the Reconstruction policy of Congress was of course galling to the South
, and with the knowledge that their hostility was shared by the Head
of the State
, it was perhaps not unnatural that a population just emerging from armed rebellion should look to seditious action at this crisis.
There were indications of such a course, especially at New Orleans, where Sheridan
was in command.
He so reported to Grant
, who laid the matter before the President
and the Secretary of War
After consultation with those authorities Grant
forwarded the following order to Sheridan
I give the text as he originally penciled it, with his subsequent omissions inclosed in brackets.
Together they show both his first impulse and the restraint he put upon himself to convey no false impression of the President
The dispatch finally read: ‘The President directs that
order be preserved in New Orleans and the laws enforced.’
With this Grant
sent a copy of the Reconstruction law. This he had not been directed to do by the President
The whole force of the Reconstruction measure lay in the power of the District Commanders
to remove civil officers who opposed or obstructed the new law. Mr. Johnson
at once took the ground, as I have shown, that no such power existed in those commanders.
knew personally and positively that Congress had intended to confer this power, for he had been constantly consulted during the preparation of the bill.
Indeed, it had been proposed not only to bestow the power on District Commanders, but on himself, as their superior.
This, however, he disadvised.
He was still unwilling to be placed in open antagonism to the President
, and, besides, thought it wise not to provoke him by public humiliations or unnecessary restrictions of his authority.
He had therefore urged that the appointment of District Commanders should be left with the President
, and that the supervisory authority also should be committed to the Executive
rather than to the head of the Army; for he believed that Congress could maintain a sufficient check upon any hostile action of the President
, however, at once made it certain that his claws had not been so closely pared but that he could still do serious mischief.
remained averse to taking or advising any step which might aggravate the difficulties of the situation.
His policy at this crisis is shown in the following letter of April 21, 1867, to Sheridan
One of the most important matters under the new law was the registration of voters.
This was to include all male citizens, without distinction of race, color, or previous condition—except such as had been disfranchised for participation in the Rebellion
, or for felony at common law; and every quibble was at once resorted to at the South
and indorsed by Johnson
, to secure the registration of those whom Congress had intended to disfranchise.
The subject was constantly coming up before the District Commanders
, who promptly referred all intricate points to Grant
On this head he wrote to Sheridan
in the letter already quoted:
On the subject of who can register under the law, I think it was the intention to exclude only those who are excluded from holding office under the Constitutional amendment, and those who have previously been disfranchised for infamous crimes, such as were recognized before the Rebellion as sufficient cause for disfranchisement.
Of course there is no greater crime than that of attempting to overthrow the Government. But that is the particular crime which is forgiven by the Reconstruction Act except to certain offenders who are supposed from their previous relations to the General Government to be more guilty than the rest.
The supplementary bill, particularly the oath prescribed to be taken before registration, would seem to provide for the disfranchisement of a
class of citizens that ought always to be disfranchised in every community, for their gross violation of law, and could not have been intended as a further punishment, or the punishment of other classes, for the crime of treason against the Government.
By the same rule of judging I do not think that a class of citizens who heretofore have not had the elective franchise can be excluded for acts which would not have disfranchised them had they possessed the privilege of voting.
I give this only as my views on the subject.
If I were commanding a district, however, I would require registering officers to keep two lists.
On one I would register the names of all about whose right to register there could be no doubt, and on the other all those about whom there might be doubt.
There has nothing new transpired affecting you. I think your head is safe above your shoulders, at least so that it cannot be taken off to produce pain.
The last sentence refers to the intention Johnson
had already manifested to remove Sheridan
, because that officer was evidently determined to obey the law.
On April 21st, the day when he wrote thus to Sheridan
sent the following dispatch to Pope
, another of the District Commanders
There are passages in this letter which in ordinary times might have subjected its writer to trial by court martial for insubordination and disrespect to the President
But a court martial must have been composed of men who had fought for the Union
, and it is doubtful if one could have been formed to pronounce Grant
's course at this juncture other than patriotic and commendable.
And so, with caution and moderation mingled with decision and determination, he advised the subordinates whom in civil matters he held that he could not command.
They all took his advice with the same deference as if it had been an order, and followed it implicitly.
, and Ord
, the five District Commanders, all were in harmony with him and with Congress, although all had once been without any tinge of abolition sentiment and all had sympathized fully with the original magnanimity of Grant
But not only was his influence with the army enormous, his popularity with the entire country was at this time at its height.
Doubtless it was the knowledge of this popularity which restrained Johnson
from manifesting open resentment
at the course of his subordinate.
went he was attended by enthusiastic crowds; audiences at the theatres, and congregations in churches rose when he entered; the actors themselves applauded him from the stage, the preachers prayed for him by name from the pulpit; towns were illuminated because of his arrival; triumphal arches were built for him. The population of the North
seemed unanimous in its manifestations of affection and admiration; the supporters of the war because he had been victorious, the friends of the South
because he had been magnanimous.
It is impossible to understand either Johnson
's forbearance or Grant
's authority all through this epoch without bearing constantly in mind that Grant
was the most popular man in America
I visited with him every important city at the North
, and witnessed the ovations he received from millions.
I was constantly at his house in Washington
, and saw the thousands who thronged to his receptions there.
I gave out the invitations to his parties, and was besieged with requests from the illustrious and the obscure; from foreign Ministers and Southern Generals
, from people of highest fashion, who were proud to be seen at his entertainments, and from private soldiers and humble citizens, who were made as welcome as any. Those who had scorned him and the cause that he represented, who had pretended to think him common and plain, were swept along with the current; women of politics opposed to his own, who once had positively refused to be presented to him, now made efforts to obtain admission to his house; and especially every man who had ever fought against him was ready to do him honor, for every man felt that he owed him his parole, and every officer his sword.
All this was known to the President
, who came, as I have said, to Grant
's parties with all the rest of the world.
At one of Grant
's receptions at which Mr. Johnson
was present, I recollect also Alexander H. Stephens
, the Vicedent
of the down-fallen Confederacy, recently released at Grant
's interposition from his prison; the Minister
of the French Emperor
, and the family of the Mexican President
, whom that Emperor
had through Grant
's interposition resisted in vain; a crowd of fashionable Northern women whose husbands had opposed the war, and every officer of the Union
army who was then in Washington
The spectacle of this complex society crowding around the first soldier of the country impressed the Head
of the State
, and made him understand that it was better to seem, at least, in accord with this man than to be known as his political adversary.