Page images

In an unbappy hour Abraham Lincoln fell by the hand of the assassin. That fearful calamity, which was equally beyond human foresight and human control, suddenly and profoundly interfered with our high purposes and patriotic desires. Human nature, around the whole circle of the globe, and especially in its centre here, recoiled and stood aghast before that great crime. The country sank for a moment into sadness and despair of its future, from which it was aroused to seek and search everywhere, in the government and out of it, in the North and in the South, at home and abroad, for secret authors, agents, and motives for the horrible assassination. While suspicion attached itself by turns to everybody, it justly fastened itself at last upon the rebellion, and demanded new and severer punishment of the rebels, instead of the magnanimous reconciliation which the beloved President of whom it had been bereaved had recommended. Who will say that this sentiment was unnatural ? Who shall say that it was even unjust ? Revolution has always the same complex machinery. Besides the public machinery which its managers directly employ, there is always a secret assassination-wheel carefully contrived, and ready to come into activity when a crisis is reached. Revolutionists cannot relieve themselves of all responsibility for it by pleading that it was unknown to themselves. Who can say how far this great crime of assassination has been effective in delaying and preventing the desired reconciliation ?

It was in the midst of this distraction that Andrew Johnson came to the presidency, not by virtue of two popular elections to that office, like his predecessor, or even of one such election, but by virtue of his constitutional election to be only Vice President. The unfinished work of the lamented Lincoln devolved upon him. The conditions and considerations which were the advantages in his election as Vice President suddenly became disadvantages to him as President. The Southern States and the democratic party were remembered but too unfavorably by the Northern anti-slavery victors, in connection with the rebellion, the civil war, and African slavery.

In addressing himself to the holy work of national reconciliation, the new President proceeded with due deliberation and firmness, decision and vigor. He retained all his lamented predecessor's counsellors. He adopted his lamented predecessor's plan of reconciliation, which seemed to him, as it seemed then to the whole country, to be practicable and easy, because it was simple and natural. It consisted simply in opening the easiest and shortest safe


for a return into the national family of the people of the Southern States, who now repented their attempted separation. Those states were invited to resume the vacant chairs in the legislative councils, by sending Senators and Representatives, who should be chosen by the people of those states, and who should prove themselves, by every practical test, unquestionably loyal to the Union. Some constitution and frame of government in the rebel states, however, would be a necessary instrumentality of making such choice of senators and representatives. There was at the same time a manifest necessity for such renewed institutions of municipal government for the restoration of peace and order in the disorganized states, the administration of justice, and the exercise of other necessary functions of government there. The people of the rebel states were therefore invited to establish such necessary state governments, upon the basis of loyalty and fidelity, of which practical tests were provided. These tests were: first, the acceptance of the new amendment to the Constitution which abolished African slavery ; second, repudiation of the rebel debt; third, abrogation of all rebel laws; fourth, the acceptance of the so-called iron-clad oath.

All other questions were passed over for further and future action. Loyal state governments were promptly formed, and loyal Senators and Representatives appeared with equal promptness at the doors of Congress, knocking for admission to the seats vacated in 1861. Then, and not till then, peace was proclaimed throughout the land, and authoritatively announced to all nations.

It is not correct that the President of the United States made those state governments, or caused them to be made, by force or intimidation. The Union armies, of which he was commander-inchief, lingered, indeed, in the rebel states, to keep the peace in the event of surprise during the transition from civil war. lar action there was, nevertheless, spontaneous, and the Executive confined itself to the form of suggestion and advice of which President Lincoln had already wisely set an accepted example. The new state constitutions were the best attainable at the time, without direct application of force. They were adequate to the emergency, and they were open, like all similar constitutions, to further revisions and improvement, with the lapse of time and the increase of popular knowledge and virtue in the several states.

The popu

1 Disavowing and repudiating all connection with disunion or rebellion,

Congress hesitated, debated, postponed. The rebel states were no longer in rebellion. They were not received into the Union. The people, North as well as South, were excited : new schemes were proposed, new party combinations formed. There was no longer the Union party, which had conducted the country through the fiercest civil war ever known. But that party was seen resolving itself, in an untimely hour, into ancient divisions, the republican and democratic parties. An advanced section of one party demanded new and further guarantees, and entertained wild propositions of retaliation, confiscation, proscription, disfranchisement, and other penalties, as conditions of reconciliation. A reactionary section of the other insisted that all delays were not only hazardous, but that all conditions whatever were unnecessary, unreasonable, and unconstitutional. One party insisted that there could be no safe peace without immediately extending suffrage to the freedmen by means no matter how rash, unconstitutional, or violent. The other insisted that a proceeding so abrupt, so violent, so inconsistent with the provisions of the Constitution of the United States in regard to the conservation of the states rights and individual freedom would inevitably inaugurate a war of races. What did all this indicate but a controversy about the new constitutions to be formed in the Southern States ? What did imperial intervention in St. Domingo or Mexico mean, but a demand of such a constitution there as should be acceptable to France ?

It is not my purpose to revive now, or even to retrace, that long and angry debate. We all see how it has resulted thus far. All the representatives sent to Congress by the rebel states in 1865 have been rejected without regard to their qualifications or their loyalty. All tlie loyal state governments formed in 1865 have been abrogated, without regard to their loyalty, with the exercise of military force. Subaltern army officers have been placed by Congress in charge of the several states. Congress has enfranchised and disfranchised in those states, just as seemed best calculated to secure the acceptance of constitutions prescribed by itself through military agents in communities where no rebel force has been seen for nearly four years. The President, with a tenacity that has provoked the scrutiny of the nation and challenged the judgment of mankind, has held fast to two things, namely, the wise and humane plan of his predecessor, and, what is infinitely more important, the Constitution of the United States, just as he found both. For this adherence he has been brought to trial on impeachment in constitutional form, for pretended high crimes and misdemeanors, and duly acquitted. The nation has thus been called on to sustain the new shock of political assassination of its chosen and beloved head, and to encounter afterward the wild and reckless proceedings of inconsiderate leaders, such as kept Mexico in a condition of anarchy through a period of forty years, and which have left hardly one stable or even peaceful republic remaining in South America. Most of the states organized in this irregular manner have sent their representatives to Congress, and those representatives have been admitted, while all the state governments through whose machinery those representatives were sent, or nearly all, are invoking the Congress of the United States to suspend the writ of habeas corpus, to establish martial law, to assume and to confide to military agents the entire business of government in those states, under alarms and fears of renewed insurrection and restoration of slavery.

It is not my purpose to vindicate or even to explain the part I myself have bad in these transactions and debates, instructive as I am sure they will prove to future ages. I simply say that as I stood . firmly by the wise and magnanimous policy of President Lincoln in his life, so I. have adhered to the same policy since his mortal remains were committed to an untimely grave, and I have adhered with equal fidelity to his constitutional successor.

When the civil war came to an end, no wise man supposed that the transition could be abruptly made from a state of civil war to a condition of tranquillity and peace without occasional disturbance to be produced by inconsiderate individuals, and even by unlawful combinations of disappointed and excited men. On the contrary, every wise man knew that reconciliation, however hindered, could not be long deferred, and that constituent states of this Union, nó matter how far they had wandered from the ways of loyalty, must sooner or later be again received into the Union. I have habitually thought that all needful political wisdom in regard to that crisis was contained in the scriptural injunction, “ agree with your adversary quickly," and that this injunction, which is true in regard


[ocr errors]

to all adversaries, is especially true when your adversaries are estranged brethren.

So much, my friends, for the past. What now is the present situation? We have heard for three years alarms of premature reconciliation, the advantages of procrastination, the dangers of reaction and renewed rebellion. At last the cry is frantically uttered by all parties, “ Peace, peace!" "Let us bave peace!" when there is no peace in the sense implied, but only forebodings of renewed war. What does the country need in view of this painful situation ? I answer my own question. It needs just what it needed in 1865 the admission of loyal representatives from the late rebel states into the Congress of the United States; and it needs at this time and at our hands no more. When you have given to the Southern States the places in Congress where they will have a constitutional hearing, tbe people there will acquiesce in what Congress may require, and their mouths will be closed on all constitutional topics that have produced agitation and excitement. The states which send those representatives must have loyal representative governments to determine who, what party, what interest, or what faction shall enjoy the power or discharge the responsibilities of government there. We must indeed keep the peace for them, if they cannot keep it themselves. We must, therefore, support and maintain existing governments there to that end; but it belongs to the people of those states, just as much as it belongs to the people of this state, to say whether they shall live under one form of loyal republican government or another, and under one administration of loyal republican government or under another. I do not ask or require that representatives or governments there shall be white, or black, or mixed. I insist only that they shall be representative men, freely chosen in those states by the people themselves, and not by outside compulsion or dictation. I do, indeed, know that the best form of republican government existing in any of the states is capable of amendment, as I am sure that it will hereafter be greatly amended. Being no conservative, in the narrow meaning of that word, I not only do not oppose, but I favor all such amendments, and accept but one limitation for my efforts in that direction. That limitation is the Constitution of the United States, which enjoins non-intervention upon me, so long as those states are loyal to the Union, and keep the public peace, their own peace, and the peace of the

« PreviousContinue »