George Oberkirsh Seilhamer.

History of the Republican party (Volume 1) online

. (page 20 of 61)
Online LibraryGeorge Oberkirsh SeilhamerHistory of the Republican party (Volume 1) → online text (page 20 of 61)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

eral or independent, were questions that were left in that nebulous
state of uncertainty that was Mr. Seward's delight. As regards this
proposition, the words were Blair's, but the voice was Seward's. It
was from Mr. Seward that the Confederate Commissioners first heard
of the passage of the Thirteenth Amendment, and their reports repre-
sent the Secretary of State as saying that if the rebellious States
would submit, and agree to immediate restoration, its ratification
might still be defeated. It was inevitable that Mr. Lincoln's name
should be connected with Mr. Blair's wild project in the rumors that
were in the air in Washington, but it is not impossible that the thirty-
one Republicans in the House who voted against Mr. Cox's resolution
had a vague knowledge of a fact calculated to dissatisfy them with
the President. Immediately after his return from Hampton Roads
Mr. Lincoln drafted a plan of conciliation that he thought practicable.
It was for a grant of $400,000,000, to be distributed among the Slave
States as the price of submission without slaver} 7 . This plan w y as sub-
mitted to the Cabinet, but it was unanimously disapproved. " You
are all opposed to me," said the President, pathetically, and the mat-
ter was dropped. Just one month later Mr. Lincoln was inaugurated
President of the United States for the second time.



When the two Houses met in joint convention on the 8th of Febru-
ary to count the electoral vote the chair announced the possession of
returns from the two States of Tennessee and Louisiana, but that in
obedience to the law of the land they w r ould not be presented. No
member asked to have these returns received, and the votes of the two
States were not counted. The inaugural ceremonies differed from
similar pageantries before them only in these respects that for the
first time the enslaved race had a share in the civic rejoicings, and
that a battalion of colored troops marched in the parade. The oath
of office was administered by Chief Justice Chase. Mr. Lincoln's ad-
dress was very brief, but it has taken its place among the political

classics of which he was the
author. The concluding para-
graph is especially celebrated.
" With malice toward none," the
President said; "with charity
for all; with firmness in the
right, as God gives us to see the
right, let us strive on to finish
the work w r e are in; to bind up
the nation's wounds; to care for
him who shall have borne the
battle and for his widow and his
orphan to do all which may
achieve and cherish a just and a
lasting peace among ourselves,
and with all nations."

At the time when the 38th
Congress was dissolved, and
President Lincoln took up the
duties of his office for his
second term, peace was nearer

than even the most sanguine dared to hope. There was only one
way to bring pacification that was to conquer it. Upon this method
of pacification General Grant was bending all the energies of the
armies under his command. Sherman had made his great march
to the sea. Sheridan was scouring the valley of Virginia from Win-
chester to the James, there to rejoin the Army of the Potomac in
time for the closing campaign. Lee was meditating the necessity of
withdrawing from Richmond, while Grant was slowly pushing his for-
midable left wing nearer to the only roads by which Lee could escape.
An armistice was the last hope of the Confederacy, and even after an
armistice was refused by the authorities at Washington it was sought



at the headquarters of the Army of the Potomac. The Confederate
Congress on the 19th of January made Lee General-in-Chief, investing
him with dictatorial powers, and the belief was cherished at Rich-
mond that Grant possessed like powers. Long-street and Ord met un-
der a flag of truce in February, and the conversation turned upon a
possible adjustment of the terms of peace. Longstreet must have mis-
understood Ord, for Lee wrote to Grant that he had been informed
that General Ord had said that General Grant would not decline an
interview with a view u to a satisfactory settlement of the present un-
happy difficulties by means of a military convention," if Lee had
authority to act. Lee assured Grant that he had the necessary au-
thority, and asked for the military convention. Grant telegraphed
these overtures to Washington, but Lincoln, without a moment's
hesitation, answered: " You are not to decide, discuss, or confer upon
any political questions. Such questions the President holds in his
own hands, and will submit them to no military conferences or con-
ventions. Meanwhile you are to press to the utmost your military
advantages." There was no military convention, but Grant pressed
his military advantages to a glorious conclusion.

The purport of Ord's conversation with Longstreet has never been
explained. It is certain, however, that in the closing days of the war
there was a military conspiracy to subvert in some way the authority
of the civil power in making peace. It was, of course, a Democratic
conspiracy a conspiracy of Democratic generals. To the existence
of this conspiracy it is possible, perhaps, to trace Lee's apparent op-
timism after his fortunes had become desperate. Although he fore-
saw that he must abandon Richmond, he still deluded himself with the
illusion that he could save his army and continue the war at the
worst that he could escape unconditional surrender. Within a few
hours of the surrender he contended that surrender w r as not impera-
tive. His optimism was assumed, but that of the bombastic Beaure-
gard was real. With the Confederacy tottering Beauregard wanted
to be sent to crush Sherman; "to give the enemy battle and crush
him "; " then to concentrate all forces against Grant, march to Wash-
ington, and dictate a peace." Even Lee thought it might still be pos-
sible to execute such a program when it was no longer possible for him
to hold Richmond. He yielded with dignity at last, but made no
pretense that slavery should be spared after its existence had been
submitted to the arbitrament of the sword.

Was the destruction of slavery worth its cost?

That there is no longer a slavery question is a sufficient answer to
the query. The war was not inaugurated to destroy slavery; to have
saved it after four years of battle for the Union would have been



criminal. If the Union could have existed half slave and half free
there would have been no war either to compel or prevent its exten-
sion. The Abolitionists were not warriors. But the " irrepressible
conflict " was a verity. There is no doubt that independence was the
aim of the Southern leaders from the beginning. The war was for the
Union, and its perpetuity was worth any sacrifice a Union without
slavery was doubly worth fighting for and worth saving. Both results
were achieved at Appomattox. The crowning triumph was as much
the victory of the Republican party as of the Republic.

The surrender of Lee's army meant peace. In the North there was
a jubilee. In the South the men who had marched and battled for

four long years threw down the
musket and hurried to their
homes to follow the plow. For
the moment reconstruction had
little or no interest for the
soldiers on either side. But be-
fore the Army of the Potomac
could return from Virginia to
Washington to lay aside the
badges of the soldier and as-


sume the garb of the citizen,
Abraham Lincoln, the moderate,
the good, the wise, was stricken,
assassinated, dead! He fell a
martyr to the cause that in-
spired the hate of the assassin-
pierced bA T the bullet of the
mummer whose last tragedy
part made him infamous. " Sic
semper ti/raniti#," cried the mur-
derer, and after speeding the fatal missile he added, " The South is
avenged!" It was the vengeance of a madman over which the South
still grieves as well as the North.

If Abraham Lincoln had lived to complete his second term the
chapters that follow this one would have been a story of moderation
and wisdom, gentleness and justice, instead of the tale of dissension
and political bitterness that the truth of history compels. The solemn
pageants that marked the funeral journey from Washington to
Springfield everywhere attested the grief of the people over a loss that
stunned them. When death came to him so suddenly, when only one-
half his work seemed achieved, all his great qualities became the more
conspicuous because of the crime that all the world regards as a foul


and most unnatural murder. When lie was dead those who had op-
posed and even those who had jeered at him united in lamenting- his
loss and in the recognition of his great qualities. It was now seen that
his gentleness had been matched by his firmness, his caution and
discretion by sagacity and wisdom, and his statecraft by the noblest
practical results. His trials and triumphs were no longer parts of a
political problem, but the history of a great career. As a statesman
his ideals had been lofty, and men revered his memory because of the
dangers to himself and the country through which he had passed
with so much sweetness and serenity. His acts and his speeches were
those of the unselfish patriot as well as of the publicist and the
orator. Not only did his utterances become classic, but his address at
Gettysburg and his closing words upon the occasion of his second in-
auguration enshrined themselves in the hearts of the people. Those
who had underestimated him no longer asserted that he had not been
the head of his administration, or that his administrative acts had
lacked the qualities of true statesmanship. Even his enemies praised
him. It was the apotheosis of a life-work that, like Washington's, was
destined to grow more brilliant and hallowed with the passing years.
Nearly all the men who knew him, whether or not they agreed with
him in politics, have written tributes to his memory, and it would be
as fruitless as it is unnecessary to attempt to add to them here.

It has been claimed that if Abraham Lincoln had lived the restora-
tion of the States, lately in rebellion, to their places in the Union
would have been accomplished more speedily, and with less friction,
than w r as the case under his successor. This may be conceded, but the
subject has only a speculative interest. There certainly would have
been no breach between the Executive and Congress. Mr. Lincoln
would have entered upon the work of Reconstruction with a more com-
manding authority over both sections of the country than President
Johnson was able to exercise. His prudence and his self-repression
would have served to allay passions that Johnson's bumptious and
aggressive methods excited to fever heat. His appeals would have
been made to the conscience and the convictions of the people, and
he w T ould have succeeded in having his own way through his willing-
ness to learn the ways of others, his moderation in pressing his own
views upon the Cabinet and upon Congress, and the quiet but force-
ful influence that was always assured to him through his patience
and forbearance. It is true his apparent plan of restoration did not
become the policy of the Republican party, but what was impossible
with Lincoln dead would have been possible, if not easj- , with Lincoln

Throughout the war Mr. Lincoln pursued a tentative policy of Re-

PEACE. 183

construction. His first attempts were made in Tennessee and Louis-
iana, but as a restoration of the civil authority in these States at the
time was impracticable, a resort to military government became
necessary in both. In 1862 Andrew Johnson was appointed Military
Governor of Tennessee, and General George F. Shepley was invested
with similar authority in Louisiana. This was not reconstruction,
for that could only consist in the restoration of the civil authority.
A step in this direction was made in Louisiana in December, 1802,
w r hen Governor Shepley ordered an election for two members of Con-
gress. Benjamin F. Flanders and Michael Halm were elected, and
were admitted to seats in the 37th Congress, February 9, 1863. This
action was not only premature, but it was useless, and in the end it
was mischievous, for it encouraged Louisiana to establish a State
Government before Congress had adopted a settled policy of restora-
tion. The plan met with the approbation of Mr. Lincoln, and it was
carried out in accordance with the recommendation in his message
to Congress, December 8, 1863, and the terms of a proclamation that
accompanied the message. The weakness of the scheme consisted in
the fact that the State Government thus created could not last an
hour without military support. Arkansas followed the example of
Louisiana, and Messrs. Fishback and Baxter were elected to the
United States Senate. When they presented their credentials their
application was met by a resolution, offered by Mr. Sumner, declaring
that " a State pretending to secede from the Union, and battling
against the General Government to maintain that position, must be
regarded as a rebel State subject to military occupation, and without
representation on this floor until it has been readmitted by a vote of
both Houses of Congress; and the Senate will decline to entertain any
such application from any such rebel State until after such a vote of
both Houses." The Senate was unwilling to be as emphatic as Mr.
Sumner desired, but it finally declared that " the rebellion is not so
far suppressed in Arkansas as to entitle that State to representation
in Congress; and therefore Messrs. Fishback and Baxter are not en-
titled to admission as Senators." The House took similar action in
regard to the Representatives elected from Arkansas.

This disagreement between the President and Congress reached
the stage of a positive conflict later when Congress passed a bill em-
bodying its own views of reconstruction. The passage of this bill
could be regarded in no other light than as a rebuke to the President
for proceeding with the w r ork of restoration without waiting for the
action of Congress. It was claimed by the more radical Republicans
in both Houses that the President had exceeded his constitutional
power, but this assumption was unfair because it was not true. The


President still maintained the principle with which the war was be-
gun once a State always a State while Congress was tending
toward Mr. Simmer's position that the States in rebellion had re-
verted to a territorial condition. It soon became apparent that Mr.
Lincoln was not in a humor to be rebuked by Congress. He allowed
the bill to die by withholding his approval, and four days after the
close of the session he issued a proclamation in which he treated the
measure as merely an expression of opinion by Congress as to the best
plan of Reconstruction. It was in response to this proclamation that
the famous Wade-Davis " protest " was published during the Presi-
dential campaign of 1864.

In his last annual message to Congress Mr. Lincoln made no allu-
sion to Reconstruction, and Congress took action in only one instance
that in any way affected the principle involved in Mr. Lincoln's plan.
This action was the passage of a resolution directing that there should
be no count of the electoral vote of the States of Louisiana and
Arkansas. This resolution was sent to the President for his approval.
He signed and returned it with a sarcastic message in which he said
the two Houses of Congress convened under the twelfth article of the
Constitution " have complete pow r er to exclude from counting all
electoral votes deemed by them to be illegal, and it was not compe-
tent for the Executive to defeat or obstruct the power by a veto, as
would be the case if his action were at all essential to the matter ";
and he added that he disclaimed all right on the part of the Executive
to interfere in any way in the matter of canvassing or counting the
electoral votes, and he also " disclaims that by signing said resolu-
tion he has expressed any opinion on the recital of the preamble or
any judgment of his own upon the subject of the resolution." This
was telling Congress in effect that if he had signed the resolution
without explanation it would have implied his right to veto it; if it
had been sent to him as a reflection on his reconstruction policy, Con-
gress might have saved itself the trouble.

That Mr. Lincoln had not abandoned his own plan of Reconstruc-
tion is evident from the last speech made by him two days after the
surrender at Appomattox. " It may be my duty," he said, " to make
some new announcement to the people of the South. I am considering
and shall not fail to act when satisfied that action will be proper."

The " new announcement " was never made.

The cry of the assassin " the South is avenged " interposed to
prevent the contemplated message of a broad and liberal policy with
peace and union.



Installation of Andrew Johnson His Characteristics Intimations
of a Kigorous Policy Proclamation of Amnesty and Pardon
The Wounded Seward and Preston King Seward's Speedy Re-
covery and Remarkable Energy He Dominates the President
Seward and Johnson's Plan of Restoration Provisional Gov-
ernors Governor Holden of North Carolina Judge Sharkey of
Mississippi The Reorganization of the Southern States They
Accept the Terms, but Disregard Them Legislation Hostile to
the Negroes Course Pursued in Mississippi, Georgia, Alabama,
Texas, South Carolina, and Florida The Two Virginias Crea-
tion of the State of West Virginia Joint Committee on Recon-
struction Failure of the Lincoln Plan of Restoration Attempts
to Re-enslave the Blacks Secretary Seward's Disappointment.

HILE the death of Abraham Lincoln was still unknown to
the greater part of the American people, Andrew Johnson
took the oath of office as his successor. Since his inaugura-
tion as Vice-President he had remained in Washington,
and so there w r as no interruption of the Executive authority. The
ceremony took place at his lodgings at the Kirkwood Hotel, where
the oath was administered by Chief Justice Chase in the presence of
the members of the Cabinet and a few of the Senators who had lin-
gered in Washington after the adjournment of the Senate. The change
was one for which the country was not prepared, and it was disquiet-
ing, if not appalling. There was an instinctive feeling that Johnson's
nomination and election had been a grave political blunder. He was
not the man that either the North or the South would have chosen for
the emergency that now confronted him and the Republic. Northern
men distrusted and Southern men hated and despised him. The
qualities that had made him a good candidate were almost certain to
make him a bad President. By birth and by education, by tempera-
ment and by environment, he was peculiarly unsuited to the responsi-
bilities he was called upon to assume. It was not so much that he
belonged to the " poor white " class by birth, as that he was the
leader of that class in the South, that made him distasteful to the
Southern aristocracy, whether he attempted to administer either jus-
tice or mercv in the hour of defeat and humiliation. As a Democrat


he had always been a fly in the ointment of Southern Democrats. He
was by instinct a fit representative of the class to which he was allied
by birth, the white workingman. His political career before the war
had been exceptionally successful by the aid of the working-men of
his own State. He was the champion of white labor in the Tennessee
Legislature and in Congress, his arguments tending to antagonize
the slave system, to which he gave a perfunctory support. His es-
pousal of the Homestead policy was especially offensive to the South-
ern leaders. There is no reason to doubt that his independent course
in both Houses of Congress was as sincere and honest as it was brave
and courageous. As a Union man he was inflexible at a time when
inflexibility for the Union marked him for the violent hatred of his
own section. In the hour of secession he stood alone in the Senate
the only Senator from a seceding State who remained loyal to the
Union. His firm discharge of his duty as Military Governor of Ten-
nessee, afterward, made him exceedingly popular in the loyal States,
but as much an object of obloquy and detestation in the South as
General Butler. It was regarded as futile to expect clemency from
a man of his antecedents, and it was known that he had protested to
President Lincoln, the day after Lee's surrender, against the terms
accorded by General Grant. With such a career behind him, and
with a firm belief in a policy of rigor at the hour of triumph, he was
suddenly exalted to the office that had been filled by Lincoln with
rare tact and discretion, and while the dead President still lay in the
White House he announced that his policy was not to be one of mercy.
In a speech to a delegation of distinguished citizens from Illinois, on
the 18th of April, he intimated that Mr. Lincoln's policy was to be his
policy, but when Lincoln's neighbors and friends were gone he struck
out the intimation from the stenographer's report. It was not in har-
mony with what he had said in another part of his address and with
what he felt.

" When the question of exercising mercy comes before me," Mr.
Johnson remarked to his Illinois visitors, " it will be considered
calmly, judicially remembering that I am the Executive of the Na-
tion. I know men love to have their names spoken in connection with
acts of mercy, and how easy it is to yield to that impulse. But we
must never forget that what may be mercy to the individual is cruelty
to the State."

Mr. Johnson's early utterances, coming from a man in his position,
were singularly unhappy. The effect of the first speech after he be-
came President w r as detrimental to the administration and to the
country. It gave no assurance of what his policy would be, but, on
the contrary, openly evaded it. There were no words of grief or


praise for the dead President, beyond the declaration that he was " al-
most overwhelmed by the announcement of the sad event which has
so recently occurred." The speech, which was a very brief one,
abounded with allusions to himself and his career. " Toil and an
honest advocacy of the great principles of free government have been
my lot," he said. " The duties have been mine, the consequences
God's." The effect of- such utterances at such a time could not fail to
be hurtful. " Johnson seemed willing to share the glory of his
achievements with his Creator," said John P. Hale, with bitter wit,
" but utterly forgot that Mr. Lincoln had any share of credit for the
suppression of the Rebellion."

While the funeral cortege was slowly bearing Mr. Lincoln's re-
mains to their last resting place, the people everywhere attesting their
grief for the dead President, the inflexible sternness of Mr. Johnson's
utterances received frequent iteration. To members of the Christian
Commission, who called upon him under the same roof where the body
of the dead President reposed, he talked of " erecting a standard by
which everybody should be taught to believe that treason is the
highest crime known to the laws, and that the perpetrator should be
visited with the punishment which he deserves." This was in reply
to the Rev. Dr. Borden, of Albany, who expressed the hope that justice
might be tempered with mercy. " I have become satisfied that mercy
without justice is a crime, and that when mercy and clemency are
exercised by the Executive it should always be done in view of
justice," he said to a delegation of loyal Southerners, a day or two
later. " But I say treason is a crime, the very highest crime known
to the law," he exclaimed to a delegation of Pennsylvanians, headed
by Simon Cameron, " and there are men who ought to suffer the pen-
alty of their treason ! ... To the unconscious, the deceived, the
conscripted, in short, to the great mass of the misled, I would say
mercy, clemency, reconciliation, and the restoration of their govern-
ment. But to those who have deceived, to the conscious, intelligent,
influential traitor who attempted to destroy the life of a nation, I
would say, on you be inflicted the severest penalties of your crime."

This truculent mood continued for several weeks. " Well, Mr.
Wade, what would you do if you were in my place and charged with

Online LibraryGeorge Oberkirsh SeilhamerHistory of the Republican party (Volume 1) → online text (page 20 of 61)