Chapter 44:

  • Proper limit of the narrative of the war.
  • -- a glance at its political consequences. -- General condition of the South after the war. -- alternative of policies at Washington. -- hideous programme of the radicals. -- the policy of reconciliation.Enlightened lesson of history. -- the problem of “reconstruction.” -- coincidence of moderate Republicans with the conservative plan. -- position of President Johnson. -- estimate of the views and character of the new President. -- his school of politics, midway between those of Calhoun and Hamilton. -- a happy position. -- the great historical issue. -- series of Radical measures in Congress. -- the blindness of despotism. -- plain consequences of the Radical policy. -- the residuum of State Rights claimed by the South. -- President Johnson's declaration of another war. -- have the Americans a government? -- differences of opinion in the South, correspondent to the division of parties in the North. -- a small and detestable faction of time-servers. -- noble declaration of Ex -- President Davis. -- eloquent appeal of Henry A. Wise. -- basis for a new Southern party. -- the South to surrender only what the war conquered. -- what the war determined, and what it did not determine. -- the new arena of contest and “the war of ideas.” -- coarse and superficial advice to the South about material prosperity. -- an aspiration of Gov. Orr of South Carolina. -- the South should not lose its moral and intellectual distinctiveness as a people. -- questions outside the pale of the war. -- Rights, duties and hope of the South. -- what would be the extremity of her humiliation

The record of the war closes exactly with the laying down of the Confederate arms. We do not design to transgress this limit of our narrative. Bat it will not be out of place to regard generally the political consequences of the war, so far as they have been developed in a formation of parties, involving the further destinies of the country, and in the light of whose actions will probably be read many future pages of American History.

The surrender of Gen. Lee's army was not the simple act of a defeated and overpowered General; it was not the misfortune of an individual. The public mind of the South was fully represented in that surrender. [744] The people had become convinced that the Confederate cause was lost; they saw that the exertions of four years, misdirected and abused, had not availed, and they submitted to what they conceived now to be the determined fortune of the war.

That war closed on a spectacle of ruin, the greatest of modern times. There were eleven great States lying prostrate; their capital all absorbed; their fields desolate; their towns and cities ruined; their public works torn to pieces by armies; their system of labour overturned; the fruits of the toil of generations all swept into a chaos of destruction; their slave property taken away by a stroke of the pen; a pecuniary loss of two thousand millions of dollars involved in one single measure of spoliation-a penalty embraced in one edict, in magnitude such as had seldom been exacted unless in wars synonymous with robberies.

As an evidence of the poverty of the South, produced by the war, we may cite the case of the State of South Carolina. By the census of 1860, the property of the State was value at $400,000,000. Of this, it has been estimated that the injury to the banks, private securities, railroads, cities, houses, plantations, stock, etc., Amounted to $100,000,000. There were, by the same census, 400,000 slaves, valued at $200,000,000. This left only $100,000,000 for the value of all the property left in the State; and the principal portion of this consisted of lands, which had fallen in value immensely.

The close of the war presented the Government at Washington with the alternative of two distinct and opposite policies, with reference to the subdued Southern States. One was the policy of the restoration of the Union with reconciliation: the other the policy of restriction. The party that favoured the latter was not long in developing the full extent of its doctrine, which involved universal confiscation at the South, a general execution of prominent men, the disfranchisement of men who acted or sympathized with the Confederates, and the granting of the right of voting to the freed blacks. This hideous programme was announced not only as a just punishment of “rebels,” but as a security for the future, and the indispensable condition of the public peace.

But to men who had read the lessons of history it was clearly apparent that this policy would be destructive of the very ends it proposed; that it would increase the acerbity of feeling at the South; that it would deliver the two races over to the most violent discord; and that it would be the occasion of immeasurable chaos and interminable anarchy. It was the immortal Burke who uttered the great philosophical truth of history: that “liberty, and not despotism, was the cure of anarchy ;” and who proposed as the speedy and sovereign remedy for the disorders of the Colonies, that they should be “admitted to a share in the British Constitution.” [745]

It was precisely this enlightened lesson which those who agreed in the sentiment of clemency, proposed to apply to the condition of the Southern States. It was this party which took its instruction from exalted schools of statesmanship; which looked at the situation from the eminence of History; and which desired to bind up with the Federal authority the rights, peace, and prosperity of all parts of the country.

Obviously the policy of this party, with reference to what was called “Reconstruction,” was to consider the Southern States as in the Union, without any ceremonies or conditions other than what might be found in the common Constitution of the country. What may be designated generally as the Conservative party in the North, had long held the doctrine that, as the Union was inviolable and permanent, secession was illegal, revolutionary, null, and void; that it had no legal validity or effect; that it was the act of seditious individuals, and did not affect the status of the States purporting to secede. This branch of their doctrine was accepted by a large number of the Republican party; among them Mr. Seward, the Secretary of State. President Lincoln had acted upon this theory when it became necessary to reorganize States overrun by Federal armies. It was held by the Conservative party, against all rational dispute, that the business of the Federal Government, with respect to the insurgent States, was simply to quell resistance, and to execute everywhere the Constitution and laws. Its contest was not with the States, but with the illegal powers within the States engaged in resisting its authority. When the resistance of these persons ceased, the work was done; and the States were eo instante, ipso facto, as much within the Union as ever; no act of re-admission being necessary. It only remained for the judiciary to proceed by indictment and legal trial, under the forms of law, against the individuals who had resisted the authority of the Union to test the fact of treason, and to vindicate the reputation of the Government. And this was the whole extent to which the policy of penalties could be insisted upon.

On this opinion there was soon to be a sharp and desperate array of parties at Washington. When, by the tragical death of President Lincoln, in a public theatre, at the hands of one of the most indefensible but courageous assassins that history has ever produced, the Executive office passed to the Vice-President, Andrew Johnson, the Southern people ignorantly deplored the change as one to their disadvantage, and the world indulged but small expectations from the coming man. The new President was sprung from a low order of life, and was what Southern gentlemen called a “scrub.” In qualities of mind it was generally considered that he had the shallowness and fluency of the demagogue; but in this there was a mistake. At any rate, it must be confessed, Mr. Johnson had no literature and but little education of any sort ; in his agrarian [746] speeches in the Senate, he quoted “the Lays of Ancient Rome” as “translated by Macaulay;” and he was constantly making those mistakes in historical and literary allusions which never fail to characterize and betray self-educated men. Before his elevation to the Presidency, Mr. Johnson was considered a demagogue, who seldom ventured out of common-places, or attempted anything above the coarse sense of the multitude, successful, industrious, a clod-head, a “man of the people,” that peculiar product of American politics. But there are familiar instances in history where characters apparently the most common-place and trifling, have been suddenly awakened and elevated as great responsibilities have been thrust upon them, and have risen to the demands of the new occasion. An example of such change was afforded by plain Andrew Johnson, when he stepped to the dignity of President of a restored Union, with all its great historical trusts for him to administer in sight of the world. From that hour the man changed. The eminence did not confound him; he saw before him a part in American history second only to that of George Washington; he left behind him the ambitions and resentments of mere party; he rose as the man who has been secretly, almost unconsciously, great — a commonplace among his neighbour, the familiar fellow of the company-suddenly, completely to the full height and dignity of the new destiny that called him. The man who had been twitted as a tailor and condemned as a demagogue, proved a statesman, measuring his actions for the future, insensible to clamour and patient for results.

President Johnson belonged to an intermediate school of politics, standing between the doctrines of Mr. Calhoun and those of Alexander Hamilton. He was never an extreme State-Rights man; he had never recognized the right of nullification, or that of secession; but he was always disposed to recognize, in a liberal degree, the rights of the States, and to combat the theory that the Federal Government absorbed powers and privileges, which, from the foundation of the republic, had been conceded to the States.

It was fortunate that the Chief Magistrate of the country, who was to administer its affairs and determine its course on the close of the war, occupied this medium ground in politics — the one that suggested the practicability of compromise, and assured a conservative disposition in a time of violent and critical dispute. It was natural that on the close of hostilities the tide of public opinion should have set strongly in favour of Consolidation; and that men should apply the precedent of powers used in the war, to the condition of peace. The great question which the war had left, was as to the form and spirit of the Government that ensued upon it — in short, the determination of the question whether the experience of the past four years had been a Constitutional Revolution, or the mere decision of certain special and limited questions. This was the great historical issue. The [747] political controversies which figured in the newspapers were only its incidents; and the questions which agitated Congress all sounded in the great dispute, whether the war had merely accomplished its express and particular objects, or given the American people a change of polity, and dated a new era in their Constitutional history.

At the time these pages are committed to the press, a series of measures has already been accomplished or introduced by the Radical party in the Congress at Washington that would accomplish a revolution in the American system of government, the most thorough and violent of modern times. Propositions have been made so to amend the Constitution as to deprive the States of the power to define the qualifications of electors; propositions to regulate representation by the number of voters, and not of population; propositions to declare what obligations assumed by the States shall be binding on them, and what shall be the purposes of their taxation. What is known as the Civil Rights Bill (passed over the President's veto) has not only established negro equality, but has practically abolished, on one subject of jurisdiction at least, State laws and State courts. In short, the extreme Black Republican party at Washington has sought to disfranchise the whole Southern people, to force negro suffrage upon the South, to prevent the South from being represented in Congress so as to perpetuate the power of the Radicals, and afford them the means of governing the Southern States as conquered and subjugated territories.

The practical fault of all Despotism is that it takes too little into account the sentimentalism which opposes it, and attempts to deal with men as inanimate objects, to which the application of a certain amount of force for a desired end is decisive. It never considers feelings and prejudices. It does not understand that in the science of government there are elements to conciliate as well as forces to compel. The Northern radicals look to the dragoon with his sword, the marshal with his process of confiscation, and the negro thrust into a false position as the pacificators of the country and the appropriate sentinels of the South. They never reflect on the results of such measures upon the feelings of the Southern people; they do not estimate the loss in that estrangement which makes unprofitable companions; they do not imagine the resentments they will kindle; they do not calculate the effect of a constant irritation that at last wears into the hearts of a people, and makes them ready for all desperate enter prises.

If on this subject the Northern people are best addressed in the language of their interests, they may be reminded that the policy of the Radicals is to detain and embarrass the South, not only in the restoration of her political rights, but in her return to that material prosperity, in which the North has a partnership interest, and the Government itself its most important financial stake. The Southern people must be relieved from the [748] apprehension of confiscation, and other kindred measures of oppression, before they can be expected to go to work and improve their condition. They must be disabused of the idea that the new system of labour is to be demoralized by political theories, before giving it their confidence, and enlarging the experiment of it. The troubled sea of politics must be composed before the industry of the South can return to its wonted channels, and reach at last some point of approximation to former prosperity.

The financiers at Washington consider it of the utmost importance that the South should be able to bear its part of the burden of the national debt, and by its products for exchange contribute to the reduction of this debt to a specie basis. The whole edifice of Northern prosperity rests on the unstable foundation of paper credit. Every man in the North is intelligibly interested in the earliest development of the material prosperity of the South. It is not by political agitation that this interest is to be promoted; not under the hand of the Fanaticism that sows the wind that there are to grow up the fruits of industry. When the Southern people obtain political reassurance, and are able to lift the shield of the Constitution over their heads, they will be prepared for the fruitful works of peace; they will be ready then for the large and steady enterprises of industry. All history shows and all reason argues that where a people are threatened with political changes, and live in uncertainty of the future, capital will be timid, enterprise will be content with make-shifts, and labour itself, give but an unsteady hand to the common implements of industry.

He must be blind who does not perceive in the indications of Northern opinion and in the series of legislative measures consequent upon the war the sweeping and alarming tendency to Consolidation. It is not only the territorial unity of the States that is endangered by the fashionable dogma of the day, but the very cause of republican government itself. A war of opinions has ensued upon that of arms, far more dangerous to the American system of liberties than all the ordinances of Secession and all the armed hosts of the Confederates.

The State Rights put in question by the propositions we have referred to in Congress, are not those involved in the issue of Secession, and, therefore, decided against the South by the arbitration of the war. The Radical programme, which we have noted above, points the illustration that the war did not sacrifice the whole body of State Rights, and that there was an important residuum of them outside of the issue of Secession, which the people of the South were still entitled to assert, and to erect as new standards of party. It is precisely those rights of the States which a revolutionary party in Congress would deny, namely: to have their Constitutional representation, to decide their own obligations of debt, to have their own codes of crimes and penalties, and to deal with their own domestic [749] concerns, that the Southern States claim have survived tile war and are not subjects of surrender.

And it is just here that the people of the South challenge that medium doctrine of State Rights professed by President Johnson to make the necessary explanation, and to distribute the results of the war between North and South. They do not look at the propositions in Congress as involving a mere partisan dispute; they are not disposed to encounter them in a narrow circle of disputation, and make a particular question of what is one grand issue. They regard them in the broad and serious sense of a revolution against the Constitution; a rebellion against all the written and traditionary authority of American statesmanship; a war quite as distinct as that of bayonets and more comprehensive in its results than the armed contest that has just closed.

The following remarks of the President of the United States, do not magnify the occasion. They are historical:

The present is regarded as a most critical juncture in the affairs of the nation, scarcely less so than when an armed and organized force sought to overthrow the Government. To attack and attempt the disruption of the Government by armed combination and military force, is no more dangerous to the life of the nation than an attempt to revolutionize and undermine it by a disregard and destruction of the safeguards thrown around the liberties of the people in the Constitution. My stand has been taken, my course is marked; I shall stand by and defend the Constitution against all who may attack it, from whatever quarter the attack may come. I shall take no step backward in this matter.

An intelligent foreigner, making his observations at Washington at this time, would be puzzled to determine whether the Americans had a Government, or not. There are the names: The Executive, the Congress, the Judiciary; but what is the executive question, what the congressional question, what the judicial question, it appears impossible to decide. It is a remarkable fact that at Washington to-day, there is not a single well-defined department of political power! There are the paraphernalia and decorations of a government; an elaborate anarchy; but the well-defined distribution of power and the order necessary to administer public affairs appear to have been wholly lost, the charter of the government almost obliterated, and the Constitution overlaid with amendments, which, carried into effect, would hardly leave a vestige of the old instrument or a feature in which could be recognized the work of our forefathers, and the ancient creation of 1789. The controversy thus engendered is something more than a mere question of parties where there are points of coincidence between the contestants sufficient to confine opposition, and where both argue from the common premises of a written constitution. It is something more than the temporary rack and excitement of those partisan [750] difficulties in which the American people have had so much experience of exaggerated dangers and foolish alarms that they are likely to give them attention no longer, but as ephemeral sensations. It is something vastly more than the usual vapours of the political cauldron. When a Congress, representing not much more than a moiety of the American States, and, therefore, in the condition of an unconstitutional authority and factious party, undertakes to absorb the power of the government; to determine Executive questions by its close “Committee of reconstruction ;” to put down the judiciary of the Southern States and by a Freedmen's Bureau, and other devices, erect an imperium in imperio in one part of the Union, it is obvious that the controversy is no narrow one of party, that it involves the traditions and spirit of the government, and goes to the ultimate contest of constitutional liberty in America. Regarding these issues, the question comes fearfully to the mind: Has the past war merely laid the foundation of another? The pregnant lesson of human experience is that few nations have had their first civil war without having their second; and that the only guaranty against the repetition is to be found in the policy of wise and liberal concessions gracefully made by the successful party. And such reconciliations have been rarest in the republican form of government; for, while generosity often resides in the breast of individual rulers, the history of mankind unhappily shows that it is a rare quality of political parties, where men act in feverish masses and under the dominion of peculiar passions.

To the division of parties in the North-Radicals and Conservatives — there has grown up to some extent a correspondent difference of opinions among the Southern people as to the consequences of the war. But only to a certain extent; for the party in the South that, corresponding to the theory of the Northern Radicals, account themselves entirely at the mercy of a conquering power and taking everything ex gratia, is only the detestable faction of time-servers and the servile coterie that attends all great changes in history, and courts the new authority whatever it may be.

There is a better judgment already read by the Southern people of what the war has decided as against themselves. The last memorable remark of Ex-President Davis, when a fugitive, and before the doors of a prison closed upon him, was: “The principle for which we contended is bound to reassert itself, though it may be at another time and in another form.” It was a wise and noble utterance, to be placed to the credit of an unfortunate ruler. And so, too, the man, marked above all others as the orator of the South-Henry A. Wise, of Virginia, standing before his countrymen, with his gray hairs and luminous eyes, has recently proclaimed with trumpet-voice that all is not lost, that a great struggle of constitutional liberty yet remains, and that there are still missions of duty and glory for the South. [751]

The people of the South have surrendered in the war what the war has conquered; but they cannot be expected to give up what was not involved in the war, and voluntarily abandon their political schools for the dogma of Consolidation. That dogma, the result has not properly imposed upon them; it has not “conquered ideas.” The issues of the war were practical: the restoration of the Union and the abolition of slavery; and only so far as political formulas were necessarily involved in these have they been affected by the conclusion. The doctrine of secession was extinguished; and yet there is something left more than the shadow of State Rights, if we may believe President Johnson, who has recently and officially used these terms, and affirmed in them at least some substantial significance. Even if the States are to be firmly held in the Union; even if the authority of the Union is to be held supreme in that respect, it does not follow that it is to be supreme in all other respects; it does not follow that it is to legislate for the States; it does not follow that it is “a national Government over the States and people alike.” It is for the South to preserve every remnant of her rights, and even, though parting with the doctrine of secession, to beware of the extremity of surrendering State Rights in gross, and consenting to a “l National Government,” with an unlimited power of legislation that will consider the States as divided only by imaginary lines of geography, and see in its subjects only “the one people of all the States.”

But it is urged that the South should come to this understanding, so as to consolidate the peace of the country, and provide against a “war of ideas.” Now a “war of ideas” is what the South wants and insists upon perpetrating. It may be a formidable phrase-“the war of ideas” --but after all, it is a harmless figure of rhetoric, and means only that we shall have parties in the country. We would not live in a country unless there were parties in it; for where there is no such combat, there is no liberty, no animation, no topics, no interest of the twenty-four hours, no theatres of intellectual activity, no objects of ambition. We do not desire the vacant unanimity of despotism. All that is left the South is “the war of ideas.” She has thrown down the sword to take up the weapons of argument, not indeed under any banner of fanaticism, or to enforce a dogma, but simply to make the honourable conquest of reason and justice. In such a war there are noble victories to be won, memorable services to be performed, and grand results to be achieved. The Southern people stand by their principles. There is no occasion for dogmatic assertion, or fanatical declamation, or inflammatory discourse as long as they have a text on which they can make a sober exposition of their rights, and claim the verdict of the intelligent.

Outside the domain of party politics, the war has left another consideration for the people of the South. It is a remarkable fact that States reduced by war are apt to experience the extinction of their literature, the [752] decay of mind, and the loss of their distinctive forms of thought. Nor is such a condition inconsistent with a gross material prosperity that often grows upon the bloody crust of war. When Greece fell under the Roman yoke, she experienced a prosperity she had never known before. It was an era rank with wealth and material improvement. But her literature became extinct or emasculated; the distinctive forms of her art disappeared; and her mind, once the peerless light of the world, waned into an obscurity from which it never emerged.

It is to be feared that in the present condition of the Southern States, losses will be experienced greater than the immediate inflictions of fire and sword. The danger is that they will lose their literature, their former habits of thought, their intellectual self-assertion, while they are too intent upon recovering the mere material prosperity, ravaged and impaired by the war. There are certain coarse advisers who tell the Southern people that the great ends of their lives now are to repair their stock of national wealth; to bring in Northern capital and labour; to build mills and factories and hotels and gilded caravansaries; and to make themselves rivals in the clattering and garish enterprise of the North. This advice has its proper place. But there are higher objects than the Yankee magna bona of money and display, and loftier aspirations than the civilization of material things. In the life of nations, as in that of the individual, there is something better than pelf, and the coarse prosperity of dollars and cents. The lacerated, but proud and ambitious heart of the South will scarcely respond to the mean aspiration of the recusant Governor of South Carolina-Mr. Orr: “I am tired of South Carolina as she was. I court for her the material prosperity of New England. I would have her acres teem with life and vigour and intelligence, as do those of Massachusetts.”

There are time-servers in every cause; there are men who fill their bellies with husks, and turn on their faces and die; but there are others who, in the midst of public calamities, and in their own scanty personal fortune, leave behind them the memory of noble deeds, and a deathless heritage of glory.

Defeat has not made “all our sacred things profane.” The war has left the South its own memories, its own heroes, its own tears, its own dead. Under these traditions, sons will grow to manhood, and lessons sink deep that are learned from the lips of widowed mothers.

It would be immeasurably the worst consequence of defeat in this war that the South should lose its moral and intellectual distinctiveness as a people, and cease to assert its well-known superiourity in civilization, in political scholarship, and in all the standards of individual character over the people of the North. That superiourity has been recognized by every foreign observer, and by the intelligent everywhere; for it is the South that in the past produced four-fifths of the political literature of America, [753] and presented in its public men that list of American names best known in the Christian world. That superiourity the war has not conquered or lowered; and the South will do right to claim and to cherish it.

The war has not swallowed up everything. There are great interests which stand out of the pale of the contest, which it is for the South still to cultivate and maintain. She must submit fairly and truthfully to what the war has properly decided. But the war properly decided only what was put in issue: the restoration of the Union and the excision of slavery; and to these two conditions the South submits. But the war did not decide negro equality; it did not decide negro suffrage; it did not decide State Rights, although it might have exploded their abuse; it did not decide the orthodoxy of the Democratic party; it did not decide the right of a people to show dignity in misfortune, and to maintain self-respect in the face of adversity. And these things which the war did not decide, the Southern people will still cling to, still claim, and still assert in them their rights and views.

This is not the language of insolence and faction. It is the stark letter of right, and the plain syllogism of common sense. It is not untimely or unreasonable to tell the South to cultivate her superiourity as a people; to maintain her old schools of literature and scholarship; to assert, in the forms of her thought, and in the style of her manners, her peculiar civilization, and to convince the North that, instead of subjugating an inferiour country, she has obtained the alliance of a noble and cultivated people, and secured a bond of association with those she may be proud to call brethren!

In such a condition there may possibly be a solid and honourable peace; and one in which the South may still preserve many things dear to her in the past. There may not be a political South. Yet there may be a social and intellectual South. But if, on the other hand, the South, mistaking the consequences of the war, accepts the position of the inferiour, and gives up what was never claimed or conquered in the war; surrenders her schools of intellect and thought, and is left only with the brutal desire of the conquered for “bread and games ;” then indeed to her people may be applied what Tacitus wrote of those who existed under the Roman Empire: “We cannot be said to have lived, but rather to have crawled in silence, the young towards the decrepitude of age and the old to dishonourable graves.”

The End.

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