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(1865 to the Present Time.)
For Authorities for this Chapter, see Appendix, page xxiv. The small figures in the
text refer to Authorities cited on page xxx of the Appendix.
510. President Johnson; his previous record; attitude toward the South. A few hours after the death of Lincoln (April 15, 1865), Vice-President Johnson took the oath of office which made him head of the Republic. Like Lincoln, Johnson sprang from the class then known at the South as “ Poor Whites.” He began the practical work of life at the tailor's board in a log-cabin in eastern Tennessee.
He had never attended school, but taught himself to read, and his wife taught him to write. His ambition and force of character led him to enter the field of local politics. He became one of the leaders of the workingmen in his section in their contest with the slaveholding aristocracy. He rose step by step until he became Governor of his State ; soon afterward the Democrats elected him (1857) to the United States Senate. He was the only Southern man in the Senate who stood resolutely by the Union and openly denounced secession as “unholy rebellion.” 1263
In the spring of 1862 President Lincoln appointed Senator Johnson military governor of Tennessee. He greatly strengthened the Union cause in that State, and when the Republicans renominated Lincoln to the presidency (1864), they recognized the services of the “War Democrats " by putting Johnson on the ticket as Vice-President. When the assassination of the
President raised him to the highest office in the nation, he entered upon its duties with the declaration : “The American people must be taught to know and understand that treason is a crime.” “ It must not be regarded as a mere difference of political opinion."1264 Again he said: “ Treason must be made infamous, and traitors must be impoverished.” 1965
511. The “ freedmen"; plans for reconstruction. - Two political questions of prime importance pressed for settlement:
What should be done to aid and protect the "freedmen”? 2. What action should be taken respecting the restoration or reconstruction of the seceded States ?
At the close of the war the Government was confronted with the stupendous problem of providing for several millions of negroes.
Tens of thousands of them had followed the Union armies and had been gathered into camps at different points. These poor people were legally free; but that was all. They were “landless, homeless, helpless," and there was danger that many of them would sink into a state of permanent pauperism. One of President Lincoln's last acts was to sign a bill (March 3, 1865) creating the “ Freedmen's Bureau.” The bureau was to continue for one year ; its object was to place the freedmen, as far as practicable, on abandoned or confiscated lands at the South, and render them self-supporting. General 0. O. Howard was appointed commissioner, and was invested, he says, with “almost unlimited authority.”
The second problem that of reconstruction more formidable than the negro question, which was necessarily closely bound up with it.
The Constitution was silent in regard to secession and civil war ; it threw no light on the delicate, difficult, and dangerous work of restoring or reconstructing the Southern States. Three questions arose : 1. What was the condition of the seceded States, were they still members of the Union, as a dislocated arm is still a member of the body, or had secession put them wholly out of the Union and were they now simply conquered
territory? Did the power to restore or reconstruct rest with the President or with Congress? 3. What action should be taken respecting the negro? Should he be made a citizen and a voter or simply left free? If the ballot was put in his hands he might swamp the white vote in the South by force of numbers ; if simply left free, his presence would increase the basis of representation and so increase the power of the South in Congress. On the other hand, if he could not protect himself he might be virtually reënslaved.
President Lincoln, in accordance with his inaugural address ($ 448), took the position that the Union and the States were alike indestructible and that secession had simply thrown certain States temporarily out of gear with the rest. He believed that it was his work to set them right again. His plan was essentially that of restoration. Toward the last of 1863 he issued a proclamation of amnesty. By it he granted “a full pardon” to “all persons,” except the leaders of secession, who had been engaged in the “existing rebellion,” provided they should take an oath to support the Constitution and all acts of Congress to date. He furthermore declared that whenever one-tenth or more of the loyal voters of 1860 in the seceded States should reëstablish a State Government in accordance with the Constitution and the oath of allegiance, he would recognize it as “the true government of the State.”
President Lincoln added, however, that the admission of such reconstructed States to representation did not rest with him but with Congress. 1266 In this plan no provision was made for negro suffrage.
The radical Republicans in Congress denounced President Lincoln's policy as dangerous to the welfare of the nation, and the next spring (1864) Henry Winter Davis introduced a reconstruction bill which put the whole control of the late Confederate States in the hands of Congress; but like the President's method, it was silent in regard to negro suffrage. President Lincoln killed the bill by a "pocket veto” ($ 365),
mainly on the ground that it was too rigid in its character.187 The angry radicals, under the leadership of Senators Davis and Wade, issued an address “to the supporters of the Government," in which they charged Lincoln with deliberately striking “ a blow at the friends of the administration, at the rights of humanity, and at the principles of Republican Government.”
The President did not lose his temper ; but in the last words which he spoke in public (April 11, 1865) declared his adherence to his own plan of restoration or reconstruction. He · earnestly advocated a policy of conciliation toward the seceded States, saying: “We shall sooner have the fowl by hatching the egg than by smashing it.” 1989
512. President Johnson's plan of reconstruction vs. Congress. — Johnson declared that he held the view of reconstruction which Lincoln had defended. His idea of liberty for the negro was that it gave him the right to work for himself, but did not include the right to vote. He believed that this is
“ white man's Government” and must remain such. He insisted that the question of negro suffrage rested solely with the people of the Southern States. 1270
Congress was divided; a few members held with Senator Sumner that the Southern States had committed political suicide, and that the Government should proceed to deal with them as conquered territory. Thaddeus Stevens went further still and proposed to confiscate the “estates of rebels ” worth more than $10,000, to give forty acres of land to each “freedman,” and to use the remainder in paying off the national war debt.1271
But the great majority of Congress held that the States still existed as States, and that the Constitution, though suspended, was still in force in that section. They insisted, however, that Congress, and Congress only, should decide on the readmission of the seceded States to their political rights. This view was confirmed later (1868) by a decision of the Supreme Court (Texas vs. White). 122
Johnson had none of Lincoln's tact; he stood up stubbornly in defence of his theory. Congress was equally determined; the result was a prolonged battle between the Executive and Legislative power. In that battle Secretary Seward stood firmly by the President.
513. The grand review; disbanding the army; the war debt; condition of the South. - The struggle between the Executive and Congress over reconstruction did not begin at once. The close of the war called for a grand military review at Washington. The parade of even a part of the Union armies occupied two entire days (May 23, 24, 1865). On the first day the “ Army of the Potomac,” with General Meade at the head, marched from the national capitol down Pennsylvania Avenue to the “White House.” The following day General Sherman at the head of the “Army of the West” passed over the same ground. These men were no “holiday troops,” but a great body of war-worn veterans, “who had not slept under a roof for years.” They bore the shot-torn banners which they had carried on a hundred hard-fought fields. On those fields they had left dead comrades, far more numerous than the throngs who now joined with them in celebrating the final victory of peace.
The muster-out of the Union forces - more than a million in number — had already begun. It continued at the rate of about 250,000 a month, until all but a comparatively small force of regular troops had been disbanded. At the same time the Government began to pay off the war debt, and before all the soldiers had been discharged the debt had been reduced $30,000,000. The European press predicted that men who had so long been accustomed to the use of arms would not return peacefully to their homes; but they went back as quietly as they came. The Confederates did the same; they, like the Union forces, had that American sense of self-respect which forbade disorder.
But the “men in blue" and the “men in gray” returned to widely different fields. The devastating hand of war had