Presidential leadership during Civil War and Reconstruction

Saint Jude

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I've just finished reading Doris Kearns Goodwin’s Leadership in Turbulent Times, which has prompted me to ask these questions. In the years between 1841 and 1879, which three presidents do you think responded most effectively to the challenges of impending of civil war or to its aftermath, and which three were least effective as leaders? What traits do you think made them effective or ineffective?
 

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Lubliner

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James Buchanan, our 15th President from 1857-1861 has been given terrible marks on dealing with the impending crisis. Lincoln was loathe to admit publicly that any crisis existed before his inauguration, and essentially tip-toed into office. Buchanan left him with an unopened pandora's box in 1861, which he sent to the confederates. Even though I was raised southern on the Virginia peninsula, I never likened Jefferson Davis to be a President, yet to many less than 90 years before me, he was just that. Lincoln had nothing to do with the aftermath, and though he was a catalyst for secession, it was only by party debate he influenced the beginnings. Maybe James K. Polk could be signalized by exhorting to a war with Mexico to abate the two-party drift? I cannot remember General Taylor doing much of anything with his short term as President in 1849, except allowing Millard Fillmore to ascend and have the Compromise of 1850 to pass the House. I begin to think in reflection of this, the real movers and motivators were not the ones holding the highest office, but rather certain statesmen and men of influential wealth, both north and south, before and after.
Thanks,
Lubliner.
 

jackt62

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I'll start with two of the least effective:

1. James Buchanan: generally advocated policies that sympathized with southern goals such as allowing slavery in Kansas territory and refusing to assert federal authority after South Carolina seceded.
2. Andrew Johnson: after starting out as a proponent of civil rights, he changed course and under his presidential reconstruction actions, vetoed and then attempted to weaken the rights promulgated under the Civil Rights and Freedman's Bureau Acts.
 

jackt62

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Here are the two most effective:

1. Abraham Lincoln: by force of will, held and preserved the Union through four years of extreme warfare, pushed the nation in the direction of greater equality with his Emancipation Proclamation and championing of the 13th Amendment.
2. Ulysses Grant: used the strong arm of the federal government to fight the KKK and enforce civil rights measures while maintaining a policy of reconciliation with the southern states.
 

WJC

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I cannot remember General Taylor doing much of anything with his short term as President in 1849, except allowing Millard Fillmore to ascend and have the Compromise of 1850 to pass the House.
Taylor had the misfortune of early death. Because he was a planter with more than a hundred slaves. he was expected by most to support the slaveholders' militancy. Instead, like Jackson, he took a strong stand for the Union and adamantly opposed any concessions to those who threatened secession. His position might have put an end to the growing secessionist movement, but for Clay's interference. Clay's Compromise of 1850 avoided confrontation, but only increased regional discord so that the eventual confrontation was far more disruptive and deadly.
Taylor did not pick Fillmore as his running mate. Taylor was supported by Seward; Fillmore's nomination was engineered by Seward's opponents.
 

ErnieMac

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I would put Franklin Pierce into one of the least effective slots. IMO his refusal negotiate or compromise his pro-slavery positions led directly to the Civil War. Examples include support for the Kansas-Nebraska Act negating the Missouri Compromise, sending Federal marshals and troops to Boston to enforce the Fugitive Slave Law, support for pro-slavery positions in Kansas, and the attempt to purchase Cuba as a slave territory or seize it by force if necessary. When Pierce came into office in 1853 anti-slavery agitation was minimal, not so when he left office in 1857.
 

jackt62

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For the period 1841-1879, I would only consider Lincoln, Grant, and Polk effective; all others ineffective. Of course, depending on one's viewpoint, Polk may have helped sow the seeds of civil war by his instigation of the Mexican War, which led to the incorporation of the southwestern territories as US possessions, inflaming the controversy over the expansion of slavery.
 

contestedground

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I think Andrew Johnson was very effective. Look at the America in place in 1879 and tell me that Andrew Johnson was not pleased with the restoration of white supremacy, something he helped foster by being such an obstacle to black freedom.
 

Saint Jude

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I think Andrew Johnson was very effective. Look at the America in place in 1879 and tell me that Andrew Johnson was not pleased with the restoration of white supremacy, something he helped foster by being such an obstacle to black freedom.
He was certainly effective in emasculating the Freedmen's Bureau! In terms of doing something good for the nation, he has to be one of the worst presidents in American history. Ditto for Polk.
 

JeffBrooks

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In defense of Buchanan, what exactly COULD he have done in the three months of his lame duck time period to keep the South from seceding?
 

contestedground

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In defense of Buchanan, what exactly COULD he have done in the three months of his lame duck time period to keep the South from seceding?
JB's problems began on March 4, 1857, and he made them worse over time. Could he have prevented secession in the winter of 1860? Probably not. But he sure didn't help to prevent it beforehand. He just waited for Lincoln to take over. In contrast, Grant acted to prevent violence during the resolution of the disputed election of 1876.
 

Rebforever

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He was certainly effective in emasculating the Freedmen's Bureau! In terms of doing something good for the nation, he has to be one of the worst presidents in American history. Ditto for Polk.
How so? President Johnson had the same 4 step plan as Lincoln did. Take a look at the radical Republicans after Lincoln's death. Might be some things going on that shouldn't have been.
 

Saint Jude

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How so? President Johnson had the same 4 step plan as Lincoln did. Take a look at the radical Republicans after Lincoln's death. Might be some things going on that shouldn't have been.
To what "4 step plan" are you referring? Also, it isn't clear what you're talking about re. the radical Republicans.
 

Rebforever

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To what "4 step plan" are you referring? Also, it isn't clear what you're talking about re. the radical Republicans.
You know Lincoln had a 4 step plan for the South’s recovery after the surrender of the Confederate States of America?
 


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