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The Wade-Davis Bill

Wade Davis Bill, 1864

Long before the Union victory, Congress had been preparing for the many challenges the nation would face at war’s end, particularly the integration of four million newly emancipated African Americans into the political life of the nation. Led by the Radical Republicans in the House and Senate, Congress passed the Wade-Davis bill on July 2, 1864—co-sponsored by Senator Benjamin Wade of Ohio and Representative Henry Davis of Maryland—to provide for the admission to representation of rebel states upon meeting certain conditions. Among the conditions was the requirement that 50 percent of white males in the state swear a loyalty oath, and the insistence that the state grant African American men the right to vote. President Lincoln, who had earlier proposed a more modest 10-percent threshold, pocket-vetoed the Wade-Davis bill, stating he was opposed to being “inflexibly committed to any single plan of restoration.” When the 38th Congress came to an end on March 3, 1865, the president and members of Congress had not yet reached an agreement on the terms of Reconstruction. Then, on April 9, General Lee surrendered. Less than a week later President Lincoln was assassinated and Vice President Andrew Johnson, a former senator from Tennessee, became president.