“What Is To Be Done With the Negro?”


Detail from J.L. Giles’ allegorical 1867 lithograph, Reconstruction, promoting sectional reconciliation between Northern and Southern whites, but pointedly excluding African-Americans.



Feb 2nd 1866

Congressman Thaddeus Stevens offered an amendment to Freedmen’s Bureau bill authorizing the distribution of public land and confiscated land to freedmen and loyal refugees in forty acre lots. The measure was defeated in the House by a vote of 126 to 37. A Black delegation, led by Frederick Douglas called on President Johnson and urged ballots for former slaves. Meeting ended in disagreement and controversy after Johnson reiterated his opposition to Black suffrage



Appomattox marked an ending, but also a beginning. What had been resolved by the war was clear: the United States was whole again — the Union was inviolate, and slavery was dead. What remained unclear, however, were the relationship of the former Confederate States to the Union they had tried to dissolve, and — most important — the new legal status of the former slaves. That they would not be slaves was manifest, but what they would be remained uncertain. Many of those who abhorred slavery objected nearly as much to the notion that the former slaves should now be their fellow citizens with equal rights under the law. Most simply assumed that the freed slaves would stay in the South, continue to labor on the plantations, and remain socially subordinate to whites, the principal difference being that they would now be paid something for their labor and could no longer be sold. The former chattels themselves had other ideas. They saw what freedom was for whites, and aspired to the same freedom for themselves: the right to own land, the right to go where they pleased, and the right to the full protection of the law. Would they be citizens? Serve on juries? Vote? Lincoln had deliberately postponed making any final decisions about these crucial questions for fear of fracturing his political coalition, though just three days before his assassination he became the first President to propose voting rights for at least some African-Americans. Once the shooting stopped, however, those decisions could be postponed no longer. As Henry Ward Beecher put it in a letter to The Times: “What is to be done with the Negro?”

The question was even more problematical after Lincoln’s death put Andrew Johnson in the White House, for Johnson, after all, was a Southern Democrat. A self-made man (his critics called him the “Tennessee tailor”), he had opposed slavery mainly because it gave advantages to the Southern aristocrats, and unlike Lincoln, he had little empathy for the slaves themselves. He was perfectly willing for their new status to be defined by those who had supervised them in the years before the war. This was unacceptable to the Republican progressives in Congress — the so-called Radicals — who wanted to enact new laws, even Constitutional amendments if necessary, to protect the newly emancipated blacks in their freedom, and ensure compliance by white Southerners. Johnson did not think any of that was necessary, and the dispute split the Republican Party. Henry Raymond sided with the new President. He argued that the freed blacks could take care of themselves without assistance or protection — even (in his words) “the primitive African type.” He concluded that the effort by the Radicals to add Constitutional amendments to ensure citizenship and civil rights for the freedmen was unnecessary and dangerous.

In the last year of the war, Congress had established a Freedmen’s Bureau with oversight responsibility to help smooth the slaves’ transition to freedom. Major General Oliver O. Howard, who had commanded the Army of the Tennessee and was a devout Christian, became its commissioner. That initial legislation had established the agency for one year, but when Congress renewed it for another year in February 1866, Johnson vetoed the bill, declaring that the bureau was no longer necessary since “the ordinary course of judicial proceedings” was sufficient to the task. The Radicals saw that relying on existing processes would put all questions regarding the status of the freedmen in the care of Southern courts, a prospect they found appalling.

Raymond and The Times supported Johnson’s veto. Raymond insisted it “implies no essential difference of opinion between the Executive and the majority in congress in the primary object of the bill.” But in that he was wrong, for there was an “essential difference of opinion” between the White House and Congress. Radicals in Congress believed the freedmen were under threat from their former masters, while Johnson denied that “the position of the freedmen is one so exposed as has been represented.”

By now Raymond was not only the owner and editor of The New York Times, but also a Republican member of Congress. He voted with the majority in March 1866 to pass a Civil Rights Bill, the first in American history, but even after Johnson vetoed that, too, Raymond continued to defend the President, insisting that Johnson’s opposition derived from his fear of “undermining the independence of the judiciary.” This time, however, Johnson’s veto angered even moderate Republicans, and Congress passed the Civil Rights Bill over Johnson’s veto, at the same time passing the Freedmen’s Bureau Bill as well. Raymond continued to stick by the President, backing Johnson’s unsuccessful effort to create a separate party of “National Unionists” in competition with the Republicans, in consequence of which Raymond lost his position as chairman of the Republican Party. Johnson rewarded Raymond’s loyalty by naming him ambassador to Austria, though the Republican Senate refused to confirm him.

During 1866, Johnson’s laissezfaire policy toward the South was discredited in the public mind by a terror program directed at the freedmen by organizations like the Ku Klux Klan. Some Southern states passed laws making it illegal for freedmen to own land; others decreed that it was unlawful for them not to be employed by a white man. These circumstances inflamed Northern voters and fueled a Republican triumph in the 1866 elections that gave the Radicals a veto-proof majority. When this new majority took office in March 1867, it instituted a new Reconstruction program that re-established a military occupation of the South and enacted programs to protect the civil rights of the freedmen. The Radicals passed the Fourteenth (black citizenship) and Fifteenth (black suffrage) Amendments to the Constitution, and required their ratification by Southern states as a condition of re-admission. They passed the Tenure of Office Act, designed to force Johnson to keep the Cabinet he had inherited, and when the President intentionally violated it to test its constitutionality, they impeached him.

By 1870 there was a new editor at The Times. Henry Raymond died in 1869 at the age of 49, and his erstwhile business partner, George F. Jones, took over editorial management. Jones proved to be something of a crusader, authorizing a series of articles exposing the power and influence of the political organization in New York run by William Marcy Tweed, known as the Tweed Ring, and others that revealed the horror of Klan violence in the South. It reported the findings of Congressional investigators who went to South Carolina to look into Klan activities, and covered Benjamin Butler’s attempt to make Klan-like terrorism illegal. It covered the so-called Colfax Riot in Louisiana in April 1873, when members of “The White League,” a Klan-like paramilitary group, attacked an element of Louisiana’s nearly all-black state militia, killing more than a hundred men, most of them burned alive in the town courthouse.

In spite of such articles, however, the Northern public was growing weary of endless tales of brutality against former slaves. The Fifteenth Amendment (ratified on February 3, 1870) completed the Constitutional changes wrought by the Civil War. Blacks had been given their freedom, citizenship, and the ballot. Most Northerners seemed to think that it was now up to them to make a go of it. How long, after all, could the North be expected to watch over them? A Union veteran who had come South to settle after the war (a carpetbagger in the local parlance) wrote a memoir/novel in 1879 called A Fool’s Errand. In it, he suggested that the attitude of most Northerners toward the black population of the South was “root hog, or die.” The Times did not formally adopt this view, but the declining number of stories of both official and clandestine abuse testified to the Northern public’s slipping interest in the issue.

The period of “Radical Reconstruction” lasted only a few years. Tennessee was readmitted in 1867, and other states followed one by one. In 1876, Jones and The Times backed the Republican candidate, Rutherford B. Hayes, against New York’s governor, Democrat Samuel Tilden. Initial returns appeared to make Tilden the winner, and in a foreshadowing of the famous “DEWEY DEFEATS TRUMAN” headline, Jones telegraphed Hayes the news that he had been beaten. But then, in a prolonged and bitter postelection fight, a deal was struck in which conservatives agreed to award all the electoral votes from the still-occupied Southern states of South Carolina, Louisiana, and Florida, plus one vote from Oregon, to Hayes if he pledged to remove all military forces from the South. This return to “home rule” doomed the freedmen for several generations, because each “redeemed” Southern state at once passed laws restricting the rights of blacks and limiting their opportunities. The result was an era of segregation and Jim Crow laws that lasted through the rest of the 19th and into the 20th century.

It was an ignoble legacy for so costly and heroic a struggle.



Our South Carolina correspondent, after a constant and close observation of over two years, testified with great emphasis to the capacity of the freedmen to make rapid improvement physically and morally, under friendly and wise management. If this is true of South Carolina negroes, it established the fact in respect to all those of the rest of the South; for the slaves of South Carolina remained the nearest of any to the primitive African type. Their ancestors immediately after being landed at Charleston have settled upon the large cotton and rice plantations of the State, and the succeeding generations have lived almost entirely secluded from contact with white men, excepting overseers, and consequently they have made very little advance. The experiment with the freedmen upon the Carolina coast we have always regarded as the crucial test.1 What can be made of the African race there, can surely be made of them anywhere in the South.

This question of the capacity of the freedmen to become honest, industrious, and self-supporting, without any external constraint, is a question of immense import in the renovation of the South. The chief justification of Southern Slavery has always been the natural inability of the African to enjoy freedom without becoming a curse to himself and to all about him. It was claimed that his mental and moral capacities were too small, and his animal propensities to sloth and self-indulgence too stubborn, for him to be kept at work and in order by any incentive short of physical compulsion. Had that been actually the fact, slavery in some form, milder than that which existed, might perhaps have been as justifiable as the laws against vagrancy and the work-house system in any civilized country. Every society has a natural right to protect itself from vagabondism and disorder, whether coming from imbecility or wickedness. But that plea for the necessity of slavery has been brought to naught by the general good conduct of the freedmen. What can be made of these people does not yet fully appear; but it is settled beyond all controversy that at least it does not require a system of chattel slavery to control thorn and make them useful. It is no longer a question whether the liberty of the black race is a social necessity for the South. That question has been reduced to the milder shape — whether a repressive and regulative system of any kind is necessary for them, apart from the general laws to which all people must be subject.

This question has been, and still is, a more doubtful and serious one than some of the familiar friends of the race imagine. Whether the races of Africa are naturally inferior to the races of Europe or not, the fact is indisputable that the actual development of the African race in our Southern States at the present time, is very far below that of the white man. Can it be brought up to that of the white man, or near enough to make it practicable to leave the race subject to no laws or regulations not binding upon the whites? If this is possible, how long will it take to accomplish it? Can it be realized in this generation? Can it be attained from the adult portion of this generation, or only years hence from those who are now the rising generation? These are important questions, as affecting the civil and social reorganization of the South, which cannot be long delayed….

One thing is certain: the freedmen will never be elevated by the mere laws of political economy. The operation of human selfishness will have no more effect in advancing the freedmen of the South than they had in knocking off his bonds. If the stronger race has no principle in its treatment of the weaker race but that supplied by self-interest, the weaker will still remain in ignorance and degradation. The promotion of their good must be the primary object in any system designed for them. The leading question must be, not how to get the most work from them, but how to improve them mentally and morally. We may not be able to say just when the ends proposed will be completely realized, but it is a great point gained that the capacity of the race for improvement has already been so clearly demonstrated.


A Reconstruction-era cartoon comments on white Southern threats to freed African-Americans.

1. During the war, runaway slaves (contrabands) had settled in a series of colonies on the coastal islands off South Carolina and Georgia. They raised their own crops on small farms and were virtually self-sufficient, proving that the slaves could, in fact, manage their own affairs and raise a cash crop. After the war, however, all the land on which they had settled was returned to its white owners.



OCTOBER 1, 1865


Gov. [William L.] SHARKEY1 to-day issued a proclamation accepting the proposition of Col. [Samuel] THOMAS, Assistant Commissioner of the Freedmans’ Bureau of Mississippi, transferring the right of trying all cases in which the rights of freedmen are involved, from the Freedmens’ Bureau to the civil authority, upon condition that the Provisional Government of that State will take for their mode of procedure the laws now in force, except so far as these laws make distinction on account of color. The negroes are also to be protected in person and property. They can be sued and are to have the right to sue. They are also to be competent witnesses according to the laws of evidence.

The News, in an editorial, denounces the act as an encroachment upon the rights of the whites, and says it will be repudiated by the people.


A racist poster condemning the Freedmen’s Bureau and African-American suffrage.

1. William L. Sharkey (1798–1873) was that rare thing, a Mississippi Unionist. President Johnson appointed him provisional governor in 1865, though he was superseded by Benjamin Humphreys after elections in October.


OCTOBER 1, 1865


The convention to-day passed an ordinance by a vote of 59 to 16, which practically abolishes the right of admission of negro testimony in courts of justice in all difficulties arising between negroes themselves, or between whites and negroes. This is to continue until the adjournment of the next Legislature, giving that body the privilege of making the organic law of Alabama.


OCTOBER 5, 1865

The future happiness of the Southern negroes depends so largely upon their being able to maintain amicable and profitable relations with those who formerly stood in the relationship of masters to them, and who yet are, and for a long time will remain, the principal holders of real estate and owners of capital, that we have frequently taken occasion to deprecate every scheme which had a tendency to stir up animosities of race or collisions of interest. The Southern whites will inevitably control the labor and the fortunes of the blacks for many years to come, and in all the daily affairs of life, will exercise an immediate and controlling power. The blacks will constitute a great population of subordinate laborers, making continual advances in well-being and intelligence, or else will retrograde into a condition worse in many respects than the bondage from which they have been emancipated. Which of these fortunes is in store for the Southern negro, depends more upon the whites of the South than upon anything that can be said or done in the North.

We have chronicled in our columns many instances in which the most desirable relations, in every respect, have been established between bodies of freedmen and their former masters. One of our correspondents in West Tennessee mentions a case which we are glad to believe is not an isolated one in that section of country, but which offers an example worthy of being widely followed:

“Col. [William E.] TRAVIS was a prominent politician and lawyer. He had a fine farm, with thirty slaves. When the rebellion commenced, he raised a regiment, and served till the close of the war. He is a ruined man, excepting his lands. With a trunk-full of rights, in the shape of $65,000 worth of Confederate bonds, he says he is satisfied for the balance of his days. His slaves all stayed at home but two young men, who entered our army. On his return (he surrendered with JOHNSTON) he called the negroes together and told them they were all free; that they became so as the result of the defeat of the South; that they were as free as himself; that as they had stayed at home and helped to take care of his family, he proposed to do the best he could by them, if they wished to stay. This year they were all poor together, and all would share alike. Next year he proposed to rent his farm to them on shares.

This plan the Colonel is carrying out in good faith. The first step he took shows his knowledge of the difference under the slave system. The negroes lived in quarters, near the “big house,” and under the master’s eye. Col. TRAVIS says this must be discontinued. He has seven hundred acres in his home farm. About six families of negroes live in quarters. He is building cabins at convenient points on the place, and allotting them to the family he thinks can conveniently cultivate the unit of land to which he is contiguous. He is doing this on the principle that the freed people must be isolated and made self-reliant. He lets his land on shares. One-third of the crop is rent for land, one-third for tools, subsistence, stock and forage, and one-third for labor. If the laborer furnished himself, and the tools, &c., he gets two-thirds. If part of these necessaries, one-half. Some of Col. TRAVIS’ people have stock of their own, and between the landlord and tenant, enough will be had to cultivate the farm effectually. Col. TRAVIS is confident that, so far as he is concerned, he will get a good return from his land without so much labor as formerly; he believes the people will do well for themselves, for he says they have always been faithful to him.”


NOVEMBER 10, 1865

There is a curious lot of items about the Southern negroes in the New-Orleans dispatches of this morning:

“Gen. [Joseph S.] FULLERTON has issued a circular reminding the freedmen that the time is approaching to make contracts for labor for another year.1

“The planters have adopted a plan to get the freedmen to pick their cotton, and it is meeting with success. When the day’s work is done, the cotton picked by each freedman is measured, and he is paid according to the amount of cotton he has picked.

“The cotton-fields of Texas continue unpicked, the freedmen refusing to work.

“The total vote of the city is two-thirds of that before the war. The negroes had nine polls open in this city, and two or three in the Platte District, opposite the city.

“Gov. HUMPHREYS,2 of Mississippi, calls upon the people of that State to organize companies to aid the civil authorities in maintaining law and order, and cautions them against oppressing the negroes in any way.”

The first of these five items is easily comprehended, and seems to indicate that the strange plan of operations mentioned in the second is likely to be changed for something better. We fancy that the circumstance of negro idleness in Texas is not by any means applicable to the entire race in that State. The negroes, we suppose, were playing at voting in the Louisiana election, for they have not been admitted to the franchise there. The last item, giving the advice offered to the people of Mississippi by the Governor as to their treatment of the negroes, is very good; but we should prefer to hear that the Legislature of that State had made suitable legal provision for the securing to them of justice.

1. Joseph S. Fullerton (1834–1907), a conservative, replaced the antislavery Thomas W. Conway as assistant commissioner of the Freedmen’s Bureau for South Carolina and Louisiana in October 1865.

2. Benjamin Grubb Humphreys (1808–1882) replaced William Sharkey as governor of Mississippi on October 16, 1865.


NOVEMBER 12, 1865

It is a matter of congratulation to this journal that the two most thorough and scientific works on the economics of slavery, appeared first in its columns. We refer to the letters of Mr. [William G.] SEWELL on “Emancipation in the West Indies,” and of Mr. [Frederick Law] OLMSTED on the “Cotton and Seaboard States.”1 In the former, it will be remembered that Mr. SEWELL showed conclusively that the so-called “failure of Jamaica emancipation” was merely a diminished production, resulting not from the idleness of the negro, but from the entanglements of the estates, and especially from the prejudices and rancor of the planters against the freed blacks, showing itself especially in efforts to continue a kind of serfdom, and to cheat the negroes of their wages or to under pay them. The result was, that a great gulf was created between capital and labor, which has not, to this day, been fairly bridged over in Jamaica. The freedmen abandoned their old masters’ estates in distrust and with hostility, and squatted on unoccupied lands, raising enough for their own wants, but letting the large estates go to ruin, and causing the production of sugar, which depends much on a combination of labor and capital, very largely to fall off.

There is some reason to fear a similar result in parts of our cotton States. The planters are naturally bitter and hostile both toward “Yankees and niggers.” They dislike the sight of a freed slave; they are galled at the idea of his being at liberty to choose his work and his employer; they hate his new airs of independence; and often with the ill-blood which unsuccessful war leaves behind, they wreak their chagrin at defeat on the inoffensive freedman.

The freedmen are naturally distrustful of their ancient masters; in some cases they believe (much as Anglo-Saxons would in their places) that freedom, after such a long period of forced labor, means idleness; others find that the masters only pay them one-half or one-quarter of what they used to earn as hired slaves for these very masters. They have no means of redress; they cannot sue or try to relieve the value of their labor, and they emigrate or refuse to work on the plantations. The effect is gradually to make a Jamaica gap between capital and labor, which will be most disastrous for the future interests of the South. For it is all very well to talk of free white labor flowing in and filling the space left by black, yet every Southern man knows that for a good cotton crop the next four years, an old field hand, accustomed to a cotton plantation, is worth far more to him than any white laborer that could be introduced. He understands the negro, the negro knows him and his ways, is used to the climate and the business, and will work for lower wages than a white foreigner. The immigration of a large population is a slow matter, while the South have at hand an excellent hardworking laboring class, who will do well if they are only treated well. To hope to get rid of four millions of a tough race who have furnished two hundred thousand fighting men for the war, and to banish them, is a delusion.2 The whole remaining power of the South could not accomplish it. And if it could it would be a disaster to the Cotton States, to which the banishment of the Moors from Spain, or the Huguenots from France, would only be a feeble parallel.

Why should the South desire it? Why not take the rational and wise course — the one most advantageous for their own interests, and accept calmly emancipation with all its consequences? The freedmen could now, by firmness and justice, be won over to be a most profitable agricultural class. Let each employer treat them precisely as a Northerner would treat his laborers, with justice and nothing more; protecting them by law, admitting their testimony, paying them the market rate of wages, and requiring a full day’s work — being prompt, exact and fair with them.

The Southern planters who have tried this humane and just method are now making large profits, as we know — heavier than under slavery. If the other plan be followed — if the country be “made too hot “for the freedmen, if the planters expect work without fair pay, if they will personally abuse the negroes and suffer abuses to be practiced, if they refuse to allow the negro the ordinary rights of a citizen of the United States — they are laying up for themselves a harvest of retribution, in the disturbance of labor, internal quarrels, and the distrust and dislike of the civilized world, which it would be much better for them to avoid, We understand perfectly the influences against which they have to contend; but we are quite sure they will learn ere long to appreciate the friendly motive of those who urge them to follow the dictates of wisdom and justice rather than those of passion and resentment.


An allegorical tribute to the Freedmen’s Bureau, represented by the man in the middle, standing between armed groups of whites and African-Americans.

1. William G. Sewall (1829–1862) wrote The Ordeal of Free Labor in the British West Indies (1861), and Frederick Law Olmsted (1822–1903), who was the former head of the Sanitary Commission and the designer of New York’s Central Park, among other sites, wrote The Cotton Kingdom: A Traveller’s Observations on Cotton and Slavery in the American Slave States (1862).

2. This is a reference to a variety of proposals that would require the forced emigration of the freed slaves to Africa, Haiti, or Central America.



NOVEMBER 12, 1865

There is some uneasiness in Richmond about alleged preparations for an insurrection making by the 25,000 or 30,000 negroes huddled in tents on the York River Peninsula, between the towns of Hampton and Williamsburgh. These negroes have been notified that on Jan. 1 the lands they now occupy will be turned over to their former owners, and if the reports are true, the dissatisfaction caused by a knowledge of this fact has been increased by the presence among them of free negroes from the North, who incite also a spirit of insurrection and revenge. The proposed plan is said to be to cross York River and sweep through the counties of Gloucester, King and Queen, and those adjacent, increasing their ranks as they move onward by the volunteer or forced addition of such negroes as may be laboring or idling in the section of the country through which they pass.

The colored people of Selma held a meeting on the 19th ult., and passed a series of resolutions, in which they complain that they are every day robbed and beaten by men wearing the Federal uniform, and that they had appealed in vain to the police and military guard for protection. A committee of three was appointed to wait upon the Mayor and commanding officer of the district, to invoke their authority to suppress the outrages complained of. The resolutions conclude with the expression of a sincere desire to live on terms of peace and quietness with the Southern people, and earn an honest living. The paper which prints these “resolutions,” unfortunately neglects to state who drew them up.



NOVEMBER 13, 1865


Mr. [Thomas W.] CONWAY [Commissioner of Freedman’s Affairs in Louisiana] was about to lease sixty thousand acres of land, which was either abandoned or confiscated, to the freedmen and refugees of the State, who were able to cultivate it, when the President sent Gen. [Joseph S.] FULLERTON to relieve him, and to suspend his arrangements for that purpose.

Instead of leasing lands, as provided by the law of Congress, Act of March 3, 1864, the President has directed that all such lands as are alluded to in the act, be restored to their former owners, excepting the classes specified as “exceptions” in his proclamation, who of course get his special pardon. The land aristocracy is continued, and it is no fault of the present policy, if it be not fully revived, with all its dangers and power. Under the law of Congress, there was a prospect that poor men could procure small tracts of land, and work them. The arrangements were made under the order of Gen. [Oliver Otis] HOWARD, and if not hindered, would have been soon completed.1

Gen. FULLERTON, who relieved Mr. CONWAY as Commissioner of the Bureau, proclaimed, in his first address to the freedmen, that they could have no land. Mr. CONWAY, two weeks before, in accordance with the law, and in compliance with its requirements, proclaimed to all freed-men and refugees who had the necessary means to cultivate the lots of land allowed by law, that they could have as much land as they were allowed. Four or five hundred industrious freedmen, who had saved their money, accepted the invitation, and applied for the land. The result of the “no-land” policy is, that the freedmen are expecting to be compelled to spend their lives as formerly, toiling for others, and having nothing like an equal chance to rise in the world, and do for themselves.

Gen. FULLERTON had not been at work one week before he issued an order for the discontinuance of the two orphan asylums in this city for the children of deceased freedmen.

This order fell upon the community like the land order, giving delight to the rebels and sadness to the few loyal white people and all the colored people in the city. The orphans themselves, learning that Gen. FULLERTON had ordered that they be apprenticed to citizens, ran away from the asylums, so that the matrons of the establishments found, on the following morning, about one-half of them missing. Even the children of the freedmen would rather die than be bound again by any chains. Under the apprenticeship order some of the former slaveholders went to the asylums asking for “nice fat nigger girls,” others for “little niggers fit to black boots and do a little dirty work around the yards.”

1. Oliver Otis Howard (1830–1909), the former commander of the XI Corps in the Army of the Potomac in Virginia, and afterward the Army of the Tennessee in the Western Campaigns of 1864–1865, was the commissioner of the Bureau of Refugees, Freedmen, and Abandoned Lands.


DECEMBER 5, 1865


MR. EDITOR: In your issue of to-day (Saturday) is a most seasonable article over the signature of “Planter.” He expresses, I am convinced, the sentiments of the planting community of South Carolina, if not of the whole South. It is a question, however, whether Northern philanthropy and red republicanism will not defeat any efforts looking to the effectual reorganization of the labor of the South …. In a letter addressed since the meeting of the convention to Hon. D. L. WARDLAW, I endeavored to call his attention to a plan said to have been originated by the Emperor LOUIS NAPOLEON, and to have proved effectual in restoring the ruined estates of the planters of French Guiana, and has rendered the labor of the freedmen there as effective as when they were slaves. It has been quietly put in execution by the French Government, and estates that were abandoned by the planters in that colony are again in successful operation. It will be seen that this plan avoids the infliction of chastisement by the employer, yet has proved effective in preventing vagabondage and pauperism among a race who, if left to themselves, will not voluntarily labor, a fact conceded by everyone who is guided by observation and common sense, and not by “higher laws” and “inner lights.” The plan is as follows: Every freedman dependent upon his daily labor for his daily bread, is compelled by law to hire himself to some employer for the year. The whole State is laid out into districts; each district has its house of industry, its magistrate and police, whose sole attention is given to the affairs of the freedmen and their employers. As I have said above, every freedman is compelled by law to contract with an employer. There are three parties to the contract — the employer, employe, and the State; the last, represented by the magistrate, enters as one of the parties to enforce the contract, and to receive a stipulated sum to be set aside for times of sickness or old age of the employe. In case of disagreement between the employer and employe, the magistrate or police are appealed to. If the matter cannot be settled by them to the satisfaction of the parties, then the employer gives notice to the police of his intention to discharge the employe, who is forthwith taken in charge by the police, and conveyed to the House of Industry, where he works for his support until hired by some other party. If the employer discharges the employe, or the employe leaves his place, without due notice to the police, then the party so offending is subject to a penalty fixed by law. No freedman can leave his district and go into another without a written sanction or transfer from the magistrate of one district to the magistrate of another. Thus it will be seen that the above system prevents oppression on the one hand and license on the other; checks vagabondage by providing employment for the year; removing these great inducements to forsake his employer, idleness and vagabondizing, by confining his choice to his removal from one scene of labor to another — from his employer to the House of Industry. It prevents pauperism, by the State keeping a reserve fund out of the freedmen’s wages for times of sickness and old age. Frenchmen who have tried the system assured Col. ROMAN that it had proved equally effective and far more agreeable than slavery. The above sketch is given from memory, and may not be entirely correct. Whether this or any other effectual system will exempt us from that pestilent, intermeddling philanthropy which, however excellent in spirit, has proved so destructive to white and black in practice, is problematical. I have my doubts if even LOUIS NAPOLEON’s or French philanthropy and humanitarianism will prove acceptable to the spotless descendants of the Plymouth Rock Pilgrim Fathers, whose garments are so clean that they never require inspection, and as a natural sequence, they are always searching for spots on their neighbors’ coats. It is true the above system is different from and inferior to slavery in this respect — that it does not provide for the increase of the colored race. That property in the negro which made the planter so carefully nurture the children upon his plantation is gone with the institution of slavery. Already the havoc among the colored innocents has been fearful, more so than the terrible destruction to the older negroes, which has been frightful enough to have satisfied the vengeance of their worst enemies.


1. Dr. Benjamin Rhett (1826–1884) served in the Confederate army as a surgeon and was a political leader in South Carolina.


DECEMBER 10, 1865


“It has been said that the Constitutional Amendment requires nothing more of us than we are willing to admit in our State Constitution. We think differently. Admitting that we are willing to agree that slavery shall never again exist in Texas, we certainly cannot be willing to permit Congress to have power to carry the provision into effect. What Congress might consider carrying such a provision into effect, we can have no means of knowing; and, besides, it is contrary to all precedent and the whole spirit of our history to give Congress the right to interfere in the domestic concerns of the States. No! Texas will never adopt that Amendment, unless she is forced to do it.”


A lithograph commemorating the passage of the Fifteenth Amendment.



DECEMBER 11, 1865

The New-Orleans Picayune of the 2d inst. has the following:

On Monday the House of representatives of the State of Mississippi adopted the report made by a joint committee of the two Houses on the Constitutional Amendment prohibiting slavery.

The report, which is the production of Hon. Mr. SIMRALL,1 of Wikinson County, closes in the following terms:

“They (the committee) therefore think the Legislature ought not to accede to said Amendment.”

The reasoning of the report is that the amendment is unnecessary. Slavery is abolished forever, and it is positively impossible to reestablish or reintroduce it anywhere in the South. The new Mississippi constitution has incorporated the freedom of the African race into the organic law. The people accept and will abide by it. But they see in the power conferred on Congress by the second clause to enforce the first by “appropriate” legislation, a superfluous grant of authority which may be used to expand the power of the General Government over the social affairs of the States to a dangerous extent; and they express the apprehension that it will be used to legislate the negroes in the South into social and political equality with the whites.

1. Horatio F. Simrall (1818–1901) became chief justice of the Mississippi Supreme Court.


DECEMBER 17, 1865

The Mississippi Legislature, it appears, has reconsidered the vote rejecting the Constitutional Amendment, and ratified it in the following form:

Resolved by the Legislature of the State of Mississippi, That the proposed Amendment of the Constitution of the United States be and the same is hereby ratified.

Resolved further, That the ratification is expressly made and adopted upon the conditions and with the reservations following:

1. It shall not be construed into an approval or indorsement of the political principles or doctrines that the reserved rights of a State can, without the consent of such State, be usurped or abridged by the Federal Government, through the instrumentality of a Constitutional Amendment.

2. It shall not be construed into expressed or complied consent on the part of the Legislature that Congress shall abolish slavery where it lawfully exists in any State that may refuse to ratify said amendment.

3. The emancipation of slavery in this State being a fixed fact, distinctly recognized by her condition, and by recent legislative enactments, is designed in good faith to maintain and protect the civil rights of the freedmen appertaining to their new condition of freedom.

The second section of said amendment shall not be construed as a grant of power to Congress to legislate in regard to the freedmen of this State; but so far as relates to this State it shall be construed simply as a grant of power to Congress by appropriate legislation to prohibit and prevent the reestablishment of slavery therein.



DECEMBER 17, 1865

Gov. HAMILTON,1 of Texas, recently addressed the freedmen, to remove from their minds the present impression that Christmas will bring to them great gifts and privileges. We extract the following:

I have been informed, from many sources, that you have been told that about Christmas something would be done for you by government. That there would be a division of property for your benefit — that homes would be furnished to you by the government, and other things given to you without price. I tell you, in the name of the President and the government, whose servant I am, that all this is false — whoever has told you this has lied to you. The government has given you all that it can give you — that is your freedom. If you are not willing to work for your living you do not deserve to be free. The great mass of men, white as well as black, have to work for a living, and those who refuse to do so are not friends but enemies of the government. If, then, you are friends to the government, you will work for a living — you will obey the laws — you will not be idle and vicious — you will do your duty, and try to preserve the good name which you have won by your good conduct in the past. You can only do this by labor.

The United States Government has no land in Texas to give you; it owns no land in Texas, and none will be taken from white people to give to you. The government will do no wrong. Every man who is idle, and not engaged in making an honest living, is an enemy to the government. The government cannot protect its enemies, and every one is its enemy who does not obey the laws. The laws require everyone to respect the property of others. If you disturb the property of others, you are enemies of the laws and of the government, and will be treated accordingly. The laws must be preserved — they shall be preserved — against every enemy, white or black. You are without homes, and you have no means of living by your labor but by hiring to labor for others. This is not hard — it is right. I know it is not hard, for in early life I tried it myself. When you have labored long enough to lay up some money, you can then buy homes of your own. Now, if you are relying upon what some fool has told you the government would do for you, bitter disappointment will be your lot. The government has given you all that it has to give you, and that is your freedom. That is enough; if you deserve freedom, you can do the rest.

1. Lincoln had appointed Andrew Jackson Hamilton (1815–1875) as military governor of Texas in 1862; in 1865, Johnson named him the provisional civilian governor.


DECEMBER 25, 1865

The most important interest in the economical reconstruction of the South, is the relation of Labor to Capital of the freed-men to their former masters. If the former become permanently averse to or suspicious of their employers, if they find that the local juries of white men will not do them justice, if they cannot recover their wages, or even suppose that they cannot or if on the other hand the old masters cannot hold the negroes to their contracts, or are disposed to press hard upon them and pass oppressive laws, and neglect their education and welfare, a gap will be formed between the two races, between Labor and Capital like that in Jamaica, with most disastrous and dangerous results to the future prosperity of the South.

The negroes will leave the large plantations for their little farms and gardens, they will become more ignorant and degraded every year, as well as poorer. Cotton-growing will diminish, the South will become impoverished, and at length fearful collisions occur between the ignorant freedmen and the governing race, bringing calamity and disorganization to the land. This is the inevitable course of things, unless the government stretches out a protecting hand to this unfortunate peasantry, who are in fact, through our act of emancipation, in a limited sense the wards of the nation. They are intrusted to the honor of the republic. With these dangers in view and this implied pledge, Congress have founded one of the most remarkable departments originated during this war — the Freedmen’s Bureau. We published a few days since Gen. HOWARD’s first report of its operations.

This new department of the government (as it might almost be called) has had charge since March last of all lands abandoned by the rebels, and of their rental and sale to freedmen, of the education, labor, and moral and industrial condition of some millions of persons just freed from slavery…. The law founding the bureau undoubtedly gave the impression that the lands of disloyal owners would be divided among the freedmen. The impression was strengthened by our own soldiers and officers, and often by speculators, so that the negroes have come confidently to believe in a general partition of lands among them, to take place on Christmas. The bureau are doing their best to correct this dangerous notion.

With regard to labor, Gen. HOWARD required that the freedmen should be free to choose their own employers, and be paid for their labor. He demanded that agreements should be voluntary acts, approved by proper officials, and obligatory on both parties. He very wisely did not attempt to fix the price of labor. In order to drain off the superfluous freedmen who were crowding the cities, he established intelligence offices; for others, he permitted industrial schools to be established by private persons, and aided them with means; for still others, he opened government farms, in order to employ idle hands, and prepare them for a more skillful agriculture by and by. Common schools were founded or aided by the bureau to advance this great mass of ignorant people, and but for the protection and encouragement of this department, few of the schools which have already done such vast good at the South could have been continued.

In the great matter of charity the bureau has done a most beneficent work, and apparently with an earnest purpose, everywhere to discourage idleness and pauperism….

The bureau has been the great dispenser of justice to the freedmen in their state of transition. These people had full confidence in its officers, and abode faithfully by its decisions; so that often a planter secured a willing laborer, when a similar decision from a jury of his own class, would have only inspired distrust. The negro, too, was thus protected from oppressive local legislation, or from violence and fraud. The freedmen’s courts were frequently constituted in favor of resident civilians, and in some of the states the civil courts were changed by the Provisional Governors into freedmen’s courts, the agents of the bureau acting as the advocates of the negro.

Gen. HOWARD states as his careful conclusion that free labor will prove successful, provided confidence be restored between the holders of property and the freedmen. He holds that the bureau should be continued especially for this object, as the negroes now have confidence in it. Then he thinks justly that these people being emancipated by the government, ought not to be left to any chance of oppression or injustice by local law, and that their poor and sick and orphans must for a time be chargeable on the nation. Their protection and their relief, as well as the charge of their education, and the distribution of their labor, would be best undertaken by this or a similar department for a few years, till mutual confidence was restored between all the classes at the South, and emancipation, with all its consequences, was entirely accepted.

He recommends also that education be placed on a firmer footing for these wards of the government, by securing sites and buildings for school purposes in the different States, to be held as United States property, until the same people shall be able to repurchase the same.

The report is an exceedingly important one, and we trust that its suggestions will be carefully discussed by Congress.


JANUARY 4, 1866

It is reported on good authority that some of the Legislatures of the lately insurgent States have passed laws to prevent the freed blacks from holding real estate. We can not well conceive a measure more disastrous to the future productive interest of these States, or more unjust in itself. All economists agree that the holding of land has a remarkable moral and therefore industrial effect on the peasantry of a country — especially if the land be not too much subdivided, so that each person can secure a fair livelihood from his little plot.

The hope of possessing land is one of the most powerful motives acting on the human mind. It is often this hope and desire which bring over such crowds of emigrants from Europe. They push on toward the West, with the prospect each of satisfying his passion for owning some portion of the mother earth….

The negro is peculiarly affected by it. He is especially a localizing producer. He sticks his ground. If this be held on a bad tenure, if he is liable at any time to be turned out, and especially if he is not permitted to hope for or to own real estate he naturally loses his greatest impulse to labor.


JANUARY 29, 1866



The following is the substance of a conversation which took place to-day between the President and a distinguished Senator. The President said that he doubted the propriety at this time of making any further amendments to the constitution. One great amendment had already been made, by which slavery had forever been abolished within the limits of the United States, and a natural guarantee thus given that the institution should never again exist in the land. Propositions to amend the constitution were becoming as numerous as preambles and resolutions at town meetings called to consider the most ordinary questions connected with the administration of local affairs. All this, in his opinion, had a tendency to diminish the dignity and prestige attached to the constitution of the country, and to lessen the respect and confidence of the people in their great charter of freedom. If, however, amendments are to be made to the constitution changing the basis of representation and taxation, (and he did not deem them at all necessary at the present time), he knew of none better than a simple proposition embraced in a few lines making in each State the number of qualified voters the basis of representation, and the value of property the basis of direct taxation. Such a proposition could be embraced in the following terms: “Representatives shall be apportioned among the several States which may be included within the Union according to the number of qualified voters in each State. Direct taxes shall be apportioned among the several States which may be included within the Union according to the value of all taxable property in each State.” An amendment of this kind would, in his opinion, place the basis of representation and direct taxation upon correct principles…. It would leave the States to determine absolutely the qualifications of their own voters, with regard to color, and thus the number of representatives to which they would be entitled in Congress would depend upon the number upon which they conferred the right of suffrage. The President in this connection, expressed the opinion that the agitation of the negro franchise question in the District of Columbia at this time was the mere entering wedge to the agitation of the question throughout the States, and was ill-timed, uncalled for, and calculated to do great harm. He believed that it would engender enmity, contention and strife between the two races, and lead to a war between them, which would result in great injury to both and the certain extermination of the negro population….


FEBRUARY 20, 1866

The country will not be taken by surprise in reading the announcement of the President’s veto of the Freedmen’s Bureau bill. That veto implies no essential difference of opinion between the Executive and the majority in congress in the primary object of the bill.

The promoters of the measure regarded it as a necessary corollary of the enactments under which the slaves of the South acquired their freedom. But of these promoters a large proportion, we venture to think, were prepared to accept any modification in the proposed organization which, without imperiling the main object sought for, should better affirm a faith in the returning loyalty and good sense of the governing class at the South.

The President has not for one moment concealed, either from party friends or party opponents, that he cherishes this faith, and that he cherishes it in the face of an experience more bitter than fell to the lot of any public man of his rank who dared to stand by the Union in its hour of extreme peril. Just in proportion as he was prepared to make sacrifices for the integrity of the Union, when that integrity was most endangered, to the same extent to-day would he forego the éclat of a sectional popularity where his judgment refuses its assent. In the former case the severe test of experience have shown him to have been right. In the present instance he does not claim — and only the most indiscreet of those who call themselves his friends will claim on his behalf — any infallibility of judgment.

What must chiefly concern the President now, and what will most materially affect the position he is destined to hold in the judgment of his countrymen hereafter, lie in the assurance which the temper and bearing of his policy gives to all classes and sections that he has the permanent welfare and unity of the country at heart, above and beyond all other considerations. To dispute his right to recall the attention of Congress to considerations which may have escaped its attention in the enactment of specific measures, for the benefit of the freedmen or any other class, is to dispute the Executive authority as a coordinate branch of the National Legislature. To interpret his veto of this particular measure as an act at variance with the scope and direction of the national policy, would be a declaration of non-confidence more fatal to complete and cordial restoration, than all the acts of secession that were ever passed or conceived in the rebel States. The President abates nothing of his oft-expressed desire to see full and ample protection extended to the freedmen of the South. He is now, as he has been through the most trying crisis of the rebellion, profoundly and solemnly impressed with the belief that the question of Union is paramount to all others. And we are bound to believe him when he tells us in the opening sentence of this veto message, that it is, “with profound regret” he has come to the conclusion that “it would not be consistent with the public welfare” to give his approval to the measure. We are also bound to believe, that a measure which should assure to the freedmen the same protection which the present was designed to provide, and which should offer fewer points open to objection in its details, would meet with a ready assent….


MARCH 28, 1866

The Message of the President announcing his veto of the Civil rights Bill, which we publish in full in other columns, may not command universal assent. But we venture to think that few state papers have ever been given to the world that will so thoroughly compel the attention of thinking men of whatever creed, or kindred, or party.

The President deals almost exclusively with the details of the bill as it passed through Congress, reserving his comments upon its policy to a few sentences at the close of the message. The analysis of the details, however, is of so keen and searching a character, the logic is so irresistible, that we should hope even the strongest advocates of the measure will see how vastly important it is that the constitutional power of the veto should exist, and how important, also, in a higher sense, it is that such a constitutional power should be intrusted to a President endowed with judgment, discretion and most uncommon courage.

The point in the President’s argument which stands out in boldest relief is that which portrays with almost startling vividness the danger — not only possible, but certain — of undermining the independence of the judiciary. If Federal District-Attorneys, Marshalls, Deputy Marshall, Agents of the Freedmen’s Bureau, and other officials are to be entrusted with the power of arraigning any State Judge who may interpret a State law in a way which a claimant of justice may disapprove, of what possible use can be State laws, and of what conceivable use can be State judges? Better abolish both at once. But not only are these petty Federal officials empowered, under this Civil Rights Bill, to appear as accusers of the State Judiciary; they have a premium held out to them to prefer charges. For every case of alleged injustice to freedmen, they get a fee. The accused may be innocent; if so, the fee comes out of the United States Treasury. If the accused is guilty, he has to pay his share of the perquisites accruing to the Federal official.

The strictly legal interpretation which the President applies to particular sections of the act is so overwhelmingly strong, that the members “learned the law” who voted for it, can hardly help blushing to find themselves so entirely at fault, under the sharp logic of a layman. So far as we can learn the sentiment of the more discreet portion of the majority that voted for the bill, they are ready to confess that the President’s reasons are too strong for them, and they are fain to fall back on what they call his political animus to excuse their non-acceptance of his arguments. Those who have throughout doubted the expediency of multiplying discriminating laws in favor of a class which has achieved an enfranchisement and social elevation unexampled in its suddenness and completeness in the history of the human race, must necessarily be pleased that the President goes even further in his veto than to interpret the mere technicalities of the law. To moderate and rational reformers the few simple but pregnant words which Mr. JOHNSON utters on the policies of enforcing the laws of political economy through the agency of a countless army of stipendiaries, have a value far beyond the mere enforcement of the immediate argument. They are words which have a scope and a bearing aside from the provisions of this or any other negro protection bill. And they show how far above the majority which desires to control his action, are the views of the Executive in all that appertains to the maintenance of constitutional freedom….


APRIL 7, 1866

The President in the exercise of his constitutional power, returned to the Senate, without his approval, a measure called the Civil rights Bill. The Senate in turn, yesterday exercised its constitutional prerogative in voting by the requisite majority that the measure should become law, independently of the Executive Veto.

We trust no true and leal supporter of the President’s policy will imitate the radical extremists, and question the loyalty and honesty of the Senators who went with the majority. No doubt a large proportion of those who voted to overrule the veto were Senators who have great confidence in the discretion, the judgment, and the loyal devotion to the Constitution by which ANDREW JOHNSON will be guided, hereafter, as he has been guided heretofore, no matter how vast may be the power put into his hands. This rational section of the Senate majority see that under no conditions can the President be tempted to assume dictatorial powers; that he deprecates becoming the dispenser of a vast and almost illimitable patronage that he dreads — with the instinct of a true Republican — large standing armies; and that he has no schemes of personal aggrandizement reserved for future Presidential contests.

The moderate men, therefore, who yesterday voted to override the Veto, pay a tribute — which we are willing to believe is not altogether censorious — to the inflexible integrity and the profound regard for constitutional obligations which they know will mark the President’s course, let the power and patronage placed at his disposal be ever so great.

In voting as they have done, the majority ostensibly declare that they regard all existing laws as insufficient to protect the freed negroes of the South in their newly-acquired rights. The President takes a more complaisant view of the matter. And it is fortunate alike for North and South that he does so. A sectionalist and a partisan in the President’s position at this crisis, entrusted with such powers as a majority in Congress desire to confer upon ANDREW JOHNSON, would become a vile and intolerable usurper and tyrant. There is no danger, in the actual circumstances, of such a result. The honest and common sense of the Executive will prove the salvation of the country in these first years of restored peace, as the honesty and common sense of his predecessor carried the nation safely through the terrible perils of the war.



NOVEMBER 8, 1866

One thing to be steadily kept in view by the party which has been victorious in this election is their responsibility for the good government of the country.1 They do not stand in the position of an ordinary legislative majority. In all that appertains to national affairs, their will is supreme. They can override the vetoes of the Executive in nearly every one of the northern States. They have equally shown their power in Congress to give effect to great measures of national concern, despite the President’s constitutional right of dissent. They enjoy, to-day, and are likely to enjoy in the next Congress, a power of control over all that belongs to the government of the country, to which there is neither check nor limit, to say nothing of precedent. It is scarcely possible to measure the scope of the authority now vested in the Legislative branch of the Government. The temporary deposit of supreme power in that branch may be a necessity growing out of the insurrection; and regarded in that light, the exercise of such power will not be held to be intolerable by loyal men. But those who have the greatest dread of the dominance of sectionalism, let it come from what quarter it may, most sincerely pray that compromise ground may be speedily found so that the functions of government may be performed as they were before the insurrectionary epoch, and that each department of the Administration may re-possess its constitutional force.

Until that result is obtained, there surely rests upon the Legislative majorities in the States recently heard from, a heavy responsibility to use their power with the utmost discretion. He must be a very confident man who will affirm that the anxieties and difficulties which affect our Government centre alone upon the question of admitting or refusing to admit certain States upon their individual conformity to given Congressional enactments. Outside of, and beyond all that bears directly upon restoration, are issues of a far-reaching character, involving the maintenance of the national influence, the national credit and the national dignity abroad. It can hardly be wise to put forward strong pretentions to a potential authority in the concerns of other communities, until we show that we have compassed a solution of the difficulties which have so long beset ourselves.

1. The Republicans gained 37 seats in the election. That gave them 173 seats in the 40th Congress, to the Democrats’ 47 (plus 2 others). As a result, Republicans could easily override Johnson’s vetoes.


MARCH 3, 1867



If Congress was dull and uninteresting yesterday, it has made abundant amends therefore to-day, and the prospect is that the current legislative day will go into the journal as having commenced Saturday, March 2, at 11 A.M., and ended Monday, March 4, at 12 M. The fact was soon demonstrated that the vetoes were certainly coming today, as certain persons had seen one of the documents in print, and during the call of the roll on a motion to pay Mr. [Turner M.] MARQUETTE, the new member from Nebraska, full pay and mileage since his election, Col. [W. G.] MOORE of the President’s staff, entered the House chamber, bringing with him the veto of the Reconstruction Bill, and at 1:35 it was presented. Mr. [Thaddeus] STEVENS1 was absent from his seat at the time, and several frightened members interrupted the breathless silence which prevailed with energetic inquiries, such as “Where’s STEVENS?” “Where is he?” “Go, bring him in,” &c. The pending business having been disposed of, the message was read by Mr. McPHERSON, the clerk of the House. Mr. STEVENS came in just before he commenced, and after seating himself, began writing. He was about the only member who did not listen attentively. The result of this writing was submitted to the inspection of the Speaker by Mr. STEVENS himself, during the progress of the reading, also to Messrs. [James G.] BLAINE, [James] GARFIELD, and others, in a very quiet manner. Mr. BLAINE amended it somewhat. A few members had been furnished with copies of the message and occupied themselves in reading it, line for line, with the Clerk. Gen. [Robert C.] SCHENCK and Mr. [John A.] KASSON being engaged in caucusing the mysterious paper prepared by Mr. STEVENS, a point of order was raised, and they adjourned to the cloak-room to continue their consultation. The floor was filled with members elect and privileged persons, and during the entire reading the decorum of the House was preserved in a manner worthy of the importance of the occasion. The galleries were crowded to suffocation, and maintained excellent order, with the exception of a baby in the diplomatic box. At 2:35 o’clock the reading was ended, and, amid great confusion, Mr. STEVENS obtained the floor, but yielded to Mr. [Charles A.] ELDRIDGE, who stated that he knew that it was physically impossible to attempt to delay the passage of the bill, although the minority felt that course to be their duty, in order that they might prevent the majority from dissolving the Union. [Francis C.] LABLOND echoed the same sentiment, using the phrase, “death knell of Republican institutions.” Mr. [Markley] BOYER followed, denying the authority of Mr. ELDRIDGE to speak for the minority, whereupon that gentleman announced that he had been informed that the Speaker would overrule all attempts at filibustering. Mr. [Sydenham Elnathan] ANCONA, evidently bewildered with the responsibility of the subject, denounced ELDRIDGE as a usurper, and proposed to fight as long as he had breath, and was supported in this determination by Mr. [William E.] FINCK. The Speaker then announced that the anticipated decision was not a new thing, but its history was as old as the House itself, and stated that it was competent to suspend all rules by a two-thirds vote, on Mondays after the morning hour, and during the last ten days of the session. Mr. STEVENS resumed the floor for the purpose of allowing Mr. BLAINE to present the mysterious paper which he had prepared, and which turned out to be a resolution to suspend the rules, in accordance with the decision just rendered, for the passage of the bill over the veto. In a few words he adverted to the melancholy feelings which must have filled the breast of the minority, and ironically invited them to attend the funeral of the Republic. Mr. ELDRIDGE then moved to lay the bill on the table, FINCK to lay the resolution on the table, LEBLOND to adjourn. The first two motions were decided out of order, as the resolution pending would deprive him of the liberty of making such a motion, if adopted. An appeal was taken from the decision of the Chair, and Mr. ANCONA moved to lay the appeal on the table. As this latter motion was in effect playing into the hands of the minority, it created great laughter, and Mr. ANCONA’s earnestness, exhibited in pledging his word of honor that he had been on his feet previous to the calling of the first name on the roll, added to the ridiculous aspect of his attempt to filibuster. He finally withdrew his motion, but not until after its effect had been explained to him by some of this Democratic friends, and the roll call proceeded, resulting in one hundred and seventy-two ayes, sustaining the Chair, and four noes. The question then recurred on the passage of the resolution, on which the result was one hundred and thirty-five ayes and forty-three noes. Mr. ELDRIDGE then very innocently asked the Chair if a motion to adjourn was in order, and received a negative reply, after which the Speaker announced the question, “Shall the bill pass, the objections of the President to the contrary notwithstanding?” on which the Constitution demands the yeas and nays, which were called, resulting, yeas 135, nays, 47.


Congressman Thaddeus Stevens of Pennsylvania.


The vote of the Tenure of Office Bill was received in the Senate simultaneously with that of the Reconstruction Bill in the House. The Senate was engaged on items of appropriation, conference reports, &c., but at three o’clock the bill was taken up, and with very brief debate, including a speech against it by REVERDY JOHNSON, it was passed by yeas 35 and nays 11. It was at once sent to the House. The Reconstruction bill and veto were received from the House, when the Senate went into executive session and soon after adjourned for the recess.

1. Thaddeus Stevens of Pennsylvania (1792–1868) was the leader of the Radical Republican contingent in the House of Representatives.

2. The Tenure of Office Act denied the President of the United States the power to remove from office anyone who had been appointed by a previous President without the advice and consent of the Senate. Johnson’s deliberate violation of the act — his firing of Secretary of War Stanton — is what led to his impeachment by the House.


FEBRUARY 24,1868

The Republican Party in Congress seems at last to be unanimous in favor of impeachment. Those who have hitherto been most conservative in this matter, seem now most zealous and demonstrative on the other side. There can be very little doubt that the President will be impeached by the House and sent before the Senate for trial — the specific misdemeanor for which he is arraigned being the violation of the Tenure of Office Law, in the removal of Secretary STANTON and the appointment of Gen. [Lorenzo] THOMAS in his place ad interim.

There can be no doubt, we presume, that the President’s action is in violation of the law. The first section declares that “every person holding any civil office to which he has been appointed by and with the advice and consent of the Senate, is and shall be entitled to hold such office until a successor shall have been in like manner appointed and duly qualified.” This clause deprives the President of the power to remove any such officer without the consent of the Senate. The second section gives him the power to suspend officers “during the recess of the Senate” until its next meeting and for one month thereafter, under certain specified circumstances, and to fill vacancies in the same way and upon the same conditions….

The President’s removal of Mr. STANTON and his appointment of Gen. THOMAS were in distinct and unmistakable defiance of these provisions of that law. It is also clear that this violation of the law has been intentional on the President’s part — not with a view, as the heated zealots of Congress assume, of usurping power and overthrowing the institutions of the country, but for the purpose of testing the constitutionality of the law, and of procuring a judicial definition of the limits and prerogatives of the Executive Department of the Government under the Constitution of the United States….

He is not only entitled to such a decision, but the whole country is interested in having it given. Under our form of government, as under every form of government which has been or can be devised, doubts will arrive as to the proper distribution of authority and power. We have, unlike Governments of a different form, a written Constitution by which the limits of official authority are defined, and the powers and prerogatives of the several departments of the Government are described and conferred; and, consequently, the only controversies that can arise out of attempts on the part of one department to encroach on the jurisdiction of another, become questions of construction….

There can be no doubt, we presume, in any one’s mind, that the Supreme Court is the proper tribunal for the decision of the question involved in this particular conflict between the President and Congress….

The impeachment of the President, if pushed to trial in advance of such a decision by the Supreme Court, is in violation of this principle.


Congressman Thaddeus Stevens delivering his closing speech for President Johnson’s impeachment in the House chamber.



MAY 17, 1868



The great impeachment drama is practically at an end, and the President stands acquitted of the principal charge. Nineteen votes against thirty-five — just enough, and no more, to turn the scale of the verdict. Twelve Democrats and seven Republicans — that magical number of seven — against thirty-five Republicans! My calculations since Tuesday are fully verified. Thirty six was the best vote the friends of conviction could possibly count upon after Tuesday, and even since then the fight has been to get the one necessary vote for acquittal on the one side and to keep the one necessary vote for conviction on the other. The debate of Monday developed the fact that the President had five Republican votes sure. Senator [Joseph Smith] FOWLER’s course developed the fact on Tuesday that he had six. It has been the work of the week to get the seventh man, and EDMUND G. ROSS, of Kansas, was secured. When Gen. THOS. EWING, Jr., said yesterday that ROSS would vote for acquittal if necessary to secure it, he knew whereof he spoke.


Congressman Thaddeus Stevens delivers the formal notice of impeachment of President Andrew Johnson in the Senate chamber.


MARCH 16, 1871



The House finally decided the question of legislation for Southern disorders in a summary manner. It threw overboard, this afternoon, all propositions for legislation, appointed a committee to inquire into the cause and effect of disorder at the South, and then voted very decidedly that it was proper Congress should adjourn next Monday and go home. It was, in several respects, a very remarkable day in the House. The Democrats, under the inspiriting effect of the New-Hampshire election,1 were like “steers in the corn.” They felt decidedly jolly, and pending the efforts of [Benjamin] BUTLER to get in his Kuklux bill,2 ELDRIDGE gravely proposed a bill for the suppression of the Kuklux in New-Hampshire. From the reading of the journal the Democrats showed a determination to resist even the introduction of a bill by every species of parliamentary tactics, including organized and determined filibustering. This was discovered subsequently to have been the Democratic programme resolved upon in caucus. Mr. [James F.] BECK disclosed that in a little colloquy between himself, the Speaker and Gen. BUTLER, in which he said it had been resolved upon to permit no more business to be done except in the way provided by the rules, to wit, by the appointment of the regular committees and the regular reference of all measures to be considered and reported back in regular order. With their increased numerical strength the Democrats feel equal to almost anything, and so they filibustered very defiantly for two hours or more, and BUTLER’s bill didn’t get in, but three were a great many Republicans not sorry for that. While the yeas and nays were being called a number of the leading men on the Republican side consulted with the Speaker, and the result was that the latter prepared a simple resolution which settled the Kuklux business very unceremoniously. It was sent down to Mr. [John A.] PETERS [of Maine], who offered it, and was agreed to by 126 yeas to 64 nays. Of the yeas 58 were Republicans and 14 Democrats. So a majority if each party present voted for the resolution. The resolution provides for the appointment of a committee of thirteen to investigate the whole subject, to have power to send for persons and papers, to go South by subcommittee for the purpose of taking testimony, and to report next December. When this was proposed, Gen. BUTLER grew very angry. He denounced those Republicans who favored it as guilty of selling out to the Democrats, and stormed considerably to no purpose. The effect is to render all legislation on this subject impossible at this session.


President Ulysses S. Grant, seated left, signs the Ku Klux Klan Act into law.

1. Ellery A. Hibbard, a Democrat, won election to the House of Representatives from New Hampshire in 1871.

2. This was a bill introduced by Benjamin Butler aimed at suppressing the violence of the Ku Klux Klan and other such organizations in the South. Though it was delayed here, it passed on April 20. It was designed to prevent state and local courts from excusing violence against freedmen, and read, in part: “any person who, under color of any law, statute, ordinance, regulation, custom, or usage of any State, shall subject, or cause to be subjected any person within the jurisdiction of the United States to the deprivation of any rights, privileges, or immunities secured by the Constitution of the United States, shall, any such law, statute, ordinance, regulation, custom or usage of the State to the contrary notwithstanding, be liable to the party injured in any action at law….”


JULY 30, 1871


The Sub Ku-Klux Committee, consisting of Senator [John] SCOTT [R-Penn.] and Representatives [Job E.] STEVENSON [R-Ohio] and [Philadelph] VAN TRUMP [D-Ohio], reached Washington today, returning from a sojourn of four weeks in various parts of South Carolina, where they have been investigating Kuklux outrages on the spots where they occurred. They first visited the capital, Columbia. More than a hundred refugees, who had fled from violence in various counties were there, but after examining witnesses for two days, the Committee determined to go closer to the scenes of alleged violence and went to Spartanburg. They expected to remain there three or four days, but stayed eleven. When word got out through Spartanburg County that they were there, the whites and negroes, victims of violence, came in by scores every day, from all directions. Murders and cruel whippings by the Kuklux bands had so terrified them that in many neighborhoods nearly every negro man and Republican white man had slept in the woods for months every night. They showed scarified backs, gunshot wounds, maimed ears, and other proofs of violence they had suffered.

In Limestone Springs township, 118 cases of whipping were proved. The Committee awoke every morning to find, in the yard by the hotel, a new crowd of victims of Kuklux, some including whites, who had suffered outrages which cannot be described with decency. After being whipped, the victims, if well-known persons, were often commanded, under pain of death, to publish a card renouncing the Republican Party. In a file of the South Carolina Spartan, the Democratic newspaper, forty-two such cards were found recently published.

At Unionville the committee remained two days. Not an avowed white Republican was heard in the place, though privately assured by a few that they would avow themselves if protected. The terror of the negroes here is complete. The last election was carried by a Republican majority, but the Republican County officers received Kuklux notices, and all resigned or fled. The policy there has been more toward murder and less toward whipping. The killing of ten negroes, taken from the jail by several hundred Kuklux, acting under military organization, was investigated. A prominent lawyer of the place, Mr. SHARD, a Democrat, on cross-examination, startled the Committee by stating that he believed almost every respectable unmarried man in the community belonged to this Kuklux, and he believed a thousand Kuklux were within a days’ march of that village. A negro Methodist preacher named LOUIS THOMPSON, who had an appointment June 11 at Goshen Hall Church, in Union County, received a Kuklux notice in the usual form not to preach. He preached, notwithstanding, to a very few, most of the congregation fleeing when they saw the notice. In the evening a clan of twenty mounted Kuklux came, tied him and whipped him, led his off several miles, dragging him part of the way tied to horses, whipped him again until death, mutilated him in a way that cannot with propriety be described, hung him, and threw the body into the Tiger River, bearing a notice forbidding anyone to bury him.

Before the committee returned, Senator SCOTT sent THOMPSON’s brother, now a refugee from Columbia, to Union County, with a letter to provide him a strong guard of United States cavalry, to go to the body, which was reported to be still lying half decomposed on the water’s edge.

Two more days were spent in examining witnesses in Columbia. On returning from Spartanburg, one day was occupied in hearing the statements and general views of Gen. WADE HAMPTON and Gen. BUTLER, the Democratic candidate for Governor last Fall.1

The Committee then visited York Country, where they remained nearly a week. They discovered at Yorkville a bitter spirit among the white citizens. At supper at the hotel on the evening of their arrival, Major JAMES BERRY threw a pitcher of milk over Hon. A. T. WALLACE, the Representative of the District, and Hon. J. E. STEVENSON of the Committee. They were just seating themselves at the table, and not a word had been spoken. Mr. WALLACE jerked out a revolver and raised it to shoot BERRY—the ladies screaming—but the landlord threw himself before BERRY and Mr. STEVENSON coolly caught WALLACE’s hand, and ordered the landlord to take that man out of the room. Half a dozen friends gathered around BERRY, and he went out. In the course of an hour several citizens of prominence called to apologize in the amplest manner on behalf of BERRY, who was willing to go on his knees if required for what he alleged was an unintentional affront to Mr. STEVENSON. It was subsequently ascertained that the business had been discussed by BERRY and his friends during the afternoon it was to be carried out, and that BERRY had proposed to use hot coffee, but had finally concluded on milk. The colored band serenaded the Committee later in the morning. A crowd of young white men filled the porch of the hotel and were about the band frequently, cursing the negroes and the Yankees in an insulting manner. As the band went away the crowd followed and nearly filled the sidewalk. One negro was thrust off by a policeman, who says the negro resisted and struck him. The negro and two men who were close by say the negro struggled to get away from the grip of the policeman, who seized, cursed, and struck him, but that the negro did not strike. As he pulled away the policeman fired at the negro, and continued firing until he had inflicted five wounds. The man was still living when the Committee left. The testimony taken showed that both policeman and Mayor were members of the Kuklux. No one was arrested. The community on York County was found to be in almost utter [unintel.], the civil authorities being a useless farce, and a mockery of the victims of the Ku-klux Klan. Col. [Lewis] MERRILL, in command of a small force stationed there, an officer of high character and great energy, laid before the Committee the details of sixty-eight cases of outrages which he had investigated, some of them most revolting and horrible. It was found impossible for the Committee to examine more than a small part of the crowds of whipped, maimed, or terror-stricken wretches who flocked in upon hearing of their coming. When the Committee adjourned, the building in which they had sat was filled, stairs, halls, and porches, with those waiting to be heard….

1. Wade Hampton (1818–1896), reputedly the richest man in South Carolina, was a former Confederate cavalry commander and post-war political leader who would be elected governor in 1876 and U.S. Senator in 1879. In the 1876 campaign, his followers, known as the Red Shirts, practiced political intimidation. Mathew Calbraith Butler (1836–1909) was a former Confederate major general who had run unsuccessfully for lieutenant governor (not governor) in 1870. He was subsequently elected to the U.S. Senate by the State legislature.


APRIL 16, 1873



Intelligence has just reached this city to the effect that a terrible and sanguinary riot occurred on Sunday last in Grant Parish [Louisiana], in the county of that name. The disturbance grew out of the increasing animosity which has existed between the negroes of Grant Parish and the whites of Rapides Parish, each color predominating in their respective localities.

All day Sunday the two factions quarrels at the Court house in the village town of Colfax, and the riot finally culminated in the Court house being set on fire by the whites and burned to the ground, together with from two to three hundred negroes who were unable to escape from the burning building. The unfortunate colored men were literally roasted alive in the sight of their enemies.

Of all the whites who were engaged in the fight, there were only two or three who were killed or wounded, owing to the fact that very few of the negroes were in possession of arms or weapons.

The details of this sanguinary riot are quite shocking, and the news has created intense excitement throughout the city. It is understood that the United States authorities intend making a thorough investigation into the affair for the purpose of securing the punishment of the guilty parties, whoever they may be.

The war between the races, so constantly carried on in this distracted State, has seldom presented such a horrifying instance as this burning of a court-house filled with human beings. It is scarcely credible, but the news is unfortunately too true for the reputation of our people.



NOVEMBER 13, 1876

Every day accumulates the proof that Gov. Hayes has been elected President.1 To elect Mr. Tilden it would be necessary for him to have carried either one of the States of Florida, Louisiana, and South Carolina; and our dispatches from those States confirm the previous reports that they have all been carried by the Republicans. Our information, coming from the most trustworthy sources, make it certain that South Carolina will show a Republican majority of between two and five thousand; that the majority in Louisiana will be decisive, and that on a fair count in Florida that State will show a Republican majority of over one thousand. The official count is now proceeding in South Carolina; it will commence on Friday in New Orleans; but in Florida the Board of Canvassers will not complete their work for probably two weeks. Desperate attempts are being made by the more violent and lawless element of the Democracy in these States, to overturn by force the result of the election; but the timely presence of troops there will render these attempts futile….

1. Rutherford B. Hayes, the Republican candidate from Ohio, won 4,034,311 votes while Democrat Samuel J. Tilden of New York won 4,288,546 votes and a plurality of more than 250,000 votes. Disputed returns from the three Southern states still occupied by Federal troops (South Carolina, Louisiana, and Florida), plus one elector in Oregon, left the Electoral College outcome in doubt. In the end, it was agreed that Hayes would get the disputed votes in return for his pledge to remove the troops.


NOVEMBER 13, 1876

Returns from Florida are still incomplete. So far as they have been received, however, they confirm the belief that the State has not only given HAYES a fair majority, but that he would have carried it by at least 3,000 if intimidation and fraud had not been freely resorted to by his opponents. Meantime, the Democrats are industriously making up “returns” on no basis whatever. These are ingeniously fixed up into positive and genuine-looking figures, and sent North for party uses. In this way so called official returns are sent from counties which have given no report whatever. It is expected that this ingenious dodge will be used for a day or two longer. The plain facts are against all such falsified statements, as the official figures will undoubtedly show.



JANUARY 31, 1877



The two houses having formally elected their members of the Electoral Commission and provided for appointing tellers, and the four Justices having chosen a fifth, the entire commission is now formed and the preparations for beginning the counting of the votes on the day after to-morrow are complete, so far as preparations are required by law. The two Houses will meet together at one o’clock on Thursday [February 3], and the president of the Senate will immediately begin opening the certificates.


MARCH 2, 1877



Gov. Hayes and party left Columbus at 1:10 P.M. to-day for Washington via Pittsburg and Harrisburg. The Governor was escorted from the executive mansion to the depot, half a mile distant, by the Columbus cadets, preceded by a military band and followed by a large concourse of citizens. He rode to the depot in an open carriage and on his arrival was greeted with prolonged cheers by a crowd numbering many thousands, who had gathered to witness his departure. Two special cars had been provided for the Governor and family with their friends, and the intervening time between their arrival at the depot and the starting of the train was occupied in cheers for “Gov. Hayes,” “President Hayes,” and “Our Next President” &c. the band meantime playing “Auld Lang Syne.”


Incoming President Rutherford B. Hayes was a wounded Civil War veteran who rose to the rank of Major General of his Ohio Regiment and took part in 50 engagements—a record he rode all the way to the White House.

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