Reconstruction of the south became America's first priority after the Civil War was over. Different folks had different ideas how that would work. Agendas die hard even in defeat, however, and reconstruction was a bitter time.
After the Confederacy lost the war, federal laws passed by Congress once again had full force and effect in the South. The 13th Amendment to the Constitution, effective eight months after the war, freed all slaves. It was the first reconstruction law. Union troops stayed in the South to enforce reconstruction until 1877.
Lincoln's successor, Andrew Johnson, came within one vote of losing his job over reconstruction. While Congress was in lengthy recess during the summer of 1865, Johnson got on with his own plan. He wanted to move quickly to reintegrate the South.
News traveled slowly in those days and, when Congress was finally back in session, legislators were shocked that reconstruction had moved so far ahead without their input. The stage was set for a major battle with the President.
With malice toward none, with charity for all, with firmness in the right as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in, to bind up the nation's wounds...
No one can doubt, had Lincoln lived, his first priority would have been to "bind up the nation's wounds" with "malice toward none." With Lincoln out of the picture, however, the fight was on.
After battling with President Johnson for so many months, the House of Representatives voted Articles of Impeachment against him. Johnson stood trial in the Senate, where he won the case by a single vote.
By the early 1880s, reconstruction of the South was essentially complete, but life was about to get much worse for African Americans.