- Passage of the Reconstruction act over the President's veto -- placed in command of the Fifth Military District -- removing officers -- my reasons for such action -- affairs in Louisiana and Texas -- removal of Governor Wells -- revision of the jury lists -- relieved from the command of the Fifth Military District.
The first of the Reconstruction laws was passed March 2, 1867, and though vetoed by the President, such was the unanimity of loyal sentiment and the urgency demanding the measure, that the bill became a law over the veto the day the President returned it to Congress. March the 11th this law was published in General Orders No. 10, from the Headquarters of the Army, the same order assigning certain officers to take charge of the five military districts into which the States lately in rebellion were subdivided, I being announced as the commander of the Fifth Military District, which embraced Louisiana and Texas, a territory that had formed the main portion of my command since the close of the war. Between the date of the Act and that of my assignment, the Louisiana Legislature, then in special session, had rejected a proposed repeal of an Act it had previously passed providing for an election of certain municipal officers in New Orleans. This election was set for March 11, but the mayor and the chief of police, together with General Mower, commanding the troops in the city, having expressed to me personally their fears that the public peace would be disturbed by the election, I, in this emergency, though not yet assigned to the district, assuming the authority which the Act conferred on district commanders, declared that the election should not take place; that no polls should be opened on the day fixed; and that the whole matter would stand postponed till the district commander should be appointed, or special instructions be had. This, my first official act under the Reconstruction laws, was rendered  necessary by the course of a body of obstructionists, who had already begun to give unequivocal indications of their intention to ignore the laws of Congress. A copy of the order embodying the Reconstruction law, together with my assignment, having reached me a few days after, I regularly assumed control of the Fifth Military District on March 19, by an order wherein I declared the State and municipal governments of the district to be provisional only, and, under the provisions of the sixth section of the Act, subject to be controlled, modified, superseded, or abolished. I also announced that no removals from office would be made unless the incumbents failed to carry out the provisions of the law or impeded reorganization, or unless willful delays should necessitate a change, and added: “Pending the reorganization, it is desirable and intended to create as little disturbance in the machinery of the various branches of the provisional governments as possible, consistent with the law of Congress and its successful execution, but this condition is dependent upon the disposition shown by the people, and upon the length of time required for reorganization.” Under these limitations Louisiana and Texas retained their former designations as military districts, the officers in command exercising their military powers as heretofore. In addition, these officers were to carry out in their respective commands all provisions of the law except those specially requiring the action of the district commander, and in cases of removals from and appointment to office. In the course of legislation the first Reconstruction act, as I have heretofore noted, had been vetoed. On the very day of the veto, however, despite the President's adverse action, it passed each House of Congress by such an overwhelming majority as not only to give it the effect of law, but to prove clearly that the plan of reconstruction presented was, beyond question, the policy endorsed by the people of the country. It was, therefore, my determination to see to the law's zealous execution in my district, though I felt certain that the President would endeavor to embarrass me by every means in his power, not only on account of his pronounced personal hostility, but also because of his determination not to execute but to obstruct the measures enacted by Congress. Having come to this conclusion, I laid down, as a rule for my guidance, the principle of non-interference with the provisional State governments, and though many appeals were made to have me rescind rulings of the courts, or interpose to forestall some presupposed action to be taken by them, my invariable reply was that I would not take cognizance of such matters, except in cases of absolute necessity. The  same policy was announced also in reference to municipal affairs throughout the district, so long as the action of the local officers did not conflict with the law. In a very short time, however, I was obliged to interfere in municipal matters in New Orleans, for it had become clearly apparent that several of the officials were, both by acts of omission and commission, ignoring the law, so on the 27th of March I removed from office the Mayor, John T. Monroe; the Judge of the First District Court, E. Abell; and the Attorney-General of the State, Andrew S. Herron; at the same time appointing to the respective offices thus vacated Edward Heath, W. W. Howe, and B. L. Lynch. The officials thus removed had taken upon themselves from the start to pronounce the Reconstruction acts unconstitutional, and to advise such a course of obstruction that I found it necessary at an early day to replace them by men in sympathy with the law, in order to make plain my determination to have its provisions enforced. The President at once made inquiry, through General Grant, for the cause of the removal, and I replied:
To General Grant my reasons were satisfactory, but not so to the President, who took no steps, however, to rescind my action, for he knew that the removals were commended by wellnigh the entire community in the city, for it will be understood that Mr. Johnson was, through his friends and adherents in Louisiana and Texas, kept constantly advised of every step taken by me. Many of these persons were active and open opponents of mine, while others were spies, doing their work so secretly and quickly that sometimes Mr. Johnson knew of my official acts before I could report them to General Grant. The supplemental Reconstruction act which defined the method of reconstruction became a law despite the President's veto on March 23. This was a curative act, authorizing elections and prescribing methods of registration. When it reached me officially I began measures for carrying out its provisions, and on the 28th of March issued an order to the effect that no elections for the State, parish, or municipal officers would be held in Louisiana until the provisions of the laws of Congress entitled “An act to provide for the more efficient government of the rebel States,” and of the act supplemental thereto, should have been complied with. I also announced that until elections were held in accordance with these acts, the law of the Legislature of the State providing for the holding over of those persons whose terms of office otherwise would have expired, would govern in all cases excepting only those special ones in which I myself might take action. There was one  parish, Livingston, which this order did not reach in time to prevent the election previously ordered there, and which therefore took place, but by a supplemental order this election was declared null and void. In April I began the work of administering the Supplemental Law, which, under certain conditions of eligibility, required a registration of the voters of the State, for the purpose of electing delegates to a Constitutional convention. It therefore became necessary to appoint Boards of Registration throughout the election districts, and on April 10 the boards for the Parish of Orleans were given out, those for the other parishes being appointed ten days later. Before announcing these boards, I had asked to be advised definitely as to what persons were disfranchised by the law, and was directed by General Grant to act upon my own interpretation of it, pending an opinion expected shortly from the Attorney-General-Mr. Henry Stanbery-so, for the guidance of the boards, I gave the following instructions:
The parish Boards of Registration were composed of three members each. Ability to take what was known as the “iron-clad oath” was the qualification exacted of the members, and they were prohibited from becoming candidates for office. In the execution of their duties they were to be governed by the provisions of the supplemental act. It was also made one of their functions to designate the number and location of the polling-places in the several districts, to appoint commissioners for receiving the votes and in general to attend to such other matters as were necessary, in order properly to conduct the voting, and afterward to receive from the commissioners the result of the vote and forward it to my headquarters. These registers, and all other officers having to do with elections, were to be held to a rigid accountability, and be subject to trial by military commission for fraud or unlawful or improper conduct in the performance of their duties; and in order to be certain that the Registration Boards performed their work faithfully and intelligently, officers of the army were appointed as supervisors. To this end  the parishes were grouped together conveniently in temporary districts, each officer having from three to five parishes to supervise. The programme thus mapped out for carrying out the law in Louisiana was likewise adhered to in Texas, and indeed was followed as a model in some of the other military districts. Although Military Commissions were fully authorized by the Reconstruction acts, yet I did not favor their use in governing the district, and probably would never have convened one had these acts been observed in good faith. I much preferred that the civil courts, and the State and municipal authorities already in existence, should perform their functions without military control or interference, but occasionally, because the civil authorities neglected their duty, I was obliged to resort to this means to ensure the punishment of offenders. At this time the condition of the negroes in Texas and Louisiana was lamentable, though, in fact, not worse than that of the few white loyalists who had been true to the Union during the war. These last were singled out as special objects of attack, and were, therefore, obliged at all times to be on the alert for the protection of their lives and property. This was the natural outcome of Mr. Johnson's defiance of Congress, coupled with the sudden conversion to his cause of persons in the North who but a short time before had been his bitterest enemies; for all this had aroused among the disaffected element new hopes of power and place, hopes of being at once put in political control again, with a resumption of their functions in State and National matters without any preliminary authorization by Congress. In fact, it was not only hoped, but expected, that things were presently to go on just as if there had been no war. In the State of Texas there were in 1865 about 200,000 of the colored race-roughly, a third of the entire population-while in Louisiana there were not less than 350,000, or more than one-half of all the people in the State. Until the enactment of the Reconstruction laws these negroes were without rights, and though they had been liberated by the war, Mr. Johnson's policy now proposed that they should have no political status at all, and consequently be at the mercy of a people who, recently their masters, now seemed to look upon them as the authors of all the misfortunes that had come upon the land. Under these circumstances the blacks naturally turned for protection to those who had been the means of their liberation, and it would have been little less than inhuman to deny them sympathy. Their freedom had been given them, and it was the plain duty of those in authority to make it secure, and screen them from the bitter political resentment that beset them, and to see that they had a fair chance in the battle of life. Therefore, when outrages and murders grew frequent; and the aid of the military  power was an absolute necessity for the protection of life, I employed it unhesitatingly — the guilty parties being brought to trial before military commissions-and for a time, at least, there occurred a halt in the march of terrorism inaugurated by the people whom Mr. Johnson had deluded. The first Military Commission was convened to try the case of John W. Walker, charged with shooting a negro in the parish of St. John. The proper civil authorities had made no effort to arrest Walker, and even connived at his escape, so I had him taken into custody in New Orleans, and ordered him tried, the commission finding him guilty, and sentencing him to confinement in the penitentiary for six months. This shooting was the third occurrence of the kind that had taken place in St. John's parish, a negro being wounded in each case, and it was plain that the intention was to institute there a practice of intimidation which should be effective to subject the freedmen to the will of their late masters, whether in making labor contracts, or in case these newly enfranchised negroes should evince a disposition to avail themselves of the privilege to vote. The trial and conviction of Walker, and of one or two others for similar outrages, soon put a stop to every kind of “bull-dozing” in the country parishes; but about this time I discovered that many members of the police force in New Orleans were covertly intimidating the freedmen there, and preventing their appearance at the registration offices, using milder methods than had obtained in the country, it is true, but none the less effective. Early in 1866 the Legislature had passed an act which created for the police of New Orleans a residence qualification, the object of which was to discharge and exclude from the force ex-Union soldiers. This of course would make room for the appointment of ex-Confederates, and Mayor Monroe had not been slow in enforcing the provisions of the law. It was, in fact, a result of this enactment that the police was so reorganized as to become the willing and efficient tool which it proved to be in the riot of 1866; and having still the same personnel, it was now in shape to prevent registration by threats, unwarranted arrests, and by various other influences, all operating to keep the timid blacks away from the registration places. That the police were taking a hand in this practice of repression, I first discovered by the conduct of the assistant to the chief of the body, and at once removed the offender, but finding this ineffectual I annulled that part of the State law fixing the five years residence restriction, and restored the two years qualification, thus enabling Mayor Heath, who by my appointment had succeeded Monroe, to organize the  force anew, and take about one-half of its members from ex-Union soldiers who when discharged had settled in New Orleans. This action put an end to intimidation in the parish of Orleans; and now were put in operation in all sections the processes provided by the supplemental Reconstruction law for the summoning of a convention to form a Constitution preparatory to the readmission of the State, and I was full of hope that there would now be much less difficulty in administering the trust imposed by Congress. During the two years previous great damage had been done the agricultural interests of Louisiana by the overflow of the Mississippi, the levees being so badly broken as to require extensive repairs, and the Legislature of 1866 had appropriated for the purpose $4,000,000, to be raised by an issue of bonds. This money was to be disbursed by a Board of Levee Commissioners then in existence, but the term of service of these commissioners, and the law creating the board, would expire in the spring of 1867. In order to overcome this difficulty the Legislature passed a bill continuing the commissioners in office, but as the act was passed inside of ten days before the adjournment of the Legislature, Governor Wells pocketed the bill, and it failed to become a law. The Governor then appointed a board of his own, without any warrant of law whatever. The old commissioners refused to recognize this new board, and of course a conflict of authority ensued, which, it was clear, would lead to vicious results if allowed to continue; so, as the people of the State had no confidence in either of the boards, I decided to end the contention summarily by appointing an entirely new commission, which would disburse the money honestly, and further the real purpose for which it had been appropriated. When I took this course the legislative board acquiesced, but Governor Wells immediately requested the President to revoke my order, which, however, was not done, but meanwhile the Secretary of War directed me to suspend all proceedings in the matter, and make a report of the facts. I complied in the following telegram:
The same day that I sent my report to the Secretary of War I removed from office Governor Wells himself, being determined to bear no longer with the many obstructions he had placed in the way of reorganizing the civil affairs of the State. I was also satisfied that he was unfit to retain the place, sine he was availing himself of every opportunity to work political ends beneficial to himself. In this instance Wells protested to me against his removal, and also appealed to the President for an opinion of the Attorney-General as to my power in the case; and doubtless he would have succeeded in retaining his office, but for the fact that the President had been informed by General James B.  Steadman1 and others placed to watch me that Wells was wholly unworthy. I appointed Mr. Thomas J. Durant as Wells's successor, but he declining, I then appointed Mr. Benjamin F. Flanders, who, after I had sent a staff-officer to forcibly eject Wells in case of necessity, took possession of the Governor's office. Wells having vacated, Governor Flanders began immediately the exercise of his duties in sympathy with the views of Congress, and I then notified General Grant that I thought he need have no further apprehension about the condition of affairs in Louisiana, as my appointee was a man of such integrity and ability that I already felt relieved of half my labor. I also stated in the same despatch that nothing would answer in Louisiana but a bold and firm course, and that in taking such a one I felt that I was strongly supported; a statement that was then correct, for up to this period the better classes were disposed to accept the Congressional plan of reconstruction. ”During the controversy over the Levee Commissioners, and the correspondence regarding the removal of Governor Wells, registration had gone on under the rules laid down for the boards. The date set for closing the books was the 30th of June, but in the parish of Orleans the time was extended till the 15th of July. This the President considered too short a period, and therefore directed the registry lists not to be closed before the 1st of August, unless there was some good reason to the contrary. This was plainly designed to keep the books open in order that under the Attorney-General's interpretation of the Reconstruction laws, published. June 20, many persons who had been excluded by the  registration boards could yet be registered, so I decided to close the registration, unless required by the President unconditionally, and in specific orders, to extend the time. My motives were manifold, but the main reasons were that as two and a half months had been given already, the number of persons who, under the law, were qualified for registry was about exhausted, and because of the expense I did not feel warranted in keeping up the boards longer, as I said, “to suit new issues coming in at the eleventh hour,” which would but open a “broad macadamized road for perjury and fraud.” When I thus stated what I intended to do, the opinion of the Attorney-General had not yet been received. When it did reach me it was merely in the form of a circular signed by Adjutant-General Townsend, and had no force of law. It was not even sent as an order, nor was it accompanied by any instructions, or by anything except the statement that it was transmitted to the “respective military commanders for their information, in order that there might be uniformity in the execution” of the Reconstruction acts. To adopt Mr. Stanbery's interpretation of the law and reopen registration accordingly, would defeat the purpose of Congress, as well as add to my perplexities. Such a course would also require that the officers appointed by me for the performance of specified duties, under laws which I was empowered to interpret and enforce, should receive their guidance and instructions from an unauthorized source, so on communicating with General Grant as to how I should act, he directed me to enforce my own construction of the military bill until ordered to do otherwise. Therefore the registration continued as I had originally directed, and nothing having been definitely settled at Washington in relation to my extending the time, on the 10th of July I ordered all the registration boards to select, immediately, suitable persons to act as commissioners of election, and at the same time specified the number of each set of commissioners, designated the polling-places, gave notice that two days would be allowed for voting, and followed this with an order discontinuing registration the 31st of July, and then another appointing the 27th and 28th of September as the time for the election of delegates to the State convention. In accomplishing the registration there had been little opposition from the mass of the people, but the press of New Orleans, and the office-holders and office-seekers in the State generally, antagonized the work bitterly and violently, particularly after the promulgation of the opinion of the Attorney-General. These agitators condemned everybody and everything connected with the Congressional plan of reconstruc- 
|General Horatio G. Wright.|
I was ordered to command the Department of the Missouri (General Hancock, as already noted, finally becoming my successor in the Fifth Military District), and left New Orleans on the 5th of September. I was not loath to go. The kind of duty I had been performing in Louisiana and Texas was very trying under the most favorable circumstances, but all the more so in my case, since I had to contend against the obstructions which the President placed in the way from persistent opposition  to the acts of Congress as well as from antipathy to me-which obstructions he interposed with all the boldness and aggressiveness of his peculiar nature. On more than one occasion while I was exercising this command, impurity of motive was imputed to me, but it has never been truthfully shown (nor can it ever be) that political or corrupt influences of any kind controlled me in any instance. I simply tried to carry out, without fear or favor, the Reconstruction acts as they came to me. They were intended to disfranchise certain persons, and to enfranchise certain others, and, till decided otherwise, were the laws of the land; and it was my duty to execute them faithfully, without regard, on the one hand, for those upon whom it was thought they bore so heavily, nor, on the other, for this or that political party, and certainly without deference to those persons sent to Louisiana to influence my conduct of affairs. Some of these missionaries were high officials, both military and civil, and I recall among others a visit made me in 1866 by a distinguished friend of the President, Mr. Thomas A. Hendricks. The purpose of his coming was to convey to me assurances of the very high esteem in which I was held by the President, and to explain personally Mr. Johnson's plan of reconstruction, its flawless constitutionality, and so on. But being on the ground, I had before me the exhibition of its practical working, saw the oppression and excesses growing out of it, and in the face of these experiences even Mr. Hendricks's persuasive eloquence was powerless to convince me of its beneficence. Later General Lovell H. Rousseau came down on a like mission, but was no more successful than Mr. Hendricks. During the whole period that I commanded in Louisiana and Texas my position was a most unenviable one. The service was unusual, and the nature of it scarcely to be understood by those not entirely familiar with the conditions existing immediately after the war. In administering the affairs of those States, I never acted except by authority, and always from conscientious motives. I tried to guard the rights of everybody in accordance with the law. In this I was supported by General Grant and opposed by President Johnson. The former had at heart, above every other consideration, the good of his country, and always sustained me with approval and kind suggestions. The course pursued by the President was exactly the opposite, and seems to prove that in the whole matter of reconstruction he was governed less by patriotic motives than by personal ambitions. Add to this his natural obstinacy of character and personal enmity toward me, and no surprise should be occasioned when I say that I heartily welcomed the order that lifted from me my unsought burden.