August 5, 1864 – Senator Benjamin F. Wade of Ohio and Representative Henry W. Davis of Maryland bitterly denounced President Abraham Lincoln’s veto of a bill designed to give Congress the authority to impose a harsh reconstruction program on the Confederate states.
In July, Lincoln had pocket-vetoed the Wade-Davis Reconstruction Bill. Lincoln justified this by asserting that a punitive congressional plan would undermine the restoration of some Confederate states already begun under Lincoln’s more moderate presidential plan. This enraged the Radical Republicans in his party, which included the bill’s sponsors, Wade and Davis. They responded to Lincoln by writing a provocative op-ed in the influential New York Tribune that became known as the “Wade-Davis Manifesto.”
“This rash and fatal act of the President,” they declared, was “a blow at the friends of his Administration, at the rights of humanity, and at the principles of Republican Government.” In vetoing the Wade-Davis bill, Lincoln subjected “the loyal men of the nation” to the “great dangers” of a “return to power of the guilty leaders of the rebellion” and “the continuance of slavery.”
Wade and Davis argued that “it is their right and duty to check the encroachments of the Executive on the authority of Congress, and to require it to confine itself to its proper sphere.” They asserted that “a more studied outrage on the legislative authority of the people has never been perpetrated,” and declared that “the authority of Congress is paramount and must be respected.” In addition, Wade and Davis demanded that Lincoln “understand that our support is of a cause and not of a man,” implying that Lincoln had vetoed the bill for political reasons at the expense of the general welfare.
This internal conflict between fellow Republicans delighted the pro-Democratic press as the presidential election approached. The New York World called the manifesto “a blow between the eyes which will daze the President,” and the New York Herald cited the message as proof that Lincoln was “an egregious failure” who should “retire from the position to which, in an evil hour, he was exalted.”
The Wade-Davis Manifesto threatened to split the Republican Party just months before the election between Radicals backing Wade and Davis, and conservatives backing Lincoln. However, most Republican newspapers ultimately condemned the manifesto’s spiteful tone and voiced support for Lincoln, thus forcing the Radicals to reluctantly fall back into the party line.
Donald, David Herbert, Lincoln (Simon & Schuster, Kindle Edition, 2011), Loc 10887-98, 11155; Faust, Patricia L., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 794-95; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War: A Narrative: Volume 3: Red River to Appomattox (Vintage Civil War Library, Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2011-01-26), Kindle Locations 9705-25; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 480; Goodwin, Doris Kearns, Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln (New York: Simon and Schuster, 2005), p. 640; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 535, 551-52; McPherson, James M., Battle Cry of Freedom: The Civil War Era (Oxford History of the United States Book 6, Oxford University Press, Kindle Edition, 1988), p. 713