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Radical Republicans

The Radicals, a faction of the regular Republican Party, came into prominence on the national level after 1860. They never achieved majority status within Republican ranks, but were successful with manipulating the other factions to their advantage. Radical influence was especially strong in the New England states. Their basic aims included the following:

  • They tended to view the Civil War as a crusade against the institution of slavery and supported immediate emancipation.
  • They advocated enlistment of black soldiers.
  • They led the fight for ratification of the 13th Amendment.
Prominent Radical Republicans included Benjamin F. Wade, Benjamin Butler, Horace Greeley, Frederick Douglass, Charles Sumner and Thaddeus Stevens. During the war, the Radicals were critical of Abraham Lincoln, a member of their own party. The chief complaints about the president were that: Despite this criticism, the president possessed the skill to manage the Radicals' opposition. Such was not the case with his successor, Andrew Johnson, whose reconstruction plan was ignored by Congress. In the postwar period the Radicals were advocates of a “hard peace,” which would punish the South for causing the conflict. In 1867 and 1868, the Radicals passed Reconstruction Acts featuring far harsher treatment of the South. The Radicals also played a leading role in the Impeachment of Andrew Johnson and the succeeding trial. Participation in those events tended to weaken the Radicals’ appeal at the polls as the public grew weary of their hard-edged tactics. The Radical Republicans in the early 1870s urged Ulysses Grant to take action against the Ku Klux Klan, and later pressed for labor reforms, which included improved working conditions in factories and the eight-hour day.