Lesson

The Political Struggle, 1865-1866

Overview

The end of the Civil War led to conflicting visions within the United States government about how to rebuild the nation. Centered on "The Political Struggle," Part Three of Facing History's video series about the Reconstruction, this lesson explains the struggle between President Andrew Johnson and Congressional Republicans over establishing justice and healing after the war. By watching the video and analyzing historical documents, students will understand that negotiating a society’s universe of obligation in times of crisis can be a significant source of conflict and reveal the fragility of democracy. Students will also reflect on deeper issues of healing and justice in the aftermath of both a devastating war and a profound transformation of society.

This lesson is part of Facing History's work on the Reconstruction era, and part of a series of video-based web lessons. Use this lesson to engage students in conversations around the political battles over the direction of Reconstruction between 1865 and 1867. In addition to the suggestions below, see Lesson 5, 6, and 7 in The Reconstruction Era & the Fragility of Democracy for more resources and background information about the struggle between President Johnson and the Republicans in Congress during Reconstruction.

Activities

ANALYZE

Before watching the video “The Political Struggle,” it is important to introduce students to one of the key dilemmas that fueled much of the political debate during this era: the tension between the demands of healing and the demands of justice. One way to introduce this tension is to examine a political engraving from the time.

As a class, look carefully at the two-panel Thomas Nast engraving “Pardon/Franchise” (Handout 5.5 (p. 96) in The Reconstruction Era and the Fragility of Democracy). Follow the steps of the Analyzing Visual Images strategy to think deeply about this image and the message Nast intends to communicate.

Wood engravings by Thomas Nast, first appearing in Harper's Weekly, 1865.

REFLECT AND DISCUSS

After analyzing the Nast engraving, introduce students to the dilemma of healing and justice after the Civil War more explicitly. You can do this by asking the class to make connections between the perspective expressed by Nast and the analysis of a contemporary historian of this history.

Historian David Blight describes two central, and often conflicting, challenges of Reconstruction:

One was healing and the other was justice. How do you have them both? What truly constitutes healing of a people, of a nation, that’s suffered this scale of violence and destruction, and how do you have justice?  And justice for whom?

Discuss the following questions with the class:

  • How does the Nast image represent a tension between the ideas of healing and justice?  
  • What could Americans do in the late 1860’s, as they debated plans for Reconstruction, to balance the demands of healing and justice?

WATCH

Now that students have been introduced to dilemma of how to balance healing and justice after the Civil War, they are ready to view the video “The Political Struggle.” This video provides an overview of how this dilemma fueled the political battle between President Andrew Johnson and Congressional Republicans over Reconstruction policy.

Show the video--pausing at the 9:00 mark. Before showing the video, share the following questions with students to guide their note taking:  

  • What questions about Reconstruction remained unresolved as the war ended and Lincoln was assassinated?
  • Who was Andrew Johnson? What details about his background seemed to influence his thinking about Reconstruction the most?
  • What was Johnson’s plan for Reconstruction?
  • What were the results of Johnson’s plan? What were the responses of different groups of Americans?

 

 

READ AND ANALYZE

Before watching the second half of “The Political Struggle,” it will be helpful to pause and provide students the opportunity to look more closely at President Johnson’s plan for Reconstruction.  

The Big Paper teaching strategy provides an effective structure to engage students in silent, written conversations about “Presidential Reconstruction" which is Handout 5.4 (p. 95) from the unit. Share the following questions with students to guide their written discussions:

  • Who benefits from President Johnson's plan and who is harmed?
  • How does this plan propose to reunite and heal the country?
  • How will this plan bring about justice after the war? Does it deny justice to any group of Americans?

Reading
Race in US History

Presidential Reconstruction

Investigate aspects of President Andrew Johnson’s plans for Reconstruction that outlined how to bring former Confederate citizens and states back into the Union.

WATCH

The second part of “The Political Struggle” outlines how the policies we refer to as Radical Reconstruction emerged from the conflict between Congressional Republicans and President Johnson.

Share the rest of the video--from 9:00 to the end. Before showing the video, share the following questions with students to guide their notetaking:

  • How did Republicans initially respond to President Johnson’s Reconstruction plan?  How did Moderate and Radical Republicans differ in their response?  
  • What specific position did Radical Republicans take that separated them from both the Moderates and most other Americans in 1865?
  • How did Republicans seek to modify Johnson’s plan?
  • What happened to unite Republicans around a common vision for Reconstruction?
  • What specific laws and amendments did Republicans in Congress enact to redefine the nation’s plan for Reconstruction? What did those laws and amendments do?

READ AND ANALYZE

After students finish watching the video “The Political Struggle,” it will be helpful to ask students to examine carefully the plan for Reconstruction that emerged from the Republican Congress, and to compare it to the Johnson plan that the Congressional plan replaced.

Read and analyze with students the details of Radical Reconstruction, as enacted in the 1867 Reconstruction Acts. The Big Paper teaching strategy provides an effective structure to engage students in silent, written conversations about “The Reconstruction Acts of 1867, which is Handout 7.4 (p. 124) in The Reconstruction Era and the Fragility of Democracy. Students should use the same questions they used to guide their written discussion of Presidential Reconstruction:

  • Who benefits from President Johnson's plan and who is harmed?
  • How will this plan help to reunite and heal the country?
  • How will this plan bring about justice after the war? Does it deny justice to any group of Americans?

Reading
Race in US History

The Reconstruction Acts of 1867

Examine measures of the Reconstruction Acts of 1867.

Follow up the silent discussions with a brief class discussion about how Presidential and Radical Reconstruction addressed questions of healing and justice differently.

 

Looking for more lessons and primary source documents to teach the Reconstruction era? Get our complete unit on this important history, available in print, ebook, and free PDF.

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