How did the beliefs of Stevens and Sumner affect Reconstruction?
One of the leaders of the “Radical Republicans” was Thaddeus Stevens. Stevens was a representative who believed that the South should be punished for the Civil War. As part of that punishment, he favored taking the property of plantation owners and dividing it among former slaves. Stevens was also strongly in favor of complete equality for African Americans. He said,
. . . "every man, no matter what his race or color; every earthly being who has an immortal soul, has an equal right to justice, honesty, and fair play with every other man; and the law should secure him those rights."
Stevens disagreed with President Andrew Johnson about Reconstruction, and believed that Johnson was letting the Confederate leaders make the South the same way it was before the Civil War. He tried to get President Johnson out of the government by starting the impeachment of Johnson. Although Johnson was impeached (being impeached means that the majority of people in the House of Representatives, by voting, agreed that he may have broken the law and should be put on trial in the Senate), he was not convicted by the Senate.
Thaddeus Stevens' beliefs greatly affected Reconstruction. His belief that President Johnson was too soft on the South led him to call for Johnson's impeachment. Even though the President was not removed from office, the impeachment changed WHO would handle Reconstruction. NOW IT WOULD BE THE CONGRESS WHO CONTROLLED RECONSTRUCTION, NOT THE PRESIDENT. Since Stevens was a leader in Congress, he forced his views on racial equality down the throats of the Southerners. Southern states were forced to approve the 14th and 15th Amendments to the Constitution, guaranteeing the rights of African-Americans.
Another leader of the Radical Republicans was Senator Charles Sumner. Sumner was a leader in the fight for equality for African Americans, and as early as 1849, he spoke strongly for desegregating [having Blacks and Whites go to the same] schools. Sumner opposed the expansion of slavery and he made a dramatic speech in the Senate against The Fugitive Slave Law - insulting the slave-owning members of Congress. In particular, he insulted Sen. Butler The day after his speech, the cousin of Sen. Butler, Preston Brooks attacked Sumner and beat him with a cane. Sumner was so badly injured he could not return to his job for three years. When he did, he came back convinced that the institution of slavery had turned white Southerners into vicious animals. They could not and would not change on their own. They would have to be defeated in war and forced to change their ways.
Sumner agreed with Stevens about taking Southern plantations away from their owners and dividing the land among the former slaves. He also believed that the army should recruit African Americans to serve as soldiers from the very beginning of the Civil War. After the war, Sumner was a leader in making sure freedmen were able to exercise the right to vote.
Sumner got his revenge on Brooks and the South. He convinced Lincoln to use Black troops to win the war. He believed the South should be punished for starting the Civil War and he will make sure that they are. During Reconstruction those Black soldiers were put in charge of the racist Southerners [which a great insult]. Finally, like Stevens, his views on racial equality will be followed as the South and the rest of the country guarantee rights in the 14th and 15th Amendments.