Wade-Davis Bill (July 2, 1864)

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WADE-DAVIS BILL (July 2, 1864)

Republicans worried that under lincoln ' splan of reconstruction (December 8, 1863), the old state leadership might reverse emancipation. On July 2, 1864, Ohio's Senator Benjamin Wade and Maryland's Representative Henry Winter Davis passed a state-restoration bill that emphasized emancipation's permanence and equalized freedmen's civil rights.

Their bill, implementing the Constitution's guarantee to each state of a republican form of government (Article IV, section 4), authorized the President to appoint a provisional governor for each conquered state. When a majority of white male citizens swore future loyalty to the Union, the governor was to initiate a constitutional convention. Each new constitution must incorporate emancipation, disfranchise high Confederates, and repudiate Confederate debts; then a majority of state voters, the President, and Congress must approve each constitution, and elections could proceed. State laws were to prevail excepting those on slavery. Criminal laws were to apply equally to whites and blacks.

abraham lincoln, unwilling to upset Arkansas's and Louisiana's progress under his 1863 policy, pocket-vetoed the bill. Advocating an abolition constitutional amendment to insure the legitimacy of emancipation, Lincoln suggested that Wade-Davis procedures, though vetoed, were satisfactory.

An election impended. If reelected, Lincoln would serve until 1869. His educability on race was outstanding. Almost all Republicans, including Wade and Davis, supported him. Had Lincoln signed their bill, it would have committed his successor to equal state justice for all residents.

Harold M. Hyman


Hyman, Harold M. 1963 A More Perfect Union: The Impact of the Civil War and Reconstruction on the Constitution. Chap. 16. New York: Knopf.