Some of the most famous Radical Republicans were U.S. Senators Charles Sumner (MA), Ben Wade (OH), and Zachariah Chandler (MI); and U.S. Representatives Thaddeus Stephens (PA), Benjamin Butler (MA, and former Union general), Henry Winter Davis (MD), and Schuyler Colfax (IN), Speaker of the House. To these must be added Edwin M. Stanton, Secretary of War. Following Lincoln’s assassination Thaddeus Stephens was frequently referred to as “the Boss of America.”
The Radicals tried to impeach President Andrew Johnson on the premise that he did not have the right to remove Secretary of War Stanton from office, because of their “Tenure of Office Act.” Besides not wanting Stanton in his Cabinet, Johnson thoroughly distrusted Stanton and was outraged when he learned of Stanton’s withholding an important recommendation for clemency by the military court that tried Mary Surratt as an alleged accomplice in the assassination of Lincoln. Mary Surratt’s trial was a shameful political injustice, but the military court recommended clemency. Because Stanton deliberately withheld the military court’s clemency recommendation from Johnson, she was hanged.
In general, the Radical Republicans were also virtue-signaling radical abolitionists, who hated the South and wanted to destroy its culture and remake it into a safely Republican cultural and voting region. If a solid Democrat South re-emerged after Reconstruction, the chances of the Radical Republicans continuing to hold power would be considerably damaged. Their political survival and victory plans involved displacing solid conservative Democrat majorities with a combination of Northern carpet-baggers, Southern scalawags (collaborators), and newly enfranchised black voters thoroughly indoctrinated to vote Radical Republican.
The Union League was in charge of this Radical Republican indoctrination, which included creating an atmosphere of resentment towards their former masters and other conservative whites. The Union League local organizations were secret fraternal orders with mysterious ceremonies—somewhat like the Klan. However, the Union League preceded the Klan, which was first seen in June 1866, by more than a year, and exceeded the Klan in violent tactics. The Klan originally arose as regulators to protect against Union League violence and exploitive Carpet-bagger corruption in the conquered Southern states.
FROM A UNION LEAGUE CATECHISM:
Q: With what party should the colored man vote?
A: The Union Republican Party
Q: What is the difference between Radicals and Republicans?
A: There is none.
Q: Would the Democrats take away all the Negro’s rights?
A: They would.
Q: The colored men then should vote with the Republican or Radical Party?
A: They should and shun the Democratic Party as they would the overseer’s lash and the auction block.
Q: Is Mr. Sumner a Republican?
A: He is, and a Radical; so are Thad Stevens, Senator Wilson, Judge Kelley, Gen. Butler, Speaker Colfax, Chief Justice Chase, and all other men who believe in giving colored men their rights.
The Radical Republicans felt that the Constitution was a hindrance to powerful consolidated government. They also gained a reputation for corruption, not only in their vengeful exploitation of Southern resources and property, but also in their involvement with such schemes as the Credit Mobillier scandal, in which members of Congress received payments of cash and discounted stock from the Union Pacific Railroad in exchange for favorable action during the construction of the First Transcontinental Railroad. They considered President Grant an ally, because he was generally cooperative with their stated aims. Thereby the Grant Administration gained the reputation as the most corrupt in U.S. history. My own opinion is that Grant was neither Radical nor crooked, but he was politically naïve, trusted many of the wrong people, and was slow to discern devious motives.
The Radicals were not popular with Lincoln, but he needed them in his political majority. Many of the Radicals strongly disliked Lincoln because of his plans for a relatively lenient Reconstruction, which they believed would result in the re-emergence of a solidly conservative Democrat South, thus frustrating Radical ambitions. Several historians have pointed to strong circumstantial evidence that Radicals might have facilitated Lincoln’s assassination. John Chandler Griffin, distinguished professor emeritus from the University of South Carolina, in his 2006 book, Abraham Lincoln’s Execution, makes a credible case that Secretary of War Edmund Stanton was such an ambitious conspirator. Allegations that anti-radical Vice-President Andrew Johnson was a conspirator, however, are neither convincing nor logical.
In his speech to the Texas and Arkansas bar associations in 1906, Thomas W. Gregory, who was Attorney General of the United States from 1914 to 1919, under President Woodrow Wilson, said:
“The brutality and senselessness of the great wrong of reconstruction cannot be forgiven or forgotten. It welded every element of the South into eternal opposition to a political party; it made adherence to that party moral, social, and political treason; it made it impossible for us to divide on any issues of expediency or even of right and wrong; and, to sum it all up, it made it impossible for a Southern-born-and-bred man to vote the Republican ticket and go home and face his wife and children.”
In 1877, because of widespread corruption and an increasing recognition by Northern Republicans and Democrats alike that Reconstruction had been a moral and political disaster, the Radical Republican movement collapsed.
Rather than the South becoming a solid Radical Republican region, it became a solid conservative Democrat region, until the Democrat Party began to drift to the left in the early 1960s. Some Southern shifting to the Republicans began with Eisenhower, but starting with the Goldwater Presidential campaign in 1964, the South began to move toward conservative Republican dominance. This is, however, being significantly eroded by immigration from more liberal Northern states and massive immigration from third world countries.
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ABOUT THE AUTHOR – Mike Scruggs, Author and Columnist
a.k.a. Leonard M. Scruggs
Mike Scruggs is the author of two books: The Un-Civil War: Shattering the Historical Myths; and Lessons from the Vietnam War: Truths the Media Never Told You, and over 600 articles on military history, national security, intelligent design, genealogical genetics, immigration, current political affairs, Islam, and the Middle East.
He holds a BS degree from the University of Georgia and an MBA from Stanford University. A former USAF intelligence officer and Air Commando, he is a decorated combat veteran of the Vietnam War, and holds the Distinguished Flying Cross, Purple Heart, and Air Medal. He is a retired First Vice President for a major national financial services firm and former Chairman of the Board of a classical Christian school.
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