Lincoln’s Reconstruction Plan

by Rosanne Lichatin

Essential Question

To what degree was Abraham Lincoln successful in achieving his goals?


The Civil War was perhaps the most momentous event that the United States endured in its history. Author and historian Shelby Foote said, “Any understanding of this nation has to be based on an understanding of the Civil War. . . . It was the crossroads of our being.” The key personality in that contest was President Abraham Lincoln, who had the arduous task of steering this nation through the war and also the more difficult challenge of determining a course for peace and Reconstruction. As war leader and peacemaker, he faced criticism from political opponents as well as from members of his own party. This lesson will allow students to explore Lincoln’s words, speeches, and proclamations in order to understand his views on secession, amnesty, and Reconstruction, as well as his hopes for the nation.


  • Students will examine primary documents in order to understand and evaluate Lincoln’s plans for Reconstruction.
  • Students will be able to identify the specific proposals Lincoln made for the readmission of Southern states, amnesty, and opportunities for freedmen.
  • Students will analyze the conflict between the executive and legislative branches in trying to assert control over Reconstruction during Lincoln’s term.
  • Students will recognize the need for cooperation and compromise in creating federal policy on Reconstruction.
  • Students will recognize the significance of Lincoln’s Second Inaugural Address in setting the tone of reconciliation for the nation.



Homework Assignment #1

Divide the class in half. One half will be assigned Lincoln’s Proclamation of Amnesty and Reconstruction. The other half will read the Wade-Davis Bill.

Students should answer the following questions in writing and be prepared to discuss them in class the next day:

  1. Who is the author of this document and when was it produced?
  2. According to the document, who should control Reconstruction?
  3. According to the document, what is the role of the executive branch? The legislative branch?
  4. What conditions must be met for Southern states to be readmitted to the Union?
  5. Who should be excluded from readmission? Is a rationale provided to justify this exclusion? Do you support it?
  6. Does this document indicate any provisions to support or assist former slaves?
  7. Who do you think would support this document? Who would reject it?
  8. What do you believe is the strength of this proposal?
  9. What difficulties do you believe might arise if this proposal was accepted?
  10. Choose one adjective to describe the terms of this plan. Be prepared to defend your choice.

Day 1

All students will read the Wade-Davis Bill in class and comment on Lincoln’s response.

  1. What argument does Lincoln provide for not accepting the Wade-Davis Bill?
  2. If you had been a member of Congress who had supported the Wade-Davis Bill, how would you have reacted to Lincoln’s pocket veto?

Homework Assignment #2

Students should read Lincoln’s address for homework and come to class prepared to discuss its importance. The class will be divided into groups of three to discuss and respond to the following questions:

  1. To whom do you think Lincoln was addressing his comments?
  2. In her book Team of Rivals, Doris Kearns Goodwin says about Lincoln, “More than any of his other speeches, the Second Inaugural fused spiritual faith with politics.” Identify specific comments made by Lincoln that prove this statement.

Day 2

The class will be divided into groups of three to discuss and respond to the homework question.

Suggested Enrichment

The following documents can be shared with students to bring the inauguration and the activities surrounding it to life:

  1. Read George Rable’s essay, “Lincoln’s Civil Religion,” in the Lincoln issue of History Now (Winter 2005).
  2. An additional resource for an analysis of Lincoln’s Second Inaugural Address can be found at Smithsonian Magazine’s
    interview with Ronald C. White Jr.
    , author of Lincolns Greatest Speech, The Second Inaugural.
  3. An Inaugural Poem” dedicated to Abraham Lincoln of Illinois and Andrew Johnson of Tennessee from the Library of Congress. Printed in the Inauguration Procession of Lincoln and Johnson, Chronicle Junior
    Each stanza will be assigned to two students to analyze. Students will read the entire poem and then be responsible for reporting the meaning of their stanzas to the rest of the class. As part of that exercise, they will discuss how the poem frames the challenge Lincoln faced in saving the Union.
  4. Students will read the following in class:
    Reminiscences of Abraham Lincoln & Lincolns Second Inaugural Address by Frederick Douglass, from
  5. The teacher will lead a discussion that focuses on the following questions:
  • In what way did Lincoln make Douglass feel that he was supportive of African Americans?
  • What words from the inaugural address do you think impressed Frederick Douglass the most?


  • Write a letter to the editor of a newspaper either supporting or opposing:
    Andrew Johnson’s plan for Reconstruction
    the Radical Reconstruction plan.
  • Write a newspaper editorial responding to Lincoln’s Second Inaugural Address.
  • Create an annotated historical timeline of Lincoln’s Reconstruction policies.

Make Gilder Lehrman your Home for History

Already have an account?

Please click here to login and access this page.

How to subscribe

Click here to get a free subscription if you are a K-12 educator or student, and here for more information on the Affiliate School Program, which provides even more benefits.

Otherwise, click here for information on a paid subscription for those who are not K-12 educators or students.

Make Gilder Lehrman your Home for History

Become an Affiliate School to have free access to the Gilder Lehrman site and all its features.

Click here to start your Affiliate School application today! You will have free access while your application is being processed.

Individual K-12 educators and students can also get a free subscription to the site by making a site account with a school-affiliated email address. Click here to do so now!

Make Gilder Lehrman your Home for History

Why Gilder Lehrman?

Your subscription grants you access to archives of rare historical documents, lectures by top historians, and a wealth of original historical material, while also helping to support history education in schools nationwide. Click here to see the kinds of historical resources to which you'll have access and here to read more about the Institute's educational programs.

Individual subscription: $25

Click here to sign up for an individual subscription to the Gilder Lehrman site.

Make Gilder Lehrman your Home for History

Upgrade your Account

We're sorry, but it looks as though you do not have access to the full Gilder Lehrman site.

All K-12 educators receive free subscriptions to the Gilder Lehrman site, and our Affiliate School members gain even more benefits!

How to Subscribe

K-12 educator or student? Click here to get free access, and here for more information on the Affiliate School Program.

Not a educator or student? Click here for more information on purchasing a subscription to the Gilder Lehrman site.


Article encapsulates the chaotic era of the civil war. Thanks

Add comment

Login or register to post comments