Compensated emancipation

Compensated emancipation was a method of ending slavery in countries where slavery was legal. This involved the person who was recognized as the owner of a slave being compensated monetarily or by a period of labor (an indenture) for releasing the slave.

The latter was chosen as a compromise between slavery and outright emancipation, the former slaves receiving a nominal salary, while still being bound in their labors for a period of time. This succeeded in many countries and the U.S. District of Columbia, but proved unpopular in the antebellum South of the United States, as for the slaves it amounted to little more than continued mandatory servitude, while it placed an added burden of wages on the former owner.

When Andrew Johnson assumed the presidency after President Lincoln’s assassination in April 1865, Senators Sumner and Wilson both hoped Johnson would support the policies of the Republican Party, since Johnson, a Democrat, had been elected with Lincoln on a pro-Union ticket.[70] After the Civil War ended with a Union Victory in May 1865, the defeated former Confederacy was ruined. It had been devastated economically, politically, and much of its infrastructure had been destroyed during the war.[70] The opportunity was ripe for Congress and Johnson to work together on terms for Southern restoration and reconstruction.[70] Instead, Johnson launched his own reconstruction policy, which was seen as more lenient to former Confederates, and excluded African American citizenship. When Congress opened the session which began in December 1865, Johnson’s policy included a demand for admission of Southern Senators and Representatives, nearly all Democrats, including many former Confederates. Congress, still in Republican hands, responded by refusing to allow the Southern Senators and Representatives to take their seats,[70] beginning a rift between Republicans in Congress and the President.[70] Wilson favored allowing only persons who had been loyal to the United States to serve in positions of political power in the former Confederacy,[71] and believed that Congress, not the President, had the power to reconstruct the southern states.[71] As a result, Wilson joined forces with the Congressmen and Senators known as Radical Republicans, those most strongly opposed to Johnson.[37]

Henry Wilson (far left) defended Hiram Revels, the first African American U.S. Senator.

On December 21, 1865, two days after the announcement that the states had ratified the Thirteenth Amendment, which abolished slavery, Wilson introduced a bill to protect the civil rights of African Americans.[72] Although Wilson’s bill failed to pass Congress it was effectively the same bill as the Civil Rights Act of 1866 that passed Congress over Johnson’s veto on April 9, 1866.[72]

The rift between the Radicals, including Wilson, and President Johnson grew as Johnson attempted to implement his more lenient Reconstruction policies.[52] Johnson vetoed the bill to establish the Freedmen’s Bureau, as well as other Radical measures to protect African American civil rights—measures which Wilson supported.[52] Wilson supported the effort to impeach Johnson, saying that Johnson was “unworthy, if not criminal” in his conduct by resisting Congressional Reconstruction measures, many of which were passed over his vetoes.[52] At the 1868 Senate trial Wilson voted for Johnson’s conviction, but Republicans fell one vote short of the two-thirds majority needed to remove Johnson from office. (With 36 “guilty” votes needed for removal, the Senate results were 35 to 19 on all three post-trial ballots.)[52]

On May 27, 1868, Wilson spoke before the Senate to forcefully advocate the readmission of Arkansas.[73] Taking the lead on this issue, Wilson urged immediate action, saying that the new state government was constitutional, and was composed of loyal Southerners, African Americans who were formerly enslaved, and Northerners who had moved south.[73] Wilson said he would not agree to Congressional adjournment until all Southern states with reconstructed governments loyal to the United States that adopted new constitutions were readmitted.[73] The New York Tribune called Wilson’s speech “strong” and said that Wilson steered the Senate away from “legal hair-splitting”.[73] Within a month the Senate had acted, and Arkansas was readmitted on June 22, 1868. President Ulysses S. Grant, who succeeded Johnson in 1869, was more supportive of Congressional Reconstruction, and the remaining former Confederate states that had not rejoined the Union were readmitted during his first term. Federal troops continued to be based in the former Confederate states, allowing Republicans to control state governments, and African Americans to vote and hold federal office.[74]

In 1870 Hiram Revels was elected to the U.S. Senate by the reconstructed Mississippi Legislature.[75] Revels was the first African American elected to the Senate, and Senate Democrats attempted to prevent him from being seated. Wilson defended Revels’s election, and presented as evidence of its validity signatures from the clerks of the Mississippi House of Representatives and Mississippi State Senate, as well as that of Adelbert Ames, the military Governor of Mississippi. Wilson argued that Revels’s skin color was not a bar to Senate service, and connected the role of the Senate to Christianity’s Golden Rule of doing to others as one would have done to oneself. The Senate voted to seat Revels, and after he took the oath of office Wilson personally escorted him to his desk as journalists recorded the historic event.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.