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Chapter 55: Fessenden's death.—the public debt.—reduction of postage.— Mrs. Lincoln's pension.—end of reconstruction.—race discriminations in naturalization.—the Chinese.—the senator's record.—the Cuban Civil War.—annexation of San Domingo.—the treaties.—their use of the navy.—interview with the presedent.—opposition to the annexation; its defeat.—Mr. Fish.—removal of Motley.—lecture on Franco-Prussian War.—1869-1870.

The chair of Fessenden was vacant when the Senate convened, Dec. 6, 1869, he having died September 8. Sumner paid a tribute to his memory1 which drew grateful letters from the friends and admirers of the deceased senator,—among whom were James S. Pike, the journalist, Mr. Clifford, former governor, and Mr. Rockwell, late senator. The time was not far ahead when Sumner was to be in need of the Maine senator's courage and sense of honor. Whittier wrote, March 8:—

I was especially delighted with thy remarks on the death of Senator Fessenden. Viewed in connection with the circumstances, I know of nothing finer, truer, and more magnanimous. It is such things that bring thee nearer to the hearts of the people.

Carl Schurz, who had taken his seat in March, 1869, was, at Sumner's instance, put in Fessenden's place on the committee on foreign relations, the other members being Cameron, Harlan, Morton, Patterson, and Casserly. Sumner was also a member of two other committees,—on the District of Columbia, and on the revision of the laws. The session, which lasted till the middle of July, 1870, was, with him, like all his sessions since 1861, a laborious one, during which he dealt with a great variety of subjects, both in running debates and elaborate speeches.2 [418]

Sumner's facility in dealing with financial questions increased with the thought and research he applied to them, as well for current debates as for prepared efforts. He had come to them late, and he developed unexpected power in treating them. Sherman said of him in 1874, that he had of late years carefully studied these questions, and had contributed to their solution.3 He continued his active interest in the treatment of the public debt and currency, and in the working out of a scheme for the restoration of specie payments. He was in favor of reducing taxation; and in that view was disposed to extend the payment of the national debt over a considerable period, when the larger resources of the future would be available,—differing in this respect from the Secretary of the Treasury, Mr. Boutwell.4 He was especially earnest in opposing the continuance of the income-tax.5 As a means for the restoration of specie payments, he proposed by bill and advocated in debate the substitution of national bank-notes for the legal-tender United States notes, known as ‘greenbacks.’6 He lost no opportunity to re [419] buke the spirit of repudiation which was rife at the time. He opposed all devices calculated to impair the national good faith, among which were propositions to tax the interest on the national bonds by a deduction from payments or otherwise.7 He embodied his views on financial reconstruction and specie payments in bills which he introduced at the beginning of the session,8 and maintained them in a series of instructive speeches.9 Except Sherman, no senator at this session contributed so much to the debate on the refunding and consolidation of the public debt. He succeeded in modifying in some points the committee's bill, but in his insistence on definite measures of resumption he was in advance of his associates.

Sumner had from his first entrance into the Senate taken a constant interest in the reduction of postage, both on foreign and domestic letters.10 Ocean postage had been recently reduced from thirty and twenty-four cents a letter to fifteen and twelve, and the domestic rate was three cents. Sumner's desire was to reduce the foreign rate to three cents, and the domestic to one cent,—the lowest monetary unit. He put aside the idea that the postal system should be self-supporting, and treated it as a humane and civilizing agent, advocating the lowest charge which would prevent imposition and abuse. He had no sympathy with the current of opinion then running against the franking privilege (or ‘system,’ as he preferred to call it) then held by members of Congress, regarding it as an educating force, which gave freedom of communication between the people and those who were participating in the government at Washington. he took advantage of a pending bill for the abolition of the franking privilege to press amendments embodying his views, and made a speech on the whole subject of rates of postage and the principles which should govern them,11 intervening often in the debate12 He also urged a reduction and simplification of rates [420] for carrying newspapers and other printed matter.13 He obtained a considerable but not a sufficient vote for his proposition for a one cent, and afterwards for a two cent, rate for domestic postage.14

The passage of the bill, July 14, at this session, giving Mrs. Lincoln a pension of three thousand dollars, illustrated the senator's personal loyalty as well as his perseverance. There was a studied effort to defeat it by indirect and dilatory action, but overcoming obstruction was with Sumner only a question of time. She was the choice of the martyr President, and had been his loyal wife. She had gone from washington, not to return. Sumner, though never seeing her again, remembered her kindness to himself. Perhaps he thought she might have been wiser and more reserved at times; but he knew little of, and cared nothing for, the small talk of lobbies and drawing-rooms. Above all, he believed it to be a sacred duty of the nation to care for one who bore the name of its great chief during the rebellion.

It came to the senator's knowledge in January, 1869, that Mrs. Lincoln was living in Frankfort-on-the-Main in straitened circumstances, and he at once made an effort to secure for her a pension of five thousand dollars;15 but his motions on different days to take up the bill failed, and the one made on the last day of the session was defeated by a vote of twenty-three to twenty-seven. He introduced it at the session which immediately followed, in March, 1869, when the Senate, against his protest, referred it by a small majority to the committee on pensions. Mr. Edmunds, the chairman, who was adverse to the pension, held the bill for a year without action. Twice Sumner in open Senate inquired when a report might be expected, but without obtaining a satisfactory answer. At length, a House bill granting three thousand dollars reached the Senate, and Sumner insisted on action. Now the chairman presented an adverse report from a unanimous committee. Sumner for the last two or three months of this session kept up his pressure by successive motions for the consideration of the bill, even declining to listen to appeals for postponement on [421] account of the chairman's absence. All efforts to avoid a vote were found to be hopeless against such pertinacity, and the bill finally passed by eight majority. Mr. Arnold, the biographer of the President, attributes to Sumner the favorable result.16 Mrs. Lincoln wrote to him grateful letters from Frankfort and London. In the first she expressed her satisfaction that those who most urgently pressed the pension were the men whom her husband most highly regarded and loved as if they were brothers; and she closed the second with this sentence: ‘Words are inadequate to express my thanks for all your goodness to me.’

The condition of affairs in the Southern States still required the attention of Congress. Three of the States—Virginia, Mississippi, and Texas—had not hitherto complied with the Acts of reconstruction so as to be admitted to representation in Congress, but applications for such admission were now pending. A spirit hostile to Unionists, white and black, was still, however, dominant in large sections of the South, and the rebel spirit was organized in Ku-Klux clans. The Legislature of Georgia—one of the States which had been recognized as having complied with those Acts and entitled to representation—had afterwards expelled all its colored members, while admitting to seats persons who were ineligible on account of former disloyalty under the fourteenth amendment. The first Act of this session of Congress was a thorough measure for reforming the Legislature of Georgia; and the State having complied with its terms, one of which was the ratification of the fifteenth amendment, was admitted to representation on the last day of the session. The other three States were also admitted,—with, however, ‘fundamental conditions’ imposed, the same in each case, which prohibited changes in the State constitutions allowing exclusions from suffrage or office or school rights based on race, color, or former condition of servitude.17 The conditions as to suffrage and office were deemed important, as the fate of the fifteenth amendment, was still uncertain. That amendment, however, soon received the approval of a sufficient number of States, and was [422] promulgated as a part of the Constitution, March 30. Two months later, Congress passed an Act providing means and penalties for enforcing it.

Sumner was in full accord with his Republican associates in promoting these final measures of reconstruction. He was emphatic in insisting on the necessity and validity of the conditions and on the duty of Congress to continue its protecting supervision over the reconstructed States, even after their formal admission to representation.18 A few of the Republican senators (Trumbull, Stewart, and M. H. Carpenter) did not recognize the propriety of ‘the fundamental conditions,’19 or the competency of Congress to impose them. At different stages of the discussion there were collisions between the three senators and

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