previous next
[762] and many a subordinate but kindred Golgotha are utterly without excuse. Here, mainly unsheltered from drenching rain, or torrid sun, or chilling night-dews, thousands of our captive brothers were huddled in an open stockade surrounded by woods, dying constantly and rapidly of diseases engendered by privation, exp<*>sure, filth, and vermin, when they might have lived to return to their friends if treated with common humanity. The returns kept in our War Department show that 220,000 Rebels in all were captured by our armies during the War, of whom 26,436 died of wounds or of disease during their captivity; while of our men but 126,940 are there recorded as captured, of whom 22,576 died while prisoners. These latter numbers are of course far too low. Probably the aggregate of Union soldiers captured was little less than 200,000, of whom those who died in captivity can hardly have fallen short of 40,000.


The subject of Reconstruction (or Restoration) being, so far as possible, purposely avoided in this work, it is deemed proper to embody herein only that one among the many terse avowals of sentiment by Mr. Johnson, directly after his accession to the Presidency, which relates mainly to the Rebellion and the War. Being waited on and addressed, when such visits were in vogue, by a delegation of citizens of New Hampshire sojourning or casually in Washington, the new President said:

I have now, as always, an abiding faith in the ultimate triumph of justice and right; and I shall seek the inspiration and guidance of this faith, in the assured belief that the present struggle will result in the permanent establishment of our Government, and in making us a free, united, and happy people. This Government is now passing through a fiery and, let us hope, its last ordeal--one that will test its powers of endurance, and determine whether it can do what its enemies have denied — suppress and punish treason. This is the trial through which we are now passing; and, if we are true to ourselves and the principles upon which the Constitution was framed, who can doubt that the Government will settle down upon a more enduring basis than its friends have dared to hope for it?

In entering upon the discharge of the grave duties before me, it has been suggested, and even urged, by friends whose good opinions I value, and whose judgment I respect, that I shall foreshadow the policy that would guide me, in some formal public manifesto. But who could have foretold the events of the past four years? Who was wise enough to indicate, beforehand, a line of policy adapted to all the changing emergencies of that period? It is not in the wisdom and foresight of man to prescribe a course of action in advance for such disturbed and perilous conditions as now distract public affairs. I believe I may say that my past life is known to the country, especially that part connected with the Rebellion. The country must accept, then, my past course as an index of what my future will be. I think the people understand and appreciate my position.

I know it is easy, gentlemen, for any one who is so disposed, to acquire a reputation for clemency and mercy. But.the public good imperatively requires a just discrimination in the exercise of these qualities. What is clemency? What is mercy? It may be considered merciful to relieve an individual from pain and suffering; but to relieve one from the penalty of crime may be productive of national disaster. The American people must be taught to know and understand that treason is a crime. Arson and murder are crimes, the punishment of which is the loss of liberty and life. If, then, it is right in the sight of God to take away human life for such crimes, what punishment, let me ask you, should be inflicted upon him who is guilty of the atrocious crime of assassinating the Chief Magistrate of a great people? I am sure there is no one present who has not the answer ready upon his lips! Him whom we loved has been removed from our midst by the hand of a ruthless assassin, and his blessed spirit has gone to that bourne whence no traveler returns. If his murderer should suffer the severest penalty known to the law, what punishment should be inflicted upon the assassins who have raised their daggers against the life of a nation — against the life and happiness of thirty millions of people? Treason is a crime, and must be punished as a crime. It must not be regarded as a mere difference of political opinion. It must not be excused as an unsuccessful rebellion, to be overlooked and forgiven. It is a crime before which all other crimes sink into insignificance; and, in saying this, it must not be considered that I am influenced by angry or revengeful feelings.

Of course, a careful discrimination must be observed; for thousands have been involved in this rebellion, who are only technically guilty of the crime of treason. They have been deluded and deceived, and have been made the victims of more intelligent, artful, and designing men — the instigators of this monstrous rebellion. The number of this latter class is comparatively small. The former may stand acquitted of the crime of treason — the latter never; the full penalty of their crimes should be visited upon them. To the others I would accord amnesty, leniency, and mercy.

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 United States License.

An XML version of this text is available for download, with the additional restriction that you offer Perseus any modifications you make. Perseus provides credit for all accepted changes, storing new additions in a versioning system.

hide Places (automatically extracted)

View a map of the most frequently mentioned places in this document.

Sort places alphabetically, as they appear on the page, by frequency
Click on a place to search for it in this document.
Washington (United States) (1)
New Hampshire (New Hampshire, United States) (1)
Calvary (Israel) (1)

Download Pleiades ancient places geospacial dataset for this text.

hide People (automatically extracted)
Sort people alphabetically, as they appear on the page, by frequency
Click on a person to search for him/her in this document.
Edward Johnson (1)
hide Display Preferences
Greek Display:
Arabic Display:
View by Default:
Browse Bar: