Recently, I found myself wondering how different American history might have been if Lincoln had not been assassinated. Let’s say Booth gets caught beforehand, or gets intercepted, or whatever. Lincoln survives that night at Ford’s Theater unscathed, and lives to serve out the remainder of his term. What happens?
- Would there still have been demands to try Confederate leaders for treason, absent a public outraged over the sainted Lincoln’s murder? Would the Lincoln who rejected the Wade-Davis bill have remained steadfast in his policy of leniency for former Confederates? Or was leniency merely a tactic aimed at securing an earlier end to the war – and thus liable to be discarded if (as it turned out) reunion was secured via military victory?
- Would Lincoln have clashed with Congressional Republicans over Reconstruction? Would the Lincoln who pushed for freedmen colonization have gotten cranky about black codes or the absence of black voting? Would he have shared some Republicans’ fear that, with the post-emancipation enhancement of southern Congressional representation, the formerly-rebellious states might manage to win in peace what they lost in war? Would the Lincoln who’d favored compensated emancipation, and deemed both North & South liable for the moral guilt of slavery, pushed for federal compensation to ex-slaveowners, or acceded to a constitutional provision prohibiting the same? Or would Reconstruction policy have looked largely the same as in our history, albeit with less infighting between the President & Congress? If so, how would this have played out down south? And how might the answers to these questions have impacted the Fourteenth & Fifteenth Amendments?
- If Lincoln had clashed with Congress, would that confrontation have played out the same way as it did with Andrew Johnson? I.e., veto overrides, limiting his control over the military, enacting the Tenure of Office Act, and ultimately impeachment? Or might Congressional leaders have been a bit more circumspect about going up against a Republican President who’d won reelection in his own right, led the country to victory over the rebellion, and abolished (large portions of) slavery in the process?
- Who would have succeeded Lincoln? Would it still have been Grant, or might someone else have stepped in? And how would a living Lincoln have continued to impact American politics after his Presidency?
- Would Reconstruction still have ended as it did? With a solidly-Democratic South, white supremacy, black disfranchisement, & Jim Crow?
I don’t really have answers to these; and I’m actually not even sure I’ve got all the right questions. I dabble in alternate history on occasion, but I haven’t run across any book or article which considers what might have happened if Lincoln had survived (though a quick Google search did turn up links like this, this, this, and this). So I figured I’d post these musings here, to see what others made of them.