United States Congress Joint Committee on Reconstruction
The Joint Committee on Reconstruction, also known as the Joint Committee of Fifteen, was a joint committee of the 39th United States Congress that played a major role in Reconstruction in the wake of the American Civil War. It was created to "inquire into the condition of the States which formed the Confederate States of America, and report whether they, or any of them, are entitled to be represented in either house of Congress." This committee also drafted the Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution and required southern states to approve that amendment before they were readmitted to representation in Congress.
The committee was established on December 13, 1865, after both houses reached agreement on an amended version of a House concurrent resolution introduced by Representative Thaddeus Stevens of Pennsylvania to establish a joint committee of 15 members. Senator William P. Fessenden of Maine served as chairman. The joint committee divided into four subcommittees to hear testimony and gather evidence regarding the situation in each of four military districts in the South: the First Military District, Second Military District, Third Military District, and Fourth Military District. In all, 144 witnesses were called to testify.
The joint committee included nine members from the House, and six from the Senate. The House members were Thaddeus Stevens (R-PA), Elihu Washburne (R-IL), Justin Morrill (R-VT), John A. Bingham (R-OH), Roscoe Conkling (R-NY), George Boutwell (R-MA), Henry Blow (R-MO), Henry Grider (D-KY), and Andrew Jackson Rogers (D-NJ). The Senate members were William Fessenden (R-ME), James W. Grimes (R-IA), Jacob Howard (R-MI), George Henry Williams (R-OR), Ira Harris (R-NY), and Reverdy Johnson (D-MD). The Joint Committee on Reconstruction was not revived at the next Congress.
The joint committee produced a report after Congress had already given final approval to send the draft amendment to the states for ratification, and the report was widely disseminated. The report was signed by twelve of the committee's fifteen members, and a minority report was signed by the other three members: Johnson, Rogers, and Grider. The proceedings of the committee were recorded in its journal.
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- National Archives Records of Congress. Existing records in the National Archives contain part of the committee report, as well as a few petitions concerning restoration of the former Confederate states to representation in Congress. The petitions are from Iowa, Kansas, Ohio, and Pennsylvania. There is also a resolution of the New York Legislature regarding this issue and advocating equality of suffrage in the District of Columbia for all adult males. National Archives records of the Select Committee on Reconstruction (established on July 3, 1867) include the resolution instructing the committee to investigate Ku Klux Klan activities. There are also letters, petitions, and a memorial from Tennessee detailing the situation in that state. They indicate that, under the new constitution, former rebels were regaining control of the government and intimidating or attacking supporters of the Union and blacks. Also among the records are the printed proceedings of a convention at Nashville on February 16, 1870, aimed at revitalizing and reorganizing the Republican Party in Tennessee.
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- Report of the Joint Committee on Reconstruction - June 20, 1866
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