Table of Contents
The Reminiscences of Carl Schurz
Volume Three (1863-1906)
I WAS on the point of returning to the West when I received a message from Horace Greeley, the famous editor of the New York Tribune, asking me to take charge of the news-bureau of that journal in Washington as its chief correspondent. Although the terms offered by Mr. Greeley were tempting, I was disinclined to accept because I doubted whether the work would be congenial to me, and because it would keep me in the East. But Mr. Greeley, as well as some of my friends in Congress, persuaded me that, as I had studied the condition of things in the South and could give reliable information concerning it, my presence in Washington might be useful while the Southern question was under debate. This determined me to assent, with the understanding, however, that I should not consider myself bound beyond the pending session of Congress.
Thus I entered the journalistic fraternity. My most agreeable experience consisted in my association with other members of the craft. I found among the correspondents of the press a number of gentlemen of uncommon ability and high principle — genuine gentlemen who loved the truth for its own sake, who heartily detested sham and false pretense, and whose sense of honor was the finest. This was the rule, to which, as to all rules, there were, of course, some exceptions. But they were rare. My more or less intimate contact with public men, high and low, was not so uniformly gratifying; I enjoyed, indeed, the privilege of meeting statesmen of high purpose, of well-stored minds, of unselfish patriotism, and of the courage of their convictions. But disgustingly large was, on the other hand, the number of small, selfish politicians I ran against — men who seemed to know no higher end than the advantage of their party, which involved their own, who were always nervously sniffing for the popular breeze; whose most demonstrative ebullitions of virtue consisted in the most violent denunciations of the opposition; whose moral courage quaked at the appearance of the slightest danger to their own or their party's fortunes, and whose littlenesses exposed themselves sometimes with involuntary frankness to the newspaper correspondent whom they approached to beg for a “favorable notice” or for the suppression of an unwelcome news-item. They were by no means in all instances men of small parts. On the contrary, there were men of marked ability and large acquirements among them. But never until then had I known how immense a moral coward a member of Congress may be. I remember with especial interest occasional talks I had with some of my colleagues of the press in which we “compared notes” about the statesmen whose doings we had to report and discuss in our dispatches. If these statesmen always knew what that journalistic fraternity know and think of them, they would often bow their heads in contrite and grateful appreciation of the discretion and generosity which bury in silence many things that would tickle the ears of the groundlings. It is probably now as it was then, that there are few places in the United States where the public men appearing on the National stage are judged as fairly and accurately as they are in newspaper row in Washington. I remained at the head of the Tribune office at the national capital, according to my promise to Mr. Greeley, to the end of the winter season, and then accepted the chief-editorship of the Detroit Post, a new journal established at Detroit, Michigan, which was offered to me — I might almost say, urged upon me — by Senator Zachariah Chandler. In the meantime I had occasion to witness the beginning of the political war between the executive and the legislative power concerning the reconstruction of the “States lately in rebellion.”
I am sure I do not exaggerate when I say that this political war has been one of the most unfortunate events in the history of this republic, for it made the most important problem of the time, a problem of extraordinary complexity which required the calmest, most delicate and circumspect treatment, — a foot-ball of a personal and party brawl which was in the highest degree apt to inflame the passions and to obscure the judgment of everybody concerned in it. Since my return from the South, the evil effects of Mr. Johnson's conduct in encouraging the reactionary spirit prevalent among the Southern whites, had become more and more evident and alarming from day to day. Charles Sumner told me that his personal experiences with the President had been very much like mine. When Sumner left Washington in the spring he had received from Mr. Johnson at repeated interviews the most emphatic assurances that he would do nothing to precipitate the restoration of the “States lately in rebellion” to the full exercise of self-governing functions, and even that he favored the extension of the suffrage to the freedmen. The two men had parted with all the appearance of a perfect friendly understanding. But when the Senator returned to Washington in the late autumn, that understanding seemed to have entirely vanished from the President's mind and to have given place to an irritated temper and a certain acerbity of tone in the assertion of the “President's policy.” From various other members of Congress I heard the same story. Mr. Johnson, strikingly unlike Abraham Lincoln, evidently belonged to that unfortunate class of men with whom a difference of opinion on any important matter will at once cause personal ill feeling and a disturbance of friendly intercourse. This is apt to be especially the case when such persons change their position and then get angry at those who will not change their positions likewise. The exhibitions of ill temper on the part of the President could hardly fail to be more or less resented and reciprocated by members of Congress against whom they were directed. By many of them Mr. Johnson was regarded as one who had broken faith, and the memory of his disgraceful exhibition of himself in a drunken state at the Inauguration ceremonies, which under ordinary circumstances everybody would have been glad to forget, was revived, so as to make him appear as a person of ungentlemanly character. All these things co-operated to impart to the controversies which followed a flavor of reckless defiance and rancorous bitterness, the outbursts of which were sometimes almost ferocious.
The first gun of the political war between the President and Congress, which was to rage for four years, was fired by Thaddeus Stevens in the House of Representatives by the introduction, even before the reading of the President's Message, of the resolution already mentioned, which substantially proclaimed that the reconstruction of the late rebel States was the business, not of the President alone, but of Congress. This theory, which was constitutionally correct, was readily supported by the Republican majority, and thus the war was declared. Of Republican dissenters, who openly took the President's part, there were but few — in the Senate Doolittle of Wisconsin, Dixon of Connecticut, Norton of Minnesota, Cowan of Pennsylvania, and for a short period, Morgan of New York, as the personal friend of Mr. Seward; in the House of Representatives Mr. Raymond of New York, the famous founder of the New York Times, acted as the principal Republican champion of the “President's Policy.”
Thaddeus Stevens was the acknowledged leader of the Republicans in the House. Few historic characters have ever been more differently judged from different points of view. A Southern writer of fiction has painted him as the fiend incarnate. Others have spoken of him as a great leader of his time, farsighted, a man of uncompromising convictions, intellectually honest, of unflinching courage and energy. I had come into personal contact with him in the presidential campaigns of 1860 and 1864, when he seemed to be pleased with my efforts. I once heard him make a stump-speech which was evidently inspired by intense hatred of slavery, and remarkable for argumentative pith and sarcastic wit. But the impression his personality made upon me was not sympathetic; his face long and pallid, topped with an ample dark brown wig which was at the first glance recognized as such; beetling brows overhanging keen eyes of uncertain color which sometimes seemed to scintillate with a sudden gleam, the underlip defiantly protruding; the whole expression usually stern; his figure would have looked stalwart but for a deformed foot which made him bend and limp. His conversation, carried on with a hollow voice devoid of music, easily disclosed a well-informed mind, but also a certain absolutism of opinion with contemptuous scorn for adverse argument. He belonged to the fierce class of anti-slavery men who were inspired by humane sympathy with the slave and righteous abhorrence of slavery, but also by hatred of the slave-holder. What he himself seemed to enjoy most in his talk was his sardonic humor, which he made play upon men and things like lurid freaks of lightning. He shot out such sallies with a perfectly serious mien, or at best he accompanied them with a grim smile which was not at all like Abraham Lincoln's hearty laugh at his own jests.
Thus Mr. Stevens' discourse was apt to make him appear as a hardened cynic inaccessible to the finer feelings, to whom it was indifferent whether he gave pain or pleasure. But now and then a remark escaped him — I say “escaped him” because he evidently preferred to wear the acrid tendencies of his character on the outside — which indicated that there was behind his cynicism a rich fund of human kindness and sympathy. And this was strongly confirmed by his neighbors at Lancaster, Pennsylvania, his home, where on one of my campaigning tours I once spent a day and a night. With them, even with many of his political opponents, “old Thad,” as they called him, appeared to be eminently popular. They had no end of stories to tell about the protection he had given to fugitive slaves, sometimes at much risk and sacrifice to himself, and of the many benefactions he had bestowed with a lavish hand upon widows and orphans and other persons in need; and of his generous fidelity to his friends. They did, indeed, not revere him as a model of virtue, but of the occasional lapses of his bachelor-life from correct moral standards, which seemed to be well known and freely talked about, they spoke with affectionate lenity of judgment.
When I saw him again in Washington at the opening of the Thirty-ninth Congress in December, 1865, he looked very much aged since our last meeting and infirm in health. In repose his face was like a death-mask, and he was carried in a chair to his seat in the House by two stalwart young negroes. There is good authority for the story that once when they had set him down, he said to them with his grim humor: “Thank you, my good fellows. What shall I do when you are dead and gone?” But his eyes glowed from under his bushy brows with the old keen sparkle and his mind was as alert as ever. It may be that his age — he was then seventy-four — and his physical infirmities, admonishing him that at best he would have only a few years more to live, served to inspire him with an impatient craving and a fierce determination to make the best of his time, and thus to intensify the activity of his mental energies. To compass the abolition of slavery had been the passion of his life. He had hailed the Civil War as the great opportunity. He had never been quite satisfied with Lincoln, whose policy seemed to him too dilatory. He demanded quick, sharp and decisive blows.
Now that the abolition of slavery was actually decreed, he saw President Johnson follow a policy which in his view threatened substantially to undo the great work. His scornful anger at Andrew Johnson was equaled only by his contempt for the Republicans who sided with the President. He was bound to defeat this reactionary attempt and to see slavery thoroughly killed beyond the possibility of resurrection, at any cost. As to the means to he employed he scrupled little. He wanted the largest possible Republican majority in Congress, and to this end he would have expelled any number of Democrats from their seats, by hook or by crook. When my old friend and quondam law partner, General Halbert E. Paine, who was chairman of the Committee on Elections in the House, told him that in a certain contested election case to be voted upon both contestants were rascals, Stevens simply asked: “Well, which is our rascal?” He said this not in jest, but with perfect seriousness. He would have seated Beelzebub in preference to the angel Gabriel, had he believed Beelzebub to be more certain than Gabriel to aid him in beating the President's reconstruction policy. His leadership in the House was peculiar. His speeches were short, peremptory and commanding. He bluntly avowed his purposes, however extreme they seemed to be. He disdained to make them more palatable by any art of persuasion or to soften the asperity of his attacks by charitable circumlocution. There was no hypocrisy, no cant in his utterances. With inexorable intellectual honesty he drew all the logical conclusions from his premises. He was a terror in debate. Whenever provoked, he brought his batteries of merciless sarcasm into play with deadly effect. Not seldom a single sentence sufficed to lay a daring antagonist sprawling on the ground amid the roaring laughter of the House, the luckless victim feeling as if he had heedlessly touched a heavily charged electric wire. No wonder that even the readiest and boldest debaters were cautious in approaching old Thaddeus Stevens too closely, lest something sudden and stunning happen to them. Thus the fear he inspired became a distinct element of power in his leadership, — not a wholesome element indeed, at the time of a great problem which required the most circumspect and dispassionate treatment.
A statesman of a very different stamp was Senator Fessenden of Maine, who, being at the head of the Senatorial part of the joint committee on Reconstruction, presided over that important body. William Pitt Fessenden was a man who might easily have been overlooked in a crowd. There was nothing in his slight figure, his thin face framed in spare gray hair and side whiskers, and his quiet demeanor, to attract particular notice. Neither did his appearance in the Senate Chamber impress one at first sight as that of a great power in that important assembly. I saw him more than once, there, walk with slow steps up and down in the open space behind the seats with his hands in his trousers pockets, with seeming listlessness, while another Senator was speaking, and then ask to be heard, and, without changing his attitude, make an argument in a calm conversational tone, unmixed with the slightest oratorical flourish, so solid and complete that little more remained to be said on the subject in question. He gave the impression of having at his disposal a rich and perfectly ordered store of thought and knowledge upon which he could draw with perfect ease and assurance. When I was first introduced to him he appeared to me rather distant in manner than inviting friendly approach. But I was told that ill health had made him unsociable and somewhat morose and testy, and, indeed, there was often a trace of suffering and weariness in his face. It was also remarked in the Senate that at times he was ill-tempered and inclined to indulge in biting sarcasms and to administer unkind lectures to other Senators, which in some instances disturbed his personal intercourse with his colleagues. But there was not one of them who did not hold him in the highest esteem as a statesman of commanding ability and of lofty ideals, as a gentleman of truth and conscience, as a great jurist and an eminent constitutional lawyer, as a party man of most honorable principles and methods, and as a patriot of noblest ambition for his country.
Being also a man of conservative instincts averse to unnecessary conflicts and always disinclined to go to extremes in action as well as in language, he was expected to exert a moderating influence in his committee; and this expectation was not disappointed as far as his efforts to prevent a final breach between the President and the Republican majority in Congress was concerned. But regarding the main question whether the “States lately in rebellion” should be fully restored to their self-governing functions and to full participation in the government of the Republic without having given reasonable guarantees for the maintenance of the “legitimate results of the war,” he was in point of principle not far apart from Mr. Stevens. The difference between them was rather one of temperamental treatment of the problem, a difference of view as to the means to be used for the accomplishment of a common end. In fact, concerning this common end there was hardly any divergence of opinion among Republicans, save the very few who had openly taken the part of President Johnson and stood unflinchingly by him. There were in those days wonderful displays of acuteness in discussing constitutional metaphysics touching the true status in the Union of the “States lately in rebellion.” The question whether those States had, by the rebellion, committed suicide, leaving behind them only so much territory to be governed or disposed of by the general government at pleasure; or whether in spite of their revolutionary attempt to separate themselves from the Union, they had preserved their essential being and identity as States with all the rights and privileges inherent in States of the Union; or whether they had by their revolutionary attempt acquired a character intermediate between those two conditions — was debated with infinite ingenuity in logic-chopping, and sometimes with a good deal of heat.
It must be admitted that, if we accept his premises, Mr. Johnson made, in point of logic, a pretty plausible case. His proposition was that a State, in the view of the Federal Constitution, is indestructible; that an ordinance of secession adopted by its inhabitants, or its political organs, did not take it out of the Union; that by declaring and treating those ordinances of secession as “null and void” of no force, virtually non-existent, the Federal government itself had accepted and sanctioned that theory; that during the rebellion the constitutional rights and functions of those States were merely suspended, and that when the rebellion ceased they were ipso facto restored; that, therefore, the rebellion having actually ceased, those States were at once entitled to their former rights and privileges — that is, to the recognition of their self-elected State governments, and to their representation in Congress. Admitting the premises, this was logically correct in the abstract.
But this was one of the cases to which a saying many years later set afloat by President Cleveland, might properly have been applied; we were confronting a condition, not a theory. The condition was this: Certain States had through their regular political organs declared themselves independent of the Union. They had for all practical purposes actually separated themselves from the Union. They had made war upon the Union. That war put those States in a position not foreseen by the Constitution. It imposed upon the Government of the Union duties not foreseen by the Constitution; by “military necessity,” war-necessity, the Union was compelled to emancipate the negroes from slavery and to accept their military services. The war had compelled the Government of the Union also to levy large loans of money and thus to contract a huge public debt. The Government had, also, in the course of the war the aid of the Union men of the South. It had thus assumed solemn obligations for value received, or services rendered — that is, it had assumed the duty to protect the emancipated negroes in their freedom, the Southern Union men in their security, and the public creditor as to the money due him. This duty was a duty of honor as well as of policy. The Union could, therefore, not consent, either in point of honor, or of sound policy, to the restoration of the late rebel States to the functions of self-government and to full participation in the National Government so long as that restoration was reasonably certain to put the freedom of the emancipated slaves, or the security of the Southern Union men, or the rights of the public creditors into serious jeopardy.
That such dangers really existed there could hardly be any doubt. I do not say so merely because my own observations on my Southern tour had convinced me that they did exist. In fact the inquiry carried on by the committee of Reconstruction under Senator Fessenden's chairmanship piled proof upon proof of their existence. When the report of that committee came out, it presented a picture of those dangers even gloomier than mine had been. President Johnson himself had, by implication, to a considerable extent admitted them to exist, as is shown by the exceptions he made to his amnesty proclamation and by various other acts, so that in practice he largely vitiated the logic of his theory. And yet in the face of all this he insisted that the “States lately in rebellion” must be at once fully restored to self-government and to participation in the government of the Union. The government of the Union could not be absolved from its duty of honor as well as of policy by any constitutional theory. It found itself in an extra-constitutional situation — a situation of moral duress. It had to perform its manifest duty, even if it could be done only by extra-constitutional means.
It was pretended at the time, and it has since been asserted by historians and publicists of high standing, that Mr. Johnson's Reconstruction policy was only a continuation of that of Mr. Lincoln. This was true only in a superficial sense, but not in reality. Mr. Lincoln had indeed put forth reconstruction plans which contemplated an early restoration of some of the rebel States. But he had done this while the Civil War was still going on, and for the evident purpose of encouraging loyal movements in those States and of weakening the Confederate State Governments there by opposing to them governments organized in the interest of the Union which could serve as rallying points to the Union men. So long as the rebellion continued in any form and to any extent, the State governments he contemplated would have been substantially in the control of really loyal men who had been on the side of the Union during the war. Moreover, he always emphatically affirmed in public as well as private utterance that no plan of reconstruction he had ever put forth was meant to be “exclusive and inflexible,” but it might be changed according to different circumstances.
Now circumstances did change, they changed essentially, with the collapse of the Confederacy. There was no more organized armed resistance to the National Government to distract which loyal State Governments in the South might have been efficacious. But there was an effort of persons lately in rebellion to get possession of the reconstructed Southern State Governments for the purpose, in part, of using their power to save or restore as much of the system of slavery as could be saved or restored. The success of that effort was to be accomplished by the precipitate and unconditional readmission of the late rebel States to all their constitutional functions. This situation had not yet developed when Lincoln was assassinated. He had not contemplated it when he put forth his plans of reconstructing Louisiana and other States. Had he lived, he would have as ardently wished to stop bloodshed and to reunite all the States, as he ever did. But is it to be supposed for a moment that, seeing the late master class in the South, still under the influence of their old traditional notions and prejudices and at the same time sorely pressed by the distressing necessities of their situation, intent upon subjecting the freedmen again to a system very much akin to slavery, Lincoln would have consented to abandon those freedmen to the mercies of that master class? Can it be imagined that he would have been deaf to the sinister reports coming up from the South, as Johnson was? Would he have sacrificed the rights of the emancipated slave and the security of the Union men to a metaphysical abstraction as to the indestructibility of States? Did he not repeatedly warn against the mere discussion of just such abstractions as something useless and misleading? To assert in the face of all this that the Johnson reconstruction policy was only Lincoln's policy continued, is little less than a perversion of historic truth.
No less striking was the difference of the two policies in what may be called the personal character of the controversies of that time. When the Republican majority in Congress had already declared its unwillingness to accept President Johnson's leadership in the matter of reconstruction, there was still a strong desire manifested by many Republican Senators and members of the House to prevent a decided and irremediable breach with the President. Some of them were sanguine enough to hope that more or less harmonious co-operation, or at least a peaceable modus vivendi might still be obtained. Others apprehended that the President's policy with its plausibilities might, after all, find favor with the popular mind, which was naturally tired of strife and excitement, eager for peace and quiet, and that its opponents might appear as reckless disturbers. Still others stood in fear of a rupture in the Republican party which, among other evil consequences, might prove disastrous to their own political fortunes. Several men of importance, such as Fessenden and Sherman in the Senate and some prominent members of the House, seriously endeavored to pour oil upon the agitated waters by making speeches of a conciliatory tailor. Indeed, if Andrew Johnson had possessed only a little of Abraham Lincoln's sweet temper, generous tolerance and patient tact in the treatment of opponents, he might at least have prevented the conflict of opinions from degenerating into an angry and vicious personal brawl. But the brawl was Johnson's congenial atmosphere.
I have always been, and am now, of the opinion that, had Lincoln lived, there might indeed have been animated controversies about the matter of reconstruction, but those controversies would never have drowned the voice of calm reason by the clamor of passion. The North would always have believed that Abraham Lincoln would do or advise nothing apt to impair or endanger the freedom and the rights of the emancipated slave and the security of the Union man. The South would always have believed that he never would do anything from motives of enmity or vindictiveness, to inflict unnecessary suffering or humiliation upon his vanquished countrymen. He would thus have been met with universal confidence and good will on the part of the people of both sections. Recognizing with a clear eye the dangers and the requirements of the new situation he would have been careful not to encourage in the white people of the South the hope that after a speedy restoration of their State Governments, they would be permitted to deal with the negroes and the labor question as they pleased. He would, on the contrary, have admonished them with gentle firmness that they must respect the freedom and the rights of the emancipated slave and accept the system of free labor in good faith, and that their States would not be restored to all their self-governing functions until they did so. He would, on the other hand, have admonished the people of the North that in the treatment of their Southern brethren they must temper justice with charity and wise forbearance. Both would have listened to him more willingly than to any other man. And Congress would have been likely to heed the popular voice supporting that of a President universally beloved and trusted. Thus, I believe, — and there is plenty of moral evidence in Lincoln's character and career justifying that belief, — Abraham Lincoln would have sought to solve the problem of reconstruction; and I see good reason for believing also that he would have succeeded in accomplishing the essential objects aimed at by the wiser heads among the Republicans — not indeed, without difficulty, but without the spasmodic convulsions which Andrew Johnson's ill-advised and headstrong course called forth, and without leaving behind so many bitter and mischievous criminations and recriminations to be played upon by the demagogue North and South.
There could have been no more glaring contrast than that between Johnson's and Lincoln's ways of meeting such a crisis. The wish to avoid a breach between the President and Congress was still sincere and strong among the members of the Republican majority. The Judiciary committee of the Senate, on January 12, 1866, reported a bill to continue the existence, to increase the personnel, and to enlarge the powers of the Freedmen's Bureau. It was discussed in both Houses with great thoroughness and in a temperate spirit, and the necessity of the measure for the protection of the freedmen and the introduction of free labor in the South was so generally acknowledged that the recognized Republican friends of the President in the Senate as well as in the House supported it. It passed by overwhelming majority in both Houses, and everybody, even those most intimate with the President, confidently expected that he would willingly accept and sign it. But on the 19th of February he returned it with his veto, mainly on the assumed ground that it was unnecessary and unconstitutional, and also because it was passed by a Congress from which eleven States, those lately in rebellion, were excluded — thus throwing out a dark hint that before the admission of the late rebel States to representation, this Congress might be considered constitutionally unable to make any valid laws at all. Senator Trumbull in an uncommonly able, statesmanlike and calm speech combated the President's arguments and moved that the bill pass, the President's veto notwithstanding. But the “Administration Republicans,” although they had voted for the bill, now voted to sustain the veto, and, there being no two-thirds majority to overcome it, the veto prevailed. Thus President Johnson had won a victory over the Republican majority in Congress. This victory may have made him believe that he would be able to kill with his veto all legislation unpalatable to him, and that, therefore, he was actually master of the situation. At any rate, it seemed to have turned his head. He made the grave mistake of underestimating the opposition.
On the 22nd of February, 1866, a public meeting was held in Washington for the purpose of expressing popular approval of the President's reconstruction policy. The crowd marched from the meeting place to the White House to congratulate the President upon his successful veto of the Freedmen's Bureau Bill. The President, called upon to make a speech in response, could not resist the temptation. He then dealt a blow to himself from which he never recovered. He spoke in the egotistic strain usual with him of the righteousness of his own course and then began to inveigh against those who opposed him in the most violent terms. He denounced the Joint Committee on Reconstruction, the committee headed by Fessenden, as “an irresponsible central directory” that had assumed the powers of Congress, described how he had fought the leaders of the rebellion and added that there were men on the other side of the line who also worked for the dissolution of the Union. By this time some of the uproarious crowd felt that he had descended to their level and called for names. He mentioned Thaddeus Stevens, Charles Sumner and Wendell Phillips as men who worked against the fundamental principles of the government and excited the boisterous merriment of the audience by calling John W. Forney, the Secretary of the Senate and a prominent journalist, “a dead duck” upon whom “he would not waste his ammunition.” Again he spoke of his rise from humble origin — a tailor who “always made a close fit” — and broadly insinuated that there were men in high places who were not satisfied with Lincoln's blood, but, wanting more, thought of getting rid of him, too, in the same way.
I remember well the impression made by this speech as it came out in the newspapers. Many, if not most, of the public men I saw in Washington, remembering the disgraceful appearance of Andrew Johnson in a drunken state at the inauguration, at once expressed their belief that he must have been in the same condition when delivering that speech. They simply argued that it would have been utterly impossible for a President of the United States — indeed for any public man of self-respect — to descend to such outrageous railing and such vulgar drivel when in his sober senses. The supposition of drunkenness might, therefore, have been advanced rather to explain and mitigate an offense so outrageous, than to make it appear worse. But to what conclusions would such an excuse lead? The impression made upon the people by this event — for it might well be called an event — was manifested by the press. Most of the newspapers favoring the President's policy were struck dumb; but few ventured a word of defense. Of those opposing him but few raised a shrill cry of indignation; most of them spoke of it in grave but evidently restrained language. The general feeling was one of profound shame and humiliation in behalf of the country.
In Congress, where Mr. Stevens with his characteristic sarcasm described the whole story of the President's speech as a malignant invention of Mr. Johnson's enemies, the hope of preventing a permanent breach between him and the Republican majority was even then not entirely extinct. On the 26th of February Sherman made a long and carefully prepared speech in the Senate advocating harmony. He recounted all the virtues Andrew Johnson professed and all the services he had rendered and solemnly affirmed his belief that he had always acted upon patriotic motives and in good faith. But he could not refrain from “deeply regretting his speech of the 22nd of February.” He added that it was “impossible to conceive a more humiliating spectacle than the President of the United States invoking the wild passions of a mob around him with the utterance of such sentiments as he uttered on that day.” Still, Mr. Sherman thought that “this was no time to quarrel with the Chief Magistrate.” Other prominent Republicans, such as General Jacob D. Cox of Ohio — one of the noblest men I have ever known — called upon him to expostulate with him in a friendly spirit, and he gave them amiable assurances, which, however, subsequently turned out to have been without meaning. Then something happened which cut off the last chance of mutual approach.
On March 13th the House passed the Civil Rights Bill, which the Senate had already passed on the 2nd of February. Its main provision was that all persons born in the United States excepting Indians, not taxed, were declared to be citizens of the United States, that such citizens of every race and color should have the same rights in every State and Territory of the United States to make and enforce contracts, to sue, be parties, and give evidence, to inherit, purchase, lease, sell, hold, and convey real and personal property, and to enjoy the full and equal benefit of all laws and proceedings for the security of person and property as was enjoyed by white citizens. The bill had nothing to do with “social equality” and did not in any way interfere with Mr. Johnson's scheme of reconstruction. In fact, it was asserted, no doubt truthfully, that Mr. Johnson himself had at various times shown himself by word and act favorable to its provisions. It appeared, indeed, in every one of its features so reasonable and so necessary for the enforcement of the 13th Constitutional Amendment prohibiting slavery that disapproval of it by the President was regarded as almost impossible. Aside from the merits of the bill, there was another reason, a reason of policy, for the President to sign it. Had he done so he would have greatly encouraged the conciliatory spirit which in spite of all that had happened, was still flickering in many Republican bosoms, and he might thus, even at this late hour, have secured an effective following among the Republicans in Congress. But he did not. He returned the bill to Congress with a veto message so weak in argument that it appeared as if he had been laboriously groping for pretexts to kill the bill. One of the principal reasons he gave was again the sinister one that Congress had passed the bill while eleven States were unrepresented, thus repeating the threatening hint that the validity of the laws made by such a Congress might be questioned.
Congress promptly passed the bill over the President's veto by a two-thirds majority in each House, and thus the Civil Rights Bill became a law. President Johnson's defeat was more fatal than appeared on the surface. The prestige he had won by the success of his veto of the Freedmen's Bureau Bill was lost again. The Republicans, whom in some way he had led to expect that he would sign the Civil Rights Bill, now believed him to be an insincere man, capable of any treachery. The last chance of an accommodation with the Republican party was now utterly gone. It had become manifest that he was not stronger than Congress, but that Congress with its two-thirds majority against him was stronger than he, and that element among the party politicians that was prone to join the stronger side for personal advantage, now rallied largely against him. But worse than all, the reactionists in the South who were bent upon curtailing the freedom of the emancipated negroes as much as possible, received his veto of the Civil Rights Bill with shouts of delight. Believing him now unalterably opposed to the bestowal of equal civil rights, such as were specified in that bill, upon the freedmen, they hailed President Johnson as their champion more loudly than ever. Undisturbed by the defeat of the veto, which they looked upon as a mere temporary accident, they easily persuaded themselves that the President, aided by the Administration Republicans and the Democratic party at the North, would at last surely prevail, and that now they might safely deal with the negro and the labor question in the South as they pleased. The reactionary element felt itself encouraged by the President's attitude to the point of foolhardiness. Legislative enactments and municipal ordinances and regulations tending to reduce the colored people to a state of semi-slavery multiplied at a lively rate. The reports of cruelties perpetrated upon freedmen increased in number from day to day. The tone of the press and of public speakers in the South rose to a high pitch of impatient peremptoriness. Measures taken for the protection of the emancipated slaves were indiscriminately denounced in the name of the Constitution of the United States as acts of insufferable tyranny. The instant admission to seats in the National Congress of Senators and Representatives from the “States lately in rebellion” was loudly demanded as a constitutional right; and for these seats men were presented who but yesterday had stood in arms against the National Government, or who had held high place in the insurrectionary confederacy. And the highest authority cited for all these denunciations and demands was Andrew Johnson, President of the United States.
The Southern people might well have been pitied for having been seduced into these ill-fated extravagancies. And their seducer might well have been called their worst enemy.
The impression made by these things upon the minds of the Northern people can easily be imagined. Men of sober ways of thinking, not accessible to sensational appeals, asked themselves quite seriously whether there was not real danger that the legitimate results of the war, for the achievement of which they had sacrificed uncounted thousands of lives and the fruits of many, many years of labor, were not in grave jeopardy again. Their alarm was not artificially produced by political agitation. It was sincere and profound, and began to grow angry.
The gradual softening of the passions and resentments of the war was checked. The feeling that the Union had to be saved once more from the rule of the “rebels with the President at their head” spread with fearful rapidity, and well-meaning people looking to Congress to come to the rescue, were becoming less and less squeamish as to the character of the means to be used to that end.
This popular temper could not fail to exercise its influence upon Congress and to stimulate radical tendencies among its members. Even men of a comparatively conservative and cautious disposition admitted that strong remedies were necessary to avert the threatening danger, and they soon turned to the most drastic as the best. Moreover, the partisan motive was pressed to the front to reinforce the patriotic purpose. It had gradually become evident that President Johnson, whether such had been his original design or not, — probably not — would by his political course be led into the Democratic party. The Democrats, delighted of course with the prospect of capturing a President elected by the Republicans, zealously supported his measures, and flattered his vanity without stint. The old alliance between the pro-slavery sentiment in the South and the Democratic party in the North was thus revived — that alliance which had already cost the South so dearly in the recent past by making Southern people believe that if they revolted against the Federal Government, the Northern Democracy would stand by them and help them to victory. A similar delusion was now encouraged again by the attitude of the Northern Democrats; and the “States lately in rebellion,” if reconstructed on the Johnson plan, could be counted upon to send a solidly Democratic delegation to Congress. That delegation would even become proportionately stronger in number than before, since the negro population, only three-fifths of whom had been counted in the basis of representation when they were in slavery, were now as free people counted in full, although they might not be permitted to vote. There was an apprehension that the delegations from the “States lately in rebellion,” if so reconstructed, united with the Northern Democrats, might obtain the control of Congress, and then not only undo all legislation had done for the protection of the freedmen, — so as to turn them over helplessly to the mercies of the master class, but also attack the national debt either by repudiating it directly or by making it payable in depreciated paper money. This apprehension was by no means altogether unfounded, for it was not only natural that the South should be overwhelmingly in favor of such direct or indirect repudiation, but even in the North, especially the western part of it, there developed a strong movement in that direction.
In consequence of all this the belief grew stronger and stronger in the Northern country that the predominance of the Republican party was — and would be for a few years at least — necessary for the safety and the honor of the Republic, and steps taken to insure that predominance, even such as would, in less critical times, have evoked strong criticism, were now looked upon with seductive leniency of judgment. Mr. Stockton of New Jersey was unseated in the Senate upon grounds which would hardly pass muster in ordinary times, to make room for a Republican successor, and even Mr. Fessenden approved the transaction. Advantage was taken in the same body of the sickness or casual absence of some Democratic Senator to rush through a vote when a two-thirds majority was required to kill a veto, and other proceedings were resorted to at a pinch which were hardly compatible with the famous “courtesy of the Senate.” But there was more thorough and lasting work to be done to prepare for the full restoration of those States. The Republican majority was by no means of one mind as to the constitutional status of the communities that had been in insurrection against the National Government. I have already spoken of the theory of State-suicide advanced by Mr. Stevens and a comparatively small school of extremists. The theory most popular with most of the Republicans, which was finally formulated by the Joint Committee on Reconstruction, was that the rebel States had not been out of the Union, but had lost their working status inside of the Union, and had to be restored to their regular constitutional relations to the Union by action of Congress, upon such conditions as Congress might deem proper. This theory was most clearly expounded in the House by Mr. Shellaberger of Ohio, a man of uncommon acumen and force, and it was also adopted in the Senate, Fessenden and Sumner leading, by all the Republicans excepting the very few who sided with the President. But the accepted theory had sometimes to suffer whimsical treatment as to the logic of its application when practical exigencies seemed to demand its being temporarily overlooked. For instance, it happened occasionally that the war was held to be over in certain respects, but to be not over in others, and those States were consequently not good enough States to govern themselves and to be represented, but good enough to be counted in the ratification of an amendment to the National Constitution. Neither did the theory cover the nature of the conditions to be imposed upon late rebel States previous to their full restoration. The question, for instance, whether the extension of the suffrage to the negro race should be one of those conditions, as Sumner upon all occasions strenuously insisted, remained open for future decision.
To meet the dangers which so far had become visible on the horizon, the Joint Committee on Reconstruction devised the Fourteenth Amendment to the Constitution, which was long and laboriously debated in both Houses. In the form in which it was finally adopted it declared (1) that all persons born or naturalized in the United States are citizens of the United States and of the States in which they reside, and that no State shall make or enforce any law abridging the privileges or immunities of citizens, nor deprive any person of life, liberty or property without due process of law, nor deny to any person the equal protection of the laws; (2) that if in any State the right to vote at any election for the choice of National or State officers is denied to any male citizen, or in any way abridged, except for participation in rebellion, or other crime, the basis of representation in Congress or the electoral college shall be reduced in the proportion which the number of such male citizens shall bear to the whole number of male citizens twenty-one years of age in such State; (3) that no person who had taken part in the rebellion, having previously as a National or State officer, military or civil, sworn to support the Constitution of the United States, shall be a Senator or Representative in Congress or hold any office, civil or military, under the United States, or any State, unless relieved of that disability by a two-thirds vote of each House of Congress; (4) that the validity of the public debt of the United States shall not be questioned, nor shall any debt or obligation contracted in aid of rebellion, or any claim for emancipated slaves be paid.
Thus the Fourteenth Amendment stopped short of the extension of the suffrage to negroes — a subject which many Republicans were still afraid to touch directly. But by implication it punished the States denying that extension by reducing the basis of representation; it excluded from office, unless relieved of the disability by a two-thirds vote of Congress, the most influential class of those who had taken an active part in the rebellion, and it safeguarded the public debt. With only one of its provisions serious fault could be found. Not with that which guaranteed to the freedmen the essential civil rights of free men, nor with that which excluded the freedmen from the basis of representation — so long as they were not permitted to vote, for in that case it would have been unfair to make them serve to augment the political power of others. Only the advocates of negro suffrage might logically have objected to this clause, inasmuch as it by implication recognized the right of a State to exclude the colored people from the suffrage if the State paid a certain penalty for such exclusion. Neither could the clause safeguarding the public debt and prohibiting the payment of debts incurred in aid of the rebellion be objected to. A really exceptional provision was that which excluded so large a class of Southern men from public office, and just that class a friendly understanding with which was most desirable. I saw this a few years later much more clearly than I did at the time. Regarded as a punishment of “treason,” those political disabilities were altogether too lenient. They could in that respect only serve to lay us open to the suspicion that, far from being generous at heart, we would have treated the rebels more severely if we had known how to accomplish it. The disqualification of a very few particularly obnoxious chieftains of the rebellion would have sufficed to satisfy public sentiment. But the disqualification of this large class was, irrespective of justice or generosity, a grave blunder in statesmanship. It struck nearly all those to whom the great mass of the Southern people was accustomed to look up for that sort of leadership which superior intelligence, wealth and social prestige could give. This leadership was by no means destroyed by the disqualification for office, because no other leadership was thereby substituted for it. Those so disqualified could indeed not hold office themselves, but their influence could in a large measure dictate who should, and control their conduct. And there were among the disqualified, especially among those who under the Confederacy had held military rank, many who understood the advantage of accommodation to the new order of things, and who were disposed to promote it. To discourage their good will by chafing their pride was decidedly unwise policy. The provision that their disqualification could be removed by a two-thirds vote in each House of Congress mended the mischief thus done a little, but not enough for the public good.
It was not expressly enacted, but it was generally understood, that those of the “States lately in rebellion,” which ratified the Fourteenth Amendment, would thereby qualify themselves for full restoration in the Union. Tennessee, where a faction of the Union party hostile to President Johnson had gained the ascendancy, did so and was accordingly fully restored by the admission to their seats in Congress of its Senators and Representatives. The full restoration of the other late rebel States would probably have been expedient in the same way, had they followed the example of Tennessee. But President Johnson, as became publicly known in one or two instances, obstinately dissuaded them from doing so, and the fight went on. He also vetoed a second Freedmen's Bureau Bill in which some of the provisions he had objected to in his veto of the first were remedied. But things had now come to such a pass between Congress and the President that his veto messages were hardly considered worth listening to, but were promptly overruled by two-thirds votes in each House almost without debate.
Under such circumstances the Congressional election of 1866 came on. The people were to pronounce judgment between the President and Congress. The great quarrel had created excitement so intense as to affect men's balance of mind. About the time of the assembling of Congress Mr. Preston King of New York (the same rotund gentleman with whom in the National Convention of 1860 I conducted Mr. Ashmun to the chair), who had been a Senator of the United States and had been appointed Collector of Customs by President Johnson, committed suicide by jumping into the North River from a ferry boat in New York harbor. He had been a Republican of the radical type, and when he took the office he supposed the President to be of the same mind; but Mr. Johnson's course distressed him so much that he became melancholy; his brain gave way and he sought relief in death. Another suicide, that of Senator Lane of Kansas, which greatly startled the country a few months later, was attributed to a similar cause. “Jim Lane” had been one of the most famous Free-State fighters in Kansas Territory. Since then he was ranked among the extreme anti-slavery men and as a Senator he was counted upon as a firm opponent of President Johnson's policy. To the astonishment of everybody he voted against the Civil Rights Bill. This somewhat mysterious change of front, which nobody seemed able satisfactorily to explain, cost him his confidential intercourse with his former associates in the Senate, and brought upon him stinging manifestations of disapproval from his constituents. He was reported to have expressed profound repentance of what he had done and finally made away with himself as one lost to hope. He was still in the full vigor of manhood — only fifty-one years old — when he sought the grave.
The campaign of 1866 was remarkable for its heat and bitterness. In canvasses carried on for the purpose of electing a President I had seen more enthusiasm, but in none so much animosity and bad blood as in this, an incidental object of which was politically to destroy a President. Andrew Johnson had not only manifested a disposition to lean upon the Democratic party in the pursuit of his policy, but he had also begun to dismiss public officers who refused to co-operate with him politically and to put in their places men who adhered to him. This touched partisan spirit in an exceedingly sensitive spot. There could be no clearer proof of President Johnson's “treachery” in the eyes of the ordinary party man. It was the unpardonable crime. When the man so appointed was a Democrat — well, his offense was regarded leniently, for nothing better could be expected of him. But when a Republican accepted office from Andrew Johnson's hands on Andrew Johnson's terms to take the place of an officeholder dismissed for fidelity to his principles, he could not be forgiven. The so-called “bread-and-butter-brigade” was looked down upon with a contempt that could hardly be expressed in words.
But there were more serious things to inflame the temper of the North. The Southern whites again proved themselves their own worst enemies. Early in May news came from Memphis of riots in which twenty-four negroes were killed and one white man wounded. The conclusion lay near and was generally accepted that the whites had been the aggressors and the negroes the victims. In the last days of July more portentous tidings arrived from New Orleans. An attempt was made by Union men to revive the constitutional convention of 1864 for the purpose of remodeling the constitution of the States. The attempt was of questionable legality, but, if wrong, it could easily have been foiled by legal and peaceable means. The municipal government of New Orleans was in possession of the ex-Confederates. It resolved that the meeting of the remnant of the convention should not be held. When it did meet, the police, consisting in an overwhelming majority of ex-Confederate soldiers, aided by a white mob, broke into the ball and fired upon those assembled there. The result was thirty-seven negroes killed and one hundred and nineteen wounded, — and of three of the white Union men killed and seventeen wounded — against one of the assailants killed and ten wounded. General Sheridan, the commander of the Department, telegraphed General Grant: “It was no riot; it was an absolute massacre by the police which was not excelled in murderous cruelty by that of Fort Pillow. It was a murder which the Mayor and the police of this city perpetrated without the shadow of necessity.” A tremor of horror and rage ran over the North. People asked one another: “Does this mean that the rebellion is to begin again?” I heard the question often.
The Administration felt the blow, and to neutralize its effects a National Convention of its adherents, North and South, planned by Thurlow Weed and Secretary Seward, was to serve as the principal means. This “National Union Convention” met in Philadelphia on August 14th. It was respectably attended, in point of character, as well as of numbers. It opened its proceedings with a spectacular performance which under different conditions might have struck the popular imagination favorably. The delegates marched into the Convention Hall in pairs, one from the South arm in arm with one from the North, Massachusetts and South Carolina leading. But with the Memphis riot and the New Orleans “massacre and Andrew Johnson's sinister figure in the background, the theatrical exhibition of restored fraternal feeling, although calling forth much cheering on the spot, fell flat, and even became the victim of ridicule as it earned for the meeting the derisive nickname of the arm-in-arm convention.” The proceedings were rather dull, and much was made by the Republicans of the fact, or the apparent fact, that the Chairman, Senator Doolittle from Wisconsin, was careful not to let Southern members say much, lest they say too much. It was also noticed — and made much of — that among the members of the convention the number of men supposed to curry favor with the Administration for the purpose of getting office — men belonging to the “bread-and-butter-brigade” — was conspicuously large. Among the resolutions passed by the convention was one declaring slavery abolished and the emancipated negro entitled to equal protection in every right of person and property, and another heartily endorsing President Johnson's reconstruction policy.
No doubt many of the respectable and patriotic men who attended that convention thought they had done very valuable work for the general pacification by getting their Southern friends publicly to affirm that slavery was dead never to be revived, and that the civil rights of the freedmen were entitled to equal protection and would have it. But the effect of such declarations upon the popular mind at the North was not as great as had been expected. Such declarations by respectable Southern gentlemen, who were perfectly sincere, had been heard before. In fact, almost everybody in the South was ready to declare himself likewise, and with equal sincerity, as to the abolition of the old form of chattel slavery. But a question of far superior importance was, what he would put in the place of the old form of chattel slavery. Scores of times I have myself heard such declaration, immediately followed by the assertion that the negroes would not work without physical compulsion. The “abolition of slavery forever” was readily assented to by the legislative and the municipal bodies which immediately after the declaration concerning the abolishment of slavery would proceed to enact laws, or ordinances, or police regulations under which the freedman was anything but a free man, and under which the promise of the equal protection of the laws was nothing but mockery. There was the rub, and this had come to be well understood at the North in the light of the reports from the South which the advocates of President Johnson's policy could not deny nor obscure. The moral effect of the “National Union Convention” was, therefore, very feeble. It was rather regarded as another deceptive contrivance to obtain the assent of the North to a method of reconstruction which would put the emancipated slave again at the mercy of the master class.
This judgment was doubtless too harsh as far as the motives of the manager of the convention were concerned; but as to the probable consequences of their policy it was but too well founded.
If the members of the National Union Convention thought that their conciliatory utterances would pour oil on the angry waves of the campaign, they reckoned without their host. When a committee appointed for that purpose presented to President Johnson a copy of its proceedings, there was rather a note of defiance to his opponents, than of conciliation, in his response. “We have witnessed in one department of the government every endeavor to prevent the restoration of peace, harmony and union,” he said. “We have seen hanging upon the verge of the government, as it were, a body called, or which assumes to be, the Congress of the United States, while, in fact, it is a Congress of only a part of the United States. We have seen a Congress in a minority assume to exercise power which, allowed to be consummated, would result in despotism or monarchy itself.” Here was again the thinly veiled threat that, because certain States were not represented in it, the validity of the acts of Congress might be attacked. But worse was to follow. It is a well-known fact that Presidents, under the influence of the Washington atmosphere, are apt to become victims of the delusion that they are idolized by the American people. Even John Tyler is said to have thought so. It may have been under a similar impression that President Johnson, who had great confidence in the power of his influence over the masses when he personally confronted them, accepted an invitation requesting his presence at the unveiling of a Douglas statue in Chicago, and he made this an occasion for a “presidential progress” through some of the States. He started late in August. Several members of his cabinet, Seward among others, accompanied him, and so did General Grant and Admiral Farragut by command, to give additional luster to the appearance of the chief.
His journey — the famous “swinging around the circle,” a favorite phrase of his to describe his fight against the Southern enemies of the Union, the secessionists, at one time, and against the Northern disunionists, the radical Republicans, at another — was a series of most disastrous exhibitions. At Philadelphia he was received with studied coldness. At New York he had an official reception, and he used the occasion to rehearse his often-told story of his wonderful advancement from the position of alderman in his native town to the Presidency of the United States, with some insignificant remarks about his policy attached. At Cleveland he appeared before a large audience, according to abundant testimony, in a drunken condition. Indeed, the character of his speech cannot be explained in any other way. He descended to the lowest tone of partisan stump speaking. He bandied epithets with some of his hearers who interrupted him. The whole speech was a mixture of inane drivel and reckless aspersion. His visit at Chicago passed over without particular scandal. But the speech he made at St. Louis fairly capped the climax. He accused the Republicans in Congress of having substantially planned the New Orleans massacre. He indulged himself in a muddled tirade about Judas, Christ and Moses. He charged that all that his opponents were after was to hold on to the offices, but he would kick them out; and they wanted to get rid of him, and he defied them. And so on. At Indianapolis a disorderly crowd hooted him down and would not let him speak at all.
He returned to Washington an utterly discomfited and disgraced man, having gone out to win popular support, and having earned only popular disgust. There was a bar-room vulgarity in his whole performance the contemplation of which made self-respecting Americans not merely sad, but angry. Such a lapse might have been overlooked in the conduct of a mayor — even of a governor, or of a member of Congress. But the President! The President of the United States! This was too much. The whole North rang with indignation. President Johnson's supporters hung their heads with shame and dismay. The humorists, pictorial as well as literary, pounced upon the “swinging around the circle” as a fruitful subject for caricature or satire, turning serious wrath into a bitter laugh. Andrew Johnson became the victim not only of detestation but of ridicule.
The campaign was then — about the middle of September — virtually decided. There was no longer any doubt that the election would not only preserve, but materially increase, the anti-Johnson majority in Congress. But before President Johnson started on his ill-starred journey, arrangements had been made for other National Conventions. One of them was designed to bring Southern Loyalists, that is, Southern men who had stood loyally by the National Government, together with Northern Republicans. It met at Philadelphia on the 3rd of September. Senator Zachariah Chandler and myself attended it as delegates sent there by the Republicans of Michigan. It was a large gathering, the roll of which bore many distinguished names from all parts of the country. Southern members having been permitted to say but very little in the Johnson Convention a fortnight before, it was a clever stroke of policy on the part of our managers to give the floor to the Southern loyalists altogether. They availed themselves of their opportunity to lay before the people of the country an account of their experiences and sufferings since the promulgation of the Johnson policy, which could not fail to stir the popular heart. Their recitals of the atrocities committed in the South were indeed horrible. Over a thousand Union citizens had been murdered there since the surrender of Lee and in no case had the assassins been brought to judgment. Two more conventions were held, conventions of Union soldiers, one in favor, and the other, and more popular one, in opposition to President Johnson, and the campaign was carried on with all the zest and passion of a presidential canvass, although lacking the parades and other artificial contrivances devised to excite popular enthusiasm. It was a campaign of argument and appeal. But after Mr. Johnson's “swing around the circle” no further exertion could have saved his cause, and no further exertion could have very much augmented the majority against him. I am convinced he would have been beaten without his disgraceful escapade. But his self-exhibition made his defeat overwhelming. The Republicans won in 143 Congressional districts, the Democrats in only 49. President Johnson was more at the mercy of Congress than ever.
During the canvass, I was somewhat in demand as a speaker and addressed large meetings at various places. One of my speeches, delivered at Philadelphia on the 8th of September, was printed in pamphlet form and widely circulated as a campaign document. I have read it again — thirty-nine years after its delivery — and I may say that after the additional light and the experience which this lapse of time has given us, I would now draw the diagnosis of the situation then existing substantially as I did in that speech — barring some — not many — extravagances of oratorical coloring, and the treatment of the disqualification clause of the Fourteenth Amendment to the Constitution.
It was in this campaign that the matter of negro suffrage was first discussed on the hustings with a certain frankness. Efforts have since been made and are now being made, to make the Southern people believe — and, I deeply regret to say, many of them actually do believe — that the introduction of negro suffrage was a device of some particularly malignant and vindictive radicals, to subject the South to the extreme of distress and humiliation. Nothing could be farther from the truth. Admitting that there were people in the North who, before the passions of the war had subsided, wished to see the rebels and their sympathizers and abettors in some way punished for what they had done, negro suffrage never was thought of as a punitive measure. I may say that in all my intercourse with various classes of people, — and my opportunities were large — I have never heard it mentioned or suggested, still less advocated, as a punitive measure. It never was in itself popular with the masses — reason enough for the ordinary politicians to be afraid of openly favoring it. There were only two classes of public men who at all thought of introducing it generally: those whom, without meaning any disparagement, I would for the sake of convenience call the doctrinaires, — men who, like Mr. Sumner, would insist as a general principle, that the negro, being a man, was as a matter of right as much entitled to the suffrage as the white man — and those who, after a faithful and somewhat perplexed wrestle with the complicated problem of reconstruction, finally landed — or, it might almost be said, were stranded — at the conclusion that to enable the negro to protect his own rights as a free man by the exercise of the ballot was after all the simplest way out of the tangle, and at the same time the most in accordance with our democratic principles of government.
This view of the matter grew rapidly in popular appreciation as the results of reconstruction on the Johnson plan became more and more unsatisfactory. It gained very much in strength when it appeared that the tremendous rebuke administered to the President's policy by the Congressional elections of 1866 had not produced any effect upon Mr. Johnson's mind, but that, as his annual message delivered on December 3rd showed, he was doggedly bent upon following his course. It was still more strengthened when all the Southern legislatures set up under the President's plan, save that of Tennessee, rejected the Fourteenth Amendment to the Constitution — some unanimously or nearly so, — with demonstrations of contemptuous defiance. Then the question was asked at the North with great pertinency: Are we to understand that the white people of the “States lately in rebellion” will not agree that all persons born or naturalized in the United States shall be constitutionally recognized as citizens entitled in their civil rights to the equal protection of the laws? That those States insist not only that the colored people shall not have the right of suffrage, but that those people so excluded from the franchise shall even serve to increase the basis of representation in favor of the whites — in other words, that the white people of the South shall come out of the rebellion politically stronger than they were when they went into it? That all those who engaged in the rebellion and fought to destroy the Union shall be entitled to participate on even more favorable terms in the government of the same Union which but yesterday they sought to destroy? That they refuse to safeguard the public debt incurred for saving the Union and wish to keep open the possibility of an assumption of the debts incurred by the rebel States for destroying the Union? No fair-minded man, either Northern or Southern, will deny that after the emphatic rejection of the Fourteenth Amendment by the so-called Johnson legislatures in the South, these questions were most pertinent, and that the mere statement of them could not fail to make a deep and disquieting impression upon the Northern mind.
The reports constantly arriving from the South — reports the truthfulness of some of which was above doubt — answered these questions in the affirmative; and then nothing could be more natural than that many sober-minded citizens, unbiased by any heated partisanship, but sincerely anxious for the future of their country, should have become accessible to the belief that it was wrong and bad policy to let all, or nearly all, the voting in the South be done by men who had been engaged in the rebellion yesterday and who, although they had taken an oath of allegiance, were opposed to the new order of things to-day; and to exclude from the right of voting a great mass of people who, whatever else might be said of them, would at least loyally stand up for the legitimate results of the war. This reasoning, not any impulse of vindictiveness, not any desire to punish or humiliate the white people of the South, was the source from which sprang the resolve to introduce general negro suffrage in the South. This, not a motive of malice, explains also why many well-meaning people, who would rather not have negro suffrage in their own States, favored it for the States lately in rebellion.
Neither was the fact overlooked that the great mass of the Southern negroes were grossly ignorant and in other respects ill-fitted for the exercise of political privileges. Many who then favored negro suffrage would have greatly preferred its gradual introduction, first limiting it, as Mr. Lincoln suggested to Governor Hahn of Louisiana, to those who had served as soldiers in the Union army and those who were best fitted for it by intelligence and education. But this would have reduced the negro vote to so small a figure as to render it insufficient to counteract or neutralize the power of the reactionary element. To this end the whole vote was required, and for that reason it was demanded, in spite of the imperfections it was known to possess and of the troubles it threatened — which, however, at that period were much underestimated, as is apt to be the case under similar circumstances. How visibly strong the popular demand had grown may be concluded from the fact that President Johnson found himself moved to address a circular to the provisional governors advising that the right of suffrage be extended to persons of color who could read the Constitution and write their own name, and also to those who owned real estate valued at not less than two hundred and fifty dollars. Unfortunately for himself, he impaired the moral credit which otherwise would have been due to this proposition by writing to Governor Sharkey of Mississippi that he hoped it would be favorably acted upon, as such action would “completely foil the Radicals in their attempt to keep the Southern States from renewing their relations to the Union.” To him such an extension of the suffrage seemed to be only a shrewd move in his fight with the “Radicals,” while with its limitations it would not have furnished to the negroes the meaning of self-protection. Not one of the Southern States, however, acted according to the President's suggestion.
When the session of Congress opened on the 3rd of December it was virtually certain that unrestricted negro suffrage would come and that President Johnson's reconstruction policy would be swept out of the way. The Republican majority without delay passed a bill extending the suffrage to the negroes in the District of Columbia, which then had a municipal government of its own. The President put his veto on the bill, but the veto was promptly overruled by two-thirds majorities in both Houses. Then followed a series of legislative measures designed substantially to substitute for the reconstruction work done by the President a method of reconstruction based upon universal suffrage including the negro vote, and to strip the President as much as possible of all power to interfere. The first, upon the ground that life and property were not safe under the existing provisional governments, divided the late rebel States into five military divisions, each to be under the command of a general officer who was to have the power to declare martial law and to have offenders tried by military commission, as the condition of public safety and order might seem to them to require. Under this protection conventions were to be elected by universal suffrage including the negro vote and excluding the disqualified “rebel” vote, to frame new State constitutions containing provision for the same sort of universal suffrage, such constitutions to be subject to the approval of the people of the respective States and of Congress. The State officers to be elected under these new constitutions were of course to be elected by the same electorate, and the States were to be regarded as entitled to representation in Congress, after having ratified the Fourteenth Amendment to the National Constitution, and after that Amendment had been ratified by a sufficient number of States generally, to make it a valid part of the Constitution. A supplementary Reconstruction Act gave the military commanders very extensive control over the elections to be held as to the registration of voters, the mode of holding the elections, the appointment of election officers, the canvassing of results, and the reporting of such results to the President and through him to Congress. In order to strip President Johnson of all power to interfere with the execution of this measure beyond the appointment of the commanders of the various military divisions, a provision was introduced in the Army Appropriations Bill which substantially ordained that all military orders and instructions should be issued through the General of the Army (General Grant), who was to have his headquarters at Washington, and that all orders or instructions issued otherwise should be null and void. And when the generals commanding the several divisions had expressed some doubt as to the interpretation of some provisions of the Reconstruction Act and the President had issued instructions concerning those points which displeased Congress, another act was passed which by way of explanation of the meaning of its predecessors, still further enlarged the powers of the military commanders and made them virtually rulers over everything and everybody in those States. In the meantime, to tie President Johnson's hands still further, the Tenure-of-Office Act had been passed, which was to curtail or hamper the President's power to dismiss officeholders from their places so as to reduce as much as possible his facilities for punishing the opponents and for rewarding the friends of his policy, and thus, as it would now be called, for building up an officeholders' machine for his use.
President Johnson in every case promptly vetoed the bills objectionable to him or fulminated his protests against what he considered unwarrantable encroachments upon his constitutional prerogatives. Some of his messages, reported to have been written either by Mr. Seward or by Mr. Jeremiah Black, a man of brilliant abilities, were strong in argument as well as eloquent in expression. But they were not listened to — much less considered. Mr. Johnson had personally discredited himself to such a degree that his personality fatally stood in his way in anything he advocated. No doubt some of the measures devised to strip him of power as President did great violence to the Constitution in spirit, as well as in form. But the quarrel between Congress and the Executive had so heated the whole atmosphere with political passion, that almost anything that would serve as an effective weapon against the antagonist was apt to be accepted as proper and lawful. The air, not only in Washington but throughout the country, was buzzing with rumors of iniquities which Andrew Johnson was meditating and would surely attempt if he were not disarmed. He was surely plotting a coup d'état. He had already slyly tried to get General Grant out of the way by sending him on a trumped-up diplomatic errand to Mexico. Although it was very difficult to imagine what kind of a coup d'état President Johnson possibly could think of, yet he was openly charged with entertaining various hellish designs, and there is no doubt that even the most absurd gossip found much lodgment with the people. At any rate, Andrew Johnson was believed to be capable of almost anything. When, therefore, the news came from Washington that Andrew Johnson was to be impeached, to be deprived of his office, it was not only welcomed by reckless partisanship, but as everybody that has lived through those times will remember, it struck a popular chord. There was a widespread feeling among well-meaning and sober people, that the country was really in some sort of peril, and that it would be a good thing to get rid of that dangerous man in the presidential chair.
But for this vague feeling of uneasiness approaching genuine alarm, I doubt whether Congress would ever have ventured upon the tragicomedy of the impeachment.
It explains also the fact that so many lawyers in Congress, as well as in the country, although they must have seen the legal weakness of the case against Andrew Johnson, still labored so hard to find some point upon which he might be convicted. It was for political, not for legal, reasons that they did so — not reasons of political partisanship, but the higher political reason that they thought the public interest made the removal of Andrew Johnson from his place of power, eminently desirable. I have to confess that I leaned somewhat to that opinion myself — not as if I had believed in the sinister revolutionary designs of Mr. Johnson, but because I thought that the presence of Mr. Johnson in the presidential office encouraged among the white people of the South hopes and endeavors which, the longer they were indulged in, the more grievous the harm they would do to both races. It cannot indeed be said that President Johnson failed to execute the reconstruction laws enacted by Congress by refusing to perform the duties they imposed upon him, such as the appointment of the commanders of military divisions. He even effectively opposed, through his able and accomplished Attorney-General, Mr. Stanbery, the attempts of two Southern governors to stop the enforcement of the Reconstruction Act by the legal process of injunction. But the mere fact that he was believed to favor the reactionary element in the South and would do all in his power to let it have its way, was in itself an influence constantly inflaming the passions kindled by mischievous hopes.
The condition of things in the South had become deplorable in the extreme. Had the reconstruction measures enacted by Congress, harsh as they were, been imposed upon the Southern people immediately after the war, when the people were stunned by their overwhelming defeat, and when there was still some apprehension of bloody vengeance to be visited upon the leaders of the rebellion — as was, for instance, witnessed in Hungary in 1849 after the collapse of the great insurrection, — those measures would have been accepted as an escape from something worse. And had they been accompanied with a generous amnesty and with the assured prospect that the sooner the white people of the South accommodated themselves in good faith to the new order of things, the sooner their States would recover their self-government at home and their constitutional participation in the National Government, it is not only possible but probable that the transition from slave labor society to free labor society would have been greatly facilitated by a sense of necessity, as well as by the important circumstance that at that period the relations between the whites and blacks were still comparatively kind and forbearing. Even negro suffrage in a qualified form, as General Lee's testimony before the Reconstruction Committee showed, might then have been accepted as a peace offering.
But the propitious moment was lost. Instead of gently persuading the Southerners, as Lincoln would have done, that the full restoration of the “States lately in rebellion” would necessarily depend upon the readiness and good faith with which they accommodated themselves to the legitimate results of the war, and that there were certain things which the victorious Union Government was bound to insist upon, not in a spirit of vindictiveness, but as a simple matter of honor and duty — instead of this, President Johnson told them that their instant restoration to their old status in the Union, that is, to complete self-government and to participation in the National Government on equal terms with the other States, had become their indefeasible constitutional right as soon as the insurgents laid down their arms and went through the form of taking an oath of allegiance, and that those who refused to recognize the immediate validity of that right, were no better than traitors and public enemies. Then nothing could have been more natural than that the master class in the South should have seen a chance to establish something like semi-slavery, and that, pressed by their economic perplexities, they should have eagerly grasped at that chance. No wonder that, encouraged, if not directly called upon by the President to do so, they should have vehemently demanded, as their right, the instant permission to dispose of their home concerns as they pleased, and to take their old places in the government of the Union again. No wonder that they should have been exasperated by stinging disappointment when this permission was denied. No wonder that, on the other hand, the North took the peremptoriness of that demand for a new outbreak of “rebel insolence.” No wonder that, what should have been as gentle as possible a transition from one social state into another, degenerated into an angry political brawl, which grew more and more furious as it went on. No wonder, finally, that when at last the Congressional Reconstruction policy, which at first might have been quietly submitted to as something that might have been worse, and that could not be averted, came at last in the midst of that brawl, it was resented in the South as an act of diabolical malice and tyrannical oppression not to be endured. And the worst outcome of all was, that many white people of the South, who had at first still cherished a kindly feeling for the negroes on account of their “fidelity” during the war, now fell to hating the negroes as the cause of all their woes; that on the other hand the negroes, after all their troubles raised to a position of power, now were tempted to a reckless use of that power; and that a selfish partisan spirit growing up among the Republican majority, instead of endeavoring to curb that tendency, encouraged, or at least tolerated it, for party advantage. Thus, what might have been a measure of peaceable adjustment if it had come in time, now threatened to turn into a veritable Pandora's box of trouble.
I have to confess that I took a more hopeful view of the matter at the time, for I did not foresee the mischievous part which selfish partisan spirit would play in that precarious situation. I trusted that the statesmen of the Republican party would prove clear-sighted enough to perceive in time the danger of excesses which their reconstruction policy would bring to the South, and that they would be strong enough in influence to combat that danger. Nothing could have been farther from my mind than the expectation that before long it would be my lot to take an active part in that combat on the most conspicuous political stage in the country.
I had, since I left Washington, been quietly engaged in editing the Detroit Post, when one day in the spring of 1867 I received, quite unexpectedly, a proposition from the proprietors of the Westliche Post, a daily journal published in the German language in St. Louis, Missouri, inviting me to join them, and offering me, on reasonable terms, a property interest in their prosperous concern. On further inquiry I found the proposition advantageous, and I accepted it. My connection with the Detroit Post, which, owing to the excellent character of the persons with whom it brought me into contact, had been most pleasant, was amicably dissolved, and I went to St. Louis to take charge of the new duties.
A particular attraction to me in this new arrangement was the association with Dr. Emil Preetorius, one of the proprietors of the Westliche Post. He was a native of Rhenish Hesse, close to the Bavarian Palatinate, where in 1849 the great popular uprising in favor of the National Constitution of Germany had taken place, and of the town of Alzey, which, according to ancient legend, had been the home of the great fiddler among the heroes of the Nibelungenlied — “Volker von Alzeien,” grim Hagen's valiant brother in arms. The city of Alzey still carries a fiddle in its coat of arms. Mr. Preetorius was a few years older than I. He had already won the diploma of Doctor of Laws when the revolution of 1848 broke out. With all the ardor of his soul he threw himself into the movement for free government and had to leave the Fatherland in consequence. But all the idealisms of 1848 he brought with him to his new home in America. As a matter of course, he at once embraced the anti-slavery cause with the warmest devotion, and became one of the leaders of the German-born citizens of St. Louis, who, in the spring of 1861 by their courageous patriotism saved their city and their State to the Union. He then remained in public life as a journalist and as a speaker of sonorous eloquence. He was a man of absolute rectitude and honor and of infinite goodness of heart. His generosity seemed to know no thought of selfish advantage. There was something inspiring in the constant freshness of his enthusiasms for all that was good and great and beautiful, and his wrath at every wrong and meanness. His intense patriotism was that of a man of lofty ideals, and any service he could render to his country, was to him a source of almost childlike joy. We soon became warm friends, intimate in the best sense of the term. We did, indeed, not always think alike, for he was a much stronger partisan than I was. But no difference of opinion ever cast the slightest shadow upon our mutual confidence and the sincere warmth of our attachment.
As already mentioned, the Westliche Post was published in the German language. It may be in place here to say a word about a prejudice entertained by some well-meaning Americans, that the publication of newspapers, and perhaps even the making of political speeches in this republic in any other language than the English, is an undesirable, if not positively dangerous practice. It is said that it prevents immigrants from learning the language of the country; that it fosters the cultivation of un-American principles, notions and habits, and that it thus stands in the way of the development of a sound American patriotism in those coming from foreign lands to make their home among us, and to take part in the working of our free institutions. I think I may say without undue assumption that from personal contact and large opportunities of observation, I have as much personal experience of the German-born population of the United States, its character, its aspirations, and its American patriotism, as any person now living; and this experience enables me to affirm that the prejudice against the German-American press is groundless. On the contrary, that press does the country a necessary and very important service. In the first place, it fills a real and very urgent want. That want will exist so long as there is a large number of German-born citizens in this republic. There will always be many among them, especially persons of mature years who arrived on American soil without any knowledge of the English language, who may be able to acquire enough of it to serve them in their daily walk, but not enough to enable them to understand newspaper articles on political or similar subjects. Such persons must receive the necessary information about current events, questions to be considered and duties to be performed, from journals published in the language they understand, or they will not have it at all. The suppression of the German-American press would, therefore, be equivalent to the cultivation of political ignorance among a large and highly estimable class of citizens.
It is argued that the existence of the German newspaper is apt to render the German immigrant less sensible of the necessity of learning English. This is the case only to a very limited extent. A large majority of the German immigrants of mature age, being farmers or industrial laborers, do not acquire their knowledge of English in this country through regular linguistic instruction, or by reading books or newspapers, but from conversation or attempts at conversation with their neighbors who do not speak German, and that knowledge will, of necessity, remain very imperfect. Their acquaintance with the English language will always be, to a limited extent, of course, a speaking acquaintance, but not a reading acquaintance. It is not the existence of German newspapers that will keep them from reading English newspapers, but it is their inability to read English. German immigrants of education will read English newspapers, but many of them will read German newspapers too, because they find in them things of interest which the English papers do not give them. The young people, as a rule, learn English very quickly and in many instances turn to English journals for their daily reading. On the whole it may be said that the German newspapers rank with the English papers of the same class, according to their environments and their financial resources. Their tone is throughout clean and wholesome. The sensational “yellow” class is almost wholly unknown among them.
The charge that the existence of the German-American press promotes the use of the German language in this country and thus impedes the development of a healthy American patriotism among the population concerned, can be entertained only by those who do not know the German-Americans. I speak from a large personal experience when I say that their love of their new home and their devotion to this republic does not at all depend upon their knowledge of the English language. When not long after my first arrival on American soil I spent some time in the interior of Pennsylvania, I became acquainted there with farmers and inhabitants of little country towns, belonging to the class called “Pennsylvania Dutch,” who, although their ancestors had come to this country generations ago, did not speak English but conversed only in their Pennsylvania Dutch dialect and read only newspapers published partly in German, partly in “Pennsylvania Dutch.” They made upon me the impression of honest, law-abiding, thrifty, cheerful and eminently good-natured folk, appearing, as to the understanding of public affairs, perhaps a trifle more sluggish than their English-speaking neighbors — which may have been owing to their unfamiliarity with the language of the country — but intelligent and alert in the exercise of local self-government, and brimful of that sort of patriotism which swears by one's country and is ready to fight and die for it. In this respect their ignorance of the English language had not, within my experience, caused them to be inferior to any class of Americans who know only English, and whose patriotism is uncontaminated by the knowledge of any other language.
The same may be said of the inhabitants of German settlements of more recent date who have come with the bona fide intention to make this country their permanent home. Among them German may long remain the language of social and business intercourse, they may be slow in acquiring easy familiarity with the English tongue, but even if they have come here for the mere purpose of bettering their fortunes, they are as a rule not slow in appreciating the benefits conferred upon them by American conditions, and in conceiving an attachment to this republic which before long ripens into genuine devotion. Striking evidence of this was presented by the zeal and promptness with which in all parts of the North by the tens of thousands of young men of German birth flocked around the Union flag at the beginning of the Civil War, and by the patriotic ardor with which, even in the South, especially in Texas, German-born citizens at the peril, and not seldom the sacrifice of their fortunes and even of their lives, stood by the national cause in defiance of the terrorism which at that period was exercised by the secession fanaticism in that region. I have known German regiments in the Union Army in the ranks of which hardly an English word was heard, and these regiments did not consist of mere adventurers fond of fighting or serving merely for pay, but in the main of German-American citizens eager to serve their adopted country in its hour of need, whether they could read and speak English or not.
I have already mentioned that there are many foreign-born citizens among us whose American patriotism is in one respect finer than that of many a native. This republic being the land of their choice, they want to be and to remain proud of that choice, and to have that pride recognized as just. A man of that class is as sensitive of any reason for casting a slur upon the character of the Republic, as a bridegroom would feel and resent a shadow cast upon the fair fame of his bride. More than once I have heard one of my countrymen, when anything discreditable to the American nation had happened, exclaim with a pathetic accent of sincerest grief: “Ah, what will they think of this in the old country! I hope they will never hear of it.” And such truly patriotic sighs were uttered, and perhaps felt, not in English, but in German.
That the existence of the German press tells for the preservation in this country of the German language as a language of social and business intercourse is to a limited extent true. But what harm is there in this? While it is of great use to the older immigrants, it does not keep their children from learning English, even in settlements which are preponderatingly German, for such settlements are no longer isolated as the original German settlements in Pennsylvania were. But it does give the younger generation the advantage of knowing two languages. That kind of American patriotism which takes umbrage at an American citizen's knowledge of a foreign tongue besides the English — a sort of patriotism I have here and there met with — is certainly too narrow-minded, not to say too silly, to be seriously considered. No educated, nay, no sound-minded person, will deny, that the knowledge of more than one language tends to widen our mental horizon, to facilitate the acquisition of useful intelligence, and thus to broaden education.
But the preservation of the German language among us has done and is still doing this country a peculiar and very valuable service. It is said of the Englishman that he takes his pleasures and amusements seriously, even gravely. The native American also is somewhat inclined that way. He possesses little of the faculty of finding great enjoyment in small things and of thus making his daily life sunny and cheerful. The German possesses that faculty in a high degree. It manifests itself pre-eminently in the German love for music and especially in the cultivation of song. It may almost be said that one of the happiest and most amiable features of the German character is the German “Lied.” It constitutes one of the great charms of German social life. Its invasion of American soil, stimulating the love and cultivation of music and thus softening the rigors of American social life by popularizing a harmless and refining enjoyment, has been one of the special blessings the German immigration has brought with it. It seems to me very probable, if not certain, that the blessing of this influence would have been greatly curtailed had the German immigrants upon their arrival upon these shores permitted the German language to disappear from among them, for without the preservation of that language the German Glee Club and the German Musical Society would hardly have become soundly rooted in American soil.
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