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Mr. Johnson succeeded to the Presidential office on the death of Mr. Lincoln, April 15th, 1865. The conditions of the time were extraordinary. The war, so far as operations in the field were concerned, was at an end. The armies of the rebellion had been vanquished and practically disbanded. The States lately in revolt were prostrate at the feet of the conqueror, powerless for further resistance. But the general rejoicing over the happy termination of the strife had been inexpressibly saddened by the brutal assassination of the President who had so wisely and successfully conducted his great office and administered all its powers to the attainment of that happy result, and it was not unnatural or strange that the shocking event should greatly re-inflame the passions of the strife that the joys of peace had at last well nigh laid.
It was an especial misfortune that he who had so wisely and safely conducted the Nation through the conflict of arms and had foreshadowed his beneficent measures of peace and the restoration of the shattered Republic, was taken away as he and the Nation stood at last at the open door of successful rehabilitation on a broader and grander basis than had ever been reached in all previous efforts of man at Nation building. From day to day he had watched, with his hand on the key-board, the development and trend of events. They had resulted as he had planned, and he had become the most conspicuous, the best loved, and the most masterful of living man in the control of the future. In his death the Union lost its most sagacious and best trusted leader, and, the South its ablest, truest, and wisest friend.
It was under these circumstances that Mr. Johnson came to the Presidency as Mr. Lincoln's successor--without a moment of warning or an hour of preparation for the discharge of the crushing responsibilities that had so suddenly fallen to his direction.
Actuated, doubtless, and not unnaturally, by feelings of resentment over the manner and circumstances of Mr. Lincoln's death, Mr. Johnson at first gave expression to a spirit of hostility toward the leaders of the rebellion, and foreshadowed a somewhat rigorous policy in his methods of Reconstruction in accordance with the views of the leaders of the Republican party in Congress who had differed with Mr. Lincoln on that subject; but later on, under the advice of his Cabinet--notably, it is understood, of Mr. Seward--and under the responsibility of action--his views became modified, till in time, it is not impossible, but by no means certain, that he went even beyond the humane, natural and logical views and purposes of Mr. Lincoln in that regard.
This did not comport with the purposes of the Congressional faction that had opposed Mr. Lincoln's plans, which faction, under the pressure of the general indignation over his murder, quickly rose to the absolute control of Congress. Mr. Lincoln no longer stood in their way, and Mr. Johnson was then comparatively unknown to the great mass of the dominant party, and therefore at a corresponding disadvantage in the controversy. He had risen step by step to his new position from the humblest walks of Southern life, and each succeeding step to advancement had been made through personal conflicts such as few men in public life in this or any other country had ever borne. It was not unnatural, therefore, that he should have faith in himself, and in the superiority of his judgment, or little in that of others--and more especially when he was approached by those who had opposed Mr. Lincoln's plans in an attitude of dictation, and with suggestions and unsought advice as to the course he should pursue in the then absorbing question of the restoration of the States lately in rebellion--himself a citizen of one of those States, and for the preservation of which, as a State in the Union, he had staked his life.
As with Mr. Lincoln, so with Mr. Johnson--the first thing to be done, or sought, was the restoration of the Union by the return of the States in rebellion to their allegiance to the Constitution and laws of the country. Mr. Lincoln, to use one of his characteristic Western phrases, had "blazed the way," and Mr. Johnson took up that trail. A few weeks after his inauguration he issued a Proclamation outlining a plan for the reorganization of the State of North Carolina. That paper was confessedly designed as a general plan and basis for Executive action in the restoration of all the seceded States. Mr. Lincoln had, of course, foreseen that that subject would come up very shortly, in the then condition of affairs in the South, and it had therefore been considered in his later Cabinet meetings, as stated, more especially at the meeting immediately preceding his death, and a plan very similar to that afterwards determined upon by Mr. Johnson, if not identically so, was at that meeting finally adopted. That plan was set out in the North Carolina Proclamation, the essential features and general character of which became so conspicuous a factor in the subsequent controversies between the President and Congress. It was as follows:
Whereas: The Fourth Section of the Fourth Article of the Constitution of the United States declares that the United States shall guarantee to every State in the Union a Republican form of Government, and shall protect each of them against invasion and domestic violence; and whereas, the President of the United States is, by the Constitution, made Commander-in-Chief of the Army and Navy, as well as chief civil executive officer of the United States, and is bound by solemn oath faithfully to execute the office of President of the United States, and to take care that the laws be faithfully executed; and whereas, the rebellion which has been waged by a portion of the people of the United States against the properly constituted authority of the Government thereof in the most violent and revolting form, but whose organized and armed forces have now been almost entirely overcome has, in its revolutionary progress, deprived the people of the State of North Carolina of all civil government: and whereas, it becomes necessary and proper to carry out and enforce the obligations of the United States to the people of North Carolina in securing them it, the enjoyment of a republican form of Government:
Now, therefore, in obedience to the high and solemn duties imposed upon me by the Constitution of the United States, and for the purpose of enabling the loyal people of said State to organize a State Government; whereby justice may be established, domestic tranquility insured, I, Andrew Johnson, President of the United States and Commander-in-Chief of the Army and Navy of the United States, do hereby appoint William W. Holden Provisional Governor of the State of North Carolina, whose duty it shall be, at the earliest practicable period, to prescribe such rules and regulations as may be necessary and proper for convening it Convention, composed of delegates to be chosen by that portion of the people of the said State who are loyal all to the United States and no others, for the purpose of altering or amending the Constitution thereof; and with authority to exercise, within the limits of said State, all the powers necessary and proper to enable such loyal people of the State of North Carolina to restore said State to its constitutional relations to the Federal Government, and to present such a republican form of State Government as will entitle the said State to the guarantee of the United States therefor, and its people to protection by the United States against invasion, insurrection and domestic violence: PROVIDED, that in any election that may be hereafter held for choosing delegates to any State Convention as aforesaid, no person shall be qualified as an elector, or shall be eligible as a member of such Convention, unless he shall have previously taken and subscribed to the oath of amnesty, as set forth in the President's Proclamation of May 29th, A. D. 1865, and is a voter qualified as prescribed by the Constitution and laws of the State of North Carolina in force immediately before the 20th of May, A. D. 1861, the date of the so-called ordinance of secession; and the said Convention, when convened, or the legislature that may be thereafter assembled, will prescribe the qualifications of electors, and the eligibility of persons to hold office under the Constitution and laws of the State--a power the people of the several States comprising the Federal Union have rightfully exercised from the origin of the Government to the present time. And I do hereby direct:
First--That the Military Commander of the Department, and all officers in the Military and Naval service, aid and assist the said Provisional Governor in carrying into effect this Proclamation, and they are enjoined to abstain from, in any way, hindering, impeding, or discouraging the loyal people from the organization of a State Government as herein authorized.
Second--That the Secretary of State proceed to put in force all laws of the United States, the administration whereof belongs to the State Department, applicable to the geographical limits aforesaid.
Third--That the Secretary of the Treasury proceed to nominate for appointment assessors of taxes, and collectors of customs and revenue, and such other officers of the Treasury Department as are authorized by law, and put in execution the revenue laws of the United States within the provisional limits aforesaid. In making appointments, the preference shall be given to qualified loyal persons residing in the districts where their respective duties are to be performed. But if suitable residents of the district shall not be found, then persons residing in other States or districts shall be appointed.
Fourth--That the Postmaster General proceed to establish postoffices and post routes, and put into execution the postal laws of the United States within the said State, giving to loyal residents the preference of appointments: but if suitable residents are not found, then to appoint agents, etc., from other States.
Fifth--That District Judges for the judicial districts in which North Carolina is included, proceed to hold courts within said State, in accordance with the provisions of the Act of Congress. The Attorney General will instruct the proper officers to libel, and bring to judgment, confiscation and sale, property subject to confiscation, and enforce the administration of justice within said State in all matters within the cognizance and jurisdiction of the Federal Courts.
Sixth--That the Secretary of the Navy take possession of all public property belonging to the Navy Department within said geographical limits, and put in operation all Acts of Congress in relation to naval affairs having application to said State.
Seventh--That the Secretary of the Interior put in force all laws relating to the Interior Department applicable to the geographical limits aforesaid.
In testimony whereof, I have hereunto set my hand and caused the seal of the United States to be affixed.
Done at the City of Washington, this 29th day of May, in the year, of our Lord 1865, and of the Independence of the United States the 89th.
North Carolina was the first of the revolted States to which this identical plan of reconstruction, or reorganization, was applied by Mr. Johnson. Its application to the several States then lately in revolt, was continued till the meeting of Congress in the following December, 1865.
On this matter Mr. Johnson, himself, testifies in his communication to the Senate in 1867, relating to the removal of Mr. Stanton, that "This grave subject (Reconstruction) had engaged the attention of Mr. Lincoln in the last days of his life, and the plan according to which it was to be managed had been prepared and was ready for adoption. A leading feature of that plan was that it was to be carried out by Executive authority. * * * The first business, transacted in the Cabinet after I became President was this unfinished business of my predecessor. A plan or scheme of reconstruction had been prepared for Mr. Lincoln by Mr. Stanton. It was approved, and at the earliest moment practicable was applied, in the form of a proclamation, to the State of North Carolina, and afterwards became the basis of action in turn for the other States."
Mr. Stanton also testified before the House Impeachment Committee of 1867, that he had "entertained no doubt of the authority of the President to take measures for the reorganization of the rebel States on the plan proposed, during the vacation of Congress, and agreed in the plan specified in the proclamation in the case of North Carolina."
In the first attempt to impeach the President, in 1867, Mr. Johnson's method of Reconstruction was the most conspicuous feature of the prosecution. It was insisted by the extremists that it was a departure from Mr. Lincoln's plan--an unwarranted assumption of authority by Mr. Johnson--that its purpose was the recognition of the people of the South as American citizens with the rights of such, and even as an act not far removed from treason. In reference to this action of the President, General Grant was called before the Committee and testified as follows:
Question: I wish to know whether, at or about the time of the war being ended, you advised the President that it was, in your judgment, best to extend a liberal policy towards the people of the South, and to restore as speedily as possible the fraternal relations that existed prior to the war between the sections?
Answer: I know that immediately after the close of the rebellion there was a very fine feeling manifested in the South, and I thought we ought to take advantage of it as soon as possible.
Ques. I understood you to say that Mr. Lincoln had inaugurated a policy intended to restore these governments?
Ans. Yes Sir.
Ques. You were present when the subject was brought before the Cabinet?
Ans. I was present, I think, twice before the assassination of Mr. Lincoln, when a plan was read.
Ques. I want to know whether the plan adopted by Mr. Johnson was substantially the plan which had been inaugurated by Mr. Lincoln as the basis for his future action.
Ans. Yes sir: substantially. I do not know but that it was verbatim the same.
Ques. I suppose the very paper of Mr. Lincoln was the one acted on?
Ans. I should think so. I think that the very paper which I heard read twice while Mr. Lincoln was President, was the one which was carried right through.
Ques. What paper was that?
Ans. The North Carolina Proclamation.
In additional testimony that Mr. Johnson was endeavoring to carry out Mr. Lincoln's methods of reconstruction, the following extracts from a speech by Gov. O. P. Morton, of Indiana, delivered at Richmond, that State, Sept. 29th, 1865, are here inserted:
An impression has gotten abroad in the North that Mr. Johnson has devised some new policy by which improper facilities are granted for the restoration of the rebel States, and that he is presenting improperly and unnecessarily hurrying forward the work of reconstruction, and that he is offering improper facilities for restoring those who have been engaged in the rebellion to the possession of their civil and political rights.
It is one of my purposes here this evening to show that so far as his policy of amnesty and reconstruction is concerned, he has absolutely presented nothing new, but that he has simply presented, and is simply continuing THE POLICY WHICH MR. LINCOLN PRESENTED TO THE NATION ON THE 8TH OF DECEMBER, 1863. Mr. Johnson's policy differs from Mr. Lincoln's in some restrictions it contains, which Mr. Lincoln's did not contain. His plan of reconstruction is absolutely and simply that of Mr. Lincoln, nothing more or less, with one difference only, that Mr. Lincoln required that one-tenth of the people of the disloyal States should be willing to embrace his plan of reconstruction, whereas Mr. Johnson says nothing about the number; but, so far as it has been acted upon yet, it has been done by a number much greater than one-tenth. * * * Their plans of amnesty and reconstruction cannot be distinguished from each other except in the particulars already mentioned, that Mr. Johnson proposed to restrict certain persons from taking the oath, unless they have a special pardon from him, whom Mr. Lincoln permitted to come forward and take the oath without it. * * * That was Mr. Lincoln's policy at the time he was nominated for re-election by the Union Convention at Baltimore, last summer; and in that convention the party sustained him and strongly endorsed his whole policy, of which this was a prominent part. MR. LINCOLN WAS TRIUMPHANTLY AND OVERWHELMINGLY RE-ELECTED UPON THAT POLICY.
In his last annual message to Congress, December, 1864, he again brings forward this same policy of his, and presents it to the Nation.
Again, on the 12th of April, 1865, only two days before his death, he referred to and presented this policy of amnesty and reconstruction. That speech may be called his last speech, his dying words to his people. It was after Richmond had been evacuated. It was the day after they had received the news of Lee's surrender. Washington City was illuminated. A large crowd came in front of the White House and Mr. Lincoln spoke to them from one of the windows. He referred to the organization of Louisiana under his plan of amnesty and reconstruction, and in speaking of it he gave the history of his policy. He said:
In my annual message of December, 1863, and accompanying the Proclamation, I presented a plan of reconstruction, as the phrase goes, which I promised if adopted by any State, would be acceptable and sustained by the Executive Government of this Nation. I distinctively stated that this was a plan which might possibly be acceptable, and also distinctively protested that the Executive claimed no right to say when or whether members should be admitted to seats in Congress from such States.
The new constitution of Louisiana, (said Mr. Lincoln) declaring emancipation for the whole State, practically applies the Proclamation to that part previously exempted. It does not adopt apprenticeship for freed people, and is silent, as it could not well be otherwise, about the admission of members to Congress. As it applied to Louisiana, every member of the Cabinet approved the plan of the message. * * * Now, we find Mr. Lincoln, just before his death; referring in warm and strong terms to his policy of amnesty and reconstruction, and giving it his endorsement; giving to the world that which had never been given before--the history of that plan and policy--stating that it had been presented and endorsed by every member of that able and distinguished Cabinet of 1863. Mr. Lincoln may be said to have died holding out to the Nation his policy of amnesty and reconstruction. It was held out by him at the very time the rebels laid down their arms. Mr. Lincoln died by the hand of an assassin and Mr. Johnson came into power. He took Mr. Lincoln's Cabinet as he had left it and he took Mr. Lincoln's policy of amnesty and reconstruction as he had left it, and as he had presented it to the world only two days before his death. MR. JOHNSON HAS HONESTLY AND FAITHFULLY ATTEMPTED TO ADMINISTER THAT POLICY, which had been bequeathed by that man around whose grave a whole world has gathered as mourners. I refer to these for the purpose of showing that Mr. Johnson's policy is not a new one, but that he is simply carrying out a policy left to him by his lamented predecessor--a policy that had been ENDORSED BY THE WHOLE NATION IN THE REELECTION OF MR. LINCOLN.
Again Gov. Morton said:
An impression has gotten abroad in the North that Mr. Johnson has devised some new policy by which improper facilities are granted for the restoration of the rebel States and that he is presenting improperly and unnecessarily hurrying forward the work of reconstruction, and that he is offering improper facilities for restoring those who have been engaged in rebellion, to the possession of their civil and political rights. It is one of my purposes here this evening to show that so far as his policy of amnesty and reconstruction is concerned, he has absolutely presented nothing new, that he has simply presented, and is SIMPLY CONTINUING THE POLICY WHICH MR. LINCOLN PRESENTED TO THE NATION ON THE 8TH OF DECEMBER, 1863.
The following are extracts from Mr. Johnson's Message to Congress, in December, 1865, on the re-assembling of that body--the first session of the 39th Congress. Indicating, as it did, a policy of reconstruction at variance with the views of the Congressional leaders, it may be said to have been another incident out of which arose the conditions that finally, led to his impeachment. Mr. Johnson said:
I found the States suffering from the effects of a civil war. Resistance to the General Government appeared to have exhausted itself. The United States had recovered possession of its forts and arsenals, and their armies were in the occupation of every State which had attempted to secede. Whether the territory within the limits of those States should be held as conquered territory, under Military authority emanating from the President as head of the Army, was the first question that presented itself for decision. Military Governments, established for an indefinite period, would have offered no security for the early suppression of discontent; would have divided the people into the vanquishers and the vanquished; and would have envenomed hatred rather than have restored affection. Once established, no precise limit to their continuance was conceivable. They would have occasioned an incalculable and exhausting expense. * * * The powers of patronage and rule which would have been exercised, under the President, over a vast and populous and naturally wealthy region, are greater than, under a less extreme necessity, I should be willing to entrust to any one man. They are such as, for myself, I should never, unless on occasion of great emergency, consent to exercise. The wilful use of such powers, if continued through a period of years, would have endangered the purity of the General Administration and the liberty of the States which remained loyal. * * * The policy of military rule over conquered territory would have implied that the States whose inhabitants may have taken part in the rebellion had, by the act of those inhabitants, ceased to exist. But the true theory is, that ALL PRETENDED ACTS OF SECESSION WERE, FROM THE BEGINNING, NULL AND VOID. THE STATES CAN NOT COMMIT TREASON, nor screen the individual citizens who may have committed treason, any more than they can make valid treaties, or engage in lawful commerce with any foreign power. The States attempting to secede placed themselves in a condition where their vitality was IMPAIRED, BUT NOT EXTINGUISHED--THEIR FUNCTIONS SUSPENDED, BUT NOT DESTROYED.
Reports had been circulated in the North, and found ready credence with a great many, that the people of the South were as a rule, insubordinate and indisposed to accept the changed conditions there, and that insubordination and turmoil were the rule. To ascertain the facts in this regard, during the later months of 1865 Mr. Johnson commissioned General Grant and others to make a tour of inspection and investigation of the condition of affairs in the Southern States, especially as to their disposition with reference to the acceptance by the people of those States, of their changed relations to the Union, and to report to him the results of their observations.
On the 10th of December, 1865, on motion of Mr. Cowan, of Pennsylvania, the following resolution was adopted by the Senate:
Resolved, That the President of the United States be, and he is hereby requested to furnish the Senate information of the state of that portion of the Union lately in rebellion; whether the rebellion has been suppressed and the United States put again in possession of the States in which it existed; whether the United States courts are restored, post offices re-established and the revenue collected; and also whether the people of those States have reorganized their State governments, and whether they are yielding obedience to the laws and Government of the United States. And at the same time furnish to the Senate copies of such reports as he may have received from such officers or agents appointed to visit that portion of the Union.
December 19th, 1865, in response to this resolution of the Senate, the President transmitted the following Message to the Senate inclosing Gen. Grant's Report:
In reply to the resolution adopted by the Senate on the 12th inst., I have the honor to state that the rebellion waged by a portion of the people against the properly constituted authorities of the Government of the United States has been suppressed; that the United States are in possession of every State in which the insurrection existed; and that, as far as could be done, the courts of the United States have been restored, postoffices re-established, and steps taken to put into effective operation the revenue laws of the country. As the result of the measures instituted by the Executive, with the view of inducing a resumption of the functions of the States comprehended in the inquiry of the Senate, the people in North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana, Arkansas, and Tennessee, have reorganized their respective State Governments, and 'are yielding their obedience to the laws and Government of the United States' with more willingness and greater promptitude than under the circumstances could reasonably have been anticipated. The proposed amendment to the Constitution, providing for the abolition of slavery forever within the limits of the country, has been ratified by each one of those States, with the exception of Mississippi, from which no official information has yet been received; and in nearly all of them measures have been adopted or are now pending, to confer upon freedmen rights and privileges which are essential to their comfort, protection and security. In Florida and Texas, the people are making considerable progress in restoring their State Governments, and no doubt is entertained that they will at the Federal Government. In that portion of the Union lately in rebellion, the aspect of affairs is more promising than, in view of all the circumstances, could have been expected. The people throughout the entire South evince a laudable desire to renew their allegiance to the Government, and to repair the devastations of war by a prompt and cheerful return to peaceful pursuits. An abiding faith is entertained that their actions will conform to their professions, and that, in acknowledging the supremacy of the Constitution and laws of the United States, their loyalty will be given unreservedly to the Government; whose leniency they cannot fail to appreciate, and whose fostering care will soon restore them to a condition of prosperity. It is true, that in some of the States the demoralizing effects of war are to be seen in occasional disorders; but these are local in character, not frequent in occurrence, and are really disappearing as the authority of the civil law is extended and sustained. * * * From all the information in my possession, and from that which I have recently derived from the most reliable authority, I am induced to cherish the belief that sectional animosity is surely and rapidly merging itself into a spirit of nationality, and that representation, connected with a properly adjusted system of taxation, will result in a harmonious restoration of the relations of the States and the National Union.
The following is General Grant's Report transmitted to Congress with the foregoing Message:
Headquarters Armies of the United States, Washington, D. C., Dec. 18, 1865.
Sir:--In reply to your note of the 16th inst., requesting a report from me giving such information as I may be possessed, coming within the scope of the inquiries made by the Senate of the United States, in their resolution of the 12th inst., I have the honor to submit the following:
With your approval, and also that of the Honorable Secretary of War, I left Washington City on the 27th of last month for the purpose of making a tour of inspection through some of the Southern States, or States lately in rebellion, and to see what changes were necessary to be made in the disposition of the Military forces of the country; how these forces could be reduced and expenses curtailed, etc., and to learn as far as possible, the feelings and intentions of the citizens of those States towards the General Government.
The State of Virginia being so accessible to Washington City, and information from this quarter therefore being readily obtained, I hastened through the State without conversing or meeting with any of its citizens. In Raleigh, North Carolina, I spent one day; in Charleston, South Carolina, I spent two days; Savannah and Augusta, Georgia, each one day. Both in traveling and while stopping, I saw much and conversed freely with the citizens of those States, as well as with officers of the Army who have been stationed among them. The following are the conclusions come to by me:
I am satisfied that the mass of the thinking men of the South accept the present situation of affairs in good faith. The questions which have heretofore divided the sentiments of the people of the two sections--Slavery and State Rights, or the right of a State to secede from the Union--they regard as having been settled forever by the highest tribunal--arms--that man can resort to. I was pleased to learn from the leading men whom I met, that they not only accepted the decision arrived at, as final, but that now, when the smoke of battle has cleared away, and time has been given for reflection, this decision has been a fortunate one for the whole country, they receiving like benefits from it with those who opposed them in the field and in council.
Four years of war, during which law was executed only at the point of the bayonet throughout the States in rebellion, have left the people possibly in a condition not to yield that ready obedience to civil authority the American people have been in the habit of generally yielding. This would render the presence of small garrisons throughout those States necessary until such time as labor returns to its proper channels and civil authority is fully established. I did not meet anyone, either those holding places under the Government or citizens of the Southern States, who think it practicable to withdraw the Military from the South at present. The white and black mutually require the protection of the General Government. There is such universal acquiescence in the authority of the General Government throughout the portions of the country visited by me, that the mere presence of a military force, without regard to numbers, is sufficient to maintain order. The good of the country and economy require that the force kept in the interior where there are many freedmen (elsewhere in the Southern States than at forts upon the sea coast, no more is necessary,) should all be white troops. The reasons for this are obvious without mentioning any of them. The presence of black troops, lately slaves, demoralizes labor both by their advice and by furnishing in their camps a resort for freedmen for long distances around. White troops generally excite no opposition, and therefore a small number of them can maintain order in a given district. Colored troops must be kept in bodies sufficient to defend themselves. It is not thinking men who would use violence towards any class of troops sent among them by the General Government, but the ignorant in some cases might, and the late slave seems to be imbued with the idea that the property of his late master should of right belong to him, or at least should have no protection from the colored soldiers. There is danger of collision being brought on by such causes.
My observations lead me to the conclusion that the citizens of the Southern States are anxious to return to self government within the Union as soon as possible; that while reconstructing they want and require protection from the Government; that they are in earnest in wishing to do what they think is required by the Government, not humiliating to them as citizens, and that if such is pointed out they would pursue it in good faith. It is to be regretted that there cannot be a greater commingling at this time between the citizens of the two sections, and particularly with THOSE ENTRUSTED WITH THE LAWMAKING POWER.
I did not give, the operation of the Freedmen's Bureau that attention I would have done if more time had been at my disposal. Conversations on the subject, however, with officers connected with the Bureau, led me to think that in some of the States its affairs have not been conducted with good judgment and economy, and that the belief, widely spread among the freedmen of the Southern States, that the land of their former masters will, at least in part, be divided among them, has come from the agents of this Bureau. This belief is seriously interfering with the willingness of the freedmen to make contracts for the coming year. In some form the Freedmen's Bureau is an absolute necessity until civil law is established and enforced, securing to the freedmen their rights and full protection. At present, however, it is independent of the Military establishment of the country, and seems to be operated by the different agents of the Bureau according to their individual notions, every where. Gen. Howard, the able head of the Bureau, made friends by the just and fair instructions and advice he gave; but the complaint in South Carolina was that, when he left, things went on as before. Many, perhaps the majority of the agents of the Bureau, advised the freedmen that by their industry they must expect to live. To this end they endeavor to secure employment for them: to see that both contracting parties comply with their agreements. In some instances; I am sorry to say, the freedman's mind does not seem to be disabused of the idea that a freedman has a right to live without care or provision for the future. The effect of the belief in the division of lands is idleness and accumulation in camps, towns, and cities. In such cases, I think it will be found that vice and disease will tend to the extermination, or great reduction of the colored race. It cannot be expected that the opinions held by men at the South can be changed in a day, and therefore the freedmen require for a few years not only laws to protect them, but the fostering care of those who will give them good counsel and in whom they can rely.
U. S. Grant, Lieutenant General.
This report was at once vigorously denounced in and out of Congress, by the extremists. Mr. Sumner characterized it in the Senate, as a "whitewashing report." The standing of General Grant in the country at large, however, was such that few had the indiscretion to attack him openly.
The controlling element of the party which had elected Lincoln and Johnson, had acquiesced for a time in the plan of reconstruction foreshadowed by Mr. Lincoln and adopted by Mr. Johnson, but during the summer of 1865, frictions developed between Mr. Johnson and those who on Mr. Lincoln's death had assumed the leadership in the work of reconstruction and other matters of administration, came to take the opposite ground, from the first occupied by Sumner and other extremists in Congress--that the States lately in rebellion had destroyed themselves by their own act of war, and had thereby forfeited all the rights of Statehood and were but conquered provinces, subject solely to the will of the conqueror.
From that point their ways parted and widened from month to month, till bitter hostility, political and personal, came to mark even their official intercourse.
Mr. Johnson was practically unknown to the great mass of the people of the North till he succeeded to the Presidency. He was in no sense regarded as or assumed to be the leader of the dominant party; while those who on Mr. Lincoln's death became leaders of the dominant party in opposition to Mr. Johnson's administration and policies, were widely known and of long public experience, and had correspondingly the confidence of their party.
So, in the strife that ensued, as it became embittered with the lapse of time, Mr. Johnson was at great disadvantage, and made little or no headway, but rather lost ground as the controversy progressed. His moderate, conservative views, radically expressed, in regard to what should be the methods of reconstruction and the restoration of the Union, found little favor with the mass of the veterans of the Union armies who had but lately returned from the victorious fields of the South, their blood not yet cooled after the fury and heat of the strife while to many, who had witnessed the horrors of war at a safe distance, with the cessation of hostilities in the field, to which they had been only anxious spectators, became suddenly enthused over issues that others had fought out in battle, and vigorously vicious towards Mr. Johnson for presuming to treat the conquered people of the South as American citizens and entitled to the rights of such, after having laid down their arms and peacefully returned to their homes and their respective callings.
This temper, permeating, as it did, the dominant party of practically every Northern State, was not unstintingly reflected upon the National Capitol in the return to Congress of a large majority in both Houses, of men who sympathized with and reflected back again upon their constituents the most extreme views as to what should be the policy of the Government towards the South.
These views characterized the legislation of the time. Partisan rancor was unbridled, and found expression not only in coercive legislation of various grades of severity, but in placing the Southern States generally under almost absolute military control, and in the practical abrogation of the common rights of American citizenship in most of them.
Quite every act of this sort of legislation was passed over the official protest of the President, and each of these protests seemed but to add emphasis to each succeeding act of Congress in that line, till it seemed that there could be no end to the strife, so long as Mr. Johnson remained in the Presidential office.
The ostensible basis of the disagreement which in a few months after the accession of Mr. Johnson to the Presidency began to develop between himself and the Republican leaders in Congress, was the plan of reconstruction put in operation by him during the recess of Congress that year, 1865, and outlined in his North Carolina Proclamation. It availed not, that that plan had been adopted originally by Mr. Lincoln a few days before his death--that it had been concurred in by his entire Cabinet and would undoubtedly have been carried out successfully by him had he lived that plan was made the ground of criticism of Mr. Johnson by the extreme party element in control of Congress, which persistently accused him of having abandoned the plan initiated by Mr. Lincoln, and of setting up another of his own, for purely personal and ambitious purposes, and to the detriment of the peace of the country.
Mr. Johnson may have been opinionated and headstrong, a characteristic of a great many people of strong convictions of duty and purpose; while the overwhelming numerical strength of the dominant party in and out of Congress made it seemingly indifferent, reckless and inconsiderate of the convictions, as of the rights and prerogatives of the Chief Executive treating him more as a clerk whose sole duty it was to register without suggestion the decrees of Congress.
That Mr. Lincoln, had he lived, would have pursued much the same policy of reconstruction, is clearly indicated by the established fact that he had determined to adopt precisely the initial measures thereto which Mr. Johnson did inaugurate and attempt to carry out. But Mr. Lincoln's superior ability in statecraft, his rare tact and knowledge of men, and his capacity for moulding and directing public opinion, seeming to follow where he actually led, would doubtless have secured a more favorable result. And more than all else, it can scarcely be doubted, that the unbounded confidence of the people in his patriotism and capacity to direct public affairs, would have enabled him to dictate terms of reconstruction strictly on the lines he had marked out, and would have commanded the general support of the country, regardless of partisan divisions, notwithstanding the well known fact that at the time of his death there were unmistakable indications of alienation from him of the extreme element of his party because of his conservative views as to the proper methods of reconstruction.
Meantime, in the effort to hamper the President, as far as it was possible for Congress to do, the Tenure-of-Office Act was passed, early in 1867. The ostensible purpose of that Act was to restrict the authority of the President in the selection of his Cabinet advisers, and his power over appointments generally. Its specific purpose, at least so far as the House of Representatives was concerned, and measurably so in the Senate, was to prevent his removal of the Secretary of War, Mr. Stanton, with the manifest if not avowed intent, as the sequel shows, to make that Secretary not only independent of his chief, but also to make him the immediate instrument of Congress in whatever disposition of the Army, or of military affairs generally relating to the government of the Southern States, the majority of Congress might dictate. In a word, the Congress, in that Act, virtually assumed, or attempted to assume, that control of the Army which the Constitution vests on the President.
The first effort to impeach the President, in 1867, was based upon a general accusation of high crimes and misdemeanors without literal specification. The second, in 1868, was based upon his alleged violation of the Tenure-of-Office Act, in the removal of Mr. Stanton.
While it is undoubted, as already shown, that Mr. Lincoln and Mr. Johnson were in accord as to the methods to be adopted for the restoration of the revolted States, it was Mr. Johnson's misfortune that he had not Mr. Lincoln's capacity for so great and so peculiar a task; though a gentleman of proven patriotism, ability, of a kindly, genial nature, and with record of valuable public service. Hampered by his lack of political finesse and intricate knowledge of state-craft, and in view of the conditions of that time, and the people with whom he had to deal, it was obvious from the outset that the result of the controversy could hardly be otherwise than disastrous to him. Mr. Lincoln would undoubtedly have been met by the same character of opposition, and from the same source. But there would have been the appearance at least of mutual concession, and while the APPEARANCE of concession would have been on Mr. Lincoln's side, the actual concession, so far as essentials were involved, would have been on the other.
Mr. Johnson was a Democrat of pronounced type and profound convictions, and in no sense did he depart from his faith. He belonged to the school of Jackson and Jefferson. He had not the electric intuitions and impetuous will of the former, nor the culture and genius of the latter. He adhered more religiously to the letter of the Constitution than either. To him it was the one law of supreme obligation, that never ceased its guarantees. As fittingly expressed by one of his Counsel, Mr. Groesbeck, in the trial: "He was not learned and scholarly--not a man of many ideas or of much speculation--but the Constitution had been the study of his life, and by a law of the mind he was only the truer to that which he did know."
As had Mr. Lincoln, Mr. Johnson keenly appreciated the importance of the people of the South returning at once to the Union, free and independent American citizens, clothed with all the rights, privileges and obligations common to such. In his Cabinet Councils, and to a degree supreme in that board sat William H. Seward, as he had throughout Mr. Lincoln's administration, than whom the Republic has produced no wiser, more sagacious, or patriotic statesman. He gave the subject his intense devotion in the maturity of his great powers.
There too, sat Secretary Welles, another of Mr. Lincoln's advisers, and a devoted friend of the Constitution and the sanctity of the Union. Each of these men, thoroughly patriotic, and efficient, and untiring in the administration of their respective Departments, had commenced with the deluge of blood, and they now hoped to crown their official careers by a triumphant peace that would Honor their lives and glorify the Nation. These men had a salutary influence over Mr. Johnson, and greatly modified the asperities of his disposition.
Mr. Johnson believed, as did Mr. Lincoln, that the revolted States were still States of the Union--that all the pretended acts of secession were null and void, and that the loyal people therein had the right to reconstruct their State Governments on the basis proposed to them first by Mr. Lincoln, and after him by Mr. Johnson, and thus the right to representation in the General Government.
It was upon this question that parties divided during the reconstruction period. Mr. Lincoln, foreseeing danger in such a division, was anxious to bring those States into such relation that the people generally would consider them as virtually in the Union, without reference to the abstract question. It was with this view, undoubtedly, that he advocated the admission of Members and Senators whenever one-tenth of the voting population of 1860 should organize State Governments and ask for readmission. He would not only not countenance, but repelled the doctrine of "State Suicide," as it was called, and which came to characterize the methods of reconstruction subsequently adopted.
It is true, that on many occasions Mr. Johnson charged that the Congress was only a Congress of part of the States, and that its acts were therefore without validity. Yet he continued to execute those laws, and what to him was a very unpleasant duty, the law which set aside the State Governments organized under his own direction, so that notwithstanding his violent denunciations of the acts of Congress, and his personal opinions, he did not presume to act upon them. Angry and undignified language was uttered on both sides. Many of his speeches were violent and in bad taste and temper. So were a great many speeches uttered by senators and members of the House, and those bodies too often acted upon them.
It is therefore but repeating recorded history to say that Mr. Johnson was earnestly seeking to carry out Mr. Lincoln's plan of reconstruction, which was upon consultation with his entire Cabinet, more especially with Mr. Stanton, adopted by him as the basis for the restoration of the revolted States.
Yet, with these facts of record, that action was afterwards assailed by the Republican leaders in and out of Congress, who assumed to have become Mr. Lincoln's executors in the work of reconstruction, as not only an abandonment of the plan instituted by him, but a surrender of the issues fought out and the results accomplished by the war just closed notwithstanding very many of these critics of Mr. Johnson had but a few months before criticised Mr. Lincoln with quite equal severity for his suggestion of this same method of restoration.
Nor will it suffice to say that, though professing submission and loyalty, the people of the South were still hostile to the Union, and that there was no safety there for Union men. It is true that there came to be violence and disorder there upon the rejection by Congress of Mr. Johnson's plan of restoration.
These were the inevitable results of the conditions. There would also have been disorder and violence in the North and to a far greater degree, had the results of the war been reversed--an arbitrary and tyrannical system of restoration insisted upon--the established order of things destroyed homes broken up the people impoverished, and hordes of unscrupulous adventurers swarmed up from the South and overrun the country in pursuit of schemes of political chicanery and personal ambition, peculation and plunder, as was the South after the close of the war.
But when the fight was on, an overwhelmingly partisan House, as a last resort, in the hope of at once ending, by removal, all opposition on the part of the President to the views and aims of the dominant party in Congress, resorted to the first project of impeachment set out in the succeeding chapter.