William Henry Seward.

Restoration of union. Speech of William H. Seward, to the citizens of New York, at Cooper Institute, February 22, 1866, on the restoration of union (Volume 2) online

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Online LibraryWilliam Henry SewardRestoration of union. Speech of William H. Seward, to the citizens of New York, at Cooper Institute, February 22, 1866, on the restoration of union (Volume 2) → online text (page 1 of 2)
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22, 1866,












FEBRUARY S2, 1866,



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Upon Mr. Seward's recognition of the applause which
greeted him, the vast audience rose en inasse, and wel-
comed him as men are rarely welcomed by their fellow-
citizens. The ladies waved their handkerchiefs, the men
cheered and hurrahed with long-continued enthusiasm.
After the applause had subsided, Mr. Seward said :

I was at Auburn in this our old and honored State of ISTew York
in October, and I sj)oke then what I thought would be pertinent to
public affairs for a whole year. The summons of friends in the city
of New York brings me back after the expiration of only three
months. Their demand is, I confess, rather hard upon me, under
the circumstances. Nevertheless, I obey. I am no Secessionist. I
profess to understand how to obey the commands of the people of
my own State without violating my allegiance to the United States.

Now, what shall I speak of or about? The call of your meeting
specifies the subject. But first, let me say that I am not here as an
alarmist; lam not here to say that the nation is in peril or danger —
in peril if you adopt the opinions of the President; in peril if you
reject them; in peril if you adopt the views of the apparent or real
majority of Congress, or if you reject them. It is not in peril any

way ; noi^ do I think the cause of liberty and human freedom, the
cause of progress, melioration, or civilization, the cause of national
aggrandizement, present or future, material or moral, is in danger of
being long arrested, whether you adopt one set of political opinions
or another. The Union — that is to say, the nation — has been rescued
from all its perils. The noble ship has passed from tempests and
billows within the verge of a safe harbor, and is now securely riding
into her ancient moorings, without a broken sjDar or a leak, starboard
or larboard, fore or aft. There are some small reefs yet to pass as
she approaches those moorings. One pilot says that she may safely
enter directly through them. The other says that she must back,
and, lowering sail, take time to go around them. That is all the
difference; it is merely the difference of oj)inion between the pilots.
I should not practice my habitual charity if I did not admit that I
think them both sincere and honest. But the vessel will go in safely,
one way or the other. The worst that need happen will be that, by
taking the wrong instead of the right passage, or even taking the
right passage and avoiding the wrong one, the vessel may roll a
little, and some honest, capable, and even deserving politicians,
statesmen. President, or Congressmen may get washed overboard.
I should be sorry for this, but if it cannot be helped, it can be borne.
If I am one of the unfortunates, let no friend be concerned on that
account. As honest, as good, as capable politicians, statesmen. Con-
gressmen, and Presidents will make their appearance hereafter, faster
than needed, to command the ship, as well and as wisely as any that
have heretofore stalked their hour upon the deck, in the alternations
of calm and tempest that always attend political navigation.

Nevertheless, although I do not think we are in a crisis, the ques-
tion to-day is worthy of deliberate examination and consideration.
It is always important, in going into a port or preparing for a new
departure, to take accurate observations, in order to ascertain whether
the ship and crew are sound and in good fastening and in good sail-
ing condition. The subject before us is a difference of opinion that
reveals itself but too clearly between the executive administration
of the President and the legislative counsellors of the nation. The

President, as we all see, is a man of decided convictions; the legisla-
tive leaders, if we may judge fi'om their resolutions, are trying to
decide not to coincide with him in opinion. They have appealed to
us, outsiders as we are, to pronounce between them. I will try to
show you what the nature and character of the difference is.

Some of you, few or many, have been occasionally in a theatre.
You may remember a play that had some popularity a few years
ago, entitled "The Nervous Man and the Man of Nerve." Both of
these characters were well-to-do country gentlemen. They had been
friends in early life. Their friendship grew with their years. They
lived in distant parts of the country. The nervous man had a hope-
ful son ; the man of nerve had a loveable daughter. By some freak
of fortune, or some more capricious god, these young people had acci-
dentally come together at a watering-place, and there formed an
attachment unknown to their parents. In the meantime the nervous
man and the man of nerve had come to an agreement to marry the
two young people together, under a belief that they were entirely
unknown to each other. Each parent made the announcement to
his child in a mysterious manner. The nervous man's son was told
that he was to be married to an unknown lady with whom he was
sure to fall in love at first sight, but whose name must be withheld
until the day of the ceremony. The daughter of the man of nerve
received a similar pleasant intimation. Each lover protested, each
parent was peremptory, each lover impracticable. As a natural con-
sequence both ran away, and, as was quite natural, both came to-
gether, and they were clandestinely married. When the nervous
man heard of his son's contumacious disobedience he denounced him,
disinherited him, disowned him, and declared he would never see
him again. When the man of nerve heard of the flight of his daugh-
ter he immediately summoned his dependants, who sought to restore
her to her father. One parent was all passion, the other was all
decision. While they were comparing their mutual and common
grief and disappointment, the married lovers came trembling into
the angry presence, and kneeling down, asked forgiveness and
parental blessings upon what was now irrevocable. What was the


parents' suprise to find that the runaway match was just precisely
the one they had planned, and the supposed failure of which had so
deeply excited them. The man of nerve acquitted himself with
becoming resignation, and, since it had all ended right, he extended
to the lovers the boon they begged. The nervous man refused alto-
gether to be comforted, propitiated, or even soothed. He refused
and declared that he would persist forever in refusing to receive
back again the son who had been so disobedient. When his out-
burst of passion had somewhat subsided, the man of nerve said :
"Well, now, old friend, why won't you forgive him? Have you not
got the matter all your own way after all?" " Why, yes," replied
the nervous man, "I have got it all my own way." "Then, why
will you not forgive him?" said the man of nerve. "Why, damn it,
I haven't had my own way of having it." This, I think, is the dif-
ference between the President, who is a man of nerve, in the Execu-
tive chair at Washington, and the nervous men who are in the House
of Eepresentatives. Both have got the Union restored as they orig-
inally planned it should be. They have got it restored, not with
slavery, but without it ; not with secession, flagrant or latent, but
without it; not with compensation for emancipation, but without it;
not with compromise, but without; not with disloyal States, or rep-
resentatives, but with loyal States and representatives; not with
rebel debts, but without them; not with exemption from our ovn
debts for suppressing the rebellion, but with equal liabilities upon
the rebels and the loyal men ; not with freedmen and refugees aban-
doned to suffering and persecution, but with the freedmen employed
in productive, self-sustaining industry, with refugees under the pro-
tection of law and order. The man of nerve sees that it has come
out right at last, and he accepts the situation. He does not forget
that in this troublesome world of ours, the most to be secured by
anybody is to have things conie out right. Nobody can ever expect
to have them brought out altogether in his own way. The nervous
men, on the other hand, hesitate, delay, debate, and agonize — not
because it has not come out right, but because they have not


individually had their own way in bringing it to that happy termi-

I have said that I apprehend no serious difficulty or calamity.
This confidence arises from the conviction which I entertain that
there never was and never can be any successful process for the
restoration of union and harmony among the States, except the one
with which the President has avowed himself satisfied. Grant it
that the rebellion is dispersed, ended, and exhausted, dead even at
the root, then it follows necessarily that the States sooner or later
must be organized loyal men in accordance with the change in our
fundamental law, and that, being so organized, they should come by
loyal representatives and resume their places in the family circle
which, in a fit of caprice and passion, they rebelliously vacated. All
the rebel States but Texas have done just that thing, and Texas is
doing the same thing just now as fast as possible. The President is
in harmony with all the States that were in rebellion. Every exec-
utive department and the judicial department are in operation, or
are rapidly resuming the exercise of their functions. Loyal repre-
sentatives, more or less, from all these States — men whose loyalty
may be tried by any constitutional or legislative test which will
apply even to the representatives of the States which have been
loyal throughout — are now standing at the doors of Congress, and
have been standing there for three months past, asking to be admit-
ted to seats which disloyal representatives, in violence of the rights
and duties of the States, as well as of the sovereignty of the Union,
had recklessly abandoned. These representatives, after a lapse of
three months, yet remain waiting outside the chambers, while Con-
gress passes law after law, imposes burden after burden, and duty
after duty upon the States which, against their earnestly expressed
desires, are left without representation. So far as I can judge of
human probabilities, I feel sure that the loyal men from the now
loyal States will, sooner or later, at this session or at some other, by
this Congress or by some other, be received into the Legislature of
the nation. When this shall have been done, the process of restora-
tion will be complete ; for that is all that now remains to be done.


If, in this view of the subject, my judgment is at fault, then some of
those who now uphold the opposite one can show some other pro-
cess of restoration which is practicable, and which can be and will
be adopted, and when it is likely to be adoj)ted. Does any pei'son
pretend to know such a plan? Other plans, indeed, have been men-
tioned. They were projected during Mr. Lincoln's administration;
they have been projected since. Briefly described, these plans have
been such as this: that Congress, with the President concurring,
should create what are called Territorial Governments in the eleven
States which were once in rebellion, and that the President should
administer the government there for an indefinite period by military
force, and that after long purgation they should be admitted into the
Union by Congressional enactment. This proceeding was rejected
by Mr. Lincoln, as it is rejected by the President. If ever it may
have been practicable it is now altogether too late. If the President
could be induced to concur in so mad a measure at this date, it would
be impossible to execute it. Say what you will or what you may,
the States are already organized, in perfect harmony with our
amended National Constitution, and are in earnest co-operation with
the Federal Government. It would require an imperial will, an im-
perial person, and imperial powers greater than the Emperor of
France possesses, to reduce any one of these States, with the con-
sent of all the other States, into what you term a territorial condi-
tion. Maximilian's task, though it engages two Emperors and two
imperial organizations, with their forces, it is thought not the most
wise and hopeful political enterprise of the day. On the other hand
we have no Emperor, but only a stern, uncompromising, radical
Eepublican, a Democrat, call him what you will, for President, who
refuses in every way to be a party to any imperial transactions, and
who would hand them back to Congress if they were to offer him the
men and money to prosecute such imperial enterprises. Suppose that
he could give place to another President, whether by election, or even
assassination, where will you find in the United States a man who
would want to be elected to that high place to plunge this country
into a civil war for a political chimera? If there be such a one,


what chance is there that he would be elected for such a purpose?
That scheme, then, is at an end, and it is not now even seriously
mentioned. Is there any other plan ? Congress has a Eeconstruc-
tion Committee, as it is called, composed of fifteen members, who
have have stopped the wheels of legislation three months to enable
them to submit a process or plan different from that which is now
on the eve of a happy consummation. And what have they given
us? One proposed amendment to the Constitution, to compel the
excluded States to equalize suffrage upon the penalty of an abridg-
ment of representation. I 'do not discuss its merits. Either the
amendment will or will not be adopted. The expectation is, that it
will fail even in Congress. In any case it implies a full restoration
of the Southern States. It is, therefore, no plan or process of recon-
struction at all. The Committee prove this to be the true character
of the proceeding, because they fall back upon a process not of resto-
ration, but of obstruction. The resolution which they submitted
Tuesday last, and which has passed the House of Representatives,
directly declares that loyal representatives shall not be admitted from
loyal States until Congress shall pass a law for that purpose — which
law, it would seem that ev^ry member who votes for it must know,
cannot be enacted without the President's approval, which cannot
be consistently given in view of the opinions that he is known to
entertain. This concurrent resolution, then, is not a plan for recon-
struction, but a plan for indefinite postponement and delay by the
concurrent action of the Houses of Congress.

I know that the scriptural instruction is not always accepted as
an infallible guide of faith in these latter days. I do not, therefore,
ask you whether the United States Government ought not now to
slay the fatted calf and invite our prodigal brethren to so luxurious
a feast; but I do venture to say that when this nation became dis-
organized five years ago by flagrant secession and rebellion, we did
determine to humble the rebels and bring them back again to their
constitutional seat at the family table. I know that we have hum-
bled them, and have brought them back with humiliation and repent-
ance sueing for restoration. I know that when Congress was con-


vened, and when the last elections w^ere held, which gave utterance
to the jDopular voice, it was their expectation that without unneces-
sary delay that table would be set, and that all the members of the
family, however prodigal they had been, would be received at the

There being, then, no further plan of restoration, what are the
chances of carrying out the system of obstruction to which I have \
referred? It is as impracticable in its character as I think it is |
vicious. If I have read the history of this country correctly, it has
settled these three things : First — No Slate can keej) itself out of the I
Union or keep itself in a territorial condition under the Union. In \
the very beginning four States refused to enter; with wry faces they
all came in afterward — making the whole number of States thirteen
instead of the nine first consenting. All the region east of the Mis-
sissippi rushed rapidly through a brief territorial pupilage into the
Union. "VYe bought provinces from Spain, from France, from Mexico.
From the Mississippi to the Pacific they have I'ushed or are rushing \
with railroad speed, after a brief territorial existence, as States into ?
the Union. If it were jiossible, we might acquire still more prov- \
inces, North or South. You cannot easily go further "West. Every
province that there might be gained, whether white or black, old or \
young, alien or native born, would be immediately rushing, as with |
railroad speed, as States into the Union. Another thing which our
national history teaches is, that the States which are in the Union
cannot be taken or kept out of its limits; and that is the great
lesson of the rebellion. The third thing which this eventful war
teaches us is, that the States which are in the Union cannot keej)
any States that are outside from coming in. Congress is habitually
inclined to this experiment. It hesitated about Michigan and Mis-
souri; it reeled and staggered before Texas and California; and it
convulsed the nation in resisting Kansas; yet they are all in the
Union, all now loyal, and most of them cheerful and happy. How
many Committees of Conference di€l we have, how many Joint Com-
mittees did we not have, on this momentous question ? How many
Joint Eesolutions, denying that Congress ever would consent to the


admission of such unwelcome intruders? How mau}^ compromises,
securing guarantees for freedom, securing guarantees for slavery,
Avere broken and scattered, when one after the other these States
came in, as if by a headlong thrust and hurled by an Almighty
Providence, who was determined that the people of this Continent
shall be not many discordant nations, but one united and harmonious

I entered Congress in 1849, when the Joint Committee of Fifteen
was skillfull}', ai^:! it is but just to say, honestly framed to obstruct
the admission of California until the majority of the nation should
compromise and silence forever the debate upon slavery. The Com-
mittee succeeded in excluding California for a period of eight months
and no longer, and eventually obtained, in broken fragments, the
compromise which it sought. That compromise was by its terms to
be perpetual. The compromise of 1850 lingered, however, just four
years and then perished, giving place to the inci^^icnt and now haj)-
pily consummated adjustment of the slavery question, by the com-
plete and universal abrogation of that institution. I left Cono-ress
in 1861, when Committees and Conventions clustered in and around
the Capitol, demanding stipulations (which Congress refused) that
fetters should be put upon Xew Mexico, N"evada, and Colorado. You
can never keep States out of this Union, never, no never! If we do
not like them, we may, in the words of the old proverb, "lump
them." The present distrusts of futui-e States or of existing States
have no substantial ground. They are begotten of miserable perish-
ing fears and factions. California was susjiected of secret or ultimate
complicity with slavery. All the men in the Union knew the hard
feelings her people entertained toward us Free-soilers, who were
their most earnest advocates.- AYe gave her ten years of pro-slavery,
Democratic rule. The ten years are now up, and she is calm, per-
haps distrustful of some of us yet, because we are willing to admit
the States that have sinned and repented as she did. If ever this
thing of keeping out States by Joint Eesolution of Congress could
have had any chance of permanent success, that time has passed
away. No State has ever been hindered in coming into the Union


except upon questions growing out of the system of African bondage.
But African bondage has now gone to the dogs, and they have made
a sure finish of it. Not even enough of its shriveled skin or dis-
jointed limbs remains to sharpen the cupidity of the race that were
once called slaveholders, or of that other race which was known to
the country as " doughfaces." No State, therefore, will ever, here-
after, be hindered or delayed in coming back into the Union upon
the ground of slavery.

You may think that the irresistible tendency to Union which I
have desci'ibed may have something alarming in it. This would be
a grave error. I think no such thing. The people in any Territory
want to be a State, because it is a pleasant thing and a good thing
to have the municipal powers and faculties which belong to a State
within the American Union, and to provide by its own laws for the
maintenance and security of life, liberty, and property. A territory
wants to be a State and a member of the Federal Union, because it
is a pleasant thing and a good thing to have its protection against
foreign enemies, and to possess the privileges and immunities guar-
anteed to a State by the national Constitution. I therefore would
not consent to hold a State in a territorial condition, or to deny it the
advantages of fellowship in the Union a day longer than I should
be compelled. Nor do I see anything calculated to excite alarm,
anything transcending the political ability of our statesmen, in the
present situation of the freedmon. In the beginning, practically,
every State in the Union had slavery. We abolished it in several
States without disorder or civil commotion, until slavery raised itself
in rebellion against the Government of the Union. When it took
that attitude, we abolished it out and out, through and through, com-
pletely and effectually forever. This is what the American people
have had the sagacity and the courage to do in a period of ninety
years. These American people are a great deal better and a great
deal wiser to-day than they were ninety years ago. Those of the
generation that is now crowding us, will be a great deal wiser and a
great deal better than we who are on the stage to-day. Do I think,
therefore, that we shall lack the wisdom or the virtue to go right on


and continue the work of melioration and progress, and perfect in
due time the deliverance of labor from restrictions, and the annihi-
lation of caste and class. We have accomplished what we have
done, however, not with an imperial government — not with a pro-
consular or territorial system. We have done it in States, by States
and through States, free, equal, untrammeled, and presided over by
a Federal, restricted Government, which will continue to the end the
constitutional progress with which we so wisely began. They are
settling the whole case of the African in the West Indies just as we
are, and it will be done with the same results and the same benefi-
cent effects.

I have not given prominence in these remarks to the conflict of
opinion between the President and Congress in reference to the
Bureau for the relief of Freedmen and Eefugees. That conflict is,
in its consequences, comiDaratively unimportant, and would excite'
little interest and produce little division if it stood alone. It is be-
cause it has become the occasion for revealing the difference that I
have already described that it has attaiiied the importance which
seems to surround it. Both the President and Congress agree that,
during the brief transition which the country is making from civil
war to internal peace, the freedmen and refugees ought not to be
abandoned by the nation to persecution and suffering. It was for
this transition period that the Bureau of Freedmen was created by
Congress, and was kept and is still kept in effective operation. Both
the President and Congress, on the other hand, agree that when
that transition period shall have been fully passed, and the har-
monious relations between the States and the Union fully restored,
that Bureau would be not only unnecessary but unconstitutional,
demoralizing and dangerous, and therefore it should cease to exist.


Online LibraryWilliam Henry SewardRestoration of union. Speech of William H. Seward, to the citizens of New York, at Cooper Institute, February 22, 1866, on the restoration of union (Volume 2) → online text (page 1 of 2)