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A New Congress — Amnesty and Reconstruction.
A new Congress (the Thirty-eighth) met on the 7th of December. In spite of unfavorable indications in the earlier elections, the Republicans retained control of the House of Representatives, which chose Schuyler Colfax, of Indiana, as Speaker by a majority of twenty votes.
In his annual message the President speaks like one who has emerged from darkness and unrest into the reviving light and air of advancing dawn. One year ago “the war had already lasted nearly twenty months,” with “ many conflicts on both land and sea with varying results"; the rebellion " had been pressed back into reduced limits, yet the tone of public feeling at home and abroad was not satisfactory"; "the popular elections, then just past, indicated uneasiness among ourselves; while amid much that was cold and menacing, the kindest words coming from Europe were uttered in accents of pity that we were too blind to surrender a hopeless cause. Our commerce was suffering greatly by a few armed vessels built upon and furnished from foreign shores; and we were threatened with such additions from the same quarter as would sweep our trade from the sea and raise our blockade. We had failed
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to elicit from European governments anything hopeful upon this subject.” With the new year came the final Proclamation of Emancipation, “including the announcement that colored men of suitable condition would be received into the war service. The policy of emancipation and employing black soldiers gave to the future a new aspect, about which hope and fear and doubt contended in uncertain conflict.” For a long time it had been hoped that the rebellion could be suppressed without resorting to " this military measure; but it was all the while deemed possible that the necessity for it might come, and that, if it should, the crisis of the contest would then be presented. It came, and, as was anticipated, it was followed by dark and doubtful days. Eleven months having now passed,” he takes “another review":
The rebel borders are pressed still further back, and by the complete opening of the Mississippi, the country dominated by the rebellion is divided into distinct parts, with no practical communication between them. Tennessee and Arkansas have been substantially cleared of insurgent control, and influential citizens in each, owners of slaves and advocates of slavery at the beginning of the rebellion, now declare openly for emancipation in their respective States. Of those States not included in the Emancipation Proclamation, Maryland and Missouri, neither of which, three years ago, would tolerate any restraint upon the extension of slavery into new Territories, only dispute now as to the best mode of removing it within their own limits.
Of those who were slaves at the beginning of the rebellion, full one hundred thousand are now in the United States military service, about one-half of which number actually bear arms in the ranks, thus giving the double advantage of taking so much labor from the insurgent cause, and supplying the places which otherwise must be filled with so many white men. So far as tested, it is difficult to say they are
not as good soldiers as any. No servile insurrection, or tendency to violence or cruelty, has marked the measures of emancipation and arming the blacks. These measures have been much discussed in foreign countries, and contemporary with such discussion, the tone of public sentiment there is much improved. At home the same measures have been fully discussed, supported, criticised, and denounced, and the annual elections following are highly encouraging to those whose official duty it is to bear the country through this great trial. Thus we have the new reckoning. The crisis which threatened to divide the friends of the Union is past.
With his message the President sends a copy of the Amnesty Proclamation, just issued, remarking that “the Constitution authorizes the Executive to grant or withhold the pardon at his own absolute discretion; and this includes the power to grant on terms, as is fully established by judicial and other authorities.” He proffers that, “if in any of the States named a State government shall be, in the mode prescribed, set up, such government shall be recognized and guaranteed by the United States”; but it would be “simply absurd” to attempt this in the case of “a revived government constructed in whole or in part from the very element against whose hostility and violence it is to be protected.” To separate “ the opposing element so as to build only from the sound,” there must be a test, and he thinks “that test is a sufficiently liberal one which accepts as sound whoever will make a sworn recantation of his former unsoundness.” Assent to “ the laws and proclamations in regard to slavery” must also be required. “To give them their fullest effect, there had to be a pledge for their maintenance.
To now abandon them would be not only to relinquish a lever of power, but would also be a cruel and an astounding breach of faith. I
may add at this point that, while I remain in my present position, I shall not attempt to retract or modify the Emancipation Proclamation; nor shall I return to slavery any person who is free by the terms of that proclamation, or by any of the acts of Congress.” He says in conclusion:
In the midst of other cares, however important, we must not lose sight of the fact that the war power is still our main reliance. To that power alone can we look, yet for a time, to give confidence to the people in the contested regions that the
insurgent power will not again overrun them. Until that confidence shall be established, little can be done anywhere for what is called reconstruction. Hence our chiefest care must still be directed to the army and navy, who have thus far borne their harder part so nobly and well. And it may be esteemed fortunate that in giving the greatest efficiency to these indispensable arms, we do also honorably recognize the gallant men, from commander to sentinel, who compose them, and to whom, more than to others, the world must stand indebted for the home of freedom disenthralled, regenerated, enlarged, and perpetuated.
The Amnesty Proclamation excepts from its benefits “all who are, or shall have been, civil or diplomatic officers or agents of the so-called Confederate Government; all who have left judicial stations under the United States to aid the rebellion; all who are, or shall have been, military or naval officers of the said so-called Confederate Government, above the rank of Colonel in the army, or of Lieutenant in the navy; all who left seats in the United States Congress to aid the rebellion; all who resigned commissions in the Army or Navy of the United States, and afterward aided the rebellion; and all who have engaged in any way in treating colored persons, or white persons in charge of such, otherwise than
lawfully as prisoners of war, and which persons may have been found in the United States service as soldiers, seamen, or in any other capacity.”
In regard to reconstruction, the proclamation declares that “whenever in any of the States of Arkansas, Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Tennessee, Alabama, Georgia, Florida, South Carolina and North Carolina, a number of persons, not less than one-tenth in number of the votes cast in such State at the Presidential election of the year of our Lord 1860, each having taken the oath aforesaid, and not having since violated it, and being a qualified voter by the election laws of the State existing immediately before the so-called act of secession, and excluding all others, shall re-establish a State government which shall be republican, and in nowise contravening said oath, such shall be recognized as the true Government of the State," and be protected as such from “ domestic violence,” as provided by the Constitution of the United States.
As to the status of freedmen, it is declared that “any provision which may be adopted by such State government in relation to the freed people of such State, which shall recognize and declare their permanent freedom, provide for their education, and which may yet be consistent, as a temporary arrangement, with their present condition as a laboring, landless, and homeless class, will not be objected to by the National Executive.”
Virginia is not named in this proclamation, for both the President and Congress had recognized the government organized at Wheeling, with Francis H. Pierpont as Governor, and the United States Senators elected under it, as representing the entire State. The new