Conquered Provinces Theory

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"Conquered provinces" was one of a half dozen constitutional theories concerning the relationship of the seceded states and the Union. Representative thaddeus stevens

(Republican, Pennsylvania), the principal exponent of conquered provinces, argued that secession had been de jure as well as de facto effective, and destroyed the normal constitutional status of the seceded states. Union victory required that they be governed under the principles of international law, which would have authorized essentially unlimited congressional latitude in setting reconstruction policy. Congressional legislation for the ex-states had to be based on the premise that "the foundation of their institutions, both political, municipal, and social, must be broken up and relaid." This was to be accomplished through extensive confiscation of Confederates' properties and the abolition of slavery. The state constitutions would have to be rewritten and submitted to Congress, which would then readmit each "province" as a new state.

Other principal theories of Reconstruction were: territorialization, popular among some Republicans since 1861, which would have treated the seceded states as territories; state suicide, expounded by charles sumner since 1862; state indestructibility, the basis of varying southern and presidential views, and being the central assumption of abraham lincoln's programs; Richard Henry Dana's "Grasp of War" theory of 1865, which would have sanctioned congressional policy under the war powers; and forfeited rights, a theory propounded by Rep. Samuel Shellabarger (Republican, Ohio), which ultimately came as close as any to being the constitutional basis of congressional Republican Reconstruction.

Stevens's conquered provinces theory was logically consistent with Republican objectives, and Lincoln's policies concerning the wartime Reconstruction of Louisiana, Arkansas, and Tennessee resembled parts of Stevens's program. But because the idea of conquered provinces was widely considered unconstitutional and draconian, it was never adopted as the basis of Republican policy.

William M. Wiecek


Mckitrick, Eric L. 1960 Andrew Johnson and Reconstruction. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.