Revenge & Reconstruction

Abraham Lincoln and Reconstruction
Mr. Lincoln and Reconstruction

President Abraham Lincoln needed to mobilize the North to fight the Civil War. To fight the Second World War, British Prime Minister Winston Churchill needed to mobilize his own country, the Dominion, allies, and would-be allies. At the end of the war, they needed to rebuild and revitalize shattered economies.

President Lincoln doubted the legitimacy of the Confederacy in representing southern opinion. “It may be well be questioned whether there is, to-day, a majority of the legally qualified voters of any State, except perhaps South Carolina, in favor of disunion,” President Lincoln told Congress in July 1961. “There is much reason to believe that the Union men are the majority in many, if not in every other one, of the so-called seceded States. The contrary has not been demonstrated in any one of them. It is ventured to affirm this, even of Virginia and Tennessee; for the result of an election, held in military camps, where the bayonets are all on one side of the question voted upon, can scarcely be considered as demonstrating popular sentiment. At such an election, all that large class who are, at once, for the Union, and against coercion, would be coerced to vote against the Union.”1 For Lincoln, union was the first and primary goal of the Civil War, but not the only goal. Historian John C. Rodrigue observed that “while Lincoln always insisted that everything he did was geared toward preserving the Union, a goal that ultimately hinged on military success, he also had to confront issues relating to reconstruction even when military victory seemed to doubt.”2

Facing strong opponents within his own country, Lincoln had to be more careful about harsh language than Prime Minister Churchill, who faced an external opponent whom he could more freely demonize. Lincoln avoided demonizing southern leaders – much less his northern opponents – although he certainly criticized both. On April 9, 1865, Charles Adolphe Pineton, the Marquis de Chambrun, accompanied the presidential party back to Washington from the Union war front near Richmond: “Our party dispersed on arriving at the Potomac wharf. Mr. and Mrs. Lincoln, Senator Sumner and I drove home in the same carriage. As we drew near Washington, Mrs. Lincoln, who had hitherto remained silently looked at the town, said: ‘That city is full of enemies.’ The President, on hearing this retorted with an impatient gesture: ‘Enemies, never again must we repeat that word.’” Lincoln’s was a policy of reconciliation, not retribution:

When success at last had crowned so many bloody efforts it was impossible to discover in Lincoln any thought of revenge or feeling of bitterness toward the vanquished. His only preoccupation was to recall the Southern States into the Union as soon as possible. When he encountered opposition on this point, when many of those surrounding him insisted on the necessity of strong reprisals, he would exhibit signs of impatience, for though uninfluenced by such opinions, on hearing them, he gave evident signs of a nervous fatigue which he partially controlled but was unable to dissimulate entirely. On one point his mind was irrevocably made up. The policy of pardon, in regard to those who had taken a principal part in the rebellion, appeared to him an absolute necessity. Never did clemency suggest itself more naturally to a victorious chief. We were with him when he received the despatch from General Grant announcing that the final surrender of the whole Army of Virginia could be foreseen and might take place on the 11th or on the 12th. He added: ‘Perhaps at the same time we can even capture Jefferson Davis and his cabinet.’ This announcement greatly troubled Mr. Lincoln, who forcibly pointed out the difficulty and embarrassment in which the Government would be placed by the untimely capture. One of those present, who enjoyed perfect freedom of speech, exclaimed: ‘Don’t let him escape. He must be hanged.’ The President replied very calmly by repeating the phrase he had used in his Inaugural Address: ‘Let us judge not that we be not judged.’ Assailed anew by the remark that the sight of Libby prison rendered mercy impossible, he twice repeated the same biblical sentence.3

For Lincoln, secession violated the U.S. Constitution – so to tolerate secession was to violate his presidential oath of office. “Lincoln’s conceptualization of secession and the Confederacy held other important implications for reconstruction,” wrote historian John C. Rodrigue. “By defining secession as rebellion and maintaining that the Confederacy had no legitimacy, Lincoln precluded the possibility of formal negotiations or communications between the federal and Confederate governments. Lincoln believed he had no discretion in adopting this course, since secession constituted a violation of the law that he as president was constitutionally obligated to enforce.”4

President Lincoln began to think about postwar questions early in the Civil War. Lincoln aide John Hay noted: “As the great struggle neared it close, the impatience of early days, the hot and righteous anger against the wrong, began to give way, and that commonest trait of noble minds, excessive magnanimity and generosity, was clearly indicated as the political danger that threatened the new Administration. Not only in the President was this conspicuous – this malice toward none, this charity for all – but in those most trusted members of his Cabinet, who had seen the war through from its beginning, there was the same tendency.”5 French writer Marquis de Chambrun, who spent time with Lincoln early in 1865, observed: “And when success had at last crowned so many bloody efforts, it was impossible to discover in Mr. Lincoln a single sentiment, I shall not say of revenge, but even of bitterness, in regard to the vanquished. Recall, as soon as possible, the Southern States into the Union, such was his chief preoccupation. When he encountered contrary opinion on that subject, when several of those who surrounded him insisted upon the necessity of exacting strong guarantees, at once on hearing them he would exhibit impatience. Although it was rare that such thoughts influenced his own, he nevertheless would evince, on healing them expressed, a sort of fatigue and weariness, which he controlled, but was unable to dissimulate entirely.

But the one point on which his mind seemed most irrevocably made up was his action in regard to the men who had taken part in the rebellion. Clemency never suggested itself more naturally to a victorious chieftain. The policy of pardon and forgiveness appeared to his mind and soul an absolute necessity.

In our presence he received a despatch from General Grant announcing for the 10th or 11th of the month the final defeat and surrender of the whole army of Virginia. The Lieutenant-General added, that possibly he might capture at the same time Jefferson Davis and his cabinet.

This possibility thus announced troubled greatly Mr. Lincoln, and in a few remarks, full of force, he pointed out to us the extreme difficulty in which this unfortunate capture would place the government.

One of the persons present, who enjoyed the privilege of speaking freely before him, said: “Don’t allow him to escape the law; he must be hung.”

The President replied calmly, by that quotation from his inaugural address: “Let us judge not, that we be not judged.” Pressed anew by the remark that the sight of Libby Prison forbade mercy, he repeated twice the same biblical sentence he had just quoted.6

For Lincoln and Churchill, victory was always paramount. Nevertheless, noted historian John C. Rodrigue, “Lincoln’s reconstruction initiatives are best understood not as a means of winning the war but as ends themselves. Yet even as emancipation transformed the meaning of the war, for Lincoln and most northerners, so too was Lincoln’s conception of reconstruction transformed – from the restoration of states to the remaking of southern society. Although, by the time of his death, Lincoln has only begun the process of seriously confronting the consequences of emancipation, he had already distanced himself from positions he had held at the start of the war.”7 For Lincoln, reconstruction with emancipation was an ongoing experiment. He was anxious to move it along and to remove obstacles in its way. He was a pragmatist – working with what was available. If he could mobilize a nucleus of collaborators – Union army officials, local Unionists, etc – he would work with them to restore government – but virtually demanded that slavery be abolished as a condition of such restoration. From the beginning of the Civil War, Lincoln understood that the master-slave relationship could and would be undermined in a way that would help defeat the Confederates. But he also understood that to move too quickly would endanger the loyalty of the key border states of Delaware, Maryland, Kentucky, and Missouri. In some areas – like enforcement of the First and Second Confiscation Acts of 1861 and 1862 – Lincoln needed to tread carefully in order not to alienate either his conservative or his radical allies.

Lincoln’s ideas about the country and about reconstruction continued to evolve throughout the Civil War. For Lincoln and Churchill, victory was always paramount. Nevertheless, noted historian John C. Rodrigue, “Lincoln’s reconstruction initiatives are best understood not as a means of winning the war but as ends themselves. Yet even as emancipation transformed the meaning of the war, for Lincoln and most northerners, so too was Lincoln’s conception of reconstruction transformed – from the restoration of states to the remarking of southern society. Although, by the time of his death, Lincoln has only begun the process of seriously confronting the consequences of emancipation, he had already distanced himself from positions he had held at the start of the war.”8 Lincoln had, it seems, no permanent enemies, few permanent friends, only permanent goals and principles. But he understood that those principles gave him a wide parameter for action to achieve them. Historian Phillip Shaw Paludan wrote: “President Lincoln practiced positive propaganda. He never called the Confederacy or Jeff Davis the enemy. He never played a race card. He reached out to political enemies and adversaries. He did not make politics personal; for Lincoln the political was not the personal. He admonished one politician, ‘You have more of that feeling of personal resentment than I. Perhaps I have too little of it; but I never thought it paid. A man has no time to spend half his life in quarrels. If any man ceases to attack me I never remember the past against him.’”9 In comments he prepared in November 1860, President-elect Lincoln had set out his philosophy: “Let us at all times remember that all American citizens are brothers of a common country, and should dwell together in the bonds of fraternal feeling.”10

President Lincoln understood that Union military victory was a precondition for both emancipation and for reconstruction. He avoided applying the Emancipation Proclamation to areas such as eastern Tennessee where it might undermine Union sentiment. He needed to cultivate residual Union sentiment along with renewed cooperation in the South. Historian Herman Belz wrote: “Lincoln was reluctant to assume direct control over reconstruction but was committed to upholding the Emancipation Proclamation. Hence, throughout 1863 he urged southern Unionists to form loyal governments and abolish slavery. The focus of reconstruction attention was Louisiana, where Lincoln instructed military authorities to hold a constitutional convention to inaugurate a loyal antislavery government.”11 However, throughout the latter half of 1863, Lincoln became increasingly more frustrated by the failure of military and civilian authorities in Louisiana to act cooperatively on reconstruction. By the end of 1863, his patience at an end, he gave more explicit instructions to General Nathaniel Banks.

Lincoln also began to plan for reconstruction for the entire South. “The president, by the late fall [of 1863], with his political flank in the North secure, began to formulate a new reconstruction plan, one that would require emancipation while preserving the essence of self-reconstruction,” wrote historian William C. Harris. “He was more convinced than ever that he could find a large nucleus of Southerners in almost every state to rally behind a conservative plan that would also gain the support of Congress and the border-state and Northern people. Timing was crucial for Lincoln in the announcement of a new Southern policy. He admitted as much in an October 4 reply to a suggestion by Gen. William S. Rosecrans that he should soon offer a general amnesty to rebels. Lincoln agreed with Rosecrans, declaring ‘I intend doing something like what you suggest, whenever the case shall appear ripe enough to have it accepted in the true understanding, rather than a confession of weakness and fear.'”12 Historian Don E. Fehrenbacher wrote: “Lincoln’s program of reconstruction can perhaps be understood best as the product of reactive leadership — that is, as a series of calculated responses to changing military and political conditions. In the beginning, it was a wartime program, intended primarily to facilitate military victory and the progress of emancipation. Lincoln wanted to detach Southerners from their Confederate allegiance and to set in motion a process of abolition by state action. And fearing that the fundamental purposes of the war were at risk in the approaching electoral votes that would undoubtedly come to him from any Confederate states fully restored to the Union. During the early stages of the program, it should be noted, Lincoln plainly conceived of reconstruction as a task for white Southerners working in cooperation with army commanders. Such was the import of his ten-percent plan, announced in December 1863, and his subsequent letter to [Louisiana Governor George] Hahn raising the question of black suffrage in Louisiana was more of an exception than a new departure.13

“Lincoln’s…careful consideration of the proper power on which to base a reconstruction of the Southern states,” emphasized Lincoln scholar Mark E. Neely Jr. “In fact, in the proclamation of December 8, 1863, the president astutely anticipated the constitutional discovery that would come to have the greatest sway over Republicans in Reconstruction, for Lincoln also based his Proclamation of Amnesty and Reconstruction on the little-used clause in the U.S. Constitution guaranteeing a republican form of government to the states. Its great virtues were broad vagueness in content and its location of the power in no particular branch of government. The clause said only that ‘the United States’ would guarantee a republican form of government in the process.”14 Historian Richard N. Current wrote: “This plan, according to the newer view, made emancipation the ‘first prerequisite for restoration’ of a seceded state. In fact, it did no such thing. It required the prospective state-makers to swear to support all congressional acts and presidential proclamations with regard to slavery. As yet, no act of Congress or action of the president called for complete abolition. The Emancipation Proclamation exempted those parts of the Confederacy that the Union armies had already recovered — the only parts where state-making then could possibly begin. Lincoln heartily approved when, in 1864, the first reconstructed government, in Louisiana, provided for statewide emancipation. But the plan he had announced in 1862 did not require it.”15 Historian Herman Belz observed: “Charles Sumner’s reaction to the executive plan seems to illustrate the openness of the situation. According to Edward Pierce, his friend and biographer, Sumner had long insisted on the power of Congress to regulate reconstruction. But he did not enter into a controversy over this issue in December 1863, thinking it wiser to await developments in the South. Sumner wrote to John Bright in mid-December. ‘Any plan which fosters emancipation beyond recall will suit me.’ The Washington correspondent of the Chicago Tribune reported a conversation with Sumner in which the Massachusetts senator said that he was ‘fully and perfectly satisfied’ with Lincoln’s proclamation and message.”16

“Had Lincoln placed much faith in material self-interest to gain support for reconstruction,” wrote historian William C. Harris, “he would not have adopted an antislavery policy which, despite his willingness to compensate slave owners for their financial loss, was sure to threaten that interest and reinforce Southern resistance to reunion.”17 Historian Eric Foner wrote: “Lincoln saw Reconstruction primarily as an adjunct of the war effort – a way of undermining the Confederacy, rallying southern white Unionists, and securing emancipation.”18 Historian John Hope Franklin wrote: “Lincoln worked hard to gain acceptance of his plan of restoration. He wrote letters to military leaders and civil authorities, making suggestions but no demands. He received representatives from Confederate areas and sent investigators into various parts of the South. He discussed the problem with members of the cabinet and with sympathetic members of Congress.” Franklin wrote: “The harder Lincoln worked, the more adamant Congress became, persistently refusing to seat representatives from the ‘Lincoln states.’”19 wrote that although there was much that Lincoln could do in the executive branch, historian Dumas Malone and Basil Rauch noted: The admission of Representatives to Congress….lay within the legislative authority, and the radicals made sure that Congress should not permit this until they themselves could prescribe further and harsher conditions. These self-assertive men resented Lincoln’s assumption of leadership, and they saw in his policy a danger that the North and the Republican Party would be denied the full fruits of victory.”20

Within the Republican Party, reconstruction was a divisive issue – particularly in the summer of 1864 after Lincoln had been re-nominated by the Union Convention in Baltimore in June. Historian Herman Belz noted: “Although it had seemed that reconstruction would be an important issue at the Republican convention, administration supporters were fearful of its divisive effect and succeeded in keeping it out of the party platform altogether.”21 In nearby Washington, Congress was considering restrictive reconstruction legislation proposed by Senator Benjamin F. Wade and Maryland Congressman Henry Winter – which Lincoln would veto at the very end of the congressional session in July. Lincoln was determined to maintain control of the reconstruction process. Historian Michael L Benedict wrote: “With Lincoln exerting all his efforts to that end, center Republicans determined to affirm their position that congressional recognition of reconstructed state governments must precede admission of representatives to Congress and to satisfy their president at the same time: they would recognize the reorganized government of Louisiana through the joint resolution that they believed necessary.” After Lincoln’s reelection, reconstruction efforts were renewed and the president sought to work with leading Republicans. Benedict noted:

On February 18, [1865, Illinois Senator Lyman] Trumbull reported such a resolution from his Senate Judiciary committee. On February 23, shortly after the House shelved Ashley’s Reconstruction bill, he began his drive to pass his joint resolution. Sumner attempted to derail the movement by proposing a substitute similar to Wilson’s delaying measure in the House, but he was brushed aside by a vote of8 to 29, and it became apparent that a large majority of Republicans was prepared to follow the Judiciary committee’s lead. Again Democrats joined radicals in opposing recognition, but the conservatives, having failed in their attempt to win recognition for Louisiana without first passing a law, now supported the Republican center group. Hopelessly outnumbered, the radicals determined to filibuster. Senate Radicals led by Wade. Sumner and Jacob M. Howard determined to delay the legislation. Fed up, Trumbull denounced Sumner, declaring “there can be no excuse for such action.”22

Lincoln had no single path to reconstruction. Union and emancipation were givens, but all else might be subject to experimentation. Speeding reconstruction was never far from Mr. Lincoln’s thoughts. When he was near Richmond shortly before he returned to Washington in April 1865, President Lincoln met with some Virginia Confederate leaders about reconstituting that state’s government. His actions were questioned by Union military and civilian authorities because they conveyed implicit recognition of the Confederate state government so Lincoln backed off. After he was back in Washington, the president met with the Union governor of Virginia, Francis Pierpont. Lincoln lamented his lack of information about what was happening in the South. “All the intercourse for four years had been cut off. No information had been received, except distorted accounts given by army raiders or persons who had occasionally come through the lines. Soldiers who had come through knew nothing about the feeling of the people.” President Lincoln’s comments suggested that the experiences of the last four years regarding reconstruction had raised more questions than answers. Lincoln said:

“In addition to other misfortunes to the southern people, in their own estimation, four million slaves had been made freemen. Most of these were in their old quarters on their late masters’ farms. The very sight of these was a source of irritation. What was to be the future status of the white man who had been in rebellion as to voting, holding office, making state and national laws. If allowed to make state laws, what would be the fate of the freedmen? Were they to be allowed to make their own laws or should the military rule? Were there any friends left in the southern states of the old Union? Was there any Union sentiment among the southern people that had sufficient force to develop itself, now that the war was over? If so, what were to be the measures adopted in order to give that sentiment an opportunity to develop?23

In his last public address on April 11, 1865, Lincoln went even further in laying out his vision of reconstruction. Rather than celebrating the recent Confederate surrender at Appomattox, Lincoln soberly talked about black suffrage. Lincoln had no time or inclination for revenge. Historians Dumas Malone and Basil Rauch wrote that Lincoln’s speech “had none of the mood of exultation which such a crowd expected and Lincoln himself believed that it fell flat. He dealt seriously with the question of Southern restoration, referring specifically to the state of Louisiana… He was trying to build up support for his own policies of moderation.”24 The president was trying to move beyond the war.

“Revenge is, of all satisfactions, the most costly and long drawn-out; retributive persecution is, of all policies, the most pernicious.”25 Such was Winston Churchill at his best, but the exigencies of war required him to rally his countrymen against evil as personified by Adolf Hitler. “This wicked man, the repository and embodiment of many forms of soul-destroying hatreds, this monstrous product of former wrongs and shame, has now resolved to try to break our famous Island race by a process of indiscriminate slaughter and destruction,” Churchill declared of Hitler in a speech on September 11, 1940 during the height of the London blitz. “What he had done is to kindle a fire in British hearts, here and all over the world, which will glow long after all traces of the conflagration he has caused in London have been removed. He has lighted a fire which will burn with a steady and consuming flame until the last vestiges of Nazi tyranny have been burnt out of Europe, and until the Old World – and the New – can join hands to rebuild the temples of man’s freedom and man’s honour, upon foundations which will not soon or easily be overthrown.”26

Retaliation was, however, never far from Churchill’s mind or the minds of Churchill’s associates. Biographer Martin Gilbert wrote that one night at Chequers, “the discussion turned to the German use of parachute mines. As these could not be aimed, like bombs, they led inevitably to indiscriminate slaughter, and Churchill again proposed retaliation: one British parachute mine dropped on an open German town for every one dropped on Britain.”27 Churchill repeatedly referred to Hitler as “that man.” Aide Norman Brook wrote in his diary of Churchill’s attitude toward Hitler’s fate: “If Hitler falls into our hands we shall certainly put him to death.” He added: “This man is the mainspring of evil. Instrument – electric chair, for gangsters no doubt available on Lease Lend.”28 President Franklin D. Roosevelt had his own peculiar notions about Germans and Germany. Sir Walter Layton met with President Roosevelt on behalf of the British government in September 1940. “I then suggested in view of Germany’s preponderance we had to consider a strategic plan by which German could be beaten. The President interrupted with the remark ‘Starve them out’. The Germans, he said, were not like ‘us’; they would hold out to a certain point and then break down completely, where ‘we’ would give way only gradually.”29

At a dinner at Chequers in March 1941 with General Charles de Gaulle and Australian Prime Minister Robert Menzies, son-in-law “Duncan Sandys was bloodthirsty. He wanted to destroy Germany by laying the country waste and burning towns and factories, so that for years the German people might be occupied in reconstruction. He wanted to destroy their books and libraries so that an illiterate generation might grow up.” Churchill aide John Colville wrote: “The P.M. said he was in no way moved by Duncan’s words. He did not believe in pariah nations, and he saw no alternative to the acceptance of Germany as part of the family of Europe. In the event of invasion he would not even approve of the civil population murdering the Germans quartered on them. Still less would he condone atrocities against the German civil population if we were in a position to commit them.”30

Churchill was frequently tempted to engage in more widespread retaliation against German civilian targets. In mid-September 1940 he wrote: “It was not solely on moral grounds that we decided against retaliation upon Germany. It pays us better to concentrate upon limited high-class military objectives. Moreover in the indiscriminate warfare the enemy’s lack of skill in navigation, etc., does not tell against him so much.”31 In mid-October 1940, Churchill wrote in response to parachute-dropped land mines: “Let me have your proposals for effective retaliation upon Germany.”32 Both Lincoln and Churchill confronted moral dilemmas about how far to go in retaliation. Lincoln had questions about retaliation for the Fort Pillow massacre. When the Italians bombed Rome in October 1940, Churchill announced: “Then we must bomb Rome.”33 Churchill had to fight many demons – not the least of possible complacency…or any willingness to accept a peace with Hitler. He needed to keep Britain in a fever pitch. Intense bombing helped accomplish that. It also helped counter Russian demands for opening a second front in Europe.

Churchill understood the dilemmas posed by a policy of unconditional surrender. “The ordeals…of conquered peoples will be hard. We must give them hope; we must give them the conviction that their sufferings and their resistances will not be in vain,” he said At Teheran Conference in late November 1943, Stalin told Churchill that Germans “were an able people, very industrious and cultured, and they would recover quickly.”34 Elie Abel noted that one night during Teheran conference in late November 1942, “Stalin kept needling Churchill without mercy. Several times through the evening he plainly implied that the Prime Minister, nursing some secret affection for the Germans, wanted a soft peace. The Soviet Union, Stalin said, would insist upon strong effective measures to keep the Germans under control after the war. If these were not agreed to and strictly enforced, German was bound to rise up again in a matter of fifteen or twenty years and plunge Europe into another devastating war. To make sure this did not happen, he proposed that at least 50,000 German officers should be physically liquidated.” Eventually Churchill erupted at the bloodthirsty discussion.35

At Teheran in 1943, Josef Stalin had tried to irritate Churchill. “Both President Roosevelt and Marshal Stalin at Teheran wish[ed] to cut Germany into smaller pieces than I had in mind,” Churchill wrote to the Foreign Office’s Permanent Undersecretary Alexander Cadogan on April 19, 1944. “Stalin spoke of very large max executions of over 50,000 of the Staffs and military experts. Whether he was joking or not could be ascertained. The atmosphere was jovial but also grim. He certainly said that he would require 4,000,000 German males to work for an indefinite period to rebuild Russia. We have promised the Poles that they shall have compensation both in East Prussia and, if they like, up to the line of the Oder. There are a lot of other terms implying the German ruin and indefinite prevention of their rising again as an armed Power.”36

Reconstruction was one focus of the Anglo-American conference at Quebec in September 1944. President Franklin D. Roosevelt long had held his own peculiar notions about Germans and Germany – based on youthful visits to the country. U.S. Secretary of the Treasury Henry Morgenthau, Jr. had himself clearly been influenced by reports he had received about the Jewish Holocaust. Foreign Secretary Anthony Eden recalled: “On September 1st Lord Halifax had telegraphed to me that Mr Morgenthau was urging upon the United States Government that the occupying powers in Germany should not go out of their way to maintain or re-establish the German economy. Morgenthau apparently thought that a severe inflation, as happened after the first war, would burn into German minds that war spelt economic ruin. Halifax warned me that this question might come up at Quebec.”37 Churchill biographer Martin Gilbert wrote: “The ‘Morgenthau Plan’ was agreed to by Churchill and Roosevelt on September 15, when both men signed a programme ‘for eliminating the war-making industries in the Ruhr and in the Saar’ and ‘looking forward to converting German into a country primarily agricultural and pastoral in its character’. Eden later told Churchill that he and Cordell Hull were both ‘horrified’ when they found out what Churchill and Roosevelt had initialed. Eden telling Churchill ‘that the War Cabinet would never agree to such a proposal’. In the event, it was the State Department which rejected it.”38 Indeed Hull at one point exploded: “In Christ’s name, what has happened to the man [FDR]!”39 Morgenthau’s desire to emasculate Germany was shared by Professor Frederick Lindemann, Churchill’s scientific advisor. John Colville wrote that Lindemann “showed me a copy [of the agreement] with clear approval and I think he shared Morgenthau’s disappointment when, on the following day, the two Secretaries of State, Anthony Eden and Cordell Hull, joined forces to trample on the scheme. As for Churchill, I never heard him mention the incident…..It represented a policy which Churchill abhorred.”40

Biographer Martin Gilbert wrote: “Roosevelt did comment, in support of the destruction of German industry for all time (what was soon to become known as the ‘Morgenthau Plan’‘), that a factory which made steel furniture could be turned overnight to war production. Of the British guests at the dinner, only Lord Cherwell supported Morgenthau. But his influence on Churchill was considerable.”41 Churchill was conflicted about Morgenthau’s plan. He first called the plan ‘unChristian” before endorsed it. Then he had second thoughts. Churchill’s physician wrote that Churchill sought to delay any problems “which might take up the time of the Peace Conference. ‘There will be plenty of time to go into that when we have won the war,’ he would snap.”42 Churchill also keenly felt his growing estrangement from Roosevelt and may have been desperate to be seen as a cooperative partner. Churchill was conflicted about Morgenthau’s plan which had received support from Professor Frederick Lindemann. The prime minister first called the plan ‘unChristian” before endorsed it. Then he had second thoughts. Historian Robin Edmonds wrote: “Churchill’s first instinctive reaction was adverse, but (influenced in part by Cherwell, who urged the advantage to Britain of the elimination of German industrial competition), he went along with Roosevelt in this proposal, which was embodied in a memorandum jointly approved by the President and the Prime Minister – “OK, FDR, WC” – on 15 September 1944. Economically preposterous in the longer term and – in the short term – a gift to Joseph Goebbels’ propaganda machine, the Morgenthau Plan (which was leaked to the American press soon afterwards) was still-born.”43

Churchill aide John Colville wrote that Lindemann’s “hatred of the Germans was obsessive and unlike Churchill, who detested the Nazis but refused to condemn the German people and who even at the worst time of the war was accustomed to discourse on how best they might be brought back into the comity of nations, Lindemann took active pleasure in hearing of the devastation wrought by our air-raids on German towns. He was quite sorry that owing to the time-factor the Atom Bomb had to be reserved for the Japanese.”44 Colville noted that at Quebec, Morgenthau had “enlisted the support of Lord Cherwell whose hatred of all things German knew no bounds. Together they persuaded the President to initial the plan. Having succeeded to that extent, they invited Roosevelt to secure Churchill’s initials too; and he agreed. Cherwell, to whom Churchill was devoted, but whose opinion on matters of this kind he would never thought worth considering, would have secured no initials; but to refuse Roosevelt, especially when he was being so generally amenable, was quite a different matter. The following day Anthony Eden and Cordell Hull, the American Secretary of State, both were horrified by the document, of which they had known nothing, succeeded in turning it in a dead letter. It remains a mystery why Churchill, whose attitude to the Germans, as opposed to the Nazis, was consistently generous, and who well knew what a contribution Reparations after the First World War had made to the conditions which led to the Second, did not immediately reject the Morgenthau Plan. It was unlike him to agree, or even pretend to agree, with something of which he disapproved, for his independence of spirit and of judgment was unquenchable.”45 Dr. Wilson wrote that he confronted Professor Lindemann about how he got Churchill’s support: “At first he tried to dodge my question, but when I pressed him he began to justify his action. ‘I explained to Winston,’ he said, ‘that the plan would save Britain from bankruptcy by eliminating a dangerous competitor. Somebody must suffer for the war, and it was surely right that Germany and not Britain should foot the bill. Winston had not thought of it in that way, and he said no more about a cruel threat to the German people.” Moreover, he had prepared a chart showing how England could pick up business and trade under his proposal.46 Charts were usually Lindemann’s secret weapon, but in this case, they appear to have been trumped by data from the British Foreign Office.

Foreign Secretary Anthony Eden energetically voiced his questions: “This was the only occasion I can remember when the Prime Minister showed impatience with my views before foreign representatives. He resented my criticism of something which he and the President had approved, not I am sure on his account, but on the President’s.”47 Eden recalled that in early 1944, it was necessary to think about “the future of Germany and how to present whatever we intended to do about it. There could be no question of denying the unconditional surrender formula. All the same, I thought that a statement by the three heads of Government to the German people could be helpful if, as I wrote in a minute for the Prime Minister on February 8th, made at the right psychological moment and provided its terms were not such as to expose us later to a charge of bad faith.” Eden noted that reports from London strengthened opposition to the Morgenthau plan. He recalled: “There were good arguments, the Foreign Office and the Treasury admitted, for weakening Germany economically as a security measure, but if Germany were unable to manufacture she would also be unable to pay for imports. World trade would suffer and our exports with it. This made nonsense of Mr. Morgenthau’s claim that his plan would bring economic benefit to Britain.” Morgenthau’s plan had not been cleared by Secretary of State Cordell Hull, who joined Eden in opposition. Eden remembered: “Mr Churchill and I were both conscious that, while Anglo-American demands were going to be stern, those of Soviet Russia would be without restraint or pity. Nor would it be easy to reach agreement with our two allies on any statement at all. In spite of these difficulties, I thought that I should prepare a draft and give it to the Cabinet. The Prime Minister acquiesced, although he was not convinced that the moment had come. Mr. Churchill did not like to give his time to anything not exclusively concerned with the conduct of the war. This seemed to be a deep instinct in him and, even though it was part of his strength as a war leader, it could also be an embarrassment.”48

Historian Norman Rose wrote: “By September 1944 the German question had in effect be resolved, and largely in the Soviets’ favour. That month, Britain, the United States and the Soviet Union signed a protocol that divided Germany into zones of occupation. Whatever happened, a Soviet military presence in Germany was assured, at some points little more than 120 miles from the Rhine. Churchill seems to have paid little attention to the political consequences of this decision. Not having read his papers, he was briefed by his private secretary, Jock Colville, while taking a bath, a somewhat complicated procedure as Churchill was inclined ‘to submerge himself entirely from time to time and thus become deaf to certain passages.’”49 After the Quebec conference, Churchill returned to London, but soon departed with Eden for meetings in Moscow. At a meeting with Churchill in October 1944, Stalin declared: “The problem was to create such a peace that the possibility of revenge would be denied to Germany. Her heavy industry would have to be destroyed. That State would have to be split up. How that was to be done would have to be discussed. Her heavy industry would have to be reduced to a minimum.”50 A few days later, Churchill himself proposed that Germany “be deprived of all her aviation’.” Stalin contended “that neither civil nor military flying should be allowed.”51 After the meeting, Churchill wrote FDR that Stalin opposed “executions without trial….otherwise the world would say we were afraid to try them.”52

At the Teheran summit in late November 1943, Stalin had told Churchill that Germans “were an able people, very industrious and cultured, and they would recover quickly.” Historian A. J. P. Taylor wrote by 1944: “Great Britain was at the end of the road: her production of munitions past its peak, her armed forces quivering at their summit, her currency reserves run down, two thirds of her export trade lost. She needed a better world for her own sake, and not only for that of others.”53 At Yalta in February 1945, the question of reparations by Germany was raised but Roosevelt and Churchill sought to defect it. At Yalta, wrote Martin Gilbert: “Roosevelt now entered the discussion. If dismemberment were to become a matter of public discussion, eh said, ‘there would be a hundred different plans’. He therefore urged that the three Foreign Secretaries should produce ‘a definite plan for dismemberment’ within thirty days. Churchill deferred to Roosevelt’s request, which ensured that no decision to break up Germany into five separate States would be taken at Yalta. He agreed, Churchill said, ‘to the most rapid examination possible of the best method of studying the question, but he did not believe it was possible at this Conference to discuss the actual method of putting dismemberment into practice’.”54

“Perhaps the Conference would prefer that the Russians should have no reparations at all,” interjected Stalin. “If so, they had better say so.” Churchill acknowledged the “principle” of reparations but did not want to talk about specific numbers. Writing later to the prime minister of New Zealand, Churchill said that “We intend to destroy the German power in such a fashion and to such an extent that no counterstrike will be possible from her for many years to come.”55 Elie Abel wrote that at Yalta, Churchill “talked of separating Prussia, ‘the tap root of all evil,’ from the rest of the country and he suggested that another South German, state might be created with Vienna as its capital. But there were so many details to be settled – what about the Ruhr and the Saarland, for example? – that time would run out. The matter should be left to a group of experienced statesmen to work out later on, he argued, fighting for delay. Roosevelt agreed that further study was in order….Churchill warned that the Germans might fight all the harder if they were told their country was to be dismembered.”56

Roosevelt consistently preferred not to get specific about postwar plans for Europe. To the consternation of the American ambassador in Great Britain, John Gilbert Winant, FDR refused to deal with post-war reconstruction of Europe. “I disliked making detailed plans for a country which we do not yet occupy,” Roosevelt wrote. Referring to the three-man group working in London on reconstruction issues, Roosevelt said to Cordell Hull: “We must emphasize the fact that the European Advisory Commission is ‘advisory’ and that you and I are no bound by its advice.”57

Churchill had to confront reconstruction issues both at home and abroad. Prime Minister Churchill preferred not to spend much time thinking about post-war Britain even as he was thinking about post-war Europe. “The all-important things in Churchill’s anxious mind in those dark days had been to survive and, that once assured, sooner or later to conquer,” wrote historian Geoffrey Best. “His mind did not readily run beyond that mark, and he did not like to see other people giving it too much attention if they were people who ought to be concentrating on winning the war.”58 Churchill’s unwillingness to confront the post-war expectations of British citizens constituted a major blind spot in his administration – one which would ultimately cost him his job in July 1945. That unwillingness was understandable at the beginning of the conflict, but less so in 1944-1945 when the eventual triumph of the Allies was virtually assured. “Anything that distracted Churchill’s attention was regarded as little more than an intrusion as little more than an intrusion upon his main business of running the war. In the 4,230-odd pages of his war memoirs there is virtually nothing on domestic issues; the Beveridge Report, the seminal text for post-war social policy, is dealt with in less than two pages of placid officalese,” wrote biographer Norman Rose.

In June 1941, British Labour Party leader Arthur Greenwood had announced the formation of a planning force called the Inter-Departmental Committee on Social Insurance and Allied Services. Chaired by economist William Beveridge, the group identified five evils in British society: squalor, ignorance, want, idleness, disease and then set out a comprehensive program of social welfare embraced by Labour Party leaders but which some Conservative leaders thought beyond the limits of Britain’s already constricted resources. Although Beveridge had previously been shunted aside by Labour cabinet ministers, he proposed a report that became their standard. Beveridge had upstaged both major parties. Historian Paul Addison noted: “In place of the ‘safety net’ arrangements for the lower-income groups, which Churchill and Lloyd George had initiated, Beveridge proposed a new ‘social service state’ embracing all classes in a comprehensive system of social security, coupled with family allowances and policies to prevent mass unemployment.”59 Historian Kevin Jefferys wrote: “Having cultivated press contacts to ensure wide publicity, the Beveridge scheme was received with remarkable public acclaim, its publication at the end of 1942 coinciding with the very moment when improved war fortunes allowed the British people to look forward with optimism for the first time since the outbreak of the war.”60

Churchill sought simultaneously to embrace and delay discussion of such reforms. The prime minister effectively left post-war reconstruction issues to Labour Party members of his government. Norman Rose wrote: “Of the five key domestic committees, Labour initially headed four of them: Food, Home Policy, Economic Policy, and the Production Council. Eventually these bodies passed into the safe hands of Sir John Anderson later Chancellor of the Exchequer, a dour, efficient, ex-civil servant, known as ‘Pompous John’.” But Labour continued to dominate these issues as Churchill to try to push them into the background. “Churchill must have sense something of the inadequacy of his response,” wrote Rose. “A month after the Commons had put Beveridge’s plan into cold storage, Churchill went on the air to expound on post-war planning. Presenting to the people a ‘Four Year Plan’, he covered all the bases: ‘the amalgamation and extension of our present incomparable insurance system’; ‘a National Health Service’; a ‘broader more liberal’ educational system, with facilities for advanced learning ‘even out and multiplied’; ‘the replanning and rebuilding of our cities and towns’; and as a last Tolstoyian flourish, ‘a vigorous revival of healthy village life’. There is no reason to doubt Churchill’s sincerity. Yet it was in vain that he sought to repair his crumbling reputation as a social reformer.”61 In the last year of the World War II, three factors contributed to increasing British ennui and dissatisfaction. One was the departure of American troops for France that denuded British of a difficult for invigorating, the second was the initiation of the V-1 and V-2 rocket launches that disrupted British life at all hours of the day – unlike the early Blitz which primarily disrupted Britain at night. Historian Lynne Olsen noted: “The combined V-1 and V-2 attacks damaged British morale far more than any other wartime event, not only because of the assaults’ devastating nature, but because, after half a decade of privation and suffering, many residents of Britain had reached their limit in emotional and physical exhaustion. The old camaraderie and exhilaration of the Blitz was nowhere in evidence.”62 Churchill’s short-sightedness regarding domestic reconstruction and revival contributed to his electoral defeat in July 1945. Throughout the final years of the war, his Labour collaborators in the Labour Party had placed far more attention on post-war Britain. They reaped their electoral reward.

Both Winston Churchill and Abraham Lincoln long dreamed about post-war retirement as well as the restoration of the nations to peace and prosperity. In December 1940 the prime minister told a group at Chequers: “He did not wish to lead a party struggle or a class struggle against the Labour leaders who were now serving him so well. He would retire to Chartwell and write a book on the war, which he already had mapped out his mind chapter by chapter. This was the moment for him: he was determined not to prolong his career into the period of reconstruction.”63

For Further Reference

  1. Roy P. Basler, editor, The Collected Works of Abraham Lincoln (CWAL), Volume IV, pp. 436-437 (Message to Congress in Special Session, July 4, 1861).
  2. John C. Rodrigue, Lincoln and Reconstruction, p. 6.
  3. Marquis de Chambrun, Impressions of Lincoln and the Civil War, pp. 83-86.
  4. John C. Rodrigue, Lincoln and Reconstruction, p. 18.
  5. Michael Burlingame, editor, At Lincoln’s Side: John Hay’s Civil War Correspondence and Selected Writings, p. 128.
  6. Marquis de Chambrun. “Personal Recollections of Mr. Lincoln,” Century Magazine, January 1893.
  7. John C. Rodrigue, Lincoln and Reconstruction, p. 5.
  8. John C. Rodrigue, Lincoln and Reconstruction, p. 5.
  9. Charles M. Hubbard, editor, Lincoln Reshapes the Presidency (Phillip Shaw Paludan, “Lincoln and the Greeley Letter: An Exposition”) p. 89.
  10. CWAL, Volume IV, pp. 142-143 (Remarks at Springfield, Illinois, November 20, 1860).
  11. Herman Belz. A New Birth of Freedom: The Republican Party and Freedmen’s Rights, 1861 to 1866, pp. 41-42.
  12. William C. Harris. With Charity for All: Lincoln and the Restoration of the Union, p. 129.
  13. Don E. Fehrenbacher, Lincoln in Text and Context, p. 156.
  14. Mark E. Neely Jr., Lincoln and the Triumph of the Nation: Constitutional Conflict in the American Civil War, p. 109.
  15. Richard N. Current, Speaking of Abraham Lincoln, p. 164.
  16. Herman Belz, Reconstructing the Union: Theory and Policy During the Civil War, p. 166-167.
  17. William C. Harris, With Charity for All: Lincoln and the Restoration of the Union, p. 91.
  18. Eric Foner, The Fiery Trial: Abraham Lincoln and American Slavery, p. 302
  19. John Hope Franklin, Reconstruction After the Civil War, pp. 25-26.
  20. Dumas Malone and Basil Rauch, Crisis of the Union, 1841-1877, p. 253.
  21. Herman Belz, Reconstructing the Union: Theory and Policy During the Civil War, p. 213.
  22. Michael Les Benedict, A Compromise of Principle, p. 95.
  23. Don E. and Virginia Fehrenbacher, editors, The Collected Words of Abraham Lincoln, p. 359.
  24. Dumas Malone and Basil Rauch, Crisis of the Union, 1841-1877, p. 262.
  25. Richard Langworth, editor, Churchill by Himself, p. 494.
  26. Martin Gilbert, The Power of Words, p. 267 (September 11, 1940).
  27. Martin Gilbert, Winston S. Churchill Finest Hour, 1939-1941, p. 801.
  28. Thomas Vinciguerra, “The Private Thoughts of a Public Man,” New York Times, January 22, 2006.
  29. Martin Gilbert, Winston S. Churchill Finest Hour, 1939-1941, p. 799.
  30. John Colville, The Fringes of Power, p. 363 (March 8, 1941).
  31. Martin Gilbert, Winston S. Churchill Finest Hour, 1939-1941, p. 795 (Minute from Prime Minister to Harold Ismay, September 19, 1940).
  32. Martin Gilbert, Winston S. Churchill Finest Hour, 1939-1941, p. 849 (Minute from Prime Minister to John Sinclair, October 16, 1940).
  33. Martin Gilbert, Winston S. Churchill Finest Hour, 1939-1941, p. 876.
  34. Martin Gilbert, Road to Victory: Winston S. Churchill 1941-45. p. 575.
  35. W. Averell Harriman and Elie Abel, Special Envoy to Churchill and Stalin, 1941-1946, p. 273.
  36. Winston S. Churchill, Closing the Ring: The Second World War, Volume V, p. 706.
  37. Anthony Eden, The Reckoning: The Memoirs of Anthony Eden, Earl of Avon, p. 552.
  38. Anthony Eden, The Reckoning: The Memoirs of Anthony Eden, Earl of Avon, p. 477.
  39. Lynne Olsen, Citizens of London, p. 339.
  40. John Colville, Winston Churchill and His Inner Circle, p. 50.
  41. Martin Gilbert, Winston S. Churchill: Road to Victory 1941-1945, p. 962.
  42. Charles McMoran Wilson Moran, Churchill, Taken from the Diaries of Lord Moran: the Struggle for Survival, 1940-1965, p. 193.
  43. Robin Edmonds, The Big Three: Churchill, Roosevelt & Stalin in Peace and War, pp. 333-338.
  44. John Colville, Footprints in Time: Memories, p. 99.
  45. John Colville, Footprints in Time: Memories, p. 167.
  46. Charles McMoran Wilson Moran, Churchill, Taken from the Diaries of Lord Moran: the Struggle for Survival, 1940-1965, p. 191.
  47. Anthony Eden, The Reckoning; the Memoirs of Anthony Eden, Earl of Avon., p. 552.
  48. Anthony Eden, The Reckoning; the Memoirs of Anthony Eden, Earl of Avon., p. 512.
  49. Norman Rose, Churchill: The Unruly Giant, pp. 380-381.
  50. Martin Gilbert, Winston S. Churchill: Road to Victory 1941-1945, p. 995 (October 9, 1944).
  51. Martin Gilbert, Winston S. Churchill: Road to Victory 1941-1945, p. 1027(October 17, 1944).
  52. Martin Gilbert, Winston S. Churchill: Road to Victory 1941-1945, p.1038 (October 21, 1944).
  53. A. J. P. Taylor, English History, 1914-1945, pp. 575, 585.
  54. Martin Gilbert, Winston S. Churchill: Road to Victory 1941-1945, p. 1179.
  55. Martin Gilbert, Winston S. Churchill: Road to Victory 1941-1945, p. 1231 (Telegram from Winston S. Churchill to Peter Fraser, February 24, 1945).
  56. W. Averell Harriman and Elie Abel, Special Envoy to Churchill and Stalin, 1941-1946, p. 401.
  57. Lynne Olson, Citizens of London, p. 339.
  58. Geoffrey Best, Churchill: A Study in Greatness, p. 266.
  59. Paul Addison, Churchill: The Unexpected Hero, p.
  60. Kevin Jefferys, The Churchill Coalition and Wartime Politics, 1940-1945, p. 118
  61. Norman Rose, Churchill: The Unruly Giant, pp. 316-320.
  62. Lynne Olsen, Citizens of London, p. 325.
  63. John Colville, The Fringes of Power, p. 310 (December 12, 1940).
Posted in Essays