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Chapter 30.

  • Military governors
  • -- Lincoln's theory of reconstruction -- congressional election in Louisiana -- letter to military governors -- letter to Shepley -- amnesty proclamation, December 8, 1863 -- instructions to Banks -- Banks's action in Louisiana -- Louisiana Abolishes slavery -- Arkansas Abolishes slavery -- reconstruction in Tennessee- -- Missouri emancipation -- Lincoln's letter to Drake -- Missouri Abolishes slavery -- emancipation in Maryland -- Maryland Abolishes slavery
    To subdue the Confederate armies and establish order under martial law was not the only task before President Lincoln. As rapidly as rebel States or portions of States were occupied by Federal troops, it became necessary to displace usurping Confederate officials and appoint in their stead loyal State, county, and subordinate officers to restore the administration of local civil law under the authority of the United States. In western Virginia the people had spontaneously effected this reform, first by repudiating the Richmond secession ordinance and organizing a provisional State government, and, second, by adopting a new constitution and obtaining admission to the Union as the new State of West Virginia. In Missouri the State convention which refused to pass a secession ordinance effected the same object by establishing a provisional State government. In both these States the whole process of what in subsequent years was comprehensively designated “reconstruction” was carried [419] on by popular local action, without any Federal initiative or interference other than prompt Federal recognition and substantial military support and protection.

    But in other seceded States there was no such groundwork of loyal popular authority upon which to rebuild the structure of civil government. Therefore, when portions of Tennessee, Louisiana, Arkansas, and North Carolina came under Federal control, President Lincoln, during the first half of 1862, appointed military governors to begin the work of temporary civil administration. He had a clear and consistent constitutional theory under which this could be done. In his first inaugural he announced the doctrine that , “the union of these States is perpetual” and “unbroken.” His special message to Congress on July 4, 1861, added the supplementary declaration that “the States have their status in the Union, and they have no other legal status.” The same message contained the further definition:

    The people of Virginia have thus allowed this giant insurrection to make its nest within her borders; and this government has no choice left but to deal with it where it finds it. And it has the less regret, as the loyal citizens have, in due form, claimed its protection. Those loyal citizens this government is bound to recognize and protect, as being Virginia.

    The action of Congress entirely conformed to this theory. That body admitted to seats senators and representatives from the provisional State governments of West Virginia and Missouri; and also allowed Senator Andrew Johnson of Tennessee to .retain his seat, and admitted Horace Maynard and Andrew J. Clements as representatives from the same State, though since their election Tennessee had undergone the usual [420] secession usurpation, and had as yet organized no loyal provisional government.

    The progress of the Union armies was so far checked during the second half of 1862, that Military Governor Phelps, appointed for Arkansas, did not assume his functions; and Military Governor Stanley wielded but slight authority in North Carolina. Senator Andrew Johnson, appointed military governor of Tennessee, established himself at Nashville, the capital, and, though Union control of Tennessee fluctuated greatly, he was able, by appointing loyal State and county officers, to control the administration of civil government in considerable districts, under substantial Federal jurisdiction.

    In the State of Louisiana the process of restoring Federal authority was carried on a step farther, owing largely to the fact that the territory occupied by the Union army, though quite limited, comprising only the city of New Orleans and a few adjacent parishes, was more securely held, and its hostile frontier less disturbed. It soon became evident that considerable Union sentiment yet existed in the captured city and surrounding districts, and when some of the loyal citizens began to manifest impatience at the restraints of martial law, President Lincoln in a frank letter pointed the way to a remedy:

    The people of Louisiana,

    he wrote under date of July 28, 1862, “who wish protection to person and property, have but to reach forth their hands and take it. Let them in good faith reinaugurate the national authority and set up a State government conforming thereto under the Constitution. They know how to do it, and can have the protection of the army while doing it. The army will be withdrawn so soon as such State government can dispense with its presence, and [421] the people of the State can then, upon the old constitutional terms, govern themselves to their own liking.”

    At about this date there occurred the serious military crisis in Virginia; and the battles of the Peninsula, of the second Bull Run, and of Antietam necessarily compelled the postponement of minor questions. But during this period the President's policy on the slavery question reached its development and solution, and when, on September 22, he issued his preliminary proclamation of emancipation, it also paved the way for a further defining of his policy of reconstruction.

    That proclamation announced the penalty of military emancipation against all States in rebellion on the succeeding first day of January; but also provided that if the people thereof were represented in Congress by properly elected members, they should be deemed not in rebellion, and thereby escape the penalty. Wishing now to prove the sincerity of what he said in the Greeley letter, that his paramount object was to save the Union, and not either to save or destroy slavery, he wrote a circular letter to the military governors and commanders in Louisiana, Tennessee, and Arkansas, instructing them to permit and aid the people within the districts held by them to hold elections for members of Congress, and perhaps a legislature, State officers, and United States senators.

    In all available ways,” he wrote, “give the people a chance to express their wishes at these elections. Follow forms of law as far as convenient, but at all events get the expression of the largest number of the people possible. All see how such action will connect with and affect the proclamation of September 22. Of course the men elected should be gentlemen of character, willing to swear support to the Constitution as of [422] old, and known to be above reasonable suspicion of duplicity.”

    But the President wished this to be a real and not a sham proceeding, as he explained a month later in a letter to Governor Shepley:

    We do not particularly need members of Congress from there to enable us to get along with legislation here. What we do want is the conclusive evidence that respectable citizens of Louisiana are willing to be members of Congress and to swear support to the Constitution, and that other respectable citizens there are willing to vote for them and send them. To send a parcel of Northern men here as representatives, elected, as would be understood (and perhaps really so), at the point of the bayonet, would be disgraceful and outrageous; and were I a member of Congress here, I would vote against admitting any such man to a seat.

    Thus instructed, Governor Shepley caused an election to be held in the first and second congressional districts of Louisiana on December 3, 1862, at which members of Congress were chosen. No Federal officeholder was a candidate, and about one half the usual vote was polled. The House of Representatives admitted them to seats after full scrutiny, the chairman of the committee declaring this “had every essential of a regular election in a time of most profound peace, with the exception of the fact that the proclamation was issued by the military instead of the civil governor of Louisiana.”

    Military affairs were of such importance and absorbed so much attention during the year 1863, both at Washington and at the headquarters of the various armies, that the subject of reconstruction was of necessity somewhat neglected. The military governor of Louisiana indeed ordered a registration of loyal voters, [423] about the middle of June, for the purpose of organizing a loyal State government; but its only result was to develop an inevitable antagonism and contest between conservatives who desired that the old constitution of Louisiana prior to the rebellion should be revived, by which the institution of slavery as then existing would be maintained, and the free-State party which demanded that an entirely new constitution be framed and adopted, in which slavery should be summarily abolished. The conservatives asked President Lincoln to adopt their plan. While the President refused this, he in a letter to General Banks dated August 5, 1863, suggested the middle course of gradual emancipation.

    “For my own part,” he wrote, “I think I shall not, in any event, retract the emancipation proclamation; nor, as Executive, ever return to slavery any person who is freed by the terms of that proclamation, or by any of the acts of Congress. If Louisiana shall send members to Congress, their admission to seats will depend, as you know, upon the respective houses and not upon the President.”

    “I would be glad for her to make a new constitution recognizing the emancipation proclamation and adopting emancipation in those parts of the State to which the proclamation does not apply. And while she is at it, I think it would not be objectionable for her to adopt some practical system by which the two races could gradually live themselves out of their old relation to each other, and both come out better prepared for the new. Education for young blacks should be included in the plan. After all, the power or element of ‘contract’ may be sufficient for this probationary period, and by its simplicity and flexibility may be the better.”

    During the autumn months the President's mind [424] dwelt more and more on the subject of reconstruction, and he matured a general plan which he laid before Congress in his annual message to that body on December8, 1863. He issued on the same day a proclamation of amnesty, on certain conditions, to all persons in rebellion, except certain specified classes, who should take a prescribed oath of allegiance. The proclamation further provided that whenever a number of persons so amnestied in any rebel State, equal to one tenth the vote cast at the presidential election of 1860, should “reestablish a State government which shall be republican, and in no wise contravening said oath,” such would be recognized as the true government of the State. The annual message discussed and advocated the plan at length, but also added: “Saying that reconstruction will be accepted if presented in a specified way, it is not said it will never be accepted in any other way.”

    This plan of reconstructing what came to be called “ten per cent. States,” met much opposition in Congress, and that body, reversing its action in former instances, long refused admission to members and senators from States similarly organized; but the point needs no further mention here.

    A month before the amnesty proclamation the President had written to General Banks, expressing his great disappointment that the reconstruction in Louisiana had been permitted to fall in abeyance by the leading Union officials there, civil and military.

    “I do, however,” he wrote, “urge both you and them to lose no more time. Governor Shepley has special instructions from the War Department. I wish himthese gentlemen and others cooperating-without waiting for more territory, to go to work and give me a tangible nucleus which the remainder of the State may [425] rally around as fast as it can, and which I can at once recognize and sustain as the true State government.”

    He urged that such reconstruction should have in view a new free-State constitution, for, said he:

    If a few professedly loyal men shall draw the disloyal about them, and colorably set up a State government, repudiating the emancipation proclamation and reestablishing slavery, I cannot recognize or sustain their work. . . . I have said, and say again, that if a new State government, acting in harmony with this government and consistently with general freedom, shall think best to adopt a reasonable temporary arrangement in relation to the landless and houseless freed people, I do not object; but my word is out to be for and not against them on the question of their permanent freedom.

    General Banks in reply excused his inaction by explaining that the military governor and others had given him to understand that they were exclusively charged with the work of reconstruction in Louisiana. To this the President rejoined under date of December 24, 1863:

    I have all the while intended you to be master, as well in regard to reorganizing a State government for Louisiana as in regard to the military matters of the department, and hence my letters on reconstruction have nearly, if not quite, all been addressed to you. My error has been that it did not occur to me that Governor Shepley or any one else would set up a claim to act independently of you. . . I now distinctly tell you that you are master of all, and that I wish you to take the case as you find it, and give us a free-State reorganization of Louisiana in the shortest possible time.

    Under this explicit direction of the President, and [426] basing his action on martial law as the fundamental law of the State, the general caused a governor and State officials to be elected on February 22, 1864. To override the jealousy and quarrels of both the conservative and free-State parties, he set out in his proclamation that the officials to be chosen should-

    “Until others are appointed by competent authority, constitute the civil government of the State, under the constitution and laws of Louisiana, except so much of the said constitution and laws as recognize, regulate, or relate to slavery; which, being inconsistent with the present condition of public affairs, and plainly inapplicable to any class of persons now existing within its limits, must be suspended, and they are therefore and hereby declared to be inoperative and void.”

    The newly elected governor was inaugurated on March 4, with imposing public ceremonies, and the President also invested him “with the powers exercised hitherto by the military governor of Louisiana.” General Banks further caused delegates to a State convention to be chosen, who, in a session extending from April 6 to July 25, perfected and adopted a new constitution, which was again adopted by popular vote on September 5 following. General Banks reported the constitution to be “one of the best ever penned . . It abolishes slavery in the State, and forbids the legislature to enact any law recognizing property in man. The emancipation is instantaneous and absolute, without condition or compensation, and nearly unanimous.”

    The State of Arkansas had been forced into rebellion by military terrorism, and remained under Confederate domination only because the Union armies could afford the latent loyal sentiment of the State no effective support until the fall of Vicksburg and the opening of the Mississippi. After that decisive victory, General [427] Steele marched a Union column of about thirteen thousand from Helena to Little Rock, the capital, which surrendered to him on the evening of September 10, 1863. By December, eight regiments of Arkansas citizens had been formed for service in the Union army; and, following the amnesty proclamation of December 8, the reorganization of a loyal State government was speedily brought about, mainly by spontaneous popular action, of course under the direction and with the assistance of General Steele.

    In response to a petition, President Lincoln sent General Steele on January 20, 1864; a letter repeating substantially the instructions he had given General Banks for Louisiana. Before these could be carried out, popular action had assembled at Little Rock on January 8, 1864, a formal delegate convention, composed of forty-four delegates who claimed to represent twenty-two out of the fifty-four counties of the State. On January 22 this convention adopted an amended constitution which declared the act of secession null and void, abolished slavery immediately and unconditionally, and wholly repudiated the Confederate debt. The convention appointed a provisional State government, and under its schedule an election was held on March 14, 1864. During the three days on which the polls were kept open, under the orders of General Steele, who by the President's suggestion adopted the convention program, a total vote of I2,179 was cast for the constitution, and only 226 against it; while the provisional governor was also elected for a new term, together with members of Congress and a legislature which in due time chose United States senators. By this time Congress had manifested its opposition to the President's plan, but Mr. Lincoln stood firm, and on June 29 wrote to General Steele: [428]

    “I understand that Congress declines to admit to seats the persons sent as senators and representatives from Arkansas. These persons apprehend that in consequence you may not support the new State government there as you otherwise would. My wish is that you give that government and the people there the same support and protection that you would if the members had been admitted, because in no event, nor in any view of the case, can this do any harm, while it will be the best you can do toward suppressing the rebellion.”

    While Military Governor Andrew Johnson had been the earliest to begin the restoration of loyal Federal authority in the State of Tennessee, the course of campaign and battle in that State delayed its completion to a later period than in the others. The invasion of Tennessee by the Confederate General Bragg in the summer of 1862, and the long delay of the Union General Rosecrans to begin an active campaign against him during the summer of 1863, kept civil reorganization in a very uncertain and chaotic condition. When at length Rosecrans advanced and occupied Chattanooga, President Lincoln deemed it a propitious time to vigorously begin reorganization, and under date of September II, 1863, he wrote the military governor emphatic suggestions that:

    The reinauguration must not be such as to give control of the State and its representation in Congress to the enemies of the Union, driving its friends there into political exile. . . . You must have it otherwise. Let the reconstruction be the work of such men only as can be trusted for the Union. Exclude all others; and trust that your government so organized will be recognized here as being the one of republican form to be guaranteed to the State, and to be protected against invasion and domestic violence. It is something [429] on the question of time to remember that it cannot be known who is next to occupy the position I now hold, nor what he will do. I see that you have declared in favor of emancipation in Tennessee, for which, may God bless you. Get emancipation into your new State government-constitution-and there will be no such word as fail for your case.

    In another letter of September 19, the President sent the governor specific authority to execute the. scheme outlined in his letter of advice; but no substantial success had yet been reached in the process of reconstruction in Tennessee during the year 1864, when the Confederate army under Hood turned northward from Atlanta to begin its third and final invasion of the State. This once more delayed all work of reconstruction until the Confederate army was routed and dispersed by the battle of Nashville on December 15, 1864. Previous popular action had called a State convention, which, taking immediate advantage of the expulsion of the enemy, met in Nashville on January 9, 1865, in which fifty-eight counties and some regiments were represented by about four hundred and sixty-seven delegates. After six days of deliberation the convention adopted a series of amendments to the constitution, the main ordinance of which provided:

    That slavery and involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime, whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, are hereby forever abolished and prohibited throughout the State.

    These amendments were duly adopted at a popular election held on February 22, and the complete organization of a loyal State government under them followed in due course.

    The State of Missouri needed no reconstruction. It has already been said that her local affairs were administered [430] by a provisional State government instituted by the State convention chosen by popular election before rebellion broke out. In this State, therefore, the institution of slavery was suppressed by the direct action of the people, but not without a long and bitter conflict of party factions and military strife. There existed here two hostile currents of public opinion, one, the intolerant pro-slavery prejudices of its rural population; the other, the progressive and liberal spirit dominant in the city of St. Louis, with its heavy German population, which, as far back as 1856, had elected to Congress a candidate who boldly advocated gradual emancipation: St. Louis, with outlying cities and towns, supplying during the whole rebellion the dominating influence that held the State in the Union, and at length transformed her from a slave to a free State.

    Missouri suffered severely in the war, but not through important campaigns or great battles. Persistent secession conspiracy, the Kansas episodes of border strife, and secret orders of Confederate agents from Arkansas instigating unlawful warfare, made Missouri a hotbed of guerrilla uprisings and of relentless neighborhood feuds, in which armed partizan conflict often degenerated into shocking barbarity, and the pretense of war into the malicious execution of private vengeance. President Lincoln drew a vivid picture of the chronic disorders in Missouri in reply to complaints demanding the removal of General Schofield from local military command:

    We are in civil war. In such cases there always is a main question; but in this case that question is a perplexing compound-Union and slavery. It thus becomes a question not of two sides merely, but of at least four sides, even among those who are for the [431] Union, saying nothing of those who are against it. Thus, those who are for the Union with, but not without, slavery-those for it without, but not with-those for it with or without, but prefer it with-and those for it with or without. but prefer it without. Among these again is a subdivision of those who are for gradual but not for immediate, and those who are for immediate, but not for gradual extinction of slavery. It is easy to conceive that all these shades of opinion, and even more, may be sincerely entertained by honest and truthful men. Yet, all being for the Union, by reason of these differences each will prefer a different way of sustaining the Union. At once sincerity is questioned, and motives are assailed. Actual war coming, blood grows hot, and blood is spilled. Thought is forced from old channels into confusion. Deception breeds and thrives. Confidence dies and universal suspicion reigns. Each man feels an impulse to kill his neighbor, lest he be first killed by him. Revenge and retaliation follow. And all this, as before said, may be among honest men only. But this is not all. Every foul bird comes abroad and every dirty reptile rises up. These add crime to confusion. Strong measures deemed indispensable, but harsh at best, such men make worse by maladministration. Murders for old grudges, and murders for pelf, proceed under any cloak that will best cover for the occasion. These causes amply account for what has occurred in Missouri, without ascribing it to the weakness or wickedness of any general. The newspaper files, those chroniclers of current events, will show that the evils now complained of were quite as prevalent under Fremont, Hunter, Halleck, and Curtis, as under Schofield . . I do not feel justified to enter upon the broad field you present in regard to the political differences between [432] radicals and conservatives. From time to time I have done and said what appeared to me proper to do and say. The public knows it all. It obliges nobody to follow me, and I trust it obliges me to follow nobody. The radicals and conservatives each agree with me in some things and disagree in others. I could wish both to agree with me in all things; for then they would agree with each other, and would be too strong for any foe from any quarter. They, however, choose to do otherwise, and I do not question their right. I, too, shall do what seems to be my duty. I hold whoever commands in Missouri, or elsewhere, responsible to me, and not to either radicals or conservatives. It is my duty to hear all; but at last I must, within my sphere, judge what to do and what to forbear.

    It is some consolation to history, that out of this blood and travail grew the political regeneration of the State. Slavery, and emancipation never gave each other a moment's truce. The issue was raised to an acute stage by Fremont's proclamation in August, 1861. Though that ill-advised measure was revoked by President Lincoln, the friction and irritation of war-kept it alive, and in the following year a member of the Missouri State convention offered a bill to accept and apply President Lincoln's plan of compensated abolishment. Further effort was made in this direction in Congress, where in January, 1863, the House passed a bill appropriating ten million dollars, and in February, the Senate another bill appropriating fifteen million dollars to aid compensated abolishment in Missouri. But the stubborn opposition of three pro-slavery Missouri members of the House prevented action on the latter bill or any compromise.

    The question, however, continually grew among the people of Missouri, and made such advance that parties, [433] accepting the main point as already practically decided, at length only divided upon the mode of procedure. The conservatives wanted the work to be done by the old State convention, the radicals desired to submit it to a new convention fresh from the people. Legislative agreement having failed, the provisional governor called the old State convention together. The convention leaders who controlled that body inquired of the President whether he would sustain their action. To this he made answer in a letter to Schofield dated June 22, 1863:

    Your despatch, asking in substance whether, in case Missouri shall adopt gradual emancipation, the general government will protect slave-owners in that species of property during the short time it shall be permitted by the State to exist within it, has been received. Desirous as I am that emancipation shall be adopted by Missouri, and believing as I do that gradual can be made better than immediate for both black and white, except when military necessity changes the case, my impulse is to say that such protection would be given. I cannot know exactly what shape an act of emancipation may take. If the period from the initiation to the final end should be comparatively short, and the act should prevent persons being sold during that period into more lasting slavery, the whole would be easier. I do not wish to pledge the general government to the affirmative support of even temporary slavery beyond what can be fairly claimed under the Constitution. I suppose, however, this is not desired, but that it is desired for the military force of the United States, while in Missouri, to not be used in subverting the temporarily reserved legal rights in slaves during the progress of emancipation. This I would desire also.


    Proceeding with its work, the old State convention, which had hitherto made a most honorable record, neglected a great opportunity. It indeed adopted an ordinance of gradual emancipation on July I, 1863, but of such an uncertain and dilatory character, that public opinion in the State promptly rejected it. By the death of the provisional governor on January 31, 1864, the conservative party of Missouri lost its most trusted leader, and thereafter the radicals succeeded to the political power of the State. At the presidential election of 1864, that party chose a new State convention, which met in St. Louis on January 6, 1865, and on the sixth day of its session (January II) formally adopted an ordinance of immediate emancipation.

    Maryland, like Missouri, had no need of reconstruction. Except for the Baltimore riot and the arrest of her secession legislature during the first year of the war, her State government continued its regular functions. But a strong popular undercurrent of virulent secession sympathy among a considerable minority of her inhabitants was only held in check by the military power of the Union, and for two years emancipation found no favor in the public opinion of the State. Her representatives, like those of most other border States, coldly refused President Lincoln's earnest plea to accept compensated abolishment; and a bill in Congress to give Maryland ten million dollars for that object was at once blighted by the declaration of one of her leading representatives that Maryland did not ask for it. Nevertheless, the subject could no more be ignored there than in other States; and after the President's emancipation proclamation an emancipation party developed itself in Maryland.

    There was no longer any evading the practical issue, when, by the President's direction, the Secretary of [435] War issued a military order, early in October, 1863, regulating the raising of colored troops in certain border States, which decreed that slaves might be enlisted without consent of their owners, but provided compensation in such cases. At the November election of that year the emancipation party of Maryland elected its ticket by an overwhelming majority, and a legislature that enacted laws under which a State convention was chosen to amend the constitution. Of the delegates elected on April 6, 1864, sixty-one were emancipationists, and only thirty-five opposed.

    After two months debate this convention by nearly two thirds adopted an article:

    That hereafter in this State there shall be neither slavery nor involuntary servitude except in punishment of crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted; and all persons held to service or labor as slaves are hereby declared free.

    The decisive test of a popular vote accepting the amended constitution as a whole, remained, however, yet to be undergone. President Lincoln willingly complied with a request to throw his official voice and influence in favor of the measure, and wrote, on October 10, 1864:

    A convention of Maryland has framed a new constitution for the State; a public meeting is called for this evening at Baltimore to aid in securing its ratification by the people; and you ask a word from me for the occasion. I presume the only feature of the instrument about which there is serious controversy is that which provides for the extinction of slavery. It needs not to be a secret, and I presume it is no secret, that I wish success to this provision. I desire it on every consideration. I wish all men to be free. I wish the material prosperity of the already free, which I feel [436] sure the extinction of slavery would bring. I wish to see in process of disappearing that only thing which ever could bring this nation to civil war. I attempt no argument. Argument upon the question is already exhausted by the abler, better informed, and more immediately interested sons of Maryland herself. I only add that I shall be gratified exceedingly if the good people of the State shall, by their votes, ratify the new constitution.

    At the election which was held on October 12 and 13, stubborn Maryland conservatism, whose roots reached far back to the colonial days, made its last desperate stand, and the constitution was ratified by a majority of only three hundred and seventy-five votes out of a total of nearly sixty thousand. But the result was accepted as decisive, and in due time the governor issued his proclamation, declaring the new constitution legally adopted.

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