Wade-Davis Bill

Wade-Davis Bill

The Wade-Davis Bill of 1864 was a program proposed for the Reconstruction of the South written by two Radical Republicans, Senator Benjamin Wade of Ohio and Representative Henry Winter Davis of Maryland. In contrast to President Abraham Lincoln's more lenient Ten percent plan, the bill made re-admittance to the Union almost impossible (or at least without a great moral defeat for the South) since it required a majority in each Southern state to swear the Ironclad oath to the effect they had never in the past supported the Confederacy. The bill passed both houses of Congress on July 2, 1864, but was pocket vetoed by Lincoln and never took effect. Therefore considered as a dead bill. The Radical Republicans were outraged that Lincoln didn't sign the bill. They thought that since they were in the same political party as Lincoln, Lincoln would sign the bill however he did not because he did not want revenge on the south for rebelling instead he wanted to mend the union and carry out the Ten Percent Plan. Unfortunately Lincoln was assassinated in Ford's Theater in Washington D.C. by John Wilkes Booth. Lincoln was never able to carry out the Ten Percent Plan however the following president Andrew Johnson did.


The Wade-Davis Bill emerged from a plan introduced in the Senate by Ira Harris of New York in February, 1863. It proposed to base Reconstruction in traditional concepts of federalism and republicanism. The Wade-Davis Bill was also important for national and congressional power. Although federally imposed conditions of reconstruction retrospectively seem logical, there was a widespread belief that southern Unionism would return the seceded states to the Union after the South's military power was broken. This belief was not fully abandoned until 1863.

Lincoln's veto

Lincoln feared the bill would sabotage his own reconstruction activities in states like Louisiana, Arkansas, and Tennessee, all of which had seceded but were under the control of a loyal minority. Wade-Davis would also jeopardize state-level emancipation movements in loyal border states like Missouri and, especially, Maryland. Worst of all, the bill threatened to destroy the delicate political coalitions that Lincoln had begun to construct between northern and southern moderates. Lincoln therefore killed the bill with a pocket veto and it was not resurrected.

Davis was a bitter enemy of Lincoln because Lincoln was not harsh enough on the South. Davis and Wade issued a manifesto "To the Supporters of the Government" on August 4, 1864, that accused Lincoln of using reconstruction to secure electors in the South who would “be at the dictation of his personal ambition,” condemned his efforts to usurp power from Congress, and implicitly recommended dumping him from the Republican ticket. Lincoln survived their attacks and greatly strengthened his position with a landslide victory in the election, and the passage of the 13th Amendment in February, 1865. He marginalized the Radicals in terms of shaping Reconstruction policy; after Lincoln's death and the failures of Andrew Johnson, the Radicals took control of reconstruction policy in 1866.


* Belz, Herman. "Henry Winter Davis and the Origins of Congressional Reconstruction" "Maryland Historical Magazine" 1972 67(2): 129-143. ISSN 0025-4258
* Belz, Herman. "Emancipation and Equal Rights: Politics and Constitutionalism in the Civil War Era" 1978
* Belz, Herman. "Reconstructing the Union: Theory and Policy during the Civil War" 1969
* Benedict, Michael Les. "A Compromise of Principle: Congressional Republicans and Reconstruction, 1863–1869" 1974
* Harris, William C. "With Charity for All: Lincoln and the Restoration of the Union" 1997, pp 123–70.
* Hesseltine, William B.; "Lincoln's Plan of Reconstruction" 1960
* Hyman; Harold M. "A More Perfect Union: The Impact of the Civil War and Reconstruction on the Constitution" 1973
* [http://cdl.library.cornell.edu/cgi-bin/moa/sgml/moa-idx?notisid=ABP2287-0038-89&type=boolean&slice=1&&&q1=Nicolay&rgn1=Author&op2=And&rgn2=Author&op3=And&rgn3=Author&year1=1815&year2=1926&searchSummary=70%20matching%20%20journal%20articles&size=50&layer=third&coll=serial1 Nicolay and Hay, "Abraham Lincoln: A History. The Wade-Davis Manifesto" (1889)] "The Century" pp 414-21

External links

* [http://www.mrlincolnandfreedom.org/inside.asp?ID=61&subjectID=3 Mr. Lincoln and Freedom: Wade-Davis Bill]
* [http://www.allamericanpatriots.com/m-wfsection+article+articleid-329.html 1864: Wade-Davis Bill - American Historical Documents All American Patriots]

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