The Wade-Davis Bill

abe-lincoln.jpgSummary- The Wade-Davis Bill was co-drafted in 1864 by two Radical Republicans, named Senator Benjamin Wade of Ohio and Representative Henry Winter Davis of Maryland. The bill was drafted to propose a reconstruction plan that was stricter than Lincoln's 10% plan, which many Radical Republicans of the time considered to be too lenient. Lincoln's 10% Plan, which was proposed in December of 1863, allowed any confederate state to rejoin the Union and reestablish their own local government if at least ten percent of the white southerners in that state pledged alliance to the Union and took an oath to support the elimination of slavery. Lincoln also had aspirations in the future of extending suffrage to blacks who either had been educated, owned land, or served for the Union army.

Wade-Davis Bill

In opposition to Lincoln's plan, the Wade-Davis Bill proposed that Confederate territories would only be readmitted into the Union after a series of steps. First, a simple majority of white, male southerns from their individual states had to declare alliance to the Union. At this time (when the simple majority is reached), the states would be able to hold a state convention to elect their government officials. However, unlike the Lincoln Plan, only those who swore to the Ironclad Oath would be able to vote for these delegates. By agreeing to the Ironclad Oath, one was declaring that they had never taken up arms against the United States. Finally, the states would then have to pass a new state constitution that agreed with the ideals of the federal government of the time. Among these were the abolishment of slavery and abolition of Confederate civil and military rulers. These states were also forced to face retribution costs (debts) associated with reconstruction after the war. Until this time, under the bill, the president would have the right to appoint a provisional government of the Confederate territories.

Drawing. Discussing the Wade-Davis Bill

The Wade-Davis bill passed easily in congress on July 2nd of 1864. However, the bill never went into effect. It was pocket vetoed by Abraham Lincoln. The bill was passed only four days before congress was adjourned for break in 1864. Later, reconstruction would take a similar root to that proposed by Wade and Davis. Johnson's restoration plan would not be passed by congress following the death of Lincoln. Eventually, congress would pass three different reconstruction bills.

Benjamin Wade

Benjamin Wade- Benjamin Wade was born in Feeding Hills, on October 27,1800. After moving to Ohio to study law, he became interested in politics. He worked many years as a lawyer before winning the 1837 Senator Election in Ohio. Wade served two terms as the Ohio Senator from 1837-1838 and 1840-1842. In these terms Wade was a part of the New England based Whig Party. He was known to be an abolitionist and in 1839 openly opposed the passing of a stricter Fugitive Slave Act, which restricted the rights of slaves who escaped to free territories. However, due to the decline of the Whig party Wade detached his previous association with the fading Whig party and joined the Republican cause.

"I have always believed, heretofore, in the doctrines of the Declaration of Independence, that all men are born free and equal." -Benjamin Wade

As a Radical Republican, Wade was most often referred to by other politicians as "Bluff Bill" because of his willingness to express unfiltered criticism to politicians who did not share his political ideals. After serving as Senator, Wade returned to law as a judge in Ohio. He remained in politics, continuing to express political displeasure and in the action of co-creating the Wade-Davis Bill with Henry Davis.

Wade is most well known for his overall opposition to Abraham Lincoln during the Civil War. Wade held a high position as the chairman of the Joint Committee on the Conduct of the War and the Senate Committee of Territories up to and immediately following the end of the Civil War. He felt as though Lincoln's military choices were hurting the Union's chance of success. As well as supporting a more aggressive approach to the war, Davis wanted Lincoln to place more emphasis on anti-slavery from the start. Wade and Davis constructed their bill as an alternative to Lincoln's 10% plan. The Wade-Davis Bill proposed a much harsher punishment for the Confederate states.
“Go on as you seem to be going. Give up fortress after fortress, and Jeff Davis will have you as prisoner of war in less than thirty days!"-Benjamin Wade to Abraham Lincoln

Henry Davis

Henry Davis- Henry Winter Davis was born in Annapolis, Maryland on August 16, 1817. He was born into a well known family as his father was a prominent Protestant Clergyman. Like Wade, Davis was originally associated with the Whig party. However, he did not immediately join the republican party after the disbandment of the Whigs. Rather he was part of the "Know Nothing" or "American" party for a majority of the 1850's. The Know Nothing party was known for their anti-immigrant and strong anti-Catholic beliefs. They felt that any new immigrants posed a threat, economically and politically, to the "native-born" Protestants. The party flourished for a short time in the 1850's, a time where many Catholic Irish immigrants and German immigrants were flooding into the country

The Symbol of the Know Nothing Party

Henry Davis was voted to Maryland in the House of Representatives from 1855 to 1861. During this time he gained respect, especially amongst Republicans. In the 1860 election he declines an offer to run as vice president for the Republican party. Finally, after the election of Lincoln, Davis joined the Republican party and was reelected to the House of Representatives in 1862. During this time Davis became one of the most radical republicans in all of congress.

Henry Davis was always a supporter of the abolition of slavery. In his 1853 book, The War of Ormuzd and Ahriman in the Nineteenth Century, he questions and attacks the South's practice of slavery as a social right. Davis' moral of antislavery would continue through his political career. In the Wade-Davis Bill that he co-created, it specified that states wishing to rejoin the Union must first destroy the practice of slavery.


The Civil War is the greatest national divide in America's history. The dispute began over differing view between the North and South regarding the role of the federal government. However, the sectionalism exhibited in the reconstruction plans is dissimilar from the other sectionalism apparent in the Civil War. The disputes over the course of action for reconstruction was different because it was inter party fighting. Abraham Lincoln, Benjamin Wade, and Henry Davis were all part of the Republican Party.

Lincoln's Plan:
Both of these plans (Lincoln's Ten Percent and Wade-Davis Bill) had the same goal; they wanted to restore the state of the Union completely without putting the future state of the Union in jeopardy. Lincoln observed that the Union was in a fragile state. He feared that if his punishment was too harsh he would further distance that south. It can be inferred that Lincoln believed that the stronger one fights to change the beliefs of another the more defensive the other will get. Lincoln foresaw that if he was too harsh, the South would have the idea of oppression to rally around and be again willing to fight. It is impossible to truly coerce the thoughts of another through physical punishment and oppression. Lincoln hoped that through his plan the Confederate Southerners would eventually come to the consensus on their own that the strength of the nation is stronger as a whole.

"My paramount object in this struggle is to save the Union." -Abraham Lincoln in his letter to Horace Greeley
"Talking with Noah Brooks, he [Lincoln] likened the Wade-Davis bill to the infamous bed designed by the tyrant Procrustes. 'If the captive was too short to fill the bedstead, he was stretched by main force until he was long enough; and if he was too long, he was chopped off to fit the bedstead.'" -an excerpt and Lincoln quote from the book Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln
Wade-Davis Bill:
Wade and Davis, representing the ideals of the Radical Republicans, would argue that Lincoln's plan is far too lenient. In their opinion, Lincoln's plan would have sent the wrong message to the South. Causing a bloody and deadly multiyear war can not come without retribution. Radical Republics would have stated that the South needed to know they can not just rear there head when they were dissatisfied. The answer to political strife in a democracy should be diplomacy, not war; a lesson that the South needs to learn the hard way. Many would agree that the person that is punished the hardest will be the least likely to recommit the crime. It can be inferred that Wade and Davis believed that by being strict on the South they were really protecting the state of the Union in the future. By being so harsh on the South (in comparison to Lincoln's plan) the government would be sending a message to the South and everyone else in the Union that this type of behavior will not be tolerated. The Union will reign supreme.

Supporting the effectiveness of these two plans is not a matter of fact but rather that of opinion. In other words, it is impossible to predict what would have happened if Lincoln's plan or the Wade-Davis Bill went into effect. It is very possible that Lincoln's plan could have peacefully reunited the Union. It is equally possible that by only asking for such a small percentage of people to take a pledge that many people could have still held violent contempt. The positive and negative outcomes for the Wade-Davis Bill are equally numerous and unpredictable. One of the greatest and favorite question of history students is "what if...?" As enticing it may be to argue what could have been, guessing what could have been is almost impossible. The more important question is "Is it possible to change the opinions of others? And if so, what is the most effective way?" Lincoln would argue that people have to be influenced in a much more discrete manner, with ample time. To the contrary, Wade and Davis would agree that Lincoln's action of almost inaction leads the people to believe that they can fight violently over their opinions with little to no consequence.

"We certainly cannot have any further political connection with the Whigs of the South; they have rendered such connection impossible. An impassable gulf separates us, and must here-after separate us." -Benjamin Wade

Union - Confederate Flag.gif
American vs Confederate Flags

North vs South: The Wade-Davis Bill also demonstrates the sectionalism that existed between the North and South even after the war. For several years following the war Southerners were outcasted from the government, removing their say in political matters. Congress and the rest of the government were completely dominated by the Republican party. For a long time the North and South were segregated into the law making, powerful North and
the dependent suppressed military territories of the South. During this time of political dominance Congress was able to pass the 13th, 14th, and 15th amendment, as well as the Wade-Davis Bill with little to no opposition. The Wade-Davis Bill would have went into effect if it wasn't for Lincoln's pocket veto. The Wade-Davis Bill and its unanimous passing demonstrates the sectionalism that existed far after the official end of the Civil War.


A drawing conveying the brutality of the Civil War

It can also be deduced that the Radical Republicans thought that Lincoln's plan let the South off too easy. Many of the Radical Republicans' wishes to be strict on the south could have even been rooted in revenge. Many of the Republicans felt animosity towards Southerners for causing the bloody Civil War by succeeding. Many politicians lost brothers, friends, and neighbors in the war. In addition, if the Republicans were harsh on the South it would delay the Southern states return to the Union, giving the Republicans an extended reign of power. It is very difficult to known the thoughts and motives of a human being and it is dangerous to oversimplify and generalize an entire group. However, it can be speculated that at least some of these Republicans had power thirsty and revenge driven motives.

What can be learned?
As well as demonstrating the sectionalism present in the Union in the 1860's the Wade-Davis Bill can
democrats_vs_republicans.jpgalso serve as the quintessential example of how the government of the United States functions. To this day the government of the United States has always been and still is a two party system; although the power may these two parties may not always be in balance. For periods of times one party has taken dominance and control of congress over the other. It seems as though content and bickering between opposing parties has often ended in inaction, rather than compromise. The Wade-Davis Bill has demonstrated the significance and potential power when government is dominated solely by one party. Since the Southern states were recognized as territories and military districts directly after the war, they had no seats in congress and thus no political say. During this time congress was able to pass three reconstruction acts and three amendments with ease. This is not the first time in history where this has occurred. During the Era of Good Feelings, the Democratic-Republican party had sole dominance after the War of 1812. During this time Congress was able to pass several acts to invest in federal infrastructure and the American System. However, just as this power can be used for good it can be abused just as easily. The question has to be posed: Is the two party system a mean of ensuring the power of government is not abused or does the system hinder the ability of government to get work done?

Plan of Action

This shows the five military districts that the Confederate States were divided into after the Civil War

Neither Lincoln's Plan or the Wade-Davis Bill was ever used by the government as a plan for reconstruction. After Lincoln's assassination and his replacement, President Johnson, faced impeachment charges, radical Republicans were finally able to get the strict Reconstruction they wanted. The government passed legislation that turned the Confederate states into military districts, led by an appointed military governor. All black males and whites that did not participate in the war were able to participate in their state's elections for a new state constitution. The state constitutions had to be approved by congress and needed to include provisions for black suffrage. Of course, Congress did not readmit any states back into the union until they were able to ratify the amendments they wanted. Since the Southern states were now districts they had no say in these ramifications, making the process easy for Republicans. Eventually all the states that were once part of the Confederacy rejoined the Union.

BibliographyThe following sites and texts were used in the production of this website:
A Survey American History TextbookTeam of Rivals the Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln by Doris Kearns Goodwin