In December of 1863, the Civil War was still far from over. Major Confederate armies still remained under Bragg and Lee, but overall it had been a good year for the Federals. Lee's second invasion of the north had been defeated by Meade at Gettysburg in July, and just the next day Vicksburg fell to Grant, and the Mississippi River was captured, dividing the Confederacy in half. The Union suffered their greatest defeat in the west at Chickamauga, but when Grant arrived he turned the campaign around and broke the siege of Chattanooga.
With these new victories to his credit, Lincoln turned his mind to how to reintegrate the southern states back into the nation. This task was not without its problems. Except for a few areas like East Tennessee, the vast majority of the voters in the southern states supported the Confederate war effort, and they would not go back kindly into the country they were fighting to leave. Lincoln's Emancipation Proclamation, which went into effect January 1st 1863, declared the slaves in the Confederacy free, which created social problems for the United States. Nearly 40% of people in the south would be freed from their slavery, overthrowing the entire culture of the south.
To address the question of how states would rejoin the USA, Lincoln released The Proclamation of Amnesty and Reconstruction, explaining what would come to be called the 10% Plan. He would fully pardon anyone who participated in the rebellion who was not a member of the government, or fell into a few other cases, if they swore to support the U.S. Constitution, the Union and the United State's new policy on slavery. He also said that a loyal southern state government would be recognized if it was formed by a group who swore the loyalty oath which numbered 10% of those who voted in 1860.
The terms Lincoln offered were lenient. In exchange for giving up slavery, most of those who participated in the war would be pardoned, and they could quickly rejoin the nation as a full state. But Lincoln could not unilaterally offer these terms. In his proclamation he recognized that the Constitution gives Congress the right to control their own membership. If they disagreed with Lincoln they could refuse to seat elected Congressmen from the southern states, denying recognition of those governments.
|Cartoon of Lincoln rebuilding the Union|
Lincoln would meet opposition in his plan for reconstruction from the radical Republicans. They believed that the southerners needed to be punished for their rebellion, and they wanted a much longer reconstruction process which would involve a reconstruction of the entire southern society and economy. This question would not be resolved before Lincoln's death, and it would continue to be debated for many years.