December 4, 1865: A Day That Will Live Forever In The Victories For Humanity
December 4, 1865 was the day that ex-Confederates and their allies were prevented from taking over Congress,
which would have reversed what had been won in the four bloody years of the Civil War.
After Lincoln was assassinated on April 14, 1865, Andrew Johnson, a southern Democrat from Tennessee, became
president. He began issuing pardons wholesale to Confederate officials and allowed them to hold elections for
Congress, despite being warned not to do so by people like Thaddeus Stevens. Predictably, the southerners
elected Confederate officials, including generals and colonels. Even the vice president of the Confederacy,
Alexander Stephens, was elected to the Senate.
If they had been allowed to take their seats, it would have been a disaster for the country. They could have joined
with their northern Democratic allies and taken over the government. They could have rejected the Federal war
debt and embraced the Confederate debt. Worse yet. they could have kept slavery alive. Despite the ratification of
the 13th Amendment prohibiting slavery, the southerners had used a loophole to bring it back. Under the
amendment, involuntary servitude was allowed for convicts. So the southern states after the war passed the so-
called Black Codes,which said any black without a job was a vagrant and could be put back on a plantation as
prison labor. To make sure they didn’t have jobs, blacks had to get work permits from local sheriffs.
But Thaddeus Stevens was not going to let this happen. He came up with a plan with the Republican caucus and
Edward McPherson, the clerk of the House and a Stevens’s protege. On December 4, 1865, the House convened
and McPherson started to call the roll. When he got to the southern members, he skipped them -- didn’t call them
out. Southerners and their northern allies objected, but Stevens and other Republicans shut them down on a point
of order that nothing could be discussed until the House was organized and a speaker was elected. The
southerners were excluded, Stevens introduced a resolution to create the Joint Committee on Reconstruction and
Congress started down the road to Reconstruction.
Thaddeus Stevens Before The Joint Committee on Reconstruction, Frank Leslie's Illustrated News, March 14, 1865