The years following the Civil War were marked by
lingering bitterness in both the North and the South. Yet, the nation
was faced with the monumental task of reconstructing the war-ravaged
South, while grappling with the uncertainty of how to constitutionally
readmit the rebel states into the Union, and to what degree, if any,
punishment should be meted out for their secession. And finally, there
was the humanitarian challenge of assimilating four million freed
slaves into American life.
|Lincoln's Plan for Reconstruction Meets Strong Opposition|
By late 1863, President Lincoln had clearly
signaled his intent to deal mercifully toward the southern states
should the North emerge from the war victorious. His views were aptly
summarized in his "malice toward none, with charity for all" second
inaugural address delivered on March 4, 1865. Lincoln believed the
nation could most effectively bind its wounds through forgiveness. The
former Confederates were not to be treated as secessionists, but as
wayward family members who should be welcomed back into the fold with
few conditions (keep reading, continues below photo).
The president's plan consisted of two basic
points: a full pardon for
southern soldiers if they would pledge allegiance to the Union and
promise to obey all federal laws and proclamations. High ranking
Confederate officers, Confederate government officials, and persons
guilty of war crimes were excluded from blanket amnesty consideration.
Secondly, any Confederate state could form a
government and return a
full congressional contingent to Washington after 10 percent or more of
its voters in the 1860 election swore an oath to the U.S. Constitution.
|The Death of Lincoln
By the spring of 1865, the political battle
lines were drawn sharply between President Lincoln and Congress over
Reconstruction. A major confrontation was taking shape.
This all changed on the evening of April 14,
1865, when President and
Mrs. Lincoln attended a stage play at Ford's Theatre in Washington.
|Reconstruction Struggles Under President Johnson|
Andrew Johnson, a Democrat from Tennessee who
opposed the Confederacy, was a
self-made man of humble origins. One of his first orders of business as
president was to announce he would support Lincoln's position of
Whatever hope there might have been evaporated
when the Radicals
blocked their return to statehood by refusing to seat these duly
elected officials when Congress assembled on Dec 4, 1865. The
southern House Representatives and Senators were left waiting outside
doors to their respective chambers.
|The Black Codes|
Many southern whites were uncomfortable with the
sight of newly liberated slaves moving freely about the region. Others
could not set aside their deeply held biases against the black race. In
response to their changing world, southern state legislatures attempted
to resurrect the antebellum days by enacting the "Black codes".
Black codes varied by state, but all had the
goal of controlling the economic and social lives of former slaves. The
codes did recognize some rights for blacks that heretofore did not
exist. The right to legally marry (but only to members of their own
race), to own property, and attend school were new guarantees.
|The 14th Amendment|
Many in Congress felt it was necessary to
enshrine civil rights for blacks in the Constitution, rather than pass
laws that could someday be reversed by a subsequent Congress or
overturned in court. In June of 1866, Congress passed the 14th
Amendment and sent it to the states for ratification.
As a form of punishment for the rebellion, the
14th Amendment prohibited former Confederate leaders from holding
public office at the federal or state level. Furthermore, it forbade
southern states to repay war debts to anyone who loaned money to the
Confederacy, or to be compensated for their loss of slaves.
|The Radicals Take Control of Reconstruction|
Voters in the 1866 congressional elections were
faced with a choice: Vote for President Johnson's favored candidates in
the Democrat Party and follow a path of leniency toward the South, or
side with the Radical Republicans to bolster the harsh hand of Thaddeus
Stevens and Charles Sumner.
The South had little choice but to fall in line. The state governments formed under Johnson's plan were replaced by those obeying the terms put forth by Congress. By summer of 1868, the 14th Amendment was officially added to the Constitution and all but three southern states had returned to the Union. The three holdouts were Mississippi, Texas, and, Virginia, but by 1870 these states accepted the congressional conditions and once again became part of the United States.
|President Johnson Impeached and Put on Trial|
Now that the Radicals had triumphed on
Reconstruction policy, they still needed the executive branch, under
President Johnson's control, to enforce the policy. Many Radicals did
not trust the President to faithfully execute the law, and their
suspicions were validated when Johnson used executive orders to harass
the military commanders in charge of the occupation forces in the
To retaliate, the Radicals sought a way to
impeach and remove Johnson from the presidency. All they needed was an
excuse to do it, and so in 1867 they passed the Tenure of Office Act.
Johnson's defenders claimed these charges were
not what the Founders
intended when they provided
for impeachment on the grounds of "treason, bribery, or high crimes and
misdemeanors". Despite the dubious nature of the charges, the House
impeached Johnson on February 24, 1868.
|A War Hero Becomes President|
As the 1868 presidential election approached,
the Republicans were feeling pushback from their overreaching attempt
to remove President Johnson from office. In response, they nominated
Ulysses S. Grant, the former general widely viewed as a hero for his
successful leadership during the Civil War. Of secondary concern was
the fact that Grant had no political experience, nor did he hold the
fervent belief in equal rights for the freedmen as did many of his
Grant won the electoral college by 214 to 80,
but his popular vote majority was only 309,000 out of 6 million votes
cast. Had it not been for the new black vote that went overwhelmingly
in his favor, Grant may not have won the election.
|Corruption Spreads to the U.S. Mint|
As you have learned, corruption in government
and private industry was commonplace during the Reconstruction Era. In
keeping up with the times, some officials at the U.S. Mint could not
resist the temptation to unethically pad their bank accounts with easy,
|The Coinage Act of 1873 Leads to the Panic of 1873|
By the early 1870's, even the most casual observer may have taken notice of the oddities within the United States coinage system. Consider these facts:
Many in Congress saw the need to simplify the nation's coinage system, and went to work crafting legislation to do just that. On February 12, 1873, President Grant signed into law the Coinage Act of 1873. This law provided for:
But there was much more. The Act contained
mandates reflective of
certain political and economic philosophies which proved to be far
The Coinage Act of 1873 led to the reduction in
the nation's money
supply and a corresponding rise in interest rates, hurting borrowers
intensely. This, in turn, generated doubt in the U.S. economy,
convincing the investor class to avoid long term obligations,
especially long term bonds. The chain reaction of events only got worse
|Moving Toward a Gold Standard|
The Panic of 1873 ignited a new round of debate
between the creditor and debtor classes. Each blamed the other for the
financial misery the country was suffering.
The creditors preferred "hard money"-- stable,
non-inflationary paper currency backed by gold. They felt the best way
to achieve this was for the government to resume specie payments (i.e.
payments made in gold in redemption of paper money), something that had
been stopped in 1861, when the Union sought to protect its precious
metal reserves during the early days of the Civil War.
|The "Crime of 1873"|
After the soft money coalition lost the debate
over the Resumption Act in 1875, they developed a new strategy: push
for unlimited mintage of silver coins from publicly supplied bullion.
This was called "free coinage of silver".
It was at this point the Coinage Act of 1873
received, belatedly, additional criticism. Recall, the Act prohibited
free coinage of silver dollars from bullion brought to the Mint by the
public. Although its detractors had to have known from its inception
how the law read, a massive outcry ensued to denounce the Act as the
"Crime of 1873".
Their opponents were
the "Gold Bugs", made up of corn farmers in the Midwest, diversified
farmers in the Northeast, creditors, and the Republican party.
This was the beginning of a very long, bitter
struggle in American
politics, continuing until well into the 20th century. On one side,
there were the Silverites, always fighting for cheap, easy money, and
higher inflation. The equally determined Gold Bugs believed gold backed
currency and a stable dollar was the best prescription for the nation's
economic health. As you will learn in upcoming chapters, it was the
Gold Bugs who ultimately prevailed.
|Coin Production Expands in the American West|
While much of the nation's attention focused on
postwar events in the South, the population in the American West was
growing rapidly. As is usually the case, more people translates into
greater demand for coinage. Large discoveries of gold and silver in the
West (indeed, a major cause of westward migration) urged the Treasury
Department into action.
The year 1870 also saw construction begin for
the second San Francisco
Mint. The first Mint building was opened in 1854, but it could not meet
the explosive demand for coinage.
|Reconstruction Achieves Mixed Results|
Under the terms of the Radicals' reconstruction
law, southern states were required to form new governments. The
reconstruction governments faced enormous challenges in rebuilding
large areas of devastation: many cities, roads, bridges, railroads, and
factories were in ruins.
For the first time ever, blacks were elected to
federal office. This
was aided by the fact that during Reconstruction, there were more
blacks registered to vote than whites in the former Confederacy. In
joining with carpetbaggers and scalawags, the freedmen formed a solid
Republican voting block and held considerable political clout, but as
you will see in upcoming chapters, it was to be short-lived.
|The Reconstruction Era Draws to a Close|
Year after year, newspapers in northern towns
and cities blared headlines decrying the chaotic conditions in the
South. People who once followed reconstruction developments closely
became weary of all the disappointing news. Not only that, northerners
had financial and social woes of their own to worry about. This all was
made worse by the lengthy economic depression that struck in 1873,
spurred on by the Coinage Act of 1873, as you read above. Political
pressure mounted to end reconstruction and focus on problems closer to
Republican Rutherford B. Hayes won the
presidential election of 1876. His Democrat opponent, Samuel J. Tilden,
actually received more popular votes, and may have carried the
all-important Electoral College as well.
|U.S. Coins and History Chapters|
Return to the Coins and U.S. History navigation panel to study more chapters.
|1||Bowers, Q. David. The History of United
Los Angeles, CA: Bowers & Ruddy Galleries, Inc., 1979.
|2||Brinkley, Douglas. History of the United States.
New York, NY: Penguin Putnam, Inc., 1998.
|3||Daniel, Clifton, editor. Chronicle of
Mount Kisco, NY: Chronicle Publishing, Inc., 1989.
|4||Doty, Richard. America's Money, America's Story.
Sydney, OH: Amos Press, Inc., 1998.
|5||Jordan, Winthrop D., Miriam Greenblatt, & John S. Bowes. The Americans. Evanstan, IL: McDougall, Littell & Company, 1988.|
|6||Taxay, Don. The U.S. Mint and Coinage.
New York, NY: Arco Publishing Company, 1966.
|7||Todd, Lewis Paul., Merle Curti. Rise
the American Nation.
New York, NY: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, Inc., 1972.