Wade–Davis Bill

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The Wade–Davis Bill of 1864 was a bill 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 for former Confederate states contingent on a majority in each Southern state to take 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. The Radical Republicans were outraged that Lincoln did not sign the bill. Lincoln wanted to mend the Union by carrying out the Ten percent plan. He believed it would be too difficult to repair all of the ties within the Union if the Wade–Davis bill passed.[1]


The Wade–Davis Bill emerged from a plan introduced in the Senate by Ira Harris of New York in February, 1863.[2] It proposed to base the Reconstruction of the South on the government's power to guarantee a republican form of government. 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 later in 1863. The provisions, critics complained, were virtually impossible to meet, thus making it likely there would be permanent national control over the southern states.[1]

Senate voting

Those voting for passage in the Senate were (18): Messrs. Anthony (R), Chandler (R), Clark (R), Conness (R), Foot (R), Harlan (R), Harris (R), Howe, Lane of Kansas (R), Morgan (R), Pomeroy (R), Ramsey (R), Sherman (R), Sprague (R), Sumner (R), Wade (R), Wilkinson (R), Wilson(R). Those voting against passage were (14): Messrs. Buckalew (D), Carlile (U), Davis (UU), Doolittle (R), Henderson (UU), Hendricks (D), Lane of Indiana (R), McDougall (D), Powell (D), Riddle (D), Saulsbury (D), Ten Eyck (R), Trumbull (R), Van Winkle (UU).[3]

Party Yes No
Republican 18 4
Democrat 0 6
0 3
Unionist 0 1

Lincoln's veto

One of Lincoln's objections was to the idea that Southern states needed to "re-join" the Union (an idea that permeated the whole bill). The philosophy of the war from Lincoln's point of view was that the Southern states were not constitutionally allowed to secede in the first place and therefore were still part of the Union, even though their return to a full participation in the Union would require the fulfillment of some conditions. But he didn't think the war was being waged against "treasonous" States as such (since the refusal of the Union to recognize their right to secede made the ordinances of secession null) but merely to "compel the obedience of rebellious individuals". The problem was that the language of the bill was at times undermining the Northern rationale for the war by plainly asserting for instance that the Southern states were not part of the Union anymore.[4]

Moreover, the bill compelled those states to draft new Constitutions banning slavery, which was plainly unconstitutional at the time since, in the then-absence of a Constitutional amendment on the issue (which would soon pass on its own right), Congress had no power to deal with slavery within each state.[5]

On a more pragmatic level, Lincoln also feared the bill would sabotage his own reconstruction activities in states like Louisiana, Arkansas, and Tennessee, all of which had seceded but were under Federal occupation and control of Union governments. He believed that Wade–Davis would jeopardize state-level emancipation movements in loyal border states like Missouri and, especially, Maryland. The bill threatened to destroy the delicate political coalitions which Lincoln had begun to construct between northern and southern moderates. More broadly, it underscored how differently Lincoln and Radical Republicans viewed the Confederates. The President thought they needed to be coaxed back into peaceful coexistence while Wade–Davis treated them as traitors that needed to be punished. Lincoln ended up killing the bill with a "pocket veto" and it was not resurrected.[6]

The aftermath

Davis was a bitter enemy of Lincoln because he believed that Lincoln was too lenient in terms of his policies for 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," and condemned what they saw as his efforts to usurp power from Congress ("the authority of Congress is paramount and must be respected"). The Manifesto backfired, however, and while it initially caused much debate on the nature of the Reconstruction to come, Winter Davis was not renominated for his Congressional seat.[7] Its ideas, particularly on the fact Congress should be the main driver of the post-war process and its conception of the Presidency as a weaker office (the President "must confine himself to his executive duties – to obey and execute, not to make the laws –, to suppress by arms armed rebellion, and leave political reorganization to Congress" [8]), did influence Congressional Republicans during the following years, leading to Andrew Johnson's impeachment trial.[citation needed]

Lincoln survived their attacks and greatly strengthened his position with a landslide victory in the 1864 election, and national passage of the 13th Amendment in February, 1865. He momentarily marginalized the Radicals in terms of shaping Reconstruction policy. After Lincoln's death, Radical Republicans battled President Andrew Johnson, who tried to continue a version of Lincoln's plan. The midterm elections of 1866 turned into a referendum on the 14th amendment and the trajectory of Reconstruction policy. With the Republicans' victory, Congress took control of Reconstruction. The radicals wanted a much harsher plan, but they did not try to reimpose the terms of Wade-Davis. Instead they took control of the southern states with the Army, which registered black men as voters and refused to allow former Confederates to run for office.[9]


  1. 1.0 1.1 Harris, With Charity for All: Lincoln and the Restoration of the Union pp 123–70.
  2. Belz, "Henry Winter Davis and the Origins of Congressional Reconstruction"
  3. Journal of the Senate of the United States of America, 1789–1873, July 2, 1864, p. 726.
  4. Nicolay and Hay, "Abraham Lincoln: A History. The Wade-Davis Manifesto" (1889) The Century pp 414-21
  5. Nevins, The War for the Union: The Organized War to Victory pp 84-88
  6. Hesseltine, Lincoln's Plan of Reconstruction Hyman, A More Perfect Union pp 277-8
  7. Nevins, Allan. "The War for the Union – The Organized War to Victory" p.84 to p.88
  8. "THE WAR UPON THE PRESIDENT.; Manifesto of Ben. Wade and H. Winter Davis against the President's Proclamation". The New York Times. August 9, 1864.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  9. Belz, Emancipation and Equal Rights: Politics and Constitutionalism in the Civil War Era (1978)


  • Belz, Herm. "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)
  • Nicolay and Hay, "Abraham Lincoln: A History. The Wade–Davis Manifesto" (1889) The Century pp 414–21

External links