade a Radical would be an exercise in understatement. Among the positions Wade supported were total equality for African-Americans, trade union rights, and women's suffrage. At best, Wade would preside over a dysfunctional government. At worst, the South would have another mass uprising.
It was with this in mind that Ross met with Wade and Speaker of the House Schulyer Colfax on May 15th. They discussed the trial and its implications for several hours. By suppertime, an agreement had been made. Ross would vote for the removal of Andrew Johnson. In return, Benjamin Wade would decline the Presidency, which would then default to Colfax. While Colfax was still a member of the Radical Republicans, he was among the more moderate wing of that group. The stage was set.
On May 18th, the roll-call vote began. When Ross was called, he voted guilty. A great moment of silence followed, which then became a mighty shout of commotion. Chief Justice Salmon P. Chase eventually restored order after great difficulty, which did involve the Sargent-at-Arms ejecting quite a few people from the gallery. The roll-call vote continued, but the result was already known. Upon the conclusion of the vote, President Johnson announced that he would vacate the White House within a week. Arrangements were made to swear in Benjamin Wade, but he declined, remarking "While I am humbled beyond all belief to have been honored this most sacred office, I feel it to be beyond my talents and faculties. I will be of much better use to my country in the Senate." Colfax was sworn in on May 25th, as was his Vice-President, moderate Republican Representative William B. Washburn.
Schulyer Colfax, 18th President of the United States
William B. Washburn, his VP
Many Radical Republicans hoped that the old Wade-Davis Bill would be reintroduced. This was a non-starter for Colfax, who feared it could reignite the Confederacy. However, he was far from soft on the South. The day after he took office, his Administration introduced The Colfax Loyalty Bill. All states who wished to rejoin the Union now needed 25% of their population to swear a loyalty oath, and an amendment to state constitutions that protected voting rights for African-American men. Tennessee, who had already rejoined, was exempt from the loyalty requirement but the constitutional amendment had to be added by year's end to prevent a return to military rule. The bill was rushed through in little over two weeks, to beat the planned readmission of several Southern states under the more lenient plan. This was as popular down in Dixie as one might expect.
The much feared Second Coming of the Confederacy didn't materialize. Frankly, the South was far too exhausted for such an effort. However, this doesn't mean that they took the new laws lying down. The KKK, the Redshirts (not to be confused with Garibaldi's) and other so-called Redeemer groups grew by an order of magnitude. The state government of Tennessee was preparing on calling Colfax's bluff and refusing to insert the required constitutional amendment. The surprise appearance of 8,000 Federal troops in Nashville on November 2nd, 1868, intended as both a warning and a trigger presence in case violence broke out, was enough of an incentive to get the Tennessee government to acquiesce. Helping this intimidation was the fact that a day later, Colfax won re-election. There was no chance of waiting him out in the near-term. The day after the election, over 70 African-Americans were lynched in the South, and Federal troops were beset by mobs. The response to this was a massive troop surge into the South.
November 4th, 1868 is often considered the start of what is widely referred to as The Redemption War. The Redemption War can perhaps be considered the first true modern counter-insurgency. Federal troops faced off against white supremacist militias across the South. Most of the War was fought in forests, swamps, backwoods, and small settlements. There were a few large urban engagements in Charleston, Atlanta, and Richmond that eerily mirrored later conflicts. Confederate veterans with long range rifles sniped Union officers and picked apart supply lines. The Union Army responded by further employing balloons to scout out enemy camps, and enlisting 20,000 freedmen in the "Negro Army," who were deployed near their home turf so their knowledge of the terrain could help Union forces. There was also no small amount of terrorism by both sides. Redeemer groups murdered the families of those freedmen known to have joined the Negro Army, while Federal forces had a habit of razing and stealing the property of Redeemers and their families. This went on apace until things started to wind down in 1873. The first state to essentially give up the Redemption cause and rejoin the Union was North Carolina, on February 12th, 1873. North Carolina had been the last and most reluctant state to secede, and 12 years of nigh non-stop warfare had broken the will to resist. Instead, moderate Whites and educated Blacks created the informal Cackalacky Compromise, which would become the model for the rest of the South. State Democrats and Republicans sat down in Raleigh and established what was, in essence, a racial power sharing agreement. Blacks would be given districts to call their own, that they could run without fear of persecution. They would be a political minority, but a solid and relatively vocal one. Local affairs within these Black majority districts would be run by Blacks. However, the governorship, most federal Representative seats, and both federal Senate seats would all be occupied by White Democrats. In the future, further informal agreements would be tacked onto this, mainly to ensure that Black districts got their cut of whatever federal investment/pork came the state's way. This compromise gave the African-American population a real voice and real power, while ensuring that whites still dominated the state. Seeing as how this model was completely legal under Reconstruction, even if it violated its spirit in several ways, other Southern states adopted it throughout Colfax's second term. By 1876, when Colfax handed over the reigns to General turned Republican darling Ulysses Grant, every state but Texas and Mississippi had been readmitted, using some form of the Cackalacky Compromise to ensure a mixture of African-American power and White supremacy. These two would be readmitted in 1879 and 1877 respectively. Reconstruction was over.
Two other notable aspects of Colfax's Reconstruction were the National Education Bill and the Annexation of Santo Domingo. The National Education Bill, passed in 1870, officially established a nationwide public school system. While power would eventually be devolved mostly to the states and local school boards, in the beginning the federal government ran the show. The purpose of the NEB was to both promote literacy in the African-American population, and to push a very hard Pro-Union view of the Civil War on Southerners and others. Southern children who disparaged the Union were paddled, then forced to write phrases like "The Republic and Constitution Forever" 1,776 times. This policy wouldn't really ease up until the middle of the 1880's. Patriotic education was actually one of the schools' primary functions, and readers promoting a certain vision of America were widely disseminated across the South. Schools would also be built in Santo Domingo for similar purposes, as well as English language education. On June 28th, 1871, Santo Domingo was annexed by the United States, and President Buenaventura Báez was allowed to stay on as Governor-General of the Territory of Santo Domingo. This was a controversial act, but ultimately squeaked through the Senate after Colfax began pushing the idea that Santo Domingo could be a haven for persecuted African-Americans. Given how much coverage Redeemer atrocities had earned in the North, there was a swell in public opinion in favor of creating a safe haven for freedmen. The Freedmen's Bureau would resettle some 43,000 African-Americans in the Territory, providing them with land grants or other incentives. This group, dubbing themselves "Exodites" would become part of the island's middle class and ruling elite as the years went by, and were viewed as a "civilizing agent" by Yankee proponents of empire. Imperialism would in fact gain traction across the country after Reconstruction. The factors behind this are multitude, but the main causes were national unity (rallying round the flag), a legitimate and growing belief in the superiority of American civilization, and some Alabama Claims inspired jingoism. The latter two became especially popular in the African-American community, with the so-called "Negro Caucus" in Congress (there were roughly 10 African-American representatives at any given time after Reconstruction) being the most consistently pro-empire and pro-war. This growing ideology would also be used to more dramatic effect in the 1880's.
Cavalry Charging the Redeemers, a patriotic painting depicting Federal Cavalrymen fighting white militias
Anti-Redeemer propaganda (1871)
Frederick Douglass, Abolitionist turned Santo Domingo Committee Member and advocate for American imperialism (IOTL he was part of a Congressional committee that visited Santo Domingo that wound up advocating annexation)
A government run school for African-American children (1877)