If the fed gov't said that the southern states Secession ordinances were illegal & therefore void why did they have to be readmitted after the war?

3 Answers 3


If the fed gov't said that the southern states Secession ordinances were illegal & therefore void why did they have to be readmitted after the war?

The states were never allowed to leave, so they never had to be readmitted. The legal framework that ultimately prevailed is that the states had withdrawn their representation and their people had rebelled against the Federal government. The questions of Reconstruction were these: under what conditions could...

  • ...the rebellious states allowed to send representatives to Congress?
  • ...their rebellious people be allowed to vote again?
  • ...their governments reformed according to Constitutional guidelines and promote Republicanism?

The US walked a very tricky political line during Reconstruction. Politically it was a dance between being able to impose Federal power on the southern states while avoiding acknowledging succession. There were several minds about the legal status of Southern states at the time which competed during Reconstruction.

One view, favored by Radical Republicans, was that the states were no longer part of the Union, but the people were. Thus the state governments were no longer legitimate. The land would be treated similar to a US territory and have to go through the process of statehood again. This position was favored by radicals because it allowed them a clean sweep of existing southern political power and prevent the plantation system from returning. However, it would have acknowledged that a state can voluntarily leave the Union.

The Wade-Davis Act would have done just that. Even though it passed Congress, Lincoln vetoed it in part because it gave tacit acknowledgement to state succession.

The legal framework which prevailed during Reconstruction was not about the states, the states were always states, but about the individuals who made up the citizens and government of those states. The Federal view was that rebelling states had withdrawn their Federal representation and that the people who supported them lost their right to vote and now needed to regain it.

The Reconstruction Acts laid out how and when southern states could regain their representation and reform their governments. The most powerful of these was the 14th amendment which made it very clear that your right to vote could be taken away if you supported a rebellion.

Section 3. No person shall be a Senator or Representative in Congress, or elector of President and Vice President, or hold any office, civil or military, under the United States, or under any State, who, having previously taken an oath, as a member of Congress, or as an officer of the United States, or as a member of any State legislature, or as an executive or judicial officer of any State, to support the Constitution of the United States, shall have engaged in insurrection or rebellion against the same, or given aid or comfort to the enemies thereof. But Congress may, by a vote of two-thirds of each House, remove such disability.

Other Federal acts over the southern states were carried out under Martial Law which allowed military governors to override the state governments. This gave the President as Commander In Chief, not Congress, direct control over the rebelling states. This was enabled by Article One, Section Nine of the Constitution.

The Privilege of the Writ of Habeas Corpus shall not be suspended, unless when in Cases of Rebellion or Invasion the public Safety may require it.

Under the Reconstruction Acts each rebelling state had to draft a new state constitution under the watchful eye of a Federal general, and that constitution would have to be approved by Congress. This, plus a host of other qualifications, would allow that state to once again have its own government and representation in the Federal govt.

Unfortunately, once control was returned to the states much of this reform was quickly eroded and within a few decades replaced with segregation and disenfranchisement now known as the Nadir of US Race Relations.


When the South seceded from the Union, some of their representatives, such as Senator Jefferson Davis, explicitly vacated their seats in Congress. Congress refused to recognize this and treated the vacations originally as resignations, this happening January to June, 1861. On July 11, 1861, the Senate expelled the remaining 10 Southern senators who had not explicitly vacated their seats. Later, they expelled more senators from border states such as Missouri and Kentucky. In the House, the representatives from South resigned en masse.

From a legal point of view, the southern states were still considered "states of the union" by Congress, but they had no representation since all their seats were vacant and Congress refused to accept representatives from those states. Thus, "re-admission" was actually re-admission to Congress. The territory of the states was still considered as territory of the Union and that's the way it was administered: as a territory.

This legal situation had a huge impact on the post-war politics. The main issue was that the radical northerners wanted to pass the 14th Ammendment to the Constitution, abolishing slavery, but since none of the southern states would ratify the amendment, it could not pass. In the end a deal was struck by which the southern states would be allowed back into Congress on the condition that they ratified the 14th Amendment.

  • 1
    Very dirty history here that many folks don't wanna talk about. Even with Federal troops in their states, Republicans running their governments, having lost a war over it, and not being readmitted without it, it was still a struggle to get a lot of southern states to ratify the 14th Amendment. 4 states that weren't in rebellion (so no direct pressure on them) only made a face-saving ratification in the 20th Century.
    – T.E.D.
    Commented Feb 17, 2016 at 19:05
  • @T.E.D.: And two states, Ohio and New Jersey, rescinded their original ratifications and re-ratified only in the twenty-FIRST century.
    – Tom Au
    Commented Feb 19, 2016 at 1:36

Here's the answer straight from the horse's mouth (Lincoln): "The Paramount struggle to save the State of the Union is not eithee to save or destroy slavery. If I can save the Union without freeing slaves I would do it.and if I can save the Union by freeing all slaves I would do it. and if I can save the Union by freeing some slaves and leaving some, i would do that. what I do about slavery and the colored race, I do because I believe it helps save the Union"

Lincoln has many speeches like this. He also admitted that the black population is worse off AFTER the civil war.

Also, Lincoln DID NOT write the bill for emancipation until A YEAR after the war.

  • He wrote the bill for (sic!) emancipation a year after the war? Amazing, talk about (wait for it!) .... ghost writing! Lincoln was assassinated in April 1865, 2 weeks after Appomattox. Also amazing that he had better prescience than the Kwisatz Haderach, as he knew that blacks were(! not "would be") worse off after the war.
    – Marakai
    Commented May 22, 2016 at 1:42
  • Yes, what is so difficult to understand about the facts I shared..? Try performing basic research on the stated topic before you spout off, as nothing I said is an opinion....
    – user17649
    Commented May 22, 2016 at 6:03
  • You're not even aware of it? HOW would Lincoln write the "bill for emancipation a year after the war" - when he had been dead for months?! You wrote it, I quoted it.
    – Marakai
    Commented May 22, 2016 at 6:52
  • Your other statement: he admitted that the black population was worse off after the war. He would have had to state that based on observation - which he was quite unable to do, courtesy Wilkes-Boothe.
    – Marakai
    Commented May 22, 2016 at 6:57

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