Wade-Davis Bill (1864)

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Citation: Handwritten copy of Wade-Davis Bill as originally submitted 1864; Records of Legislative Proceedings; Records of the United States House of Representatives 1789-1946; Record Group 233; National Archives.
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At the end of the Civil War, this bill created a framework for Reconstruction and the readmittance of the Confederate states to the Union.

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In late 1863, President Abraham Lincoln and the Congress began to consider the question of how the Union would be reunited if the North won the Civil War. In December President Lincoln proposed a reconstruction program that would allow Confederate states to establish new state governments after 10 percent of their male population took loyalty oaths and the states recognized the “permanent freedom of slaves.”

Several congressional Republicans thought Lincoln’s 10 Percent Plan was too mild. A more stringent plan was proposed by Senator Benjamin F. Wade and Representative Henry Winter Davis in February 1864. The Wade-Davis Bill required that 50 percent of a state’s white males take a loyalty oath to be readmitted to the Union. In addition, states were required to give blacks the right to vote.

Congress passed the Wade-Davis Bill, but President Lincoln chose not to sign it, killing the bill with a pocket veto. Lincoln continued to advocate tolerance and speed in plans for the reconstruction of the Union in opposition to the Congress. After Lincoln’s assassination in April 1865, however, the Congress had the upper hand in shaping Federal policy toward the defeated South and imposed the harsher reconstruction requirements first advocated in the Wade-Davis Bill.

For more information, visit The National Archives' Treasures of Congress Online Exhibit.

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