George Oberkirsh Seilhamer.

History of the Republican party (Volume 1) online

. (page 21 of 61)
Online LibraryGeorge Oberkirsh SeilhamerHistory of the Republican party (Volume 1) → online text (page 21 of 61)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook


my responsibilities? " he asked of the bluff and not too tender Senator
from Ohio, regarding him as over-merciful. " I think," was the an-
swer, " I should either force into exile or hang about ten or twelve of
the worst of those fellows perhaps by way of full measure I should
make it thirteen, a baker's dozen." The mild thought was appalling
to the ferocious Johnson. " But how," he asked, " are you going to
pick out so small a number and show them to be guiltier than the
rest?"



188 HISTORY OF THE REPUBLICAN PARTY.

In all these utterances affecting treason and traitors there were no
allusions to any plan of restoration, and it was not until the 29th of
May that the first of the important measures in his policy of Recon-
struction was announced. This was his Proclamation of Amnesty
and Pardon. In this the roaring lion had become a cooing dove. It
is true there was a formidable looking list of exceptions thirteen
classes in all. The excepted classes were (1) all diplomatic officers
and foreign agents of the Confederate Government; (2) all who left
judicial stations under the United States to aid the rebellion; (3) all
military and naval officers of the Confederacy above the rank of
colonel in the army and lieutenant in the navy; (4) all who left seats
in Congress to join the rebellion; (5) all who resigned or offered to re-
sign from the army and navy to evade duty in resisting the rebellion;
(6) all who were engaged in treating otherwise than as lawful prisoners
of war persons found in the United States service as officers, soldiers,
or seamen; (7) all persons who were or had been absentees from the
United States for the purpose of aiding the rebellion; (8) all gradu-
ates of the Military or Naval Academy; (9) officers of the States in
insurrection; (10) all who passed beyond the Federal military lines
for the purpose of aiding the rebellion; (11) all persons engaged in the
destruction of the commerce of the United States upon the high seas,
lakes, and rivers; (12) all persons held in military, naval, or civil con-
finement; and (13) all persons engaged in the rebellion the estimated
value of whose property was over $20,000. The Proclamation con-
tained a proviso that " special application may be made to the Presi-
dent for pardon by any person belonging to the excepted classes," and
the assurance was added that " such clemency will be liberally ex-
tended as may be consistent with the facts of the case and the peace
and dignity of the United States."

This complete reversal of the sanguinary policy of the President
was due to the influence and advice of the moderate and astute Secre-
tary of State. Almost at the same moment that the assassin, Booth,
was firing the fatal shot from the stage of Ford's Theater that killed
President Lincoln, his fellow conspirator, Payne, was dealing Secre-
tary Seward a wound that it was feared would be mortal. The shock
to his nervous system was so great that for days he was not permitted
to learn the fate of the President, or even that his son, Frederick
Seward, had been desperately wounded by one of the conspirators.
To the surprise and joy of the country Secretary Seward rallied quick-
ly and recovered speedily. Wounded on the night of the 14th of April,
he was well enough by the first of May to be informed of the events
of which he was one of the victims; on the 10th he was able to receive
visits from President Johnson and members of the Cabinet; and on the



PRESIDENT JOHNSON'S POLICY. 189

20th he was back at his desk in the State Department. In the interval
Preston King, who had been displaced in the Senate two years before
by Governor Edwin D. Morgan, had had the ear of the President.
King was a man well adapted to secure the confidence of Johnson.
Like Johnson, he had been a Democrat before he became a Republican.
Like Johnson, he had no sympathy w T ith the Whigs of whom Seward
was representative. Between King and Seward there was not only
no comity of interest, but much bitterness of feeling. King blamed
Seward and his lieutenant, Weed, for his failure to be returned to
the Senate in 1863. Now he was waiting for his revenge by becoming
Secretary of State in Seward's stead. It was King who advised John-
son to strike the allusion to Lincoln's policy from the speech to the
Illinois delegation. If Seward's recovery had been slower, or if the
Secretary had risen from his bed enfeebled in mind as well as shat-
tered in body, Preston King would have been his successor in the
State Department. He afterward accepted the post of Collector of the
Port of New York, but, grievously disappointed, he died by his own
hand.

Mr. Seward, in May, 1865, found himself in exactly the same atti-
tude toward President Johnson that he had occupied toward Presi-
dent Lincoln in March, 1861. The chance had again come to him to
" direct affairs for the benefit of the nation through the name of an-
other," and he nerved himself to embrace the opportunity with a
resolution and energy that were almost superhuman. Four years of
war had not rendered his methods of bringing the seceded States back
to their duty obsolete in his own mind, and the same means remained
ready to his hand for reuniting the American people in a common
bond of nationality* a foreign war. His first day at the State Depart-
ment was devoted to a long conference with the French Minister
touching the imperial regime in Mexico. From that hour Maximil-
ian's empire was doomed. His idea of Reconstruction was that the
best way was the speediest. He believed in vigor, but not in the rigor
that had been the sanguinary feature of President Johnson's speeches
while he lay pale, emaciated, and, it was believed, dying on the bed
on which the assassin had prostrated him. Like Lincoln, he did not
regard revenge as a just motive for political action. In his view the
only guaranty of the rehabilitated citizen was an oath of renewed
loyalty. He was in favor of trusting the South fully, and he was
eager for a restored Union, without any unnecessary delay. This
would probably have been the policy of Abraham Lincoln. As Lin-
coln's policy it would have been feasible, for he would have spoken
with an authority that was denied to Seward, and that was certain
to be acrimoniously withheld from Johnson. If Seward and Johnson



190 HISTORY OF THE REPUBLICAN PARTY.

had called Congress together and taken counsel with the Republican
leaders, their success would not have been assured, perhaps, but the
worst blunders of Johnson's administration would have been avoided.
Neither the President nor his great Secretary thought this necessary,
and in avoiding Scylla their bark was dashed upon Charybdis.

In his debilitated state and the visionary eagerness and confidence
that are apt to inspire a man who has just emerged from a severe
illness, Mr. Seward yielded to the fascination of bending the Presi-
dent to his will, believing that if he could dominate Johnson he could
rule the country. The task that he thus set for himself was no easy
one. lie had attempted it four years before with Lincoln, and had
failed utterly. What he then thought easy he had found impossible.
What most men would have regarded as impossible he now easily
accomplished. Seward and Johnson were political antipodes, with-
out a single point of contact or sympathy in their motives or ideas.
The Secretary of State was a Whig, and the Whigs were Johnson's
detestation. The President was a Democrat of the Jackson school,
but to Seward Jackson was as detestable as he had been to John
Quincy Adams. Personally as well as politically the two men were
far apart. Johnson entertained a prejudice against Seward that
amounted to dislike. In spite of his position Senator Johnson was
looked upon with something like disdain by men like Senator Seward.
Conventional imputations carry great w r eight, even with popular lead-
ers. Seward was an aristocrat in manners and feeling. Johnson was
a democrat as well as a Democrat. These differences only added to
Seward's fascination in the work of molding Johnson to his will-
indeed, they made Johnson more manageable than w r ould have been
a Nature's Nobleman like Lincoln. To be appealed to by a man of
the prestige and pre-eminence of Seward was a flattery of a kind to
which the coarser fiber of Johnson's nature gave a ready response.
Besides, Seward was at once the most deferential as well as the most
eloquent of talkers. He was a good listener. He never understated
the points of an antagonist in a private discussion, but restated them
in language so glowing that to yield the argument to such an op-
ponent became magnanimity. Seward talked Johnson into his way of
thinking by his eloquence, his ardor, and his picturesque view of the
possibilities that awaited an administration that restored the Union
quickly and triumphantly. The President became plastic in the hands
of the Secretary of State. In the matter of the Amnesty Proclamation
Johnson yielded to Seward's milder views on every point except one-
he insisted on making wealth in the South a disqualification for cit-
izenship without special pardon. To a man who had suffered social
ostracism from these men for a lifetime it was a peculiar pleasure



PRESIDENT JOHNSON'S POLICY. 191

that they should be compelled to corne to him to sue for citizenship.
But Johnson did not reverse his policy of rigor for Seward's alluring
program from any feeling of weakness or dependence. His con-
fidence in his own pow r ers, and his willingness to assume official re-
sponsibility without any sense of personal fear, made him all the more
amenable to the master mind of the Premier. Seward's efforts to
convince him that as President he possessed all the power necessary
to the Reconstruction of the States lately in rebellion led him to give
a ready response to the Secretary's arguments, and he pursued the
thorny path marked out for him without flinching when he was
pricked and torn by the way.

On the same day that President Johnson issued his Proclamation
of Amnesty and Pardon, William W. Holdeu was appointed Pro-
visional Governor of North Carolina, with authority to restore civil
government in the State. It w r as made the duty
of Governor Holden " at the earliest practicable
period, to prescribe such rules and regulations
as may be necessary and proper for assembling
a convention composed of delegates who are
loyal to the United States, and no others, for the
purpose of altering or amending the Constitu-
tion thereof, and with authority to exercise,
within the limit of the State, all the powers nec-
essary and proper to enable the loyal people of
the State of North Carolina to restore said
State to its constitutional relations to the
Federal Government as will entitle the State WILLIAM w. HOLDEN.
to the guaranty of the United States therefor
and its people against invasion, insurrections, and domestic violence."

The appointment of Governor Holden was quickly followed by
similar appointments for other States, William L. Sharkey being-
made Provisional Governor of Mississippi with like powers on the
1.3th of June; James Johnson of Georgia, and Andrew J. Hamilton
of Texas on the 17th; Lewis E. Parsons of Alabama, on the 21st;
Benjamin F. Perrj^ of South Carolina, on the 30th, and William
Marvin of Florida, on the 13th of July. It will thus be seen that
within six weeks from the time of his announcement of a plan of Re-
construction, President Johnson had begun to set the machinery in
motion for the restoration of seven of the eleven seceded States. The
reconstructed State governments that had been formed in the States
of Virginia, Tennessee, Arkansas, and Louisiana were speedily recog-
nized. In consequence of this speedy action, the 37th Congress, when
it assembled in December, 1865, found the Union restored without its




192 HISTORY OF THE REPUBLICAN PARTY.

knowledge or consent, and in a way that was not likely to meet with
its approbation. There was no recognition of the Provisional Govern-
ments set up by the President, but a Joint Committee on Reconstruc-
tion was appointed by the two Houses on the 13th of December, and
made its report, April 30, 1866. The committee consisted of William
Pitt Fessenden, of Maine; James W. Grimes, of Iowa; Ira Harris, of
New York; Jacob M. Howard, of Michigan; Reverdy Johnson, of
Maryland; and George H. Williams, of Oregon, on the part of the
Senate; and Thaddeus Stevens, of Pennsylvania; Elihu B. Washburne,
of Illinois; Justin S. Morrill, of Vermont; Henry Grider, of Kentucky;
John A. Bingham, of Ohio; Roscoe Conkling, of New York; George S.
Bout well, of Massachusetts; Henry T. Blow, of Missouri, and Andrew
J. Rogers, of New Jersey, on behalf of the House. As this report and
the action taken upon it were in direct antagonism with President
Johnson's policy, its history will be told in the chapter devoted to the
39th Congress, while the practical working of the Provisional Gov-
ernments are here described in greater detail than would be possible
if the Johnson plan and the plan of Congress were considered to-
gether.

President Johnson's first Provisional Governor was not a happy
selection from a Northern or Southern standpoint. Governor Holden
was a veering politician whose vane alwa3 7 s pointed to windward.
He was a Democratic editor at Raleigh and an original secessionist.
As early as 1856 he advocated disunion in case of Fremont's election.
In 1860-61 he opposed secession, but was a member of the North
Carolina Convention, and not only voted for the Ordinance that car-
ried the State out of the Union, but was especially virulent as a " last
dollar " and " last man " blatherskite. His declaration that he would
keep the pen with which he affixed his name to the North Carolina
Ordinance as an heirloom for his posterity was not maintained in a
manner creditable to his devotion to the principles he professed. He
became at a comparatively early period a dissatisfied and disaffected
subject of the Confederate oligarchy at Richmond. The freedom with
which he criticised Jefferson Davis's administration caused him to be
looked upon as an open enemy of the Confederate cause, and he was
subjected to much persecution and annoyance. His joy at the down-
fall of the Confederacy was, no doubt, real. Like Johnson, he was
sprung from the poor white class of North Carolina, and, like John-
son, he was at no time a favorite with the aristocracy of the South.
With such antecedents and with such an environment behind him he
was an unhappy choice to guide his State back to her old moorings
in the Union. Indeed, he gave himself little trouble about the re-
habilitation of his State and the prosperity of its people. His chief



PRESIDENT JOHNSON'S POLICY.



193




concern was to build up a party for President Johnson and himself.
To this end he engaged in the petty business that Thaddeus Stevens
called " peddling amnesty," bringing both the administration and the
Provisional Government into disrepute. If
General Schofield had been continued as
Military Governor of North Carolina until
Congress could be called in extraordinary
session and have time to prescribe the con-
ditions of restoration, it can not be doubted
that the results would have been in every
way more gratifying. As it was, neither
the administration nor the Governor reaped
any advantage from the President's " pol-
icy." Even with the restricted suffrage
Ilolden was beaten as a candidate for Gov-
ernor under the new Constitution by a ma-
jority of more than 6,000 votes for Jonathan

Worth, a Union man of Quaker descent, and the Republican party was
discredited in North Carolina from the outset by the superserviceable
course of the Johnson party.

Governor Sharkey, of Mississippi,
was an eminent jurist, but a weak
administrator. It must be said in
his behalf, however, that in his
State success was impossible, for
Mississippi rejected all the condi-
tions of Reconstruction even the
Thirteenth Amendment. Judge
Sharkey was sent to the United
States Senate, but under the cir-
cumstances it is doubtful if lie
would have been admitted even if
Mr. Lincoln's plan of restoration
for Louisiana had been generally
adopted in dealing with the insur-
rectionary States. The Mississippi
Legislature, chosen in accordance
with the Johnson policy, went so
far out of its way to enact objec-
tionable laws, affecting the colored

population, that there was room for the charge made at the time that
Mississippi would adopt slavery as a State institution as soon as its
statehood was recognized. Indeed, practically the old slave code




WILLIAM L. SHARKEY.



194 HISTORY OF THE REPUBLICAN PARTY.

was actually re-enacted. Thus the haste to reorganize became a detri-
ment not only to the State, but to the entire South.

Governor Johnson, of Georgia, was a man of less prominence in
his State than were lloldeu in North Carolina, Sharkey in Mississippi,
or General Hamilton in Texas, but he came nearer to success than
any of President Johnson's Provisional Governors. Georgia, even
before the war, was to some extent a manufacturing State, and so
escaped the dominating influence of the planter class, that in Alabama
and Mississippi failed to learn for a number of years afterward that
the war for slavery had abolished it forever. Governor Hamilton, of
Texas, was the only one of the seven Provisional Governors appointed
by the President who was under no delusion in regard to the work
for which he was appointed. He \vas a Union man, who had been
compelled to flee the State at the beginning of the war, and he only
returned with the other refugees in 1805. " Candor compels me to
say to the people of Texas," he said in his proclamation calling the
State Convention, " that in the action of the proposed convention, if
the negro is characterized or treated as less than a free man, our
Senators and Representatives will seek in vain admission to the halls
of Congress. It is, indeed, strange that men should take a solemn
oath to faithfully abide by and support all laws and proclamations
which have been made during the existing rebellion with reference to
the emancipation of slaves, and in the next breath favor gradual
emancipation. It is the part of wisdom and the part of duty to accept
what is inevitable without resistance."

Governor Parsons, of Alabama, tried to convince the people of that
State that the abolition of slavery was a finality with how little
success the sequel showed. " There is no longer a slave in Alabama,"
he said. " It is thus made manifest to the world that the right of
secession for the purpose of establishing a separate confederacy,
based on the idea of African slavery, has been fully and effectually
tried, and is a failure." In the Convention called by the Provisional
Governor, in accordance with his instructions, the reactionary spirit
was made clearly manifest. The contentions of aiitc-licllHin days
were revived. It was argued in the debates that the State had com-
mitted no crime by secession, that only individuals could be punished;
that secession worked no forfeiture of the right of slaveowners in
their slave property, and that there was no power in the United States
Government by proclamation or otherwise to destroy slavery. Al-
though the Convention repealed the Ordinance of Secession and
adopted the Thirteenth Amendment, the Governor and Legislature
elected under the revised Constitution, which was not submitted to
the people, at once evinced a purpose to subject the negro population



PRESIDENT JOHNSON'S POLICY. 195

to an unfriendly code. Freedmen, free negroes, and nmlattoes, when
contracting to labor for a longer time than one mouth, were required
to enter into a written agreement, witnessed by two white persons,
and failure to perform the contract on the part of the freedman was
made a misdemeanor. The penalty was loss of wages and sentence
for vagrancy, which meant sale to the highest bidder and virtual
slavery. The Governor-elect, Robert M. Patton, in his address on
assuming office, desired it to be understood, while commending the
policy of the President, that socially and politically the affairs of the
State should be controlled by the superior intelligence of the white
men. A few inconveniences incident to the situation were to be en-
dured until they could be changed, but in due season Alabama was to
control the negro much as before the war.

In South Carolina and Florida the services of the Provisional Gov-
ernors, Perry and Marvin, w r ere merely perfunctory. In the former
the Ordinance repealing the Ordinance of Secession was as hurried
as the passage of that initial act of the rebellion had been nearly five
years before, and the same man who forced the adoption of the one
offered the other for adoption Francis W. Pickens. South Carolina
hesitated to accept the Thirteenth Amendment, and it was only after
pressure had been brought to bear upon the Legislature by President
Johnson and Secretary Seward that it was ratified. The legislation
affecting the freedmen was not only singularly inopportune, but re-
markably vicious. Within a fortnight of the assembling of the 39th
Congress an act was passed making felonies of crimes committed by
persons of color that were only misdemeanors if committed by white
persons. In many other directions special laws were enacted for the
colored population that were restrictive, burdensome, unjust, and
tyrannical, and special courts were created for cases in which persons
of color were one or both the parties. This was a deliberate attempt
to substitute serfdom for slavery by means of this new colored code,
but Major-General Sickles interfered, and the second South Carolina
conspiracy was rendered nugatory. In Florida a policy similar to
that of South Carolina, Alabama, and Mississippi was adopted. The
ratification of the Thirteenth Amendment was not made until after it
had been proclaimed as part of the organic law. By their acts all
these States rendered President Johnson's Reconstruction policy fu-
tile, and compelled the more drastic plan of restoration that Congress
afterward adopted.

The part of the " Old Dominion " that now constitutes the State of
Virginia was more torn and trampled upon than any section of the
self-constituted Confederacy. For four years it had been a battle-
ground of the rebellion. From the James to the Potomac, from the



196 HISTORY OF THE REPUBLICAN PARTY.

sea to the Alleghanies, it had never ceased to resound with the tread
of two hostile armies. Everywhere, in painful contrast with its for-
mer beauty and prosperity, it showed the ravages of war it was im-
poverished, devastated, helpless. Of the proud State that went into
secession only a fragment remained. The secession of Virginia from
the United States was the signal for the secession of the western
counties of the State from Virginia. While the table lands and the
valleys of the eastern counties were crushed under the tread of armed
men, forty of the western counties formed a new State without asking
the consent of the old one. The new State of West Virginia, the only
State except Nevada admitted during the war, was the child of neces-
sity. There had long been antagonism between the two sections.
Formidable mountain ranges separated them, and the inhabitants of
each saw little of the other. They had no comity of interest and no
unity of sentiment. The interests of the eastern counties were on the
seaboard, those of the western counties on the Ohio. The inhabitants
of tidewater Virginia were rich, proud, haughty slaveholders, claim-
ing descent from the cavaliers of old England, and with estates that
were manorial in extent and methods of administration. Far different
were the men of the mountains. For the most part they were descend-
ants of hardy frontiersmen, a majority of whom had fought in the
Revolution and the Indian wars. Their land patents were certificates
of patriotic service in founding the Nation. They had few slaves, and
their devotion to the Union was greater than their interest in slavery.
When Virginia seceded at Richmond they set up a new government
for the whole State at Wheeling, with Francis II. Pierpont as Gov-
ernor, but the experiment was an anomaly, and it was soon determined
to organize a new State and claim admission into the Union. The
Ordinance to organize the new State was adopted August 20, 1801,
and approved by the people on the fourth Thursday of October. The
Convention to frame the new Constitution assembled at Wheeling
on the 20th of November, and their work was ratified by a popular
vote on the first Thursday of April, 1802. No provision had been



Online LibraryGeorge Oberkirsh SeilhamerHistory of the Republican party (Volume 1) → online text (page 21 of 61)