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The close of the War of the Rebellion, in 1865, found the country confronted by a civil problem quite as grave as the contest of arms that had been composed. It was that of reconstruction, or the restoration of the States lately in revolt, to their constitutional relations to the Union.
The country had just emerged from a gigantic struggle of physical force of four years duration between the two great Northern and Southern sections. That struggle had been from its inception to its close, a continuing exhibition, on both sides, of stubborn devotion to a cause, and its annals had been crowned with illustrations of the grandest race and personal courage the history of the world records. Out of a population of thirty million people, four million men were under arms, from first to last, and sums of money quite beyond the limit of ordinary comprehension, were expended in its prosecution. There was bloodshed without stint. Both sides to the conflict fought for an idea--on the one side for so-called State Rights and local self-government--on the other for national autonomy as the surest guaranty of all rights--personal, local, and general.
The institution of negro slavery, the basis of the productive industries of the States of the South, which had from the organization of the Government been a source of friction between the slave-holding and nonslave-holding sections, and was in fact the underlying and potent cause of the war, went under in the strife and was by national edict forever prohibited.
The struggle being ended by the exhaustion of the insurgents, two conspicuous problems demanding immediate solution were developed: The status of the now ex-slaves, or freedmen--and the methods to be adopted for the rehabilitation of the revolted States, including the status of the revolted States themselves. The sword had declared that they had no constitutional power to withdraw from the Union, and the result demonstrated that they had not the physical power--and therefore that they were in the anomalous condition of States of though not States technically in the Union--and hence properly subject to the jurisdiction of the General Government, and bound by its judgment in any measures to be instituted by it for their future restoration to their former condition of co-equal States.
The now ex-slaves had been liberated, not with the consent of their former owners, but by the power of the conqueror as a war measure, who not unnaturally insisted upon the right to declare absolutely the future status of these persons without consultation with or in any way by the intervention of their late owners. The majority of the gentlemen in Congress representing the Northern States demanded the instant and complete enfranchisement of these persons, as the natural and logical sequence of their enfreedment. The people of the late slave States, as was to have been foreseen, and not without reason, objected--especially where, as was the case in many localities, the late slaves largely out-numbered the people of the white race: and it is apparent from subsequent developments that they had the sympathy of President Lincoln, at least so far as to refuse his sanction to the earlier action of Congress relative to restoration.
To add to the gravity of the situation and of the problem of reconstruction, the people of the States lately in rebellion were disfranchised in a mass, regardless of the fact that many of them refused to sanction the rebellion only so far as was necessary to their personal safety.
It was insisted by the dominant element of the party in control of Congress, that these States were dead as political entities, having committed political suicide, and their people without rights or the protection of law, as malcontents.
It is of record that Mr. Lincoln objected to this doctrine, and to all propositions that contemplated the treatment of the late rebellious States simply as conquered provinces and their people as having forfeited all rights under a common government, and under the laws of Nations entitled to no concessions, or even to consideration, in any proposed measures of restoration. That he had no sympathy with that theory is evidenced by the plan of restoration he attempted to establish in Louisiana.
It was at this point that differences arose between Mr. Lincoln and his party in Congress, which became more or less acute prior to his death and continued between Congress and Mr. Johnson on his attempt to carry out Mr. Lincoln's plans for restoration.
The cessation of hostilities in the field thus developed a politico-economic problem which had never before confronted any nation in such magnitude and gravity. The situation was at once novel, unprecedented, and in more senses than one, alarming. Without its due and timely solution there was danger of still farther disturbance of a far different and more alarming character than that of arms but lately ceased; and of a vastly more insidious and dangerous complexion. The war had been fought in the open. The record of the more than two thousand field and naval engagements that had marked its progress and the march of the Union armies to success, were heralded day by day to every household, and all could forecast its trend and its results. But the controversy now developed was insidious--its influences, its weapons, its designs, and its possible end, were in a measure hidden from the public--public opinion was divided, and its results, for good or ill, problematical. The wisest political sagacity and the broadest statesmanship possible were needed, and in their application no time was to be lost.
In his annual message to Congress, December 8th, 1863, Mr. Lincoln had to a considerable extent outlined his plan of Reconstruction; principally by a recital of what he had already done in that direction. That part of his message pertinent to this connection is reproduced here to illustrate the broad, humane, national and patriotic purpose that actuated him, quite as well as his lack of sympathy with the extreme partisan aims and methods that characterized the measures afterward adopted by Congress in opposition to his well-known wishes and views, and, also, as an important incident to the history of that controversy and of the time, and its bearing upon the frictions that followed between Congress and Mr. Lincoln's successor on that subject. Mr. Lincoln said:
When Congress assembled a year ago the war had already lasted twenty months, and there had been many conflicts on both land and sea, with varying results. The rebellion had been pressed back into reduced limits; yet the tone of public feeling and opinion, at home and abroad, was not satisfactory. With other signs, the popular elections, then just past, indicated uneasiness among ourselves, while, amid much that was cold and menacing, the kindest words coming from Europe were uttered in accents of pity that we were too blind to surrender a hopeless cause. Our commerce was suffering greatly by a few armed vessels built upon and furnished from foreign shores; and we were threatened with such additions from the same quarter as would sweep our trade from the sea and raise our blockade. We had failed to elicit from European Governments anything hopeful upon this subject. The preliminary Emancipation Proclamation, issued in September, was running its assigned period to the beginning of the new year. A month later that final proclamation came, including the announcement that colored men of suitable condition would be received into the army service. The policy of emancipation, and of employing black soldiers, gave to the future a new aspect, about which hope and fear and doubt contended in uncertain conflict. According to our political system, as a matter of civil administration, the General Government had no lawful power to effect emancipation in any State; and for a long time it had been hoped that the rebellion could be suppressed without resorting to it as a military measure. It was all the while deemed possible that the necessity for it might come, and that, if it should, the crisis of the contest would then be presented. It came, and, as was anticipated, was followed by dark and doubtful days. Eleven months have now passed, and we are permitted to take another review. The rebel borders are pressed still further back, and by the complete opening of the Mississippi the country dominated by the rebellion is divided into distinct parts, with no practical communication between them. Tennessee and Arkansas have been substantially cleared of insurgent control, and influential citizens in each, owners of slaves and advocates of slavery at the beginning of the rebellion, now declare openly for emancipation in their respective States. Of those States not included in the Emancipation Proclamation, Maryland and Missouri, neither of which three years ago would tolerate any restraint upon the extension of slavery into the new Territories, only dispute now as to the best mode of removing it within their own limits.
Of those who were slaves at the beginning of the rebellion, full one hundred thousand are now in the United States military service; about one half of which number actually bear arms in the ranks; thus giving the double advantage of taking so much labor from the insurgent cause, and supplying the places which must otherwise be filled with so many white men. So far as tested, it is difficult to say they are not as good soldiers as any. No servile insurrection, or tendency to violence or cruelty, has marked the measure of emancipation and arming the blacks. Those measures have been discussed in foreign countries, and contemporary with such discussion the tone of sentiment there is much improved. At home the same measures have been fully discussed, and supported, criticised, and denounced, and the annual elections following are highly encouraging to those whose official duty it is to bear the country through this great trial. Thus we have the new reckoning. The crisis which threatened to divide the friends of the Union is past.
Looking now to the present, and future, and with reference to a resumption of national authority within the States wherein that authority has been suspended, I have thought fit to issue a Proclamation, a copy of which is herewith transmitted. On examination of this Proclamation it will appear, as is believed, that nothing is attempted beyond what is amply justified by the Constitution. True, the form of an oath is given, but no man is coerced to take it. The man is only promised a pardon in case he voluntarily takes the oath. The Constitution authorizes the Executive to grant or withhold the pardon at his own absolute discretion, and this includes the power to grant on terms, as is fully established by judicial and other authorities.
It is also proffered that, if in any of the States named a State Government shall be, in the mode prescribed, set up, such Government shall be recognized and guaranteed by the United States, and that under it the State shall, on the constitutional conditions, be protected against invasion and domestic violence. The constitutional obligation of the United States to guarantee to every State in the Union a republican form of government, and to protect the State, in the cases stated, is explicit and full. But why tender the benefits of this provision only to a State Government set up in this particular way? This section contemplates a case wherein the element within a State favorable to a republican government, in the Union, may be too feeble for an opposite and hostile external to or even within the State; and such are precisely the cases with which we are dealing.
Any attempt to guaranty and protect a revived State Government, constituted in whole, or in preponderating part, from the very element against whose hostility it is to be protected, is simply absurd. There must be a test by which to separate the opposing elements, so as to build only from the sound; and that test is a sufficiently liberal one which accepts as sound whoever will make a sworn recantation of his former unsoundness.
But if it be proper to require, as a test of admission to the political body, an oath of allegiance to the Constitution of the United States, and to the Union under it, why also to the laws and Proclamation in regard to slavery? Those laws and Proclamations were enacted and put forth for the purpose of aiding in the suppression of the rebellion. To give them their fullest effect, there had to be a pledge--for their maintenance. In my judgment they have aided, and will further aid, the cause for which they were intended. To now abandon them would be not only to relinquish a lever of power, but would also be a cruel and an astounding breach of faith. I may add at this point, that while I remain in my present position, I shall not attempt to retract or modify the Emancipation Proclamation; nor shall I return to slavery any person who is free by the terms of the Proclamation, or by any of the acts of Congress. For these and other reasons it is thought best that support of these measures shall be included in the oath; and it is believed the Executive may lawfully claim it in return for pardon and restoration of forfeited rights, when he has clear constitutional power to withhold altogether or grant upon terms which he shall deem wisest for the public interest. It should be observed, also, that this part of the oath is subject to the modifying and abrogating power of legislation and supreme judicial decision.
The proposed acquiescence of the National Executive in any reasonable temporary State arrangement for the freed people is made with the view of possibly modifying the confusion and destitution which must, at best, attend all classes by a total revolution of labor throughout whole States. It is hoped that the already deeply afflicted people of those States may be somewhat more ready to give up the cause of their affliction, if, to this extent, this vital matter be left to themselves; while no power of the National Executive to prevent an abuse is abridged by the proposition.
The suggestion in the Proclamation as to maintaining the political frame-work of those States on what is called reconstruction, is made in the hope that it may do good without danger of harm. It will save labor and avoid great confusion.
But why any proclamation on this subject? This question is beset with the conflicting views that the step might be delayed too long or taken too soon. In some States the elements for resumption seem ready for action, but remain inactive apparently for want of a rallying point. Why shall A. adopt the plan of B., rather than B. that of A.? And if A. and B. should agree, how can they know but that the General Government here will reject their plan? By the Proclamation a plan is presented which may be accepted by them as a rallying point, and which they may be assured in advance will not be rejected here. This may bring them to act sooner than they otherwise would.
The objection to a premature presentation of a plan by the National Executive consists in the danger of committals on points which could be more safely left to further developments. Care has been taken to so shape the document as to avoid embarrassment from this source. Saying that, on certain terms, certain classes will be pardoned, with rights restored, it is not said that other classes on other terms will never be included. Saying that reconstruction will be accepted if presented in a specified way, it is not saying it will not be accepted in any other way.
The movements, by State action, for emancipation in several of the States not included in the Emancipation Proclamation, are matters of profound gratulation, and while I do not repeat in detail what I have heretofore so earnestly urged upon this subject, my general views and feelings remain unchanged, and I trust that Congress will omit no fair opportunity of aiding these important steps to a great consummation.
In the midst of other cares, however important, we must not lose sight of the fact that the war power is still our main reliance. To that power alone can we look, for a time, to give confidence to the people in the contested regions that the insurgent power will not again over-run them. Until that confidence shall be established, little can be done anywhere for what is called reconstruction. Hence our chiefest care must still be directed to the Army and Navy, who have thus far borne their hardest part nobly and well. And it may be esteemed fortunate that in giving the greatest efficiency to these indispensable arms, we do also honorably recognize the gallant men, from commander to sentinel, who compose them, to whom, more than to others, the world must stand indebted for the home of freedom disenthralled, regenerated, enlarged and perpetuated.
Abraham Lincoln. December 8, 1863.
The following is the Proclamation of Amnesty and Reconstruction referred to in the foregoing Message, and further illustrates Mr. Lincoln's plan for the restoration of the Union:
Whereas, in and by the Constitution of the United States, it is provided that the President "shall have the power to grant reprieves and pardons for offenses against the United States, except in cases of impeachment;" and
Whereas, a rebellion now exists whereby the loyal State governments of several States have for a long time been subverted, and many persons have committed, and are guilty of treason against the United States; and
Whereas, with reference to said rebellion and treason, laws have been enacted by Congress, declaring forfeitures and confiscations of property and liberation of slaves, all upon terms and conditions therein stated, and also declaring that the President was thereby authorized at any time thereafter, by proclamation, to extend to persons who may have participated in the existing rebellion, in any State or part thereof, pardon and amnesty, with such exceptions and at such times and on such conditions as he may deem expedient for the public welfare; and
Whereas, the Congressional declaration for limited and conditional pardon accords with well established judicial exposition of the pardoning power; and
Whereas, with reference to said rebellion, the President of the United States has issued several proclamations, with provisions in regard to the liberation of slaves; and
Whereas, it is now desired by some persons heretofore engaged in said rebellion to resume their allegiance to the United States, and to reinaugurate loyal State Governments within and for their respective States; therefore,
I, Abraham Lincoln, President of the United States, do proclaim, declare, and make known to all persons who have, directly or by implication, participated in the existing rebellion, except as hereinafter excepted, that a full pardon is hereby granted to them and each of them, with restoration of all rights of property, except as to slaves and in property cases where rights of third parties shall have intervened, and upon the condition that every such person shall take and subscribe an oath, and thenceforward keep and maintain said oath inviolate, and which oath shall be registered for permanent preservation, and shall be of the tenor and effect following, to-wit:
I, ___ __ ___ , do solemnly swear, in presence of Almighty God, that I will henceforth faithfully support, protect, and defend the Constitution of the United States, and the Union of the States thereunder; and that I will, in like manner, abide by and faithfully support all acts of Congress passed during the existing rebellion with reference to slaves, so long and so far as not repealed, modified or held void by Congress, or by the decision of the Supreme Court; and that I will, in like manner, abide by and faithfully support all proclamations of the President made during the existing rebellion having reference to slaves, so long and so far as not modified or declared void by decision of the Supreme Court. So help me God.
The persons exempted from the benefits of the foregoing provisions are all who are, or shall have been, civil or diplomatic officers or agents of the so-called Confederate Government: all who have left judicial stations under the United States to aid the rebellion; all who are or shall have been military or naval officers of said so-called Confederate Government above the rank of Colonel in the army or Lieutenant in the Navy; all who have left seats in the United States Congress to aid the rebellion; all who resigned commissions in the army or navy of the United States and afterward aided the rebellion; and all who have engaged in any way in treating colored persons, or white persons in charge of such, otherwise than lawfully as prisoners of war, and which persons may have been found in the United States service as soldiers, seamen, or in any capacity.
And I do further proclaim, declare, and make known that whenever, in any of the States of Arkansas, Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Tennessee, Alabama, Georgia, Florida, South Carolina and North Carolina, a number of persons, not less than one-tenth in number of the votes cast in such State at the Presidential election of the year of our Lord one thousand eight hundred and sixty, each having taken the oath aforesaid and not having since violated it, and being a qualified voter by the election laws of the State existing immediately before the so-called act of secession, and excluding all others, shall reestablish a State government which shall be republican, and in no wise contravening said oath, such shall be recognized as the true government of the State, and the State shall receive thereunder the benefits of the constitutional provision which declares that "the United States shall guarantee to every state in this Union a republican form of government, and shall protect each of them against invasion; and, on the application of the legislature, or the executive (when the legislature cannot be convened) against domestic violence."
And I do further proclaim, declare, and make known, that any provision which may be adopted by such State government in relation to the freed people of such State, which shall recognize and declare their permanent freedom, provide for their education, and which may yet be consistent as a temporary arrangement with their present condition as a laboring, landless, and homeless class, will not be objected to by the National Executive.
And it is suggested as not improper that, in constructing a loyal State government in any State, the name of the State, the boundary, the subdivisions, the constitution, and the general code of laws, as before the rebellion, be maintained, subject only to the modifications made necessary by the conditions hereinbefore stated, and such others, if any, not contravening said conditions, and which may be deemed expedient by those framing the new State government.
To avoid misunderstanding, it may be proper to say, that whether members sent to Congress from any State shall be admitted to seats, constitutionally rests exclusively with the respective houses, and not to any extent with the Executive. And still further, that this proclamation is intended to present to the people of the States wherein the National authority has been suspended; and loyal State governments have been subverted, a mode in and by which the National authority and loyal State governments, may be re-established within said States, or, in any of them; and while the mode presented is the best the Executive can suggest, with his present impressions, it must not be understood that no other possible mode would be acceptable.
Given under my hand at the City of Washington, the eighth day of December, in the year of our Lord one thousand eight hundred and sixty-three, and of the Independence of the United States of America, the eighty-eighth.
By the President: Abraham Lincoln. William H. Seward, Secretary of State.
How the revolted States could be most successfully and expeditiously restored to their constitutional relations to the Union on the cessation of hostilities, was the momentous question of the hour, upon which there were views and schemes as varied and antagonistic as were the mental differences and political disagreements of those who felt called upon to engage in the stupendous work. As history had recorded no similar conditions, and therefore no demand for the solution of such a problem, there were no examples or historic lights for the guidance of those upon whom the task had fallen.
It is apparent that Mr. Lincoln maintained the indestructibility of the States and the indivisibility of the Union--that the resolutions of secession were null and void, and that the States lately in rebellion were never in fact but only in theory out of the Union--that they retained inherently, though now dormant, their State autonomy and constitutional rights as before their revolutionary acts, except as to slavery, and that all their people had to do, to re-establish their former status, as he declared to the Emperor of the French when that potentate was about to recognize the Confederacy, was to resume their duties as loyal, law-abiding citizens, and reorganize their State Governments on a basis of loyalty to the Constitution and the Union. The terms he proposed to formally offer them were first illustrated in the case of Louisiana, early in 1863, and later in the foregoing Message and Proclamation; and clearly indicated what was to be his policy and process of reconstruction.
Messrs. Flanders and Hahn were admitted to the House of Representatives as members from Louisiana agreeably to the President's views thus outlined. They had been chosen at an election ordered by the Governor of the State (Gov. Shepley), who had undoubtedly been permitted, if not specially authorized by the President, to take this step, but they were the last to be received from Louisiana under Mr. Lincoln's plan, as the next Congress resolved to receive no more members from the seceded States till joint action by the two Houses therefor should be had.
Prior to the election at which these gentlemen were chosen, Mr. Lincoln addressed a characteristic note to Gov. Shepley, which was in effect a warning that Federal officials not citizens of Louisiana must not be chosen to represent the State in Congress, "We do not," said he, referring to the South, "particularly need members of Congress from those States to get along with legislation here. What we do want is the conclusive evidence that respectable citizens of Louisiana are willing to be members of Congress and to swear support to the Constitution, and that other respectable citizens are willing to vote for them and send them. To send a parcel of Northern men as Representatives, elected, as would be understood, (and perhaps really so) at the point of the bayonet, would be disgraceful and outrageous."
Mr. Lincoln would tolerate none of the "carpet-bagging" that afterwards became so conspicuous and offensive under the Congressional plan of Reconstruction.
These steps for reconstruction in Louisiana were followed by the assembling of a convention to frame a new constitution for that State. The convention was organized early in 1864, and its most important act was the prompt incorporation of an antislavery clause in its organic law. By a vote of 70 to 16 the convention declared slavery to be forever abolished in the State. The new Constitution was adopted by the people of the State on the 5th day of the ensuing September by a vote of 6,836 in its favor, to 1,566 against it. As the total vote of Louisiana in 1860 was 50,510, the new government had fulfilled the requirement of the President's Proclamation. It was sustained by more than the required one-tenth vote.
In a personal note of congratulation to Gov. Hahn, of Louisiana, the President, speaking of the coming convention, suggested that "some of the colored people be let in, as for instance, the very intelligent, and especially those who have fought gallantly in our ranks." "They would," said he, "probably help in some trying time in the future TO KEEP THE JEWEL OF LIBERTY IN THE FAMILY OF FREEDOM."
This action in regard to Louisiana was accompanied, indeed in some particulars preceded, by similar action in Arkansas. A Governor was elected, an anti-slavery Constitution adopted, a State Government duly installed, and Senators and Representatives in Congress elected, but were refused admission by Congress. Mr. Sumner, when the credentials of the Senators-elect were presented, foreshadowing the position to be taken by the Republican leaders, offered a resolution declaring that "a State pretending to secede from the Union, and battling against the General Government to maintain that position, must be regarded as a rebel State subject to military occupation and without representation on this floor until it has been readmitted by a vote of both Houses of Congress; and the Senate will decline to receive any such application from any such rebel State until after such a vote by both Houses."
A few weeks later, on the 27th of June, 1864, this resolution was in effect reported back to the Senate by the Judiciary Committee, to which it had been referred, and adopted by a vote of 27 to 6. The same action was had in the House of Representatives on the application of the Representatives-elect from Arkansas for admission to that body.
This was practically the declaration of a rupture between the President and Congress on the question of Reconstruction. It was a rebuke to Mr. Lincoln for having presumed to treat the seceded States as still in any sense States of the Union. It was in effect a declaration that those States had successfully seceded--that their elimination from the Union was an accomplished fact--that the Union of the States had been broken--and that the only method left for their return that would be considered by Congress was as conquered and outlying provinces, not even as Territories with the right of such to membership in the Union; and should be governed accordingly until such time as Congress should see fit (IF EVER, to use the language of Mr. Stevens in the House) to devise and establish some form whereby they could be annexed to or re-incorporated into the Union.
It was at this point--on the great question of Reconstruction, or more properly of Restoration--that the disagreements originated between the Executive and Congress which finally culminated in the impeachment of Mr. Lincoln's successor; and that condition of strained relations was measurably intensified when, on the following July 4th, a bill was passed by Congress making provision for the reorganization and admission of the revolted States on the extreme lines indicated by the above action of Congress and containing the very extraordinary provision that the President, AFTER OBTAINING THE CONSENT OF CONGRESS, shall recognize the State Government so established. That measure was still another and more marked rebuke by Congress to the President for having presumed to initiate a system of restoration without its consultation and advice. Naturally Mr. Lincoln was not in a mood to meekly accept the rebuke so marked and manifestly intended; and so the bill not having passed Congress till within the ten days preceding its adjournment allowed by the Constitution for its consideration by the President, and as it proposed to undo the work he had done, he failed to return it to Congress--"pocketed" it--and it therefore fell. He was not in a mood to accept a Congressional rebuke. He had given careful study to the duties, the responsibilities, and the limitations of the respective Departments of, the Government, and was not willing that his judgment should be revised, or his course censured, however indirectly, by any of its co-ordinate branches.
Four days after the session had closed, he issued a Proclamation in which he treated the bill merely as the expression of an opinion by Congress as to the best plan of Reconstruction--"which plan," he remarked, "it is now thought fit to lay before the people for their consideration."
He further stated in this Proclamation that he had already presented one plan of restoration, and that he was "unprepared by a formal approval of this bill to be inflexibly committed to any single plan of restoration, and was unprepared to declare that the free State Constitutions and Governments already adopted and installed in Louisiana and Arkansas, shall be set aside and held for naught, thereby repelling and discouraging the loyal citizens who have set up the same as to further effort, and unprepared to declare a constitutional competency in Congress to abolish slavery in the States, though sincerely hoping that a constitutional amendment abolishing slavery in all the States might be adopted."
While, with these objections, Mr. Lincoln could not approve the bill, he concluded his Proclamation with these words:
"Nevertheless, I am fully satisfied with the plan of restoration contained in the bill as one very proper for the loyal people of any State choosing to adopt it, and I am and at all times shall be prepared to give Executive aid and assistance to any such people as soon as military resistance to the United States shall have been suppressed in any such State and the people thereof shall have sufficiently returned to their obedience to the Constitution and laws of the United States--in which Military Governors will be appointed with directions to proceed according to the bill."
"It must be frankly admitted," says Mr. Blaine in reciting this record in his 'Thirty Years of Congress,' that Mr. Lincoln's course was in some of its respects extraordinary. It met with almost unanimous dissent on the part of the Republican members, and violent criticism from the more radical members of both Houses. * * * Fortunately, the Senators and Representatives had returned to their States and Districts before the Reconstruction Proclamation was issued, and found the people united and enthusiastic in Mr. Lincoln's support."
In the last speech Mr. Lincoln ever made, (April 11th, 1865) referring to the twelve thousand men who had organized the Louisiana Government, (on the one-tenth basis) he said:
"If we now reject and spurn them, we do our utmost to disorganize and disperse them. We say to the white man, you are worthless, or worse. We will neither help you or be helped by you. To the black man we say, 'this cup of liberty which these, your old masters hold to your lips, we will dash from you, and leave you to the chances of gathering the spilled and scattered contents IN SOME VAGUE AND UNDEFINED WHEN AND WHERE AND HOW.' If this course, discouraging and paralyzing to both white and black, has any tendency to bring Louisiana into proper practical relations with the Union, I have so far been unable to perceive it. If, on the contrary, they reorganize and sustain the new Government of Louisiana, the converse of all this is made true. We encourage the hearts and nerve the arms of twelve thousand men to adhere to their work and argue for it, and proselyte for it, and fight for it, and grow it, and ripen it to a complete success. The colored man, too, in seeing all united for him, is inspired with vigilance and with energy and daring to the same end. Grant that he desires the elective franchise. HE WILL YET ATTAIN IT SOONER BY SAVING THE ALREADY ADVANCED STEPS TOWARD IT THAN BY RUNNING BACK OVER THEM. Concede that the new Government of Louisiana is only to what it should be as the egg to the fowl; we shall sooner have the fowl by hatching the egg than by smashing it."
It is manifest that Mr. Lincoln intuitively foresaw the danger of a great body of the people becoming accustomed to government by military power, and sought to end it by the speediest practicable means. As he expressed it, "We must begin and mould from disorganized and discordant elements: nor is it a small additional embarrassment that we, the loyal people, differ among ourselves as to the mode, manner, and measure of reconstruction."
Louisiana was wholly in possession of the Union forces and under loyal influence in 1863, and in his judgment the time had come for reconstructive action in that state--not merely for the purpose of strengthening and crystallizing the Union sentiment there, at a great gate-way of commerce, that would become a conspicuous object-lesson to foreign governments in behalf of more favorable influences abroad, but also to the encouragement of Union men and the discouragement of the rebellion in all the other revolted States. He had fortified his own judgment, as he frankly declared, "by submitting the Louisiana plan in advance to every member of the Cabinet, and every member approved it."
The steps taken in Louisiana were to be but a beginning. The nature of subsequent proceedings on his part must be governed by the success of this--that under then existing conditions it was inexpedient, in view of further possible complications, to forecast further proceedings, and especially to attempt to establish, at the outset, and under the chaotic conditions of the time, a general system of reconstruction applicable to all the States and to varying conditions. So the beginning was made in Louisiana. It is manifest that the purpose of this immediate action was two-fold--not only to restore Louisiana to the Union at the earliest practicable day--but also to so far establish a process of general restoration before Congress should reconvene at the coming December session, that there would be no sufficient occasion or excuse for interfering with his work by the application of the exasperating conditions that had been foreshadowed by that body.
On this point Mr. Welles, his Secretary of the Navy, testifies that at the close of a Cabinet meeting held immediately preceding Mr. Lincoln's death, "Mr. Stanton made some remarks on the general condition of affairs and the new phase and duties upon which we were about to enter. He alluded to the great solicitude which the President felt on this subject, his frequent recurrence to the necessity of establishing civil governments and preserving order in the rebel States. Like the rest of the Cabinet, doubtless, he had given this subject much consideration, and with a view of having something practical on which to base action, he had drawn up a rough plan or ordinance which he had handed to the President.
"The President said he proposed to bring forward that subject, although he had not had time as yet to give much attention to the details of the paper which the Secretary of War had given him only the day before; but that it was substantially, in its general scope, the plan which we had sometimes talked over in Cabinet meetings. We should probably make some modifications, prescribe further details; there were some suggestions which he should wish to make, and he desired all to bring their minds to the question, for no greater or more important one could come before us, or any future Cabinet. He thought it providential that, this great rebellion was crushed just as Congress had adjourned, AND THERE WERE NONE OF THE DISTURBING ELEMENTS OF THAT BODY TO HINDER AND EMBARRASS US. If we were wise and discreet, we should reanimate, the States and get their governments in successful operation, with order prevailing and the Union reestablished, BEFORE CONGRESS CAME TOGETHER IN DECEMBER. This he thought important. We could do better, accomplish more without than with them. There were men in Congress who, if their motives were good, were nevertheless impracticable, and who possessed feelings of hate and vindictiveness in which he did not sympathize and could not participate. Each House of Congress, he said, had the undoubted right to receive or reject members, the Executive had no control in this matter. But Congress had NOTHING TO DO WITH THE STATE GOVERNMENTS, which the President could recognize, and under existing laws treat as other States, give the same mail facilities, collect taxes, appoint judges, marshals, collectors, etc., subject, of course, to confirmation. There were men who objected to these views, BUT THEY WERE NOT HERE, AND WE MUST MAKE HASTE TO DO OUR DUTY BEFORE THEY CAME HERE."
The subjugated States were in a condition that could not be safely permitted to continue for any indefinite period. It would be inconsistent with the purpose of the war, incongruous to the American system and idea of government, and antagonistic to American political, or even commercial or social autonomy. Naturally upon Mr. Lincoln would fall largely the duty and responsibility of formulating and inaugurating some method of restoration. With the abolition of slavery, the most difficult of settlement of all the obstacles in the way of reconstruction had been removed. Naturally, too, during the later months of the war, when it became manifest that the end of the struggle was near, the question of reconstruction and the methods whereby it could be most naturally, speedily, and effectively accomplished, came uppermost in his mind. A humane, just man, and a sincere, broad-brained, patriot and far-seeing statesman, he instinctively rejected the many drastic schemes which filled a large portion of the public press of the North and afterwards characterized many of the suggestions of Congressional action. With him the prime purpose of the war was the preservation of the political, territorial and economic integrity of the Republic--in a word, to restore the Union, without needless humiliation to the defeated party, or the imposition of unnecessarily rigorous terms which could but result in future frictions--without slavery--and yet with sufficient safeguards against future disloyal association of the sections; and that purpose had been approved by an overwhelming majority of the people in his re-election in 1864.
In these purposes and methods Mr. Lincoln appears to have had the active sympathy and co-operation of his entire Cabinet, more especially of Mr. Stanton, his Secretary of War. Indeed, Mr. Stanton is understood, from the record, to have been the joint author, with Mr. Lincoln, of the plan of reconstruction agreed upon at the later meetings of the Cabinet immediately prior to Mr. Lincoln's death. Mr. Stanton proposed to put it in the form of a military order--Mr. Lincoln made an Executive order. The plan was embodied in what afterwards became known as the "North Carolina Proclamation," determined upon by Mr. Lincoln at his last Cabinet meeting and promulgated by Mr. Johnson shortly after his accession to the Presidency as Mr. Lincoln's successor, and is inserted in a subsequent chapter.
Mr. Lincoln unquestionably comprehended the peculiar conditions under which the Republican party had come to the control of the legislative branch of the Government, and fully realized the incapacity of the dominant element in that control for the delicate work of restoration and reconstruction--leading a conquered and embittered people back peacefully and successfully, without unnecessary friction, into harmonious relations to the Union.
No such responsibility, no such herculean task, had ever before, in the history of civilization, devolved upon any ruler or political party.
Mr. Lincoln seems to have realized the incapacity of party leaders brought to the surface by the tumult and demoralization of the time, whose only exploits and experiences were in the line of destruction and who must approach the task with divided counsel, to cope successfully with the delicate and responsible work of restoration the close of the war had made imperative. He comprehended the incongruities which characterized that great party better than its professed leaders, and foresaw the futility of any effort on its part, at that time and in its then temper, to the early establishment of any coherent or successful method of restoration. Hence, unquestionably, his prompt action in that behalf, and his failure to call the Congress into special session, to the end that there should be no time unnecessarily consumed and lost in the institution of some efficient form of civil government in the returning States--some form that would have the sanction of intelligent authority competent to restore and enforce public order, without the dangers of delay and consequent disorder that must result, and did afterwards result, from the protracted debates sure to follow and did follow the sudden precipitation of the questions of reconstruction and reconciliation upon a mass of Congressmen totally inexperienced in the anomalous conditions of that time, or in the methods most needed for their correction.
That Mr. Lincoln contemplated the ultimate and not remote enfranchisement of the late slaves, is manifest from his suggestion to Gov. Hahn, of Louisiana, hereinbefore quoted in connection with the then approaching Convention for the re-establishment of State Government there, and again still more manifest from his last public utterance on April 11, 1865, deprecating the rejection by Congress of his plan for the restoration of Louisiana, in which, he said, speaking of that action by Congress rejecting the Louisiana bill: "Grant that the colored male desires the elective franchise. He will attain it sooner by saving the already advanced steps towards it than by running back over them."
It is also apparent in the light of the succeeding history of that time and of that question, that if Mr. Lincoln's views had been seconded by Congress, the enfranchisement of the negro would have been, though delayed, as certain of accomplishment, and of a vastly higher and more satisfactory plane--and the country saved the years of friction and disgraceful public disorder that characterized the enforcement of the Congressional plan afterwards adopted.
As to the success of Mr. Lincoln's plans, had they been sanctioned, or even had they not been repudiated by Congress, Mr. Blaine, in his book, asserts that Mr. Lincoln, "By his four years of considerate and successful administration, by his patient and positive trust in the ultimate triumph of the Union, realized at last as he stood upon the edge of the grave--he had acquired so complete an ascendancy over the public, control in the loyal states, that ANY POLICY MATURED AND ANNOUNCED BY HIM WOULD HAVE BEEN ACCEPTED BY A VAST MAJORITY OF HIS COUNTRYMEN."
It was indicative of the sagacious foresight of Mr. Lincoln that he did not call the Congress into special session at the close of the war, as would have been natural and usual, before attempting the establishment of any method for the restoration of the revolted States. The fact that he did not do so, but was making preparations to proceed immediately in that work on his own lines and in accordance with his own ideas, and with the hearty accord of his entire Cabinet, of itself affords proof that he was apprehensive of obstruction from the same element of his party that subsequently arose in opposition to Mr. Johnson on that question, and that he preferred to put his plans into operation before the assembling of Congress in the next regular winter session, in order that he might be able then to show palpable results, and induce Congress to accept and follow up a humane, peaceful and satisfactory system of reconstruction. Mr. Lincoln undoubtedly hoped thus to avoid unnecessary friction. Having the quite unlimited confidence of the great mass of the people of the country, of both parties and on both sides of the line of hostilities, there seem to be excellent reasons for believing that he would have succeeded, and that the extraordinary and exasperating differences and local turmoils that followed the drastic measures which were afterward adopted by Congress over the President's vetoes, would have been in a very large degree avoided, and THERE WOULD HAVE BEEN NO IMPEACHMENT--either of Mr. Lincoln had he lived, or of Mr. Johnson after him.
It was the misfortune of the time, and of the occasion, which determined Mr. Lincoln to institute a plan of restoration during the interim of Congress, that the Republican party, then in absolute control of Congress, was in no sense equipped for such a work. Its first and great mission had been the destruction of slavery. Though not phrased in formal fashion, that was the logic of its creation and existence. It was brought into being purely as an anti-slavery party, illustrated in the fact that its membership included every pronounced anti-slavery man, known as abolitionists, in the United States. All its energies, during all its life up to the close of the war had been bent to that end. It had been born and bred to the work of destruction. It came to destroy slavery, and its forces had been nurtured, to the last day of the war, in pulling down--in fact, did not then wholly cease.
The work of restoration--the rebuilding of fallen States--had now come. The Republican party approached that work in the hot blood of war and the elation of victory--a condition illy fitting the demands of exalted statesmanship so essential to perfect political effort.
Never had nation or party thrust upon it a more delicate duty or graver responsibility. It was that of leading a conquered people to build a new civilization wholly different from the one in ruins. It was first to reconcile two races totally different from each other, so far as possible to move in harmony in supplanting servile by free labor, and the slave by a free American citizen. The transition was sudden, and the elements antagonistic in race, culture, self-governing power--indeed, in all the qualities which characterize a free people.
There was a wide margin for honest differences between statesmen of experience. A universal sentiment could not obtain. The accepted political leaders of the time were illy equipped to meet the issue--much less those who had been brought to prominence, and too often to control, in the hot blood of war and the frictions of the time, when intemperate denunciation and a free use of the epithets of "rebel," and "traitor," had become a ready passport to public honors. It was a time when the admonition to make haste slowly was of profound significance. A peril greater than any other the civil war had developed, overhung the nation. Greater than ever the demand for courage in conciliation--for divesting the issues of all mere partyism, and the yielding of something by the extremes, both of conservatism and radicalism.