The Senate, as in Committee of the Whole, resumed the consideration of the bill (H. R. 320) to enforce the provisions of the fourteenth amendment to the Constitution of the United States, and for other purposes.
Mr. SCHURZ. Mr. President, I have followed the debate which was called forth by this bill, and by the resolution of the Senator from Ohio, [Mr. Sherman,] which preceded it, with intense solicitude, and I must confess that I was from time to time pained to see that discussion degenerate into something like a partisan wrangle; that criminations and recriminations were tossed to and fro between Democrats and Republicans, for the purpose of making some small points upon one another, so that it appeared sometimes as if the redress of wrongs was the least and last object to be accomplished.
I may say that this subject is one appealing to my feelings as a man and to my highest sense of duty as a legislator, and I intend to express my opinions on this subject with entire candor and without the least partisan prejudice.
From the investigation which has been made and the additional light thrown upon it by the debate, I have formed some conclusions, the first of which is that these so-called Ku Klux disorders in the South really do exist, and that they have attained considerable dimensions. I find it, indeed, difficult to believe in the statements which have been made, that there are forty thousand enrolled men in the Ku Klux organization of the State of North Carolina alone, for the reason that I know from my own experience how liable even practiced men are to commit mistakes in estimating the number of people they see before them, and how much greater errors are apt to be committed when the number of members of secret organizations are estimated from mere vague report. Yet the organization has undoubtedly grown to formidable dimensions; and its operations consist in murder, scourgings, threats, and in demonstrations of violence of all sorts.
The second conclusion I have arrived at in the same way is, that the so-called Ku Klux organization has a political tendency, being in its operations mainly directed against Republicans and the colored people, and operating in favor of one political party and against another. I know this is mildly denied on the Democratic side; and yet I presume nobody can read the testimony and the speeches which have been made upon this subject without coming to that conclusion.
Different opinions have been expressed with regard to the origin of these disorders. It has been said that their origin is to be found in the reconstruction measures; in other words, to quote an expression which has been used, that Congress was the original Ku Klux.
It has also been asserted that bad local government was the cause of it. From that opinion I beg respectfully to dissent. Similar disorders occurred long before the reconstruction measures were enacted, and long, therefore, before any State government was organized under the reconstruction acts. They occurred immediately after the close of the war, when President Johnson first inaugurated what was called his policy, and in fact they were then much more extensive in point of numbers and much more grievous in their nature than those which we witness now.
I can speak of my own experience; for I was sent into the South by President Johnson in 1865, and I have seen with my own eyes and I have heard with my own ears; and I can testify to the fact that the outrages which then occurred were far beyond anything that is occurring now. I myself then visited the hospitals where the victims of these outrages were being taken care of. I saw the bloody backs of the scourged; I saw the lifeless bodies of those who had been assassinated; and I know whereof I speak. Therefore I say that the allegation that Congress is the original Ku Klux and that the reconstruction measures brought forth all these disorders is entirely without foundation in fact.
Mr. President, I think these disorders had their origin in the baffled pro-slavery spirit of the people lately in rebellion. That spirit manifested itself immediately after the war, not only in bloody deeds, but in a variety of attempted municipal regulations intended and calculated to restore as much of slavery as circumstances would then permit; and if gentlemen will take up the report which I rendered to the President of the United States at that time they will find it teeming with evidence to that effect. No, sir; there can be no doubt as to the peculiar condition of the popular mind in the late rebel States which brought forth the condition of things which we are now deploring. Attempted legislation was merely a commentary to the acts of violence, both, I say, clearly demonstrating the general tendency. Those attempts at municipal regulations were indeed frustrated; but the disorders continued. Compare what they were then with what they are now, and you will perceive a considerable improvement in the condition of things, and that improvement took place under the reconstruction acts. The only worse feature there is now to be noticed is that the disorderly tendency appears in a more organized shape.
Now, sir, as to the nature of these disorders, such a condition of things is nothing new in the history of the world. Such distempers do not unfrequently happen after great social revolutions like the sudden emancipation of the slaves of the South; nay, such things almost always happen after social and political convulsions of far less sweeping character than emancipation was. Go over the history of the world, and you will find that almost every great popular commotion brings just such consequences after it. In saying this I certainly do not attempt to apologize for or to palliate such atrocities. No; I recognize the horrible nature of the things that are taking place; but when looking at it in the light of history I cannot refrain from taking into consideration also the remedies which history suggests.
The real evil in the southern States you will find in the baffled pro-slavery tendency prevailing there; in a diseased public sentiment which partly vents itself in violent acts, partly winks at them, and partly permits itself to be overawed by them. That public sentiment is not only terrorizing timid people, but it is corrupting the jury box, it is overawing the witness-stand, and it is thus obstructing the functions of justice.
I will not deny that a new element has come in which has given new life to the disorderly tendency, although it was not the cause of it; and that is what is called bad government in many of the southern States. I think it is idle to deny that bad government in many of the southern States does exist, nor will you find its existence there very surprising.
The social revolution which took place in the South brought with it the introduction of the lately enslaved class into the body politic as a necessary and absolutely logical consequence. We had the choice between protecting the emancipated class and the Unionists of the South by national action, by direct and continual interference on our part, on one hand, or enabling them to protect themselves by political means, namely, the ballot, on the other. Success in this respect, I must confess, has not been as complete as might be desired; but we did this thing, we gave the colored people the ballot in order to avoid the necessity of national interference as much as possible, and to make a remedy for existing evils by local self-government available.
An ignorant class of people became voters. The ignorance of the late slaves was not their fault, nor could we recognize that ignorance as a reason why we should leave them without the means to defend their new rights just guarantied to them.
That this should have led to great temporary abuses in the conduct of local government is not surprising, as I said, though certainly very deplorable. But those who complain of it should see in it not only one of the consequences of the rebellion, but in a great measure a fault which is their own. When the negroes of the South were endowed with the right of suffrage, they would naturally follow the lead of those who promised them the amplest protection of their new rights, with regard to which the colored people could not but feel some sensitiveness. Would any other class of people have acted differently under the circumstances? Is it not equally natural that those who at that time manifested their intention to subvert those rights as soon as an opportunity should offer, should have found no followers among those whose rights they threatened? Now, if we assume that the class first mentioned consisted in great part of greedy adventurers, and the second class of honest men, did not the honest men drive the colored voters en masse into the arms of the adventurers? Had they fairly, frankly, faithfully accepted the new order of things, had they pledged themselves to protect the negroes in their rights, the chances are ten to one that the colored voters would have co÷perated with them in building up good government in the southern States. The government of ignorance led by dishonesty, as it exists here and there, might thus have been avoided in a great measure.
But, sir, we have to deal with facts as they are, and certainly bad government must be taken as one of the elements of the case. We have then to confront in the South an anarchical spirit growing out of old pro-slavery tendencies, now venting itself in bloody disorders and baffling justice by overawing public sentiment on the one side, and a large mass of citizens, well-meaning I have no doubt, but in a great many localities under incapable and sometimes unscrupulous leadership, unable to secure the enforcement of the laws, on the other side.
Now, sir, what is the remedy? The first impulsive cry is, "We must have a new law against these disorders."
Let me say that I profoundly sympathize with those who suffer in the South; that my feelings are altogether on the side of those who, in order to aid them, would strain every power of Government. But I cannot forget the words which fell from the lips of the Senator from Pennsylvania [Mr. Scott] the other day when he recounted all the laws that had been passed for the repression of these very disorders in the South, and then admitted that all those laws, like many of their class, were, after all, of comparatively little avail. There was much wisdom in what the Senator from Pennsylvania said. Although he did not give expression to his feelings in that respect in direct language, yet he undoubtedly felt as well as I do that there are many social disorders which it is very difficult to cure by laws, just as there are many diseases which it is impossible to cure by medicines.
In this case the greatest difficulty is, not that we have not laws enough reaching the case, if properly applied, but that the laws have not been, and perhaps could not be, properly executed. And why not? Because there is a morbid public sentiment there disabling the machinery of justice. Where you cannot have witnesses to tell the truth, and you cannot have juries to convict according to the dictates of their conscience, people being to that extent overawed and terrorized, there is the end of the efficacy of your laws, and the severer your law is the less will, under such circumstances, be the chance of its faithful and efficient execution. We all know with regard to our revenue laws that the severer we make the penalties, the more difficult it is to obtain a conviction.
Sir, it would have given me sincere satisfaction to be able to support the majority of the Committee on the Judiciary in the entire proposition which they have laid before us. I should have been very glad to exert all the power of the Government to reach the difficulties in the South. And if I am compelled to oppose some provisions of this bill, it is because I consider the rights and liberties of the whole American people of still higher importance than the interests of those in the South whose dangers and sufferings appeal so strongly to our sympathy. The nature of the difficulties we are now witnessing at the South I have already described as one of those second fermentations which almost uniformly follow great civil convulsions, and which in the nature of things come and go. It is well that we should repress their violent symptoms, but it is not well that the passing evil should be cured at the expense of a permanent good.
As to the bill before us, I do not want to go into a discussion of its provisions in detail. Other Senators have done that before me with greater ability than I possess, and I will not consume the time of the Senate in merely repeating their arguments. But in general terms I desire to state that I agree with those who see in several provisions of this bill an encroachment of the national authority upon the legitimate sphere of local self-government, not warranted by the Constitution of this Republic. To give such provisions my vote would not only go against my convictions of constitutional law, but also of sound policy. The great failures of local self-government, which we have sometimes to deplore, and which I am certainly not disposed to deny, are in the long run overbalanced by the blessings it confers, by the healthy inspirations it gives to the popular mind, by the natural remedies it furnishes for existing evils, by the nourishment it gives to the spirit of liberty and individual independence, and by the educating influence it exercises upon the masses in keeping them in constant consciousness of responsibility; and I never see the province of local self-government invaded, even for a good purpose, without regret and serious misgivings. Still less can I assent to such an encroachment when it breaks through the limitations with which the Constitution has surrounded the central authority.
While I would certainly raise no objection to the President's using the military power of the Government to enforce the laws of the United States which are placed under his special guardianship, I am not prepared to authorize him, as is virtually done in the third section of this bill as it now stands, to interfere with the military of the United States in a State without the request of the Governor or the Legislature, when in his (the President's) opinion the State authorities do not enforce their own laws for the protection of the lives and property of their own citizens. It would be vain, sir, even with a liberal construction of the powers conferred by the fourteenth amendment, to look for such authority for the President in the Constitution.
Still more am I opposed to the fourth section of this bill, in which you find something like a new doctrine of constructive rebellion, the first step toward a doctrine of constructive treason. I must confess I am a little alarmed when I find myself invited to call that "rebellion" which consists in a mere combination and conspiracy, with the mere purpose and ability, in the judgment of the President, to do certain things without having actually by overt act attempted to do any of them, and when upon the ground of the existence of such a combination, with such purpose and ability, the President is to be invested with the discretionary power to suspend that great safeguard of our rights and liberties, the writ of habeas corpus. Here we have the invention of a new definition of rebellion, merely to find a pretext for placing the highest privilege of an American citizen at the mercy of the Executive.
Now, sir, although I willingly admit that the evils to be combated at the South seem to require strong remedies, yet here a remedy is proposed, placing power in the hands of the President of the United States which I would confide to no living man, whatever my confidence might be in his ability and in his fidelity. You will notice that the fourth section of this bill limits the grant of this power in point of time. Is not that a confession that this grant of power is indeed of a dangerous nature? It was of some significance when the Senator from Indiana [Mr. Morton] asked the question, why the grant of that extraordinary power was not extended over the next year, inasmuch as next year during the presidential election it might be most needed? I do not impute to the Senator from Indiana the design to interfere by force in the next presidential election; and yet he will admit that the question he asked might be construed as having direct reference to that contingency. You can hardly avoid, under circumstances like the present, that a political significance, a partisan color should be given to measures of this kind, and I need not tell gentlemen of your experience what the consequences would be if a suspicion of this nature should take general possession of the popular mind -- nay, if only the temptation to abuse a discretionary power should present itself in a strong form.
I believe the Republican party is as conscientious in the use of power as any other, I will assume that it is more so. But the general tendency of parties to secure a continuation of power by the use of that which they possess is so great that they are apt to be carried away by their interests and opportunities in spite of their good intentions, and I would not trust any; not even my own. But you introduce the granting of extraordinary powers and their consequent use for partisan ends once into our political life, and you may be sure that other parties, succeeding you, will go beyond your example. The consequences I need not point out to you.
I may, however, give an instance of the extent to which such a tendency may be carried under the legislative guise; an example from our own history.
On the 23d of January, 1860, with reference to John Brown's Harper's Ferry raid, Mr. Douglas introduced the following resolution in the Senate of the United States:
"Resolved, That the Committee on the Judiciary be instructed to report a bill for the protection of each State and Territory in the Union against invasion by the authorities or inhabitants of any other State or Territory, and for the suppression and punishment of conspiracies or combinations in any State or Territory with intent to invade, assail, or molest the government, property, or institutions of any other State or Territory of the Union."
Here was a proposition ostensibly intended to protect slavery in the States against invasion by force, such as a Democrat of that period might, in his opinion, with great propriety bring forward. But now mark what the tendency of this new grant of power to the Federal authority was, and how far Mr. Douglas's intentions went. In explanation of his resolution he said:
"Sir, I hold that it is not only necessary to use the military power when the actual case of invasion shall occur, but to authorize the judicial department of the Government to suppress all conspiracies and combinations in the several States with intent to invade a State, or molest or disturb its government, its peace, its citizens, its property, or its institutions. You must suppress the conspiracy, the combination with intent to do the act, and then you will suppress it in advance." * * * * "I demand that the Constitution be executed in good faith, so as to punish and suppress every combination either to invade a State, or to molest its inhabitants, or to disturb its property, or to subvert its institutions and its government. I believe this can be effectually done by authorizing the United States courts in the several States to take jurisdiction of the offense and punish the violation of the law with appropriate punishments." * * * * * * *
"Sir, what were the causes which produced the Harper's Ferry outrage? Without stopping to adduce the evidence in detail, I have no hesitancy in expressing my firm and deliberate conviction that the Harper's Ferry crime was the natural, logical, and inevitable result of the doctrines and teachings of the Republican party, as explained and enforced in their platform, their partisan press, their pamphlets and books, and especially in the speeches of their leaders, in and out of Congress." * * * * "The great principle that underlies the Republican party is violent, irreconcilable, eternal warfare upon the institution of American slavery with a view to its ultimate extinction throughout the land."
"Sir, give us such a law as the Constitution contemplates and authorizes, and I will show the Senator from New York that there is a constitutional mode of repressing the irrepressible conflict. I will open the prison doors, and allow the conspirators against the peace of the Republic and the domestic tranquility of other States to select their cells, wherein to drag out a miserable life as a punishment for their crimes against the peace of society."
"Can any man say to us that, although this outrage has been perpetrated at Harper's Ferry, there is no danger of its recurrence? Sir, is not the Republican party still embodied, organized, confident of success, and defiant in its pretensions? Does it not now hold and proclaim the same creed as before the invasion? Those doctrines remain the same. Those teachings are being poured into the minds of men throughout the country be means of speeches and pamphlets and books, and through the partisan press. The causes that produced the Harper's Ferry invasion are now in active operation." * * * * "Mr. President, the mode of preserving peace is plain. This system of sectional warfare must cease. The Constitution has given the power; and all we ask of Congress is to give the means, and we, by indictments and convictions in the Federal courts of the several States, will make such examples of the leaders of such conspiracies as will strike terror into the hearts of others; and there will be an end of this crusade."
I did not, in quoting this occurrence, intent to indulge in a fling at a once great and powerful leader of the Democratic party; I merely wanted to point out to the Senate to what extremes sometimes partisan spirit may run in availing itself of tempting opportunities for legislation calculated to play a part in political warfare. Here you find a scheme boldly disclosing itself to destroy the Republican party by indicting, trying, and punishing its leaders and active men for an alleged conspiracy, which consisted in the advocacy of certain principles, and those principles your own. I do not deem any Senator on this floor capable of so outrageous a design as was openly avowed by the Democratic chieftain; I am sure you are actuated by the single desire to aid the men in the South, whose lives and rights are in danger. But if you once venture out in that direction, you cannot, with certainty, say yourself where you will stop. It is for such reasons that I see in these strained constitutional constructions, and in these assumptions and grants of exceptional powers a danger which is not confined to their operation in the southern States, but extends to the whole drift of our political life and the general character of the institutions of the country.
I repeat that I did not intend to go into the details of this bill, especially as the Senator from Illinois [Mr. Trumbull] has already expressed many views I entertain, with much more ability than I can command. I merely intended to present some points of view which had not yet been touched.
On the whole, sir, let us not indulge in the delusion that we can eradicate all the disorders that exist in the South by means of laws and by the application of penal statutes. Laws are apt to be especially inefficacious when their constitutionality is, with a show of reason, doubted, and when they have the smell of partisanship about them; and however pure your intentions may be, and I know they are, in that light a law like this, unless greatly modified, will appear suspicious. If we want to produce enduring effects there, our remedies must go to the root of the evil; and in order to do that, they must operate upon public sentiment in the South. I admit that in that respect the principal thing cannot be done by us; it must be done by the southern people themselves. But at any rate we can in a great measure facilitate it.
While faithfully striving to secure the enforcement of constitutional laws, we must trust much, and do it patiently, to that natural process which will gradually develop and educate public sentiment in the South, as to the true interests of southern society. Looking at the component elements of that society, you cannot fail to find the elements of improvement there. The machinery of our Government, national as well as State, is substantially worked by political parties. Examine the political parties which exist in the South and you will find that the Democratic party of that section, as it now is, cannot give peace and order to southern society, for the simple reason that the lawless element is too powerful in it, and that it is controlled by a reactionary tendency. The Republican party in the South, as it now stands in several States, is equally incapable of securing peace and order to society, because as long as ignorance there is led by unscrupulousness it cannot produce good government and cannot exercise great moral power. But there is in the Democratic party in the southern States a numerous element desiring peace and order as a matter of interest, but which is at present overawed by the lawless wing of the party to which it is bound by a common grievance; and there is in the Republican party of the South a numerous element detesting dishonesty and capable of promoting good government, but bound to the selfish political tricksters by common dangers and fears.
Thus you will find there a large mass of citizens now separated by party lines who, if united, would possess intelligence enough, honest purpose enough, numerical strength enough, and moral power enough to put down disorders without the interference of the national authority and to give to the southern States good government. To be sure, we cannot by our actions, accomplish that union, but, as I have said, we can do much to facilitate it. In the first place, we can dissolve that bond of common grievance which binds the law and order loving Democrats of the South to the lawless element, and the first step in that direction consists in the removal of political disabilities. And secondly, we can strengthen the influence and power of the honest element in the Republican party of the South by refusing our countenance to the selfish schemers and tricksters who, under all sorts of pretexts, continually invoke the aid of the national Government to sustain them in power.
Now, sir, as to the removal of political disabilities, there are two points of view from which it may be looked at: one is the sentimental, and the other is the practical. I find the sentimental point of view quite intelligible. It is asked, shall rebels go without punishment? Shall there be no distinction between a man who stood true to his Government and one who attempted the life of this Republic? I recognize as very natural the feelings which originally dictated that language. But practical statesmanship cannot always be governed by the emotions. It looks at the question of usefulness.
And now I would ask southern Senators, even the most Radical Republicans among them, can you affirm that the political disabilities imposed by the fourteenth constitutional amendment protect anybody in his rights? Can you affirm that they in any way or in the least degree diminish the power of the evil-disposed for mischief? Do they in any manner strengthen the party of law and order in the South? Nobody will say that they do. They neither do protect anybody in his rights, nor do they disable anybody from doing mischief, nor do they strengthen the party of law and order.
Then, I would ask you, in the name of common sense, what is the practical usefulness of these political disabilities at this day? Their effect, I think, is just the opposite direction. They will naturally render many a man, who otherwise would be inclined to do so, indisposed to give support to the new order of things, of which he is excluded from enjoying the privileges. Many a man in the South would have joined the friends of law and order in active co÷peration, could he look up to the flag of the United States as the symbol of his security and his rights, instead of being reminded by it of privileges which others enjoy, but not he. The system of political disabilities works even greater mischief than that.
Some time ago a Representative from Texas, a friend of mine, told me the following story: there was living in his neighborhood an old man who had taken part in the rebellion. That man was ready to "accept the situation" in good faith, and he sent up to Washington a petition for the removal of his disabilities, and his name is now, with thousands of others, on that great amnesty bill which died in the House of Representatives and the expiration of the last session of Congress. Well, sir, what happened? That he had sent up that petition was known among his neighbors, and day after day they came to him and said, "Mr. Jones, you are a loyal man now?" "Yes." "You petitioned for the removal of your disabilities?" "Yes." "Have they been removed?" "No." "Are you glad you have petitioned the Yankees?" And so on, day after day and week after week. Not many months had passed when Mr. Jones, annoyed by the sneers of his neighbors, cursed the day when he had petitioned Congress; all his good disposition was sneered out of him, and his boys swore that they would kill a negro every day as long as the old man was under disabilities, which, in point of political rights and privileges, put him under his former slaves. That is the practical working of your political disabilities.
Mr. EDMUNDS. Does the Senator think that man a fit subject for clemency?
Mr. SCHURZ. Well, sir, I think if this man's disabilities had been removed, the probability is that he would have stepped into the ranks of the law and order loving men.
Mr. POMEROY. Would you remove the disabilities of a man who proposed to kill negroes?
Mr. SCHURZ. I did not say that he did; but his sons swore that as long as the father was disabled from holding office while his former slaves could, they would do that. That was the feeling which the circumstance had engendered.
Mr. EDMUNDS. May I ask my friend right there whether he thinks a good way to keep quiet in the South would be to remove the disabilities of men who could threaten to do such things?
Mr. SCHURZ. It happens most significantly that the sons, the negro-killers, were not laboring under political disabilities at all, because they were young men during the rebellion, who had not held office, had not taken any oath to support the Constitution of the United States, and were therefore unaffected by the fourteenth amendment.
Mr. EDMUNDS. Then, if my friend will allow me a remark, it seems plain that the fact that a man is not under disabilities, but may hold an office, does not restrain him from committing crime.
Mr. SCHURZ. No, sir; but I say that when a man by an arbitrary act of power finds himself excluded from political rights that are enjoyed by those whose superior he believes himself to be, it is more calculated to imbitter his feelings, to excite them, to inflame them, than to soothe them. The circumstances I have related may serve as proof that, while political disabilities in many cases do not touch the most violent element of society, they are apt to be rather a curse than a protection to the Republicans and the colored people.
As to the political movements of the South, political disabilities have two bad effects: they bind the law and order loving men of the late rebel population together with the lawless elements by a common grievance, and they demoralize the Republicans by making them rely on valueless restrictions instead of the moral power of their own cause. As a purely practical measure, therefore, I think the removal of political disabilities ought not a moment to be delayed.
Will that removal have the desired effect, then to unite the law and order loving men of the South on a common platform of a faithful support of the new order of things and the protection of the rights of all? I do not indulge in the illusion that the removal of political disabilities will have the effect of bringing about the millennium of peace and good-will all at once. By no means. Neither will your penal statutes; but I do think that the removal of political disabilities will strongly promote a movement in the right direction; it will gradually develop a healthy public sentiment, and every success gained in that direction will effect more than all the penal statutes that you can devise.
Already many thinking men, lately engaged in the rebellion, are becoming disgusted with these lawless proceedings, and are beginning to consider with more candor than ever before what should be done in order to cure southern society of such alarming evils; and in large numbers of letters I receive from that quarter I find the evidence that the existence of lawless combinations and the atrocity of their deeds are filling with the most serious apprehensions the hearts of many who in their political aspirations were inclined to co÷perate with the so-called rebel element.
The removal by us of the barriers which now stand between us from them will convince them that it is not malevolence that prompts our action, and make them disposed to listen to our friendly advice with more readiness than before, their old prejudices notwithstanding. Many of them will gradually come to the conclusion that if they are governed by ignorance, the best remedy is the establishment of a good system of popular education. It will presently occur to them that the ignorant colored voters might be controlled by the intelligent and honest men of those States, if the latter would fairly and frankly and faithfully stand up in favor of the protection of all the rights of those who have the misfortune of being ignorant.
You all remember how Governor Orr, of South Carolina, pronounced a great word some time ago, when he said to his southern friends that, if they desired to better the political condition of the State, the way was not to stand aloof frowning and scowling and exhausting themselves in striving to overthrow what was settled and irreversible, but to identify themselves with the new order of things, to co÷perate in assuring and protecting the rights of all, and thus to gain that legitimate influence with the masses which their intelligence fitted them to wield for the common advantage. I am sure, sir, that as soon as political disabilities are removed, as soon as the barriers are struck down which separate the different classes of law and order loving people in the South, that many more will follow such wise and patriotic counsel than have followed it so far, that much misgovernment will be avoided, and that the disorders will be checked much more efficiently by that change than by any national interference which you can set on foot.
I affirm that in this way not only great but permanent improvement can be procured. However horrible the tales we hear from the South, a beginning in the right direction is already made. I admit that the obstacles which stand in the way are also great, and the greatest I conceive to be partisan spirit. In this respect I have a word to say to our Democratic friends on this floor.
The Democratic leaders North and South might do much to promote the development in the direction of peace and law and good order, and they also have it in their power to do very much to hamper and prevent it. Now, sir, let us see what they actually are doing.
You Senators on the other side say that you have neither encouraged, nor justified, nor palliated, the bloody outrages which have taken place in the South; that, on the contrary, you have denounced them as earnestly as we. I am ready to admit that on this floor and in terms you have done so; but you will not be able to deny that a great many of your party friends, North and South, have not done so; and even Democratic Senators on this floor are, whenever an opportunity occurs, doing one thing which is apt to inflame the disorderly spirit, the manifestations of which we have so much reason to deplore.
I would ask them, is not that fierce denunciation we so frequently hear on this floor of the reconstruction acts and the constitutional amendments calculated to stir up passion and to promote resistance to the laws? I would ask them, why are those protests and denunciations so continually reiterated? The operation of the reconstruction acts has ceased; reconstruction is complete; all the late rebel States are in their places again. Reconstruction, so called, is, therefore, at an end. Now, why rake it up so frequently with inflammatory language.
The constitutional amendments are there. Let me ask Democratic Senators, do they accept them as valid and binding? If they do not, then let us know. A good many Democrats do not, I am sure. Witness the resolutions of the Indiana Legislature which were recently presented to this body, where the fifteenth amendment was stigmatized as a fraud, and of no binding force. But if you do consider those amendments valid, why, I ask, do you denounce them so fiercely and so persistently? Do you, although considering them valid, really want and mean and expect to overthrow them?
A Democratic Senator on this floor recently admitted that the fifteenth amendment was regularly adopted and formed now in point of form a part of the Constitution of the United States. He also said that there was no intention on the part of the southern people to abolish colored suffrage if it be found to work well. And yet the same Senator is at the same time telling us, day after day and again and again, that it is not working well and urging reasons why it should be abolished. I would ask you in all fairness and candor, is not that endeavoring to overthrow it by indirect means and to convince the people of the South that they are suffering under an intolerable wrong, consisting in these very constitutional amendments?
I would ask them, does not that constitute incitement to resistance? Reconstruction and the constitutional amendments may have been distasteful to our Democratic friends. They have their opinions and they have a right to them; but what practical object do they intend to accomplish by these continual denunciations? Do they really expect that they can upset the results of reconstruction? Do they expect that they can overthrow the constitutional amendments? Do they really desire that the colored people shall not have equal right before the law as provided in the fourteenth amendment? Do they really desire that the colored people shall not have the right to vote as provided in the fifteenth amendment?
You, Democratic Senators, say that you want free government, and to that end you want a removal of political disabilities, so that every man may be voted for. So do I; but do you want anything beyond that? Do you want, for the purpose of establishing free government, that not every man should vote, but that a very large class of men should be excluded from suffrage? And this for free government? And if you could succeed in overthrowing the amendments, have you -- and I ask the question in all candor -- have you anything better, anything more tenable, to put in their places? Think a moment, not as partisans, but as candid men and impartial observers; and I am sure that every sensible Democrat who knows the American people must and will come to the conclusion that, after all, the settlement brought about by the constitutional amendments, the settlement based on the equal rights of all, is the only one that is possible; the only one that can be permanently sustained.
Whatever temporary successes you may achieve, you may rest assured of it that the people of the United States will always return, in spite of all the vicissitudes of political warfare, to these very constitutional amendments as a basis of settlement and peace, and it cannot be otherwise. Then what can be the result of your agitation to reopen settled issues? Nothing but to throw the country into new excitement, new uncertainty, new confusion. And something more: by this very agitation you will only promote and foster what you say you are so anxiously struggling to prevent, and that is a centralization of power. Yes, gentlemen, the very Ku Klux in the South and the Democrats all over the country who agitate against the settlements effected by the constitutional amendments, are the most dangerous enemies of the integrity of local self-government, and the most efficient allies of those who favor a consolidated, central government, if such there be, for the simple reason that they create and keep alive a public sentiment which, obeying the most generous emotion of the human heart, will acquiesce, if no other resort be left open, in centralizing measures as remedies for crying evils.
Let me tell our Democratic friends, if half the eloquence they spend in denouncing the constitutional amendments and the reconstruction measures were spent in exhorting their lawless party friends in the South to accept the Constitution as it is, faithfully and frankly and fairly, and to return to the ways of good citizenship, they would render a far better service to their fellow-citizens, and also to the cause of local self-government, than by their protests against laws like this, for they would remove all pretext for any centralizing action on the part of others. But as that agitation is being carried on it produces mischief and nothing but mischief.
The Senator from Delaware recently said in one of his speeches -- at least I understood him so -- that the remedy for all the evils distracting the people of the South lay with the people of the North. I think I understood him correctly, did I not?
Mr. BAYARD. I think the quotation is scarcely accurate.
Mr. SCHURZ. I think the Senator's language conveyed that meaning.
Mr. BAYARD. I said this: that I believed the great cure for the present wrongs under which I considered the South to rest lay in a change of sentiment in the people of the northern States, who had sustained men in public life who had brought these measures upon the country.
Mr. SCHURZ. Well, sir, I feel warranted in saying to the Senator from Delaware and to all the Democratic Senators on this floor that a majority of the Republican party in the North are strongly in favor of a liberal and conciliatory policy, and that they would long ago have forced their representatives on this floor and the other to adopt such a policy had they not been continually hampered and disturbed by the misdeeds of the disorderly element of the South and by those northern Democrats who directly or indirectly by agitation threaten the overthrow of the settlement embodied in the constitutional amendments. I firmly believe this to be so, and I think every Republican Senator will bear me out in the statement.
I am called a liberal Republican, and so I am, and I believe in what I say, I speak the mind of thousands and thousands of members of the Republican party. We desire peace and good-will to all men. We desire the removal of all political restrictions and the maintenance of local self-government to the utmost extent compatible with the Constitution as it is. We desire the questions connected with the civil war to be disposed of forever, and to make room as soon as possible for the new problems of the present and the future. Nay, sir, I may say more; I stand in the Republican party as an independent man; and I think I may correct a newspaper report of some remarks which I made last night in a popular assemblage, repeating the declaration made there. I have even broken the ordinary rules of party for the purpose of relieving the people of Missouri of the wrong of disfranchisement, because I considered it a grievous and mischievous wrong; I have not hesitated to express my opinion, without reserve, about certain assumptions of power by a Republican Executive which I considered contrary to the Constitution and dangerous to the peace and liberties of the American people. Nobody, therefore, can impute to me abject subserviency to party dictation or party prejudice. And there are many who think as I do.
But, as a man of liberal impulses and independent convictions, I stand here to declare that the very first and the fundamental article of our creed is the firm maintenance of those results of the war which concern the equal rights of man. We recognize no other basis of settlement, of peace, as just and compatible with republican government, as practically possible, and as enduring. Upon that ground we stand in good faith and with unflinching determination, and that ground we mean to maintain against all attacks, covert or open, from whatever quarter they may come. And I have no hesitation in adding that those who work for the overthrow of the guarantees of equal rights as embodied in the constitutional amendments constitute themselves the enemies not only of peace and good-will among the people of the country, but they bring on new dangers to the institutions of local self-government by provoking centralizing measures as a means of protecting innocent men against wrong and outrage.
Now, my Democratic friends, do you want peace? Then aid us in maintaining that basis of accomplished facts, that basis of equal rights, the only basis upon which peace can endure under institutions like ours. Do you want local self-government? Then aid us in protecting every man in the free exercise of his constitutional right to participate in the functions of self-government all over this land, South as well as North. In other words, instead of attacking the constitutional amendments, use all means in your power to secure their enforcement, and then no national legislation to that effect will be called for. Render such legislation superfluous, and the danger of centralization will in so far disappear as those will appear mischievous or even ridiculous who may propose national interference without there being the appearance of need of it.
I make this appeal, not as a partisan, but as a citizen who has the welfare of the country at heart; and the men or the party who refuse to listen to this advice will take upon themselves a heavy responsibility which the people of the United States will not fail to appreciate. I repeat, I say this not as a partisan. All I am struggling for is that the great principles I have been so long advocating shall become a living reality on every inch of American soil, that the equal rights of man and the institutions which form the bulwark of popular liberty shall be firmly secured, that the nation and the States shall have good government, and that peace and fraternal feeling shall once more reign throughout the land. I am struggling for such ends, and I do not permit partisan motives to stand in my way; and when these great ends are accomplished and the future of this Republic is safe, it will be supremely indifferent to me whether I belong to that set of men who from that result will derive profit in the way of political power or preferment.
Now, sir, let me say a closing word to my Republican friends, who, as the majority, wield the powers of this Government. Their responsibilities are as great as their power, and the path of their duty on this great question seems to lie clear and open before them. While we should go to the extent of our clearly constitutional powers in protecting the rights of all citizens of this Republic, we should be careful to abstain from legislation which tends to pervert our system of government from its true plan and purpose, and by the creation of arbitrary powers and the setting of dangerous precedents to expose the constitutional rights of the people to the vicissitudes of partisan tyranny. Above all things, in dealing with the disorders in the South, we should lose no time in facilitating the operation of those moral agencies which are not unlikely to turn out to be more efficient than penal statutes. We should at once remove the barriers which separate the different classes of law and order loving men in the South by wiping out political disabilities; and, finally, we should most sternly discountenance all dishonest and corrupt tricks and practices, carried on apparently for partisan advantage, and which impair the moral power of a great cause. Doing this, you will throw the responsibility of failure, if failure should occur -- and I think with such a policy failure is far less likely than with any other -- on those who by insidious and mischievous agitation endeavor to prevent the accomplishment of the beneficent results which we are striving to attain.
As to this bill, I have already stated why I cannot support some of its provisions. If, as some Senators seem to fear, the disorders in the South should lead to open rebellion again -- a contingency which I am afraid a law like this would certainly not be able to prevent if things were tending that way, which I do not now apprehend -- I say in that emergency you would find me ready to support the most vigorous legislation which the exigencies of civil war might demand. I would not hesitate to recognize the exceptional powers with which the necessity of self-defense naturally invests the Government. For times of war the laws of war. But while we are professedly in a condition of peace I would not introduce into our legislation that most dangerous habit of using exceptional powers. May be the time will come when a part of the Republic will be so deeply sunk in anarchy and the rule of violence that nothing but a strong, consolidated central Government, invested with arbitrary authority, can remedy the evil. If that time should ever come, and I most fervently hope and trust it never will, then indeed we should have manliness enough to declare that this great experiment of local self-government has failed. But I am not prepared yet for such a confession, and I expect neither are you, and I do not yet foresee the time when I shall be.
I still believe in the efficiency of self-government. I still believe that in the long run, in spite of occasional failures and disasters, the best and most enduring safeguard for the rights and security of all is to be found in those political institutions which place as many duties and responsibilities as possible at the door of every individual citizen. I am still of the opinion that in this case we are dealing with evils, most of which may be looked upon as the not unusual consequence of a sudden and sweeping social revolution, but which to a great extent will turn out to be only temporary in their nature. I shall therefore not give up the great experiment until we shall have exhausted in vain the whole store of moral agencies which may remedy these evils, and until the soothing influence of time shall have demonstrated what it can and what it cannot accomplish. Least of all would I now at this early stage of the proceedings lay a destructive or endangering hand upon those institutions which the light of theory and practice has so long shown us to be among the greatest blessings we possess.
When I hear of the dangers and sufferings of innocent and deserving people in the South, the impulses of my heart are as warm and strong as yours to rush to the rescue. But our responsibilities as legislators, responsibilities involving the great future of this Republic, will not always permit us to follow the voice of our emotions. While strongly in favor of the vigorous execution of constitutional laws, I cannot but shrink from hastily fastening upon the statute-books of the country legislative acts which, in my opinion at least, while they may afford aid to some, would conjure up new and great dangers to the constitutional rights and liberties of all. I recognize it as a high duty to protect the citizens of the Republic in their rights, as far as the national authority can protect them; but I recognize it as a still higher duty to preserve intact the great institutions which form the main bulwark of our common rights and contain the greatest guarantees for our common future.