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Chapter 52: Tenure-of-office act.—equal suffrage in the District of Columbia, in new states, in territories, and in reconstructed states.—schools and homesteads for the Freedmen.—purchase of Alaska and of St. Thomas.—death of Sir Frederick Bruce.—Sumner on Fessenden and Edmunds.—‘the prophetic voices.’—lecture tour in the West.—‘are we a nation?’—1866-1867.

The Republican party, now united against President Johnson, entered on measures to restrict his power, going in that direction as far as the Constitution admitted. At the second session of the Thirty-ninth Congress, beginning Dec. 3, 1866, it passed the Tenure — of Office bill over his veto. This measure, intended to restrict his use of patronage for carrying out his policy, required the consent of the Senate to removals of all officers (except members of the Cabinet) whose appointment required confirmation by the Senate, giving him a power to suspend officers during a recess of the Senate, who were to be restored if the Senate at its next meeting failed to concur. A motion to include members of the Cabinet, for which Sumner voted, was at first rejected, though later the Senate yielded to the insistence of the House that they should, with a certain limitation, be included. He attempted an extension of the measure by requiring, where it had not before been required, a confirmation by the Senate in the appointment of a large class of officers; but though supported by a majority of the Republicans, his amendment was lost.1 Edmunds and Fessenden contested his proposition as involving too great a departure from the existing system, and putting too great a burden on the Senate; and his reply related to these points. The bill became a [307] law, notwithstanding the President's veto.2 In the debate Sumner set aside, as he always did, the objection that a measure would impose labor and vexation on his associates and himself. He said:—

I am willing to act on an inspector or a night watchman; and if I could, I would save him from Executive tyranny. The senator would leave him a prey, so far as I can understand, for no other reason than that he is an inspector, an officer of inferior dignity, and because if we embrace all inspectors we shall have too much to do. Sir, we are sent to the Senate for work, and especially to surround the citizen with all possible safeguards. Let us not, then, be deterred even by the humble rank of these officers or by their number, but whether humble or numerous, embrace them within the protecting arms of the Senate.

In the debate on the Tenure-of-office bill and in other debates the impeachment of the President was foreshadowed.3 Sumner spoke of him as ‘the enemy of his country,’4‘the successor of Jefferson Davis, in the spirit by which he is governed and in the mischief he is inflicting on his country.’5 Reverdy Johnson, anticipating the course of events, thought that such remarks put Sumner out of the pale of the President's judges, and Howe answered that Johnson's partisanship for the President would impose a similar disability on him.6 The current of feeling in Congress during this session and the first session of the Fortieth Congress in the following summer was running in favor of the impeachment; but the country was as yet opposed to a resort to this extraordinary remedy for Executive misdoing.7

Sumner wrote to W. W. Story, Dec. 16, 1866:—

I wish you might make a statue of Lincoln. He is an historic character, worthy of bronze and marble. I do not give up the Shaw statue.

Congress is doing pretty well; every step is forward. The next Congress, which will probably meet on the 4th of March, will be still better inspired. All that is possible will be done to limit the Executive power. It is possible that the President may be impeached. If we go forward and supersede the sham governments set up in the rebel States, we encounter the [308] appointing power of the President, who would put in office men who sympathize with him. It is this consideration which makes ardent representatives say that he must be removed. Should this be attempted, a new question will be presented.

I sorrow for Seward, who seems to be more than usually perverse; but he lost his head when he lost the nomination at Chicago, and has done nothing but blunder since. He never understood our war, and he does not now understand how peace is to be secured. Remember me kindly to your wife, and to Edith, now a beautiful young lady.

To George Bemis, December 23:—

I wish you a Merry Christmas; and you deserve it after your good work, for such I call your recent book on neutrality. I have not written to you before about this remarkable production, because I wished to read it wholly before I wrote. Reading it carefully, I have finished it to-day. This is your opus magnum. I do not think you can have any answer. Perhaps the first impression from it is its thoroughness; you seem to take up everything. My next impression is the high and just tone which you adopt, especially in the suggestions at the close. When you propose to reform our practice about transports, do you consider that every such transport by admitted law is liable to seizure and condemnation? By the treaty of Utrecht neutral slips were not allowed to carry soldiers, and this exception has been continued in our treaties. I have had at heart for years a revision of maritime international law,—indeed, of the whole code. If our domestic questions ever give me leisure, I shall take this up next.

Again, December 24:—

Sir Frederick Bruce has been to see me several times on the present relations with our country. He tells me that he has left with Mr. Seward informally, for his perusal, without giving him an official copy, a despatch from Lord Stanley, accepting arbitration in the “Alabama” case. As he has not left any official copy, Mr. Seward has nothing as yet to answer. Sir Frederick wishes to know of me whether, if the “Alabama” case is put in train of settlement, we will then proceed to a general settlement of reciprocity, fisheries, and everything else. He thinks that one motive for advances on the “Alabama” claims would be that there was to be a sincere restoration of good relations. Talking with Seward, I find him watching the signs of public opinion, and to this end, he says, he reads the “Herald.” I think I have already complained to you that our diplomatic relations with England are merely formal; no questions are discussed between us, and no negotiation is opened. Lord Russell's refusal of our offer in the “Alabama” case is the reason. I should like to put an end to this abnormal condition if possible.

There are claims of Prussia, which my excellent friend Baron Gerolt is pushing with ardor. He hoped to sign a convention for a joint commission; but Mr. Seward retreated after the convention had been drawn up and ready for signature. The baron feels sore; the secretary says he must leave it to Congress. Of course this adds to my work. [309]

General Baez,8 the deposed president of Dominica, has been here to obtain help of some kind. Seward would not see him. I listened to his bad French by the hour. There is also the Cretan question, which is becoming interesting. Seward wishes us to sanction a minister to Greece; but I fear a political job.

Again, December 30:—

Sir Frederick Bruce tells me confidentially that Seward does not wish him to present his letter on the claims officially for the present, so that he can continue to say that he has received no such proposition. I pray you, therefore, to give no hint beyond what you may already have done for counsel.

Congress, recognizing the popular will, accepted at this session the principle of equal suffrage, irrespective of race,9—first establishing it in the District of Columbia. Sumner urged the consideration of the bill on the first day of the session. It came up on December 10, when Morrill of Maine, who had charge of it, opened the debate. It passed after four days debate by a vote of thirty-two to thirteen, Sumner speaking for it on the 13th.10 The next day it passed the House, and Jan. 7, 1867, became a law, by a two-thirds vote, notwithstanding the President's veto.

The bill for the admission of Nebraska as a State, with a constitution limiting suffrage to white citizens, which failed at the previous session, was again pressed at the beginning of this session,—and now as before by Wade, chairman of the committee on territories. His impetuous and careless way of speaking led him, in his endeavor to impute inconsistency to Sumner, into misstatements, which he was obliged to withdraw. The Senate, prompted largely by the desire to increase the Republican majority in that body, voted to take up the bill against Sumner's opposition. Brown moved the amendment for equal suffrage, irrespective of race or color, to be assented to by a majority of the voters, which Sumner had moved at the previous session. Wade and Sherman resisted it, urging that there were but few colored people in the Territory; that it was not just to forbid a discrimination in Nebraska, which was established in many of the existing States; that the condition imposed by the amendment should be confined to the rebel States; and that even as to them there was an implied pledge not to impose it on such [310] of those States as adopted the fourteenth amendment. Wade thought Sumner's objection to the Nebraska constitution ‘a little miserable technicality,’ and reproached him for not being ‘practical.’

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