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Chapter 51: reconstruction under Johnson's policy.—the fourteenth amendment to the constitution.—defeat of equal suffrage for the District of Columbia, and for Colorado, Nebraska, and Tennessee.—fundamental conditions.— proposed trial of Jefferson Davis.—the neutrality acts. —Stockton's claim as a senator.—tributes to public men. —consolidation of the statutes.—excessive labor.— address on Johnson's Policy.—his mother's death.—his marriage.—1865-1866.

The constitutional conventions and legislatures organized under President Johnson's policy in the summer and autumn of 1865 and the following winter annulled the ordinances of secession, repudiated the rebel debt, and accepted the thirteenth amendment. They uniformly rejected colored suffrage, although the President advised them to confer it to a limited extent, in order (giving as a sinister reason) that ‘the radicals, who are wild upon negro franchise, should be completely foiled in their attempt to keep the Southern States from renewing their relations to the Union by not accepting their senators and representatives.’1 They passed acts of apprenticeship and vagrancy, and other statutes, which reduced the freedmen to a condition of peonage, punished their breaches of contract as crimes, denied to them the power to acquire real estate or to carry arms, and excluded them from other privileges and rights enjoyed by white persons. This legislation represented the spirit of the people at the time, which was shown in persecutions of various kinds and in acts of violence, which finally culminated in massacres at Norfolk, Memphis, New Orleans, and Mobile.

Immediately after the autumn election, Sumner sent to the President an appeal against his policy in a long telegraphic despatch.2 On arriving in Washington the Saturday evening before the session began, he sought the President at once, and passed two and a half hours with him.3 He found him ‘changed [268] in temper and purpose, . . . no longer sympathetic, or even kindly,’ but ‘harsh, petulant, and unreasonable.’ Near the end of the interview there was a colloquy, in which the President reminded the senator of murders in Massachusetts and assaults in Boston as an offset to outrages visited at the South on negroes and white Union men under the inspiration of political or race animosity. The two parted that evening not to meet again—the senator leaving ‘with the painful conviction that the President's whole soul was set as a flint against the good cause, and that by the assassination of Abraham Lincoln the rebellion had vaulted into the Presidential chair.’

The Thirty-ninth Congress met Dec. 4, 1865. Its members had been mostly chosen at the time of Mr. Lincoln's second election, and the Republicans held each branch by a more than two-thirds majority; but it was not yet known how far the President's course might divide them. His message was moderate and plausible so far as language was concerned.4 A large body of Republicans, who subsequently went against him, still adhered to him, and the message gave them hope of a change in his policy.

Before the message was received, and as soon as he could get the floor on the first day, Sumner offered a series (ten in number) of resolutions covering the whole subject of reconstruction.5 Some of them were mere declarations of Congressional duty and power under the Constitution, without being intended for enactment as laws. The senator was in the habit of presenting such general statements with the view of leading public opinion.6 Others were shaped with reference to legislation, and all were in open conflict with the President's scheme. The purport of the entire series was to affirm as fundamental conditions in reconstruction the absolute equality, as well in political as in civil rights, of the enfranchised blacks with all other citizens, to be maintained by the United States (through Congress) under its constitutional duty ‘to guarantee to every State a republican form of government.’ [269]

Sumner wrote to Lieber, December 3, 1865:—

I was sorry to miss you, as I wished much to confer with you quietly on history and philosophy. Of course, Holland was called a republic. Bodin,7 whom I have just read, calls the government of Nimrod a republic. I have been through everything on this question, and see my way clearly—never before more clearly. The debate which approaches on the meaning of a “republican government” will be the greatest in our history. I shall launch it to-morrow.

On my arrival last evening I went at once to the President, with whom I was two and one-half hours. He began the interview warmly and antagonistically; but at the close thanked me for my visit. He does not understand the case. Much that he said was painful, from its prejudice, ignorance, and perversity.

You ask about my relations with Mr. Welles. I am on excellent terms with every member of the Cabinet. With him I had special relations, so that he was in the habit of appealing to me to carry some things with President Lincoln. He has latterly written me, complaining that I exercised on one occasion too much influence with the latter against something which the department had at heart. I have been disgusted with his course on reconstruction; and we have had considerable correspondence on the subject, which was always amiable in manner. This is my answer to your inquiry.

To George Bemis, Christmas Day, 1865:—

I have too long failed to acknowledge your last article, which produced a marked impression.8 Baron Gerolt, our excellent dean, spoke of it as decisive; so did the Danish minister. But where is the Artigas9 article? Sir F. Bruce, at dinner Saturday evening, said to me that England would fight before she would pay a dollar, or consent to arbitration; and then added, the Portuguese precedent had settled opinion in England, and that until that was answered we had no case; that Adams was worsted in the controversy. Of course I do not give any reply to all this, as my object is simply to let you see the importance of showing the true character of that Portuguese precedent. Mr. hunter has had a search at the state department, and then at the treasury, without finding any trace of the paper you desire. He has sent to the New York custom-house, where it may be. The treasury papers were all destroyed by fire in 1830, or thereabout. Perhaps this paper perished then. But finish your article, and then gather all your sheaves together in a big pamphlet. Remember me kindly to Judge Fletcher when you see him.

To Mr. Bright, Jan. 1, 1866:—

I have just read your magnificent speech,10 I need not say, with perfect sympathy. I wish I had good news from our side. The President is perverse, [270] and not well-informed. He is also fired with the idea of carrying through his “experiment,” which thus far is a terrible failure. It is very hard that we should have this new controversy. But 1 have no doubt with regard to my course; the way was never clearer. Affairs with France are very tender, but the Marquis de Montholon11 thinks that with “time” the question can be arranged. He expects that the emperor will make some statement in his address to the Chambers which will open the way to a good understanding; I hope so. Sir F. Bruce is very amiable and excellent, but he can do nothing. Lord Russell has sent him on an impossible mission. It is time that your ministry should consider the old rule, that “whoso would have equity must do equity.” I write in great haste, and merely to wish you a Happy New Year. Seward assures me that his voyage12 is solely for health and to avoid holidays.

To Bemis, March 15:—

As to Bancroft's eulogy,13 I felt at the time that there was something wrong in such a speech when the diplomatic corps were official guests. Of course I objected to his adhesion to Mr. Johnson's absurd scheme of reconstruction. But the chief error was in addressing such a speech to guests. Either they should not have been invited, or the speech should have been what could be said in their presence without giving offence.

To Lieber, March 21:—

Consider carefully, and answer promptly. The committee of the Senate on foreign relations has before it the question, Shall the national government be represented at the French Exhibition? A bill authorizing a certain representation there has already passed the House. Its provision, as you have doubtless observed, is grossly inadequate. I have been considering how to add to the appropriations, and to make our position at the Exhibition respectable. There is something very captivating in such an occasion.

Meanwhile comes the degree of the emperor, by which he appoints the princeling of his house “President d'honneur,” —that is, the actual head and chief of the exhibition, conference, and congress. The functions of president are to be performed by a minister, but the princeling is left as head and chief. Can the United States send commissioners to be presided over by a boy nine years old? You will remember the scene when Louis XIV., only five years of age, attended Parliament, held a lit de justice, and gave his royal assent to Acts of Parliament. Louis XV. did the same thing. Now, if the French choose to tolerate such a folly we cannot complain; but can the great republic participate in such an occasion, and send its bearded men to bow to this boy? The more I think of it the less disposed I am to sanction it. Shall I report that on this account we decline? Of course this would be a coup de foudre. But must we not do so?


A joint committee of the two houses on reconstruction was appointed in the second week of the session, with Fessenden chairman on the part of the Senate, and Stevens on the part of the House. Stevens opened the debate, December 18, with a speech on the duties and powers of Congress in relation to the States lately in rebellion, taking positions in direct opposition to the President, and going as far as Sumner's most radical propositions. He was answered by Henry J. Raymond, a Republican, but now the President's supporter. The House gave a sign of its temper just after the holiday recess by referring to a committee, instead of passing, a resolution approving the President's policy. In the Senate there was equal alertness on the part of those who were opposed to his proceedings. Wilson pressed, in the second week of the session, his bill to annul statutes of the late rebel States which established inequality of civil rights on account of color, race, or former condition of servitude—calling attention to recent legislation of this character. Johnson of Maryland replied to him.

The President, in answer to a call of the Senate made on Sumner's motion, sent to the Senate, December 19, the reports of Generals Grant and Schurz on the condition of the States lately in rebellion. The latter's report, containing a full description, and made after a careful inspection lasting for three months, did not meet the changed views of the President; and he sought to counteract it by the report of General Grant, who had passed only four days in a similar inspection as incidental to a military tour. The two reports were in conflict.

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