RECONSTRUCTION





The assembling of the Second Session of the Thirty-ninth Congress

may very properly be made the occasion of a few earnest words on

the already much-worn topic of reconstruction.



Seldom has any legislative body been the subject of a solicitude

more intense, or of aspirations more sincere and ardent. There

are the best of reasons for this profound interest. Questions of

vast moment, left undecided by the last session of Congress, must

be manfully grappled with by this. No political skirmishing will

avail. The occasion demands statesmanship.



Whether the tremendous war so heroically fought and so

victoriously ended shall pass into history a miserable failure,

barren of permanent results,--a scandalous and shocking waste of

blood and treasure,--a strife for empire, as Earl Russell

characterized it, of no value to liberty or civilization,--an

attempt to re-establish a Union by force, which must be the merest

mockery of a Union,--an effort to bring under Federal authority

States into which no loyal man from the North may safely enter,

and to bring men into the national councils who deliberate with

daggers and vote with revolvers, and who do not even conceal their

deadly hate of the country that conquered them; or whether, on the

other hand, we shall, as the rightful reward of victory over

treason, have a solid nation, entirely delivered from all

contradictions and social antagonisms, based upon loyalty,

liberty, and equality, must be determined one way or the other by

the present session of Congress. The last session really did

nothing which can be considered final as to these questions. The

Civil Rights Bill and the Freedmen's Bureau Bill and the proposed

constitutional amendments, with the amendment already adopted and

recognized as the law of the land, do not reach the difficulty,

and cannot, unless the whole structure of the government is

changed from a government by States to something like a despotic

central government, with power to control even the municipal

regulations of States, and to make them conform to its own

despotic will. While there remains such an idea as the right of

each State to control its own local affairs,--an idea, by the way,

more deeply rooted in the minds of men of all sections of the

country than perhaps any one other political idea,--no general

assertion of human rights can be of any practical value. To

change the character of the government at this point is neither

possible nor desirable. All that is necessary to be done is to

make the government consistent with itself, and render the rights

of the States compatible with the sacred rights of human nature.



The arm of the Federal government is long, but it is far too short

to protect the rights of individuals in the interior of distant

States. They must have the power to protect themselves, or they

will go unprotected, spite of all the laws the Federal government

can put upon the national statute-book.



Slavery, like all other great systems of wrong, founded in the

depths of human selfishness, and existing for ages, has not

neglected its own conservation. It has steadily exerted an

influence upon all around it favorable to its own continuance.

And to-day it is so strong that it could exist, not only without

law, but even against law. Custom, manners, morals, religion, are

all on its side everywhere in the South; and when you add the

ignorance and servility of the ex-slave to the intelligence and

accustomed authority of the master, you have the conditions, not

out of which slavery will again grow, but under which it is

impossible for the Federal government to wholly destroy it, unless

the Federal government be armed with despotic power, to blot out

State authority, and to station a Federal officer at every cross-

road. This, of course, cannot be done, and ought not even if it

could. The true way and the easiest way is to make our government

entirely consistent with itself, and give to every loyal citizen

the elective franchise,--a right and power which will be ever

present, and will form a wall of fire for his protection.



One of the invaluable compensations of the late Rebellion is the

highly instructive disclosure it made of the true source of danger

to republican government. Whatever may be tolerated in

monarchical and despotic governments, no republic is safe that

tolerates a privileged class, or denies to any of its citizens

equal rights and equal means to maintain them. What was theory

before the war has been made fact by the war.



There is cause to be thankful even for rebellion. It is an

impressive teacher, though a stern and terrible one. In both

characters it has come to us, and it was perhaps needed in both.

It is an instructor never a day before its time, for it comes only

when all other means of progress and enlightenment have failed.

Whether the oppressed and despairing bondman, no longer able to

repress his deep yearnings for manhood, or the tyrant, in his

pride and impatience, takes the initiative, and strikes the blow

for a firmer hold and a longer lease of oppression, the result is

the same,--society is instructed, or may be.



Such are the limitations of the common mind, and so thoroughly

engrossing are the cares of common life, that only the few among

men can discern through the glitter and dazzle of present

prosperity the dark outlines of approaching disasters, even though

they may have come up to our very gates, and are already within

striking distance. The yawning seam and corroded bolt conceal

their defects from the mariner until the storm calls all hands to

the pumps. Prophets, indeed, were abundant before the war; but

who cares for prophets while their predictions remain unfulfilled,

and the calamities of which they tell are masked behind a blinding

blaze of national prosperity?



It is asked, said Henry Clay, on a memorable occasion, Will

slavery never come to an end? That question, said he, was asked

fifty years ago, and it has been answered by fifty years of

unprecedented prosperity. Spite of the eloquence of the earnest

Abolitionists,--poured out against slavery during thirty years,--

even they must confess, that, in all the probabilities of the

case, that system of barbarism would have continued its horrors

far beyond the limits of the nineteenth century but for the

Rebellion, and perhaps only have disappeared at last in a fiery

conflict, even more fierce and bloody than that which has now been

suppressed.



It is no disparagement to truth, that it can only prevail where

reason prevails. War begins where reason ends. The thing worse

than rebellion is the thing that causes rebellion. What that

thing is, we have been taught to our cost. It remains now to be

seen whether we have the needed courage to have that cause

entirely removed from the Republic. At any rate, to this grand

work of national regeneration and entire purification Congress

must now address Itself, with full purpose that the work shall

this time be thoroughly done. The deadly upas, root and branch,

leaf and fibre, body and sap, must be utterly destroyed. The

country is evidently not in a condition to listen patiently to

pleas for postponement, however plausible, nor will it permit the

responsibility to be shifted to other shoulders. Authority and

power are here commensurate with the duty imposed. There are no

cloud-flung shadows to obscure the way. Truth shines with

brighter light and intenser heat at every moment, and a country

torn and rent and bleeding implores relief from its distress and

agony.



If time was at first needed, Congress has now had time. All the

requisite materials from which to form an intelligent judgment are

now before it. Whether its members look at the origin, the

progress, the termination of the war, or at the mockery of a peace

now existing, they will find only one unbroken chain of argument

in favor of a radical policy of reconstruction. For the omissions

of the last session, some excuses may be allowed. A treacherous

President stood in the way; and it can be easily seen how

reluctant good men might be to admit an apostasy which involved so

much of baseness and ingratitude. It was natural that they should

seek to save him by bending to him even when he leaned to the side

of error. But all is changed now. Congress knows now that it

must go on without his aid, and even against his machinations.

The advantage of the present session over the last is immense.

Where that investigated, this has the facts. Where that walked by

faith, this may walk by sight. Where that halted, this must go

forward, and where that failed, this must succeed, giving the

country whole measures where that gave us half-measures, merely as

a means of saving the elections in a few doubtful districts. That

Congress saw what was right, but distrusted the enlightenment of

the loyal masses; but what was forborne in distrust of the people

must now be done with a full knowledge that the people expect and

require it. The members go to Washington fresh from the inspiring

presence of the people. In every considerable public meeting, and

in almost every conceivable way, whether at court-house, school-

house, or cross-roads, in doors and out, the subject has been

discussed, and the people have emphatically pronounced in favor of

a radical policy. Listening to the doctrines of expediency and

compromise with pity, impatience, and disgust, they have

everywhere broken into demonstrations of the wildest enthusiasm

when a brave word has been spoken in favor of equal rights and

impartial suffrage. Radicalism, so far from being odious, is not

the popular passport to power. The men most bitterly charged with

it go to Congress with the largest majorities, while the timid and

doubtful are sent by lean majorities, or else left at home. The

strange controversy between the President and the Congress, at one

time so threatening, is disposed of by the people. The high

reconstructive powers which he so confidently, ostentatiously, and

haughtily claimed, have been disallowed, denounced, and utterly

repudiated; while those claimed by Congress have been confirmed.



Of the spirit and magnitude of the canvass nothing need be said.

The appeal was to the people, and the verdict was worthy of the

tribunal. Upon an occasion of his own selection, with the advice

and approval of his astute Secretary, soon after the members of

the Congress had returned to their constituents, the President

quitted the executive mansion, sandwiched himself between two

recognized heroes,--men whom the whole country delighted to

honor,--and, with all the advantage which such company could give

him, stumped the country from the Atlantic to the Mississippi,

advocating everywhere his policy as against that of Congress. It

was a strange sight, and perhaps the most disgraceful exhibition

ever made by any President; but, as no evil is entirely unmixed,

good has come of this, as from many others. Ambitious,

unscrupulous, energetic, indefatigable, voluble, and plausible,--a

political gladiator, ready for a "set-to" in any crowd,--he is

beaten in his own chosen field, and stands to-day before the

country as a convicted usurper, a political criminal, guilty of a

bold and persistent attempt to possess himself of the legislative

powers solemnly secured to Congress by the Constitution. No

vindication could be more complete, no condemnation could be more

absolute and humiliating. Unless reopened by the sword, as

recklessly threatened in some circles, this question is now closed

for all time.



Without attempting to settle here the metaphysical and somewhat

theological question (about which so much has already been said

and written), whether once in the Union means always in the

Union,--agreeably to the formula, Once in grace always in grace,--

it is obvious to common sense that the rebellious States stand to-

day, in point of law, precisely where they stood when, exhausted,

beaten, conquered, they fell powerless at the feet of Federal

authority. Their State governments were overthrown, and the lives

and property of the leaders of the Rebellion were forfeited. In

reconstructing the institutions of these shattered and overthrown

States, Congress should begin with a clean slate, and make clean

work of it. Let there be no hesitation. It would be a cowardly

deference to a defeated and treacherous President, if any account

were made of the illegitimate, one-sided, sham governments hurried

into existence for a malign purpose in the absence of Congress.

These pretended governments, which were never submitted to the

people, and from participation in which four millions of the loyal

people were excluded by Presidential order, should now be treated

according to their true character, as shams and impositions, and

supplanted by true and legitimate governments, in the formation of

which loyal men, black and white, shall participate.



It is not, however, within the scope of this paper to point out

the precise steps to be taken, and the means to be employed. The

people are less concerned about these than the grand end to be

attained. They demand such a reconstruction as shall put an end

to the present anarchical state of things in the late rebellious

States,--where frightful murders and wholesale massacres are

perpetrated in the very presence of Federal soldiers. This

horrible business they require shall cease. They want a

reconstruction such as will protect loyal men, black and white, in

their persons and property; such a one as will cause Northern

industry, Northern capital, and Northern civilization to flow into

the South, and make a man from New England as much at home in

Carolina as elsewhere in the Republic. No Chinese wall can now be

tolerated. The South must be opened to the light of law and

liberty, and this session of Congress is relied upon to accomplish

this important work.



The plain, common-sense way of doing this work, as intimated at

the beginning, is simply to establish in the South one law, one

government, one administration of justice, one condition to the

exercise of the elective franchise, for men of all races and

colors alike. This great measure is sought as earnestly by loyal

white men as by loyal blacks, and is needed alike by both. Let

sound political prescience but take the place of an unreasoning

prejudice, and this will be done.



Men denounce the negro for his prominence in this discussion; but

it is no fault of his that in peace as in war, that in conquering

Rebel armies as in reconstructing the rebellious States, the right

of the negro is the true solution of our national troubles. The

stern logic of events, which goes directly to the point,

disdaining all concern for the color or features of men, has

determined the interests of the country as identical with and

inseparable from those of the negro.



The policy that emancipated and armed the negro--now seen to have

been wise and proper by the dullest--was not certainly more

sternly demanded than is now the policy of enfranchisement. If

with the negro was success in war, and without him failure, so in

peace it will be found that the nation must fall or flourish with

the negro.



Fortunately, the Constitution of the United States knows no

distinction between citizens on account of color. Neither does it

know any difference between a citizen of a State and a citizen of

the United States. Citizenship evidently includes all the rights

of citizens, whether State or national. If the Constitution knows

none, it is clearly no part of the duty of a Republican Congress

now to institute one. The mistake of the last session was the

attempt to do this very thing, by a renunciation of its power to

secure political rights to any class of citizens, with the obvious

purpose to allow the rebellious States to disfranchise, if they

should see fit, their colored citizens. This unfortunate blunder

must now be retrieved, and the emasculated citizenship given to

the negro supplanted by that contemplated in the Constitution of

the United States, which declares that the citizens of each State

shall enjoy all the rights and immunities of citizens of the

several States,--so that a legal voter in any State shall be a

legal voter in all the States.





PO' SANDY SIGNS OF PROGRESS AMONG THE NEGROES facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail

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