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THE COX PLAN OF RECONSTRUCTION: A Case Study in Ideology and Race Relations Wilbert H. Ahem Summer 1865 was a season of momentous debate. With the end of the Civil War, the discussion of its implications for a policy of Reconstruction acquired increased relevance. The issues ranged from constitutional theory and the concept of "state suicide" to the penalties to be imposed on the Confederate supporters. But as recent studies have demonstrated , that issue which dominated the era and encompassed the other questions was the status of the freedman. All men agreed that the end of slavery forecast new relationships between whites and blacks in the South. Disagreeing on the value of this change, they offered plans to either diminish or extend the transformation. The debate over this question of emancipation from the beginning of the war suggested the central role it would play after the North triumphed. By mid-summer, 1865, divisions among Unionists over Reconstruction were becoming apparent. Critical of the limits of Andrew Johnson's version of Presidential Reconstruction, Radicals and moderates were calling for some federal guarantees for the rights of the freedmen. Thaddeus Stevens, estimating economic power to be crucial to political power, advocated the redistribution of property and impartial suffrage.1 Lyman Trumbull, Carl Schurz and other liberal reformers, believing that political power would guarantee economic opportunity, called for impartial suffrage and urged southerners to guarantee the civil rights of the freedmen.2 Andrew Johnson, demonstrating little concern for the former slaves, followed a policy which would leave the social relationship of the races unchanged.3 To this well-known spectrum of Unionist positions on Reconstruction, we must add the plan of Jacob Dolson Cox, Civil War general and, in 1865, the Republican candidate for governor of Ohio.4 Although 1 Richard N. Current, Old Thad Stevens: A Story of Ambition (Madison, 1942), pp. 214-17. 2 Wilbert H. Ahem, "Laissez Faire Versus Equal Rights: Liberal Republicans and the Negro, 1861-1877," (Ph.D. dissertation, Northwestern University, 1968), ch. v. 3 LaWanda and John H. Cox, Politics, Principles ir Prejudice, 1865-1866: Dilemma of Reconstruction America (New York, 1963), ch. via. 4 No scholarly biography of Jacob D. Cox has been published, but William Cox Cochrane, "Political Experiences of Major General Jacob Dolson Cox" (MS, Cincinnati , 1940), an informative but filiopietistic work, provided much biographical 293 294civil war history the Cox plan was never realized, his argument in its support raised some themes of continual importance in the history of American race relations. Cox addressed himself to the degree of conflict between groups divided by race and economic status and the ability of republican political institutions to resolve that conflict. His solution and the reaction of other Republicans to it offers insight into the motivation and political theories of those who shaped the first Reconstruction. More generally, an analysis of his plan sheds light on the relationship between racism and broader social ideologies. Jacob D. Cox entered the Reconstruction debate in his role as the Republican candidate for the governor of Ohio. On the surface, the question of federal policy toward the freedmen was of little relevance to the Ohio gubernatorial campaign, since that office had no jurisdiction over the question. However, in 1865 no politician, at whatever level he operated, could ignore Reconstruction. Federal officeholders would use the state campaigns of 1865 to gauge public opinion on this issue. Moreover, the Ohio Unionist party reflected the divisions of the national party over the question of Negro suffrage; antislavery men from the Western Reserve advocated it, southern Ohio Unionists opposed it, and the majority of the party's 1865 convention delegates wished to take no immediate position. Although the party platform ignored the question , many members, especially the antislavery Republicans, insisted that Cox define his position concerning the status of the freedmen.5 Cox announced his plan reluctantly. While he had outlined his position on Reconstruction privately to his representative at the Ohio nominating convention, he made no public statement prior to his nomination . Disagreeing with the call for immediate Negro suffrage coming from Western Reserve Republicans, the candidate claimed that declarations by state parties or nominees would be premature and would make more...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1533-6271
Print ISSN
0009-8078
Pages
pp. 293-308
Launched on MUSE
2013-01-02
Open Access
No
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